Thursday, December 24, 2009

A white Christmas...

The big snowstorm gave Speck a chance to bundle up and play -- could be the only accumulation she'll encounter, so nice it came in time for Christmas week. (22 months) Have a merry one, all!

snow 2

snowfall 3

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday week bits

  • Top 25 Censored Stories for 2009/2010 -- includes "US schools more segregated than in the 1950s" and "Katrina's hidden race war" among other things we'd probably rather forget.

  • A great send-up of the whole "best of" list tradition, from the Onion, of course: The Top 10 Stories of the Last 4.5 Billion Years, including such classics as "Rat-Shit-Covered Physicians Baffled By Spread Of Black Plague" and "Evolution going great, reports trilobite"

  • Everybody's heard the phrase "harder than herding cats," but I have to say that I forgive the fact that the following video is really an advertisement because it's such a detail-perfect embodiment of that concept. Right down to the guy using a tape roller to get cat hair off his shirt . . .
    (via Hotstuff on the KoL forums)

    holly sprig

  • This year is too soon for Santa stories, and I'm not sure whether we ever really want those to compete with, you know, Jesus stories, but anyway, this is a fabulous way to tell your kid about Santa when the time for reality arrives, and a good example of treating your kid with respect in just about any context.
    (via A Mindful Life)

  • Also, for those anticipating a rash of (possibly dull) holiday parties, here are 10 Science Party Tricks to amaze your friends (and maybe yourself as well). I can't wait to get home and try the candle/match one!!

  • Finally, just for fun, here's a pic of people having a snowball fight in Times Square to celbrate the epic snowfall of the weekend (memorably linked by the Twitter tag #snOMG). w00t!

Today's Twitter funny

Breaking news: Sun coming back gets 60 votes in Senate. Republicans unified in opposition.
- Medley (retweeted from pnh)

Friday, December 18, 2009

I can't wait for Part II

A hilarious tidbit for your Friday/weekend: Why the Phantom Menace Sucks. Very gratifying. That was some sad, soul-less movie-making there, and the skewering is skillful.


More news (previous here) on what things are and aren't worth buying organic (or some equivalent): 7 Foods that Experts Won't Eat includes some surprises, to me at least.
I've talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.
(via Rebecca's Pocket)

Art fun with baby

Finally uploaded a couple of photos of Speck's other art projects (only the first one has been made public previously) -- the camera has been clogged up with big movies, also just offloaded so that some day we can have more photos of the kid herself (and so that I will eventually process those videos to share speaking/playing Speck with the larger world). Meantime, these are cute enough to be worth posting for your weekend enjoyment . . .

pumpkin made of glued-down colored seeds
Second craft project, featuring seeds from our Halloween pumpkin

Speck's first watercolor -- abstract swirls, of course
Culmination of our exploration of watercolors

streetlight craft, from torn paper
Even though this one involved no paint (a disappointment to Speck), the fact that it featured a stoplight was considered nearly adequate compensation; she loves to narrate the state of the lights when we approach an intersection on foot...
[No real holiday theme, but it looks festive on Gammy's fridge!]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Maybe it's not all bad news

All the details of crumbling Senate negotiations and selling out of varous provisions have gotten me down about the prospects for healthcare reform worth caring about. Rafe (at offers some helpful alternative viewpoints. In particular, this from Kevin Drum:
Ten years ago this bill would have seemed a godsend. The fact that it doesn't now is a reflection of higher aspirations from the left, and that's great. It demonstrates a resurgence of liberalism that's long overdue. But this is still a huge achievement that will benefits tens of millions of people in very concrete ways and will do it without expanding our long-term deficit. Either with or without a public option, this is more than Bill Clinton ever did, more than Teddy Kennedy did, more than LBJ did, more than Truman did, and more than FDR did. There won't be many other times in our lives any of us will be able to say that. So pass the bill. The longer we wait, the worse it will get. Pass it now.
I hope he's right, and I hope we can!

Peck, peck, peck

Are we there yet? Closer every day . . .

(tweeted by Medley via Genehack)

Is this the vanishing heyday of the Internet?

line drawing of a computerMan, do I love living in the Internet age -- from figuring out What Show That Guy Is Familar From while I'm still watching it, to easily looking up a fact that you're curious about, to doing all my Christmas shopping on lunch and coffee breaks without having to fight the madding crowds. But I'll admit that some of my Google search results have become perplexing lately. Sometimes you get 25 sites recycling the same low-expertise article, and sometimes sites that seem to be filled only with ads, sort of clustered around word salad -- both of these are common for parenting questions, as well as attempts to research options for home projects. Apparently others have noticed, and the phenomenon is more widespread than I'd realized; as the author at the above link notes, "To a first approximation, the entire web is spam when it comes to appliance reviews."

