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January 17, 2004

Winter Vacation 2003-2004

I always have several weeks off at the end of the year, as my division of Honeywell gives a paid vacation between Christmas and New Years. (This is an aerospace industry tradition, I believe.) This gives me some time to return to the land of my fathers, my birthplace, my motherland: Granger, Indiana. The sights are familiar, and the warmth of my family more than makes up for the coldness of the weather.

We had several celebrations over the course of the stay, so I had the chance to see many of my extended family. My dad's siblings and their families joined us for Christmas Eve dinner, we went to my grandfather's house for Christmas day, and we hosted three other parties (a reunion with my mom's cousins and families, New Year's Eve, and my dad's birthday). This, as well as the holiday preparations (including gift buying and other preparations), kept everyone busy. The time went by too fast, but these pictures document its passing.

Our Christmas tree, in the Great Room. This room was added to the house in 1992, and has lots of space. My parents always put a lot of effort into decorating the room for the holidays. A friend described the room as "a winter wonderland".
The Great Room is warmed by a gas stove.
My grandfather created a number of snowflakes out of wood, and my parents hung them from the high ceiling of the Great Room.
Another view of the tree, with some Christmas Eve presents beneath it.
My mom put together an excellent dinner on Christmas Eve, for the Borlik family. After my parents added on the Great Room, they converted the former Living Room of the house into a dining room.
My (paternal) grandmother's sister Frances, my sister Emily, and my (maternal) grandfather John. After dinner, we adjourned to open gifts.
The floor was filled with the detritus of gift wrappings. Our annual exchange was successful.
My Aunt Davina, Uncle Bill, and my dad (left to right).
Children of Elizabeth (my grandmother), and her sister Frances. My dad, uncle Bill, and aunt Kate.
My immediate family. My mom, me, my dad, grandpa, and sister.
My dad.
My first cousins. Mark Sniadecki, Laura, Emily, me, Mike.
Aunt Kate!!
On Christmas day, after opening some presents with my parents and sister, we went to my grandfather's house. This is the wreath over his fireplace.
We had another gift exchange at my grandfather's. My sister and I got my grandpa a new television (in the big box).
We stayed in on New Year's Eve. My mom has funny hats that are probably collectors' items from some past party.
Let me wish you a happy new year.
My mom and dad dance a jig to celebrate the coming of 2004.
There was one final party on my trip: My dad celebrated his birthday on January 6.

January 04, 2004


Various family members, including my mom, have been compiling family tree information over the past several years. This information is interesting from several perspectives: It is nice to know something about one's family, and the structure of the data itself presents several interesting computer-science related questions.

There seems to be a fairly well-accepted standard for family tree data interchange. This format, called GEDCOM, can be exported via most family-tree programs. It consists of plain text with markup characters, almost like an old version of XML. (The format really should be XML, as it would greatly ease parsing. The GEDCOM standards body would then simply release an XDSL that describes the grammar.) There is a Perl module, provided by Paul Johnson, which parses the file and provides a programming interface for dealing with the information. The data itself is straightforward, consisting of individual information and family tables, with a referencing syntax for relating individuals and families (replaced with XPath in the XML world?).

So, there is a well-known and standardized data format. There are utilities to parse the data and some APIs for dealing with it programmatically. There are lots of user-interfaces (in the form of commercial programs), and there are even some (Perl) CGI scripts for web-based interfaces. (It seems like many of the commercial programs also provide server space and hosting for family trees, which may be useful for some, but I simply cannot imagine surrounding my family information with advertisements or useless claptrap.)

The display of family information on the web brings up some privacy issues. Sometimes, organizations use family information (e.g. mother’s maiden name) to verify identity. (Of course, the world is foolish… Some form of public/private encryption keys should be used for identity verification. Not something as crackable as publicly-available information.) Medical history information would be very useful for the family to compile (as genetic information is more useful than accidents like birthdates and death dates), but would need to be kept very private. Living family members may not want that kind of information displayed.

It would seem like that the privacy issues would dictate that family information should not be publicly available. (It might be posted via the internet, if appropriate security measures are put into place, such as accounts and such. The internet can be used in many ways, and private collaboration is an important one.) Is there any utility that can be derived from public display of family history information? It would be interesting to search trees developed by strangers, to see if there are any interconnections. Long-lost branches could be united or at least new leads developed. The information would also be useful from a sociological point of view: With detailed and well-maintained data, and standard ways of interfacing with it programmatically, researchers would be able to study society in innovative ways.

Humanity can be thought of as a massive family tree, with many individuals and families, all interconnected. Some people are researching and documenting their “local” areas of the overall tree. How can these people work together? (Imagine that there are no privacy concerns, for a moment.) Some of the local areas overlap, and some have developed those overlap areas better than others. It is a difficult computer science problem (but tractable, I think). There needs to be automatic ways of merging “local tree” information together. There needs to be search utilities, naming conventions, discovery protocols, etc. The Gendex project seems to be addressing some of these issues.

I might try playing around with some of these concepts. At least, I will set up some private accounts, and use the family tree data that my mom compiled with Paul Johnson's Perl CGI scripts.

January 02, 2004

MT-MostVisited Plugin, version 2

I've updated the MT-MostVisited plugin, with some of the features that have been most requested. The updated docs are posted in the original blog entry here, and the zip archive can be downloaded here. (The original docs can be found here.)

In particular, the plugin now is configured via the MT template, rather than by editing the Perl script directly. This should allow for many interesting features, such as multiple blogs, wildcards for log location and filetypes, multiple archive directories, and zipped log files.

Please check it out! I recommend it for all MTMostVisited users, although it will break existing installations (because of the change in configuration method). Editing of the Perl plugin script is simply not a very good way of dealing with user-configuration information, and it had to change.

2004 Start

Welcome to the new year: 2004!

It is customary to take some time to consider the previous year, and to set goals for year to come. Maybe I’ll post some of my thoughts, later.