Offered with no commentary

Via Kansas City Star, State Representative Cynthia Davis comments on a program to provide nutritional meals to poor kids during the summer. Representative Davis’ responses were pulled directly from her summer newsletter.

Program description: Current economic woes make Summer Food Service Program more important than ever. Program provides nutritious meals to young people throughout the state.

Davis response: The implication suggests that during a recession, parents don’t give their children nutritious food. The reverse may be true. During hard times, many families find it even more important to pull together. Families may economize by choosing to not waste hard earned dollars on potato chips, ice cream, or Twinkies. Perhaps some families will buy more beans and chicken and less sweets.

Program description: Hundreds of local community organizations throughout the state will offer lunch, as well as breakfast, during the summer months to eligible children.

Davis response: Who’s buying dinner? Who is getting paid to serve the meal? Churches and other non-profits can do this at no cost to the taxpayer if it is warranted. That is what they did when Louisiana had a hurricane.

Program description: “Children need nutritious food to grow and learn all year long,” said Ann McCormack, chief of the health department’s Bureau of Community Food and Nutrition Assistance.

Davis response: The problem of childhood obesity has been cited as one of the most rapidly growing health problems in America. People who are struggling with lack of food usually do not have an obesity problem.

Program description: Meals will be served at designated sites to children age 18 and under.

Davis response:Anyone under 18 can be eligible? Can’t they get a job during the summer by the time they are 16? Hunger can be a positive motivator. What is wrong with the idea of getting a job so you can get better meals?

Tip: If you work for McDonald’s, they will feed you for free during your break.

Offered without commentary. Because none is necessary.

Update: More from Riverfront Times, including link to Keith Olbermann naming Davis Worst Person in the World.

Update: Excellent response from FoxContact your local state legislator to ask them to lobby Republicans to remove Rep. Davis from her chairmanship of the Committe on Children and Families. Excellent suggestion.

Update: Representative Davis responds. I’ve also included a copy of her press release (PDF). Good luck finding anything coherent in there.

Burningbird Technology Web

A major site redesign

I’ve finished the re-organization of my web site, though I have odds and ends to finish up. I still have two major changes featuring SVG and RDFa that I need to incorporate, but the structure and web site designs are finished.

Thanks to Drupal’s non-aggressive use of .htaccess, I’ve been able to create a top-level Drupal installation to act as “feeder” to all of the sub-sites. I tried this once before with WordPress, but the .htaccess entries necessary for that CMS made it impossible to have the sub-sites, much less static pages in sub-directories.

Rather than use Planet or Venus software to aggregate feed entries for all of my sites, I’m manually creating an excerpt describing a new entry, and posting it at Burningbird, with a link back to the full article. I also keep a listing of the last few months stories for each sub-site in the sidebar, in addition to random display of images.

There is no longer any commenting directly on a story. One of the drawbacks with XHTML and an unforgiving browser such as Firefox, is that a small error is enough to render the page useless. I incorporate Drupal modules to protect comments, but I also allow people to enter in some markup. This combination handles most of the accidentally bad markup, but not all. And it doesn’t protect against those determined to inject invalid markup. The only way to eliminate all problems is not allow any markup, which I find to be too restrictive.

Comments are, however, supported at the Burningbird main site. To allow for discussion on a story, I’ve embedded a link in every story that leads back to the topmost Burningbird entry, where people can comment. Now, in those infrequent times when a comment causes a problem with a page, the story is still accessible. And there is a single Comment RSS feed that now encompasses all site comments.

The approach may not be ideal, but commentary is now splintered across weblog, twitter, and what not anyway—what’s another link among friends?

I call my web site design “Silhouette” and will release it as a Drupal theme as soon as it’s fully tested. It’s a very simple two column design, with sidebar column either to the right (standard) or easily adjusted to fall to the right. It’s an accessible design, with only the top navigation bar coming between the top of the page and the first story. It is valid markup, as is, with the XHTML+RDFa Doctype, because I’ve embedded RDFa into the design. It is not valid, however, when you also add SVG silhouettes, as I do with all but the top most site.

The design is also valid XHTML 5.0, except for a hard coded meta element that was added to Drupal because of security issues. I don’t serve the pages up as HTML 5, though, because the RDFa Doctype triggers certain behaviors in RDFa tools. I’m also not using any of the new HTML 5 structural elements.

The site design is plain, but it suits me and that’s what matters. The content is legible and easy to locate, and navigate, and that’s my second criteria. I will be adding some accessibility improvements in the next few months, but they won’t impact on the overall design.

What differs between all of the sites is the header graphic, and the SVG silhouettes, which I changed to suit the topic or mood of the site. The silhouettes were a lot of fun, but they aren’t essential, and you won’t be able to see them if you use a browser that doesn’t support SVG inline. Which means you IE users will need to use another browser to see the images.

