Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Overheard

The FP Gal got me a Viking snuggie for my birthday. It's to be worn up in my office which really isn't heated. (Tonight's starting temp up there was 45 degrees. That's away from my more enclosed area with it's personal space heater.) Anyway, tonight was the first night that I actually got it out of the package to wear. Relia was excited to see it. Her comment: "It's so . . . romantic!"
Um, that isn't how I would describe (nor the FP Gal) but it's nice that she sees the world in happy terms.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Happy Monday

(Relia helped me pick this out.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Game of the Moment?

Interesting article in the Washington Post about 'Settlers of Catan' and whether it's the game of the moment in the same way that 'Monopoly' was during the depression. 'Settlers' is the most popular of the German style of games and a very good starter game towards more serious strategy games. The Post's description:
It is, like Monopoly, a multiplayer real-estate development game, in this case set on an island rich in natural resources to which players have limited access. You need ore to build a city, and if you can't mine enough yourself, you can trade - but the wood you surrender in exchange may help your partner, or boost or thwart someone else. In Settlers, the trading - and the interconnected fates of the players - keeps everyone involved even when they aren't rolling the dice; there are multiple ways to win; and players are often neck-and-neck until the very end. The game has been constructed to last an hour, 90 minutes tops. And each time you play, the board, which is made up of 19 hexagons, is assembled anew.
The article continues to suggest that it may suggest a good model of thought for current Americans:
Settlers teaches new ways of thinking and presents a different notion of winning: by a nose instead of by a mile. The game is won by earning 10 victory points, but points are earned by a combination of building settlements and cities, having the longest road or the largest army, or drawing cards. A Settlers win doubles as a lesson in a world where resources are finite and unevenly distributed. It's a game for a moment when no one - even Americans, happily playing board games - should expect a perpetual monopoly on power.
Er, I don't know about that. I've taken two main things away from my times playing. One is that geography is destiny. The other is that random chance makes winners and losers. The first point is less true today than it maybe ever has been what with enhanced mobility and the rise of information and service as backbone industries. The other point is tendentious at the very least. While the randomness of dice rolling is necessary in game play, in the real world people can make their own way. Unpredictable events can obviously play a large role, but overall philosophy is much more important in the long run.
I don't know if there are any board games that really serve as a good model for the real world actions of people. In board games there are clear winners and losers and the world is something of a zero sum affair. In order for me to win, you must lose and every action contributes one way or the other. In real life there are constant additions of value. If I succeed at my job it isn't because my co-workers did badly. Not even because my business competitors did so. Game play doesn't reflect that. (Also, 'Monopoly' doesn't reflect any real kind of economics.)
Board games do teach life skills and they're useful at that. But it's silly to make too much of that. If we're looking for a world where not only our country succeeds (and I think we are) then we have to put down the dice and look elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Geography

Last week I talked with a very nice lady who needed to fly from Hartford CT to Boise ID. This involved a connection in Chicago and she had to choose between two options. One of them was based on the absolute minimum time necessary to get from one flight to the other and the next one would keep here in O'Hare for about four hours. She wanted the shorter one but if she missed the connection she'd be stuck in Chicago overnight.
Got all that? Good. As we were talking through her options she asked me, "If I miss the flight, how far of a drive is it to Boise?".
"Um, about two days." She had trouble believing this. I went on to tell her that it might be a shorter drive from Hartford to Chicago. What does Google say?

Hartford to Chicago: 892 miles, 14 hours and 13 min.
Chicago to Boise: 1691 miles, 1 day and 2 hours (and I'm calling 26 hours worth of driving at least two days)

I don't mean this as a sneer at anyone's lack of spatial awareness. People that live on the east coast don't have a good feel for just how big the plains states are. On the other hand we folks in the middle have a tough time figuring out just how close together it all is out there. Last month Hans drove from Virginia to Rhode Island, Google says that would take about 10 hours. That's seven different states in only 10 hours. (Well, a shorter time when Hans is driving.)
You know how far you'd need to drive to get seven states away from Minnesota? Quite a bit.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Santa Conversation

Yesterday Relia started asking questions about Santa. Her first one was most intelligent: how does he come down into the fireplace and not get burned? I told her he was very careful and had been doing this for a long time. This was something of an offhand explanation and it was out of my mouth before I realized that I had just committed us to the Santa myth.
The FP Gal and I really should have talked about it before now and gotten on the same page. Whoops! She seemed ok with this when I told her and I'm not sure if we would have been better off trying to defuse it anyway. The idea of Santa, the gift-bringer, is fairly prominent in the things she sees and the music that she hears. If she was the one kid at her preschool who knew the truth, then she'd just become a pain to other kids (and by extension) their parents.
Besides (I tell myself) this isn't a harmful myth. I figured it out long before my parents fessed up. I've talked with co-workers who said the same thing. I have no doubt that in a couple of years she'll be lying to Felix about Santa, just to protect him. That's how this all works out.
And there are benefits! She really wants to see the reindeer, that's the most interesting part for her. Well, we told her that they won't come here if she's asleep. But that doesn't mean she can't leave food out for them. Or that they can't leave some tracks in the backyard (snow permitting). How cute will that be?
She'll soon find out that the world is sometimes a cruel place. Let her keep some innocence for awhile.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

Our birthday weekend is nearly done and it was a very good one. I was asked this year if I like our matched birth dates and the truth is I really do. It gives us the chance to celebrate together. Some notes:
  • My brother and sister have similar birth dates with their spouses too. Not as close as we do, but pretty close all the same. Either it is some kind of weird coincidence or some kind of strange astrology is at work.
  • Two gifts really stand out. I got the first three seasons of 'Moonlighting' and a Lego Beach House. I have very fond memories of Maddie and David fighting and let's face it, this is probably the only beach house I'll ever have.
  • The FP Gal was going to give me a football day without kids. The idea was that I'd go out someplace else and watch the game. Well, we had freezing rain overnight and I'm much afeared of the icy roads so that didn't quite work. But she kept them out of my hair anyway. Thanks, hon!
It's been a good and eventful year.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Appeal of Gold

I've got to admit, this is pretty interesting.