Perhaps this is something that Google will be able to overcome algorithmically. But I suspect that what we're looking at is another arms race, in the mode of the ever-escalating battle between email spammers and filters. Most of us have learned to just shrug and sigh about the fact that 10-90% of our email is crap (depending on the recency of the account and the vigilance of your network provider), but it sucks, and I'm sad to think that someday a quick Google search may feel the same way.


Twitter quote of the day

Breaking News: Senate agrees to drop healthcare reform from HCR bill. Will be replaced with picture of Calvin peeing on you.
- HunterDK

Monday, December 14, 2009

The volcano demands a sacrifice!

erupting volcanoMan, Lieberman's antics just never stop -- he's getting close to Arlen Specter for making the most personal publicity out of every piece of public policy, while never actually helping anything (good) happen. Let's just stipulate that he's a giant putz.

Still, I'm sort of amazed that people are continually surprised by his behavior on healthcare reform. What seems obvious is that (1) he's more popular with Republicans than Democrats in his home state, so he has no pressure to play along with the caucus, and, more importantly, (2) he comes from the heartland of the insurance industry, and could make a legitimate claim to be serving his state by serving insurance company interests, even if he weren't already their bought man. I don't believe that there is any reform proposal or compromise that actually improves things for the average citizen that Lieberman will be able to support. Congress needs to find a way to make things happen without him.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Staying power

I guess this is an illustration of the difference between holding an office and being an institution. Not advocating for monarchy, but it gives one a crazy sense of how a single individual might have historical perspective!

(via a tweet from BagNewsNotes)

When science tells us what we don't want to hear

The reaction to the proposed change in mammogram guidelines (see, e.g., here if you've slept through it) is symptomatic of what's wrong with much of our medical system -- people want more of everything (tests, procedures, drugs), feeling that interventions protect them with a magical shield of Technology. In fact, every test risks a false positive or uncovering something that never would have been a problem; every procedure risks complications more serious than what's being treated; every prescription risks being needless or even harmful. But all we can see is that "wait and see" might mean that things get worse. Thus it can be hard to go along with evidence-based recommendations that argue that in many instances less is more. We need to learn to take scientific consensus as the "right" guideline, rather than hunches and instinctive insecurity, even if it means changing our mental model of good medical care.

(via a Medley tweet)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Excellent things

Am accepting the challenge from NowThis to blog things that we find excellent in one way or another. The main thing that I want to highlight is Adagio Teas, an online tea vender that earns its claim to be the friendliest/easiest place on the web to buy tea. What qualifies them for my recommendation is threefold:
  1. Some totally fantastic teas. Their Keemun Concerto has completely revolutionized my view of tea, with its gentle carmel and smoky tastes -- I sometimes spike other teas with a pinch of this, especially if drinking decaf -- and their Yunan Jig (more balanced, but a pleasant surprise every time) and Pu Erh Dante (more earthy and leathery; I love it, but some wouldn't) also rock my world. I have a bunch of other varieties too (Dragonwell green and Jasmine #12, which is pearls, round out my regulars, with ChaCha for days when my throat needs herbal goodness), and the best part is that they're happy to sell you small sample tins for a couple of bucks, so you can try out new varieties or slight variants without committing big bucks.

  2. Adagio's elegant and useful brewing gadgetA great gizmo for brewing loose teas -- it's like a big mug, and you put in the tea and water, and then drain the brewed tea into your cup by setting it on top. As easy as could possibly be, especially for use in places like the office, where you don't want tea balls or other paraphenalia lying around. The latest generation has a removable filter, which eliminates the only problem I ever had with the first one (which lasted nearly 10 years of daily use at work), which was a little dust getting stuck under the filter and affecting other teas.

  3. They not only provide very clear recommendations for brewing their tea (in terms of both time and water temperature), but also offer a downloadable timer widget that lets you keep track of the brewing on your computer (using their times or your own tweaked ones) for a perfect cup every time. Totally spiff!
Plus, their site is easy to use, includes reviews, and stores your preferences, order history, and "frequent buyer points" for future visits. Altogether user-friendly and... excellent!

A couple unrelated things that are great:
  • Any food from Tiffin, who amazingly deliver their Indian delights anywhere in Philadelphia. You can even phone ahead and get on the list for their lunchtime tiffins (sort of Indian bentos). We always order a ridiculous amount of papadum.

  • My digital camera, the Canon PowerShot SD1200 (actually, mine's the 1100, but this is its closest kin), which is very easy to use, takes great photos (without limits on proximity!) and better video than our dedicated video camera (plus being uploadable via USB), while taking up almost no space and rarely needing recharging. My Christmas present last year, and couldn't be happier, which is saying a lot for a parent of a toddler.