I also incorporate some new CSS features, including some subtle use of text-shadows with headers (to add richness to the stark use of black text on pastel graphics) and background-color: rgba functionality for semi-transparent backgrounds. The effects are not viewable by browsers that don’t yet support these newer CSS styles, but loss of functionality does not impact access to the material.

Now, for some implementation basics:

  • *I manually reviewed all my old stories (from the last 8 years), and added 410 status codes for those I decided to permanently remove.
  • For the older stories I kept, I fixed up the markup and links, and added them as new Drupal entries in the appropriate sub-site. I changed the dates to match the older entries, and then added a redirect between the old URL and the new.
  • By using one design for all of the sites, when I make a change for one, it’s a snap to make the change for all. The only thing that differs is the inline SVG in the page.tpl.php page, and the background.png image used for the header bar.
  • I use the same set of Drupal modules at all sub-sites, which again makes it very easy to make updates. I can update all of my 7 Drupal sites (including my restricted access book site), with a new Drupal release in less than ten minutes.
  • I use the Drupal Aggregator module to aggregate site entries in the Burningbird sidebar.
  • I manually created menu entries for the sub-site major topic entries in Burningbird. I also created views to display terms and stories by vocabulary, which I use in all of my sub-sites.
  • The site design incorporates a footer that expands the Primary navigation menu to show the secondary topic entries. I’ve also added back in a monthly archive, as well as recent writings links, to enable easier access of site contents.

The expanded primary menu footer was simple, using Drupal’s API:

$tree = menu_tree_all_data('primary-links');
print menu_tree_output($tree);

To implement the “Comment on this story” link for each story, I installed the Content Construction Kit (CCK), with the additional link module, and expanded the story content type to add the new “comment on this story” field. When I add the entry, I type in the URL for the comment post at Burningbird, which automatically gets linked in with the text “Comment on this story” as the title.

I manually manage the link from the Burningbird site to the sub-site writing, both because the text and circumstance of the link differs, and the CCK field isn’t included as part of the feed. I may play around with automating this process, but I don’t plan on writing entries so frequently that I find this workflow to be a burden.

The images were tricky. I have implemented both the piclens and mediaRSS Drupal Modules, and if you access any of my image galleries with an application such as Cooliris, you’ll get that wonderful image management capability. (I wish more people would use this functionality for their image libraries.)

I also display sub-site specific random images within the sub-site sidebars, but I wanted the additional capability to display random images from across all of the sites in the topmost Burningbird sidebar.

To get this cross-site functionality, I installed Gallery2 at, and synced it with the images from all of my sub-sites. I then installed the Gallery2 Drupal module at Burningbird (which you can view directly) and used Gallery2 plug-ins to provide random images within the Drupal sidebar blocks.

Drupal prevented direct access from Gallery2 to the image directories, but it was a simple matter to just copy the images and do a bulk upload. When I add a new image, I’ll just pull the image directly from the Drupal Gallery page using Gallery2’s image extraction functionality. Again, I don’t add so many images that I find this workflow to be onerous, but if others have implemented a different approach, I’d enjoy hearing of alternatives.

One problem that arose is that none of the Gallery2 themes is XHTML compliant because of HTML entity use. All I can say is: folks, please stop using &nbsp;. Use &#160; instead, if you’re really, really generating XHTML, not just HTML pretending to be XHTML.

To fix the non-compliant XHTML problem, I copied a version of my site to a separate theme, and just removed the PHP that serves the page up as XHTML for XHTML-capable browsers from this “Silhouette for HTML” theme. The Gallery2 Drupal modules allow you to specify a different theme for the Gallery2 pages, and I use the new HTMLated theme for the Gallery2 pages. I use my XHTML compliant theme for the rest of the site. Over time, I can probably add conditional tests to my main theme to test for the presence of Gallery blocks, but what I have is simple and works for now.

Lastly, I redirected the old Planet/Venus based feed locations to the Burningbird feed. You can still access full feeds from all of my sub-sites, and get full entries for all but the larger stories and books, but the entries at Burningbird will be excerpts, except for Burningbird-only posts. Speaking of which, all of my smaller status updates, and general chit-chat will be made directly at Burningbird—I’m leaving the sub-sites for longer, more in-depth, and “stand alone” writings.

As I mentioned earlier, I still have some work with SVG and RDFa to finish before I’m completely done with the redesign. I also have some additional tweaks to make with the existing infrastructure. For instance, I have custom 404403, and 410 error pages, but Drupal overrides the 403 and 404 pages. You can redirect the error handling to specific pages, but not to static pages, only to pages within the Drupal system. However, I’m not too worried about this issue, as I’m finding that there’s typically a Drupal module for any problem, just waiting to be discovered.

I know I must come across as a Drupal fangirl in this writing, but after using the application for over a year, and especially after this site redesign, I have found that no other piece of software matches my needs so well as Drupal. It’s not perfect software—there is no such thing as perfect software—but it works for me.

* This process convinced me to switch fully from using Firefox to using Safari. It was so much more simple to fix pages with XHTML errors using Safari than with Firefox’s overly aggressive XHTML error handling.