Happy Birthday!

To the FP Gal! Another good year under our belt and you still look as lovely as the day that I first met you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Overheard

Audio version!

We've got the Christmas CD in the car and Relia is struggling to understand this song. Santa isn't a baby. Felix is a baby! Anyway, this was from this morning's go round.

Relia: What is she singing about?
Me: She's trying to be nice to Santa so she can get some presents.
Relia: (after some thought) From his bags?
Me: Yes.
Relia: All of the toys?
Me: Well, kind of.
Relia: (very quickly) And then she can get them all and put them in a garage sale so that I can get them and play with them!
Me: Uh . . .

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Timely Parental PSA

Link here. We haven't really dug deeply into this yet but I'm sure we will at some point.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Car Seat

The FP Gal mentioned that we've bumped each of the kids up one seat. That means Relia is now in a booster seat (and will be until she's 16 or something like that). This isn't a big change for her. The buckle mechanism is the same. The only real difference is that it's not quite as high a seat and she can't see out as well. But . . . she's growing pretty fast and that won't be an issue soon.
Felix has now moved from the bucket style car seat to a more traditional one. (There are probably technical names and the FP Gal and all the ladies on her chat sites would probably laugh at my terminology. So be it.) The bucket was great because we would strap him into it while inside the house and then carry him to the car. Then it would lock into a base and be all set to go. On the other end of the trip you simply undo the bucket and you can carry his colossal bulk around.
Not anymore! Now we carry him out to the car and fight with him over the straps. Then we get somewhere else and tote him around manually. Usually this only means transferring him into a stroller or shopping cart (with even more straps!). But this isn't fun at all.
And the worst part is the timing. Relia was born in August and was in her bucket seat until after she could walk around. Felix, of course, was a spring baby and we've made this switch just in time for winter. So all that lugging of our chunk of baby is done with ice, snow and cold weather. Ugh.
It's the right time to change him and I'm not complaining about that. Only, the timing really is bad and I'm not looking forward the next six months of winter.

Happy Monday

Sunday, November 14, 2010

RIP 2010 Vikings

I haven't written much about the Vikings this year in part because they've been hard to get a handle on. Didn't want to judge them much during pre-season because it was obvious that they were waiting on Favre to rush in and save them. In the first few games the offense looked rusty and the defense was just good enough for them to lose closely. They've had so many injuries and turnover at wide receiver that it seemed like a few good weeks of practice and they could get back to being a high powered offense. But it never happened.
Instead they continued to start slowly and sputter along, still losing close games. Never really out of it, but never in control either. They looked like they were playing the third game of preseason. Every week, they looked like they were playing the third game of preseason.
At the same time it seemed like every tipped ball was ending up in the hands of the other team. Penalties would happen at the worst time. Never did they look like the smartest or best prepared team on the field.
And now after today's loss to Chicago, they're pretty much out of it. They could theoretically win their last seven games to finish 10-6 and have a shot at the playoffs. But there is no reason to think that the team that has played so far would actually do so. If anything they look ready to quit on the coach and let the bottom fall out. A 5-11 season is looking more and more likely. I don't know about the rest of you but I've officially given up hope for them. I want one more win next week and after that . . . it really won't matter.

So what's next? For the 2011 Vikings I want two changes at the top. Head coach of course, first and most importantly. Childress has grown wearisome here and it's time for a change. The top of my wish list is a veteran, established coach. Someone who has a history of taking talented teams and doing something with them. Bill Cowher would be my first choice. (True fact, of the two teams that I follow the most closely, Vikings and White Sox, both have always had first time coaches while I followed them. Every single one spent time getting his feet wet.)
The second change will obviously be at the quarterback position. This won't be a hard one to face up to because Favre looks like they playing desire is being beaten out of him. I have no clue what direction they'll go here. Jackson doesn't seem to be any kind of long term answer. Probably a veteran QB in the short term while some better option is drafted and groomed. While we're at it, get some depth on the offensive line, for crissake! And some players in the secondary who can cover would also be a plus.

It's a strange year in the NFL and very few teams have looked dominant. That should make the playoff race especially interesting. It would be better if the Vikes were part of that . . . but that just doesn't seem to be in the cards this year.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

10 Essential Books from the last 25 Years

(Yay, a book list!)

Here is an interesting list of recent books. The list is made in an effort to suggest a common canon, books that most everyone would have read. Sound good? Here it is:

The Road - McCarthy
Fight Club - Palahniuk
Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao - Diaz
The Beach - Garland
White Teeth - Smith
Infinite Jest - Wallace
New York Trilogy - Auster
Million Little Pieces - Frey
Ender's Game - Card
Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Eggers


How many of them have you read? I've read two of them ('Ender's Game' and 'Oscar Wao') though there are three others of them on my shelf waiting. I've at least heard of them (except the 'New York Trilogy'). But does that mean that this list represents books that most people would have read? No, of course not.
Because we live in a fractured culture. We don't listen to the same music, watch the same TV, go to the same movies or read the same books anymore