  • These five books, that I read in about a one-year period and have been meaning to blog ever since: Ender's Game (Card), The Things They Carried (O'Brien), Doomsday Book (Willis), My Name is Asher Lev (Potok), and Feast of All Saints (Rice). Each deeply evocative, very difficult in spots (or throughout), moving and thoughtful. Each leaves me with a vivid stab of emotion when I think about it . . .
Thanks to Steve for making me think about all these things and send a little appreciation out into the universe!

Quote of the day

At times I also hear the wind blow by
And find that merely to hear the wind blow makes
it worth having been born.
- Fernando Pessoa
(via whiskey river)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

One man's sniper is another man's efficiency expert

Thinking about buying something on eBay? How to do it right, from both efficiency and sanity points of view. Plus a little snark, why not.

(via kottke)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Strategic note

donkeys head to headThe gamesmanship in the Senate right now is infuriating, but I found this analysis illuminating. That is, while Lieberman is a putz, in this instance he's just cover for a lot of unhappy moderates and conservatives in the Democratic caucus. To me, the key bit is in the comments, about what it means to really have a majority:
What this whole debacle has clearly settled once and for all is that after you pass the 50 Senators needed to win a majority (and all the benefits that come with that), having more Democrats is far less important than having better Democrats, because simply expanding our caucus in the Senate is utterly meaningless if we do not have 60 of them who are willing to support procedural votes on legislation they intend to vote against.
Indeed, and that latter is what it really means to be on a team. Lieberman is definitely not, but he's not really alone. There's also some interesting discussion about the historical (obstructionist) purpose of the Senate itself...

Snark of the day

I'm so old I can remember before we elected Olympia Snowe king.
-- Josh Marshall

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Obama administration approves arctic drilling. Remind me how this is good for the environment/nation/climate/anything non-corporate?
(via a Medley tweet)

Edit: I guess it's worth pairing this depressing news with other data making clear that this administration is different from its predecessor in many ways...

Monday, December 07, 2009

To Speck at 21 months (or so)...

giant flower -- crop2It seems that every 3-month interval brings an almost unconveyable rush of change, and this one is no different. I've already summarized some of the flurry of language that you took on in the middle of this stretch, which has continued with an ever-expanding ability to repeat new words with comprehension and to throw them together into short phrases -- although not the stereotypical "me go" and "want milk" sort, but rather "throw away" and "fell off" and a host of other directions and descriptions of what's going on. (The biggest logistical improvement to your parents was your ability to answer either/or questions, a relatively late development in this vein.) You also got intonation very quickly (before words), so that you could convey a lot with a few syllables: gee-hah was clearly bye-bye, uh (upward inflection)/dah (downward inflection) was clearly a game of up and down, and naaah expressed an eye-rolling disavowal of your parents' latest crazy suggestion ("are we having turtle food?")... It is fun to watch your confidence with language grow, as well as the variety of conversations that it allows us to share.

One of your favorite types of conversation is the Epic Tale of You. This involves some striking experience that you've had, and then retell/elicit from us by way of a few words and gestures, insisting that all the highlights be told again and again until many of them are seared into our memory. You took Yogi to the vet, they walked away down the hall with her, you said "hey, bring her back!", eventually they brought her back, you and Dad came home and let her out of the carrier. You rode on the bus with Mom, you waited for a while first, then you sat in your own seat; Tsah (Golden Bear) sat on the seat too. Mom has a stroller, and I have a popper -- we both are pushing things. I dropped a cracker at the playground, we threw it away, and then a squirrel went into the trash can and came out holding my cracker! And, more recently, the perpetual thrills of full and empty: all of those swings are empty ("noi!" = nobody), and I'm in this one; before, that kid was in that swing, but now it's empty; now there are kids in this and that one, and the others are empty; now they are all full! My verbalization of this particular stream of narration makes other parents look askance, as they seem to think I'm entertaining myself rather than responding to your insistance, but you thrill to your awareness of these matters.

swinging 2 (crop2)

What else is big these days?
  • You very much love all things bus -- riding, pointing them out when walking, sending your toy monkeys on trips on the bus slot of your wooden puzzle, etc.

  • The color blue has come back into ascendance (see previous here, Point 1), especially when there's any choice of what to wear, from bibs to pants (and despite the difficulty in making any of your 100 shades of pink sweaters match your 1-2 pairs of blue pants).

  • autumn treeCraft projects, especially those involving paints, have really engaged you. Mom got some inspiration from A Mindful Life and seeks out specific seasonal ideas from this site -- have only done a handful so far, but you were quite revved up, curious about the steps, careful with your messy hands, proud to see your results displayed on wall, fridge, or at Gammy's. We recently did some watercolor painting (after seeing a picture of a set of paints in a Richard Scarey book), and you really got into it, chanting "dip... and paint... dip... and paint..." while swooping color over the page. There will be more of this!

  • Counting -- you seem to have learned the sequence of numbers organically from the various library books and so forth that feature numbers and counting, and you've made it into a playful game. Anytime that either parent mentions a number of something, you immediately "up the ante" -- "I'm going to button two buttons on your coat" "3!... 4!..." "4??" "5!... 6!..." and so forth. Quite cute. Books that feature counting backwards seem to put you off a bit, as they undermine your security about what numbers follow each other, but otherwise, you're quick to jump to the number on any page, however it may fall in the rhythm or rhyme...

  • You've started wanting to Do Things For Yourself. Much of this is helpful -- adding food to the cat dishes, washing your hands (with some assistance and a pair of new stepstools), carrying things, picking up the mail, or most recently putting on your tennies -- but some of it is pesky and/or boundary-testing (wanting to cross the street without holding hands, say). I'm sure that the latter category will expand greatly with time, but for the most part so far it's all pretty cute.
There are also a few lesser things that have changed: for example, you now sleep on your stomach, curled on top of or around 4 stuffed animals (Golden Bear=Tsah, elephant, mouse, oscelot=Oss), with an occasional book joining the menagerie in the crib; more amazingly, you often wake up in the same quadrant of the crib that you fell asleep in! You sometimes sing to yourself in the car seat, mostly tuneless little hums of contentment. You also narrate long solo games involving little figures of various sorts, whether they're monkeys on the ends of your fingers or characters in a castle or cars going down the slide. Finally, you have invested some magic into Scotch tape, which not only can mend a torn book page, but is suggested for holes in the ground and mom's aching arm muscles; there's a "booboo juice" that's more specific to your skinned knees or head bumps, but I sense that the tape represents a sort of fixing of abstract things gone wrong . . .


Well, that captures about all of it, except how fun it is to be around you, and how much your parents fall more in love with you every day. Uppy up up!

Beyond mere organization -- attitude?

This approach to deleting email just blew my mind. This guy clears his box every day or two, by just being ruthless -- either it's worth dealing with now, should be moved into a projects folder outside the email realm, or is just not going to happen. I don't know whether I could be that hardcore, but I find myself inspired...

Huh, wha?

Oog, Monday. Spouse and I took advantage of a Speck visit with Gammy to (1) see a movie on Saturday night (! in a theater!), and (2) buy a Christmas tree (and some poinsettas, etc.) on Sunday morning. I then spent a good portion of the middle of Sunday making the house festive and cozy, at the price of feeling like this this morning... Feh.

cozy house in snowWill decorate tree this evening, our first family tree. Hopefully it's prickly enough to deter cats, skinny enough to live with/around all month, but nice enough to make a really happy tree. To Speck, it's just another thrilling craft project (frustratingly deferred), but I suspect that the magic will strike her, once the lights are on and she has some ownership of the whole thing. Who knows. Quite fun already from our vantage... (Will post photos when it's done.)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday bits

A few entertainments for your weekend enjoyment...
  • A very amusing newspaper ad that presents itself as a handy sort of new media. (Not sure it's really an Apple parody, but the feeling is similar.)

  • The Obameter: keeping track of how many of his campaign promises Obama is keeping (or at least trying to). Actually a pretty positive showing this far.

  • Simultaneously grim and amusing: a hand-crank machine that lets anybody earn minimum wage. Just keep cranking!!

Where's the blogger?

playground iconSeem to have no time right now -- maybe I never did, and I just wasted more of it, who knows. But one thing that has been taking a portion of time (real-life + online) is an attempt to figure out where the playgrounds in Philadelphia are and which are worth visiting. Useful to other parents, anyway...

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tuesday bits

  • We could fund universal healthcare and more just from what the Pentagon has misplaced in its budget.

  • Wikipedia is losing its most valuable volunteers. Does this spell the end of user-participation-driven... anything?
    (via Follow Me Here)

  • Local kerfluffle: nicer bike lanes means more bikes on city roads. Local politicians hyperventilate; they and local journalists miss the point. Those people on bikes are shopping locally. Learn to live with them.
    (via a comment at Young Philly Politics)

  • In the wake of Thanksgiving: Does counting your blessings really help? The answer seems to be pretty clearly yes.

  • A funny to get you through hump day: The world according to Americans, in cartoon form. Too, too, true!!
    (via boing boing)