Just Shelley Photography Places

Forests I have loved

By accident and restless choice, I am the ultimate stone that gathers no moss and have lived all over this country. In each location, I’ve hiked whatever wilderness the area boasts, and one doesn’t truly know how beautiful this country is until you’ve walked the fields and forests, beaches and rivers.

In the Northwest, the wet rainforests of the Peninsula be-grudge every inch of the path and at times you feel as if the forest will swallow you whole, so rich and close it is. If one is fanciful, and the rainforests generate fancy, one would think to look closely at the bushes, to see if a set of eyes looks back. Cold water droplets down the back of one’s collar area is a typical Northwest rainforest experience. Elsewhere in the region, the forests are less dense but no less wild: whether walking the foothills of The Cascades, or the high hills of the Inland Empire.

As a break from the forests, one can walk the desert-like petrified forests, the rich meadows, or the beaches of the Oregon coast, getting lost among the rocks and the tidal pools, to climb sandy dunes and rocky cliffs. I have walked a thousand miles of Washington and Oregon through the years, and every mile is unique.

Roosevelt lake a few miles from where I grew up

In Arizona, the forests are in the north and consist mainly of Ponderosa and scrub pine. In the red rock country, the trees fight for a life among the rugged rocks, their green a brilliant counter-point to the rust reds of the ground, and the azure blue of the skies. In the Arizona deserts, one can turn about once, twice, and get lost if not careful, and during the summer, the wilderness is unforgiving of fools. But, oh the beauty of an Arizona desert in the Spring, with flowering cacti and cool breezes, snakes warming themselves in the sun, lizards scampering about. And the area is so rich with minerals that one can find entire valleys literally sprinkled with jasper or black or white onyx.

One might expect fierce wilderness in Vermont, but you’d be surprised. The entire state was clear cut at one time, and the trees are of a uniform sameness and type and size. But in the winter, when the snow is on the ground and the lakes are frozen, that’s when Vermont shines for me. The irony though is that there are few places to hike easily in Vermont. In the winter, on Grand Isle, the local high school opened its doors in the evenings for community members to walk the corridors, get a bit of exercise and socialize. When snow is 4 feet deep, you don’t just cut across the country for a bit of a hike. Unless you’re a red fox.

Once, when I stayed at a bed and breakfast in the central part of the state, I found a trail made by a snow trailer and was able to walk to the top of the hill the B & B was next to. The day was sunny and cold, and fresh snow was pure white, all about me. As I walked further and further up the hill, all sounds fell away until the only thing you can hear is your own heart.

Trail in Muir Woods, CA

In Massachusetts, there are miles of coasts to walk if you can find them. The water is warmer than the Pacific but more temperamental, and there are few experiences finer than to stand on a beach during a summer storm in New England. Wet. Truly wet.

I prefer hiking, but it’s hard to resist the lure of the Emerald Necklace in Boston for walking — the series of connected parks that traverse the city. In Boston, you’re always aware that the streets you walk were once walked by the likes of John Hancock, Samual Adams, and Paul Revere. It was in one part of the Necklace that I walked along a stream and a red-tailed hawk landed on a branch only a few feet away. Right in the middle of the city.

In Montana, the green forest gives way to mile after mind-numbing mile of cattle ranches before hitting rocky mountains that tear through the earth in jagged layers, dangerous to walk, beautiful to see. And In Idaho, the lakes rest like blue sapphires nestled in verdant green velvet.

In Northern California, you can walk among Redwood trees so tall that no other life grows on the forest floor, because no sunlight ever makes it past the trees. In the distance, you can hear birds singing, but not a sound at the forest floor. As you walk, you can reach out and pat a tree that was born about the time when Abraham gave birth to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Rocky Mountain forest

Here in Missouri, where mighty rivers have carved a culture unique to this region, of blues and banjos, where north and south meet and co-exist, this is a land of many faces: river fronts give way to wild mountain, which gives way to city, which gives away to parks absolutely unique in this country. One can walk every day in the year and still not touch all the trails and paths this state supports.

The mountains here are smaller than in the Northwest, but no less wild and no less fierce with brambles and tangles and rocks and soft clay ready to trip you up at every step. Here is where one is likely to meet white-tailed deer and beaver and black bear in addition to squirrel and opposom and raccoon. The bird life is as rich as the landscape, with bluebirds and red cardinals and mockingbirds and finch, hawk, eagle, and red-winged blackbird, all within a few miles of the city.

However, the real magic in this simple land is to walk the same path in all seasons; to see the land in winter, only hinted at behind lush trees and bushes in the summer; to watch a whole valley suddenly become dusted with green after a spring rain; to stand at the edge of the forest and see color that would shame the finest painters as the leaves of dozens of different trees of different heights and shapes change into their autumn colors, of gold and rust, pink and scarlet, with a hint here and there of defiant, stubborn green; to stand beneath a canopy of trees as golden leaves cascade down around you.

Trail in the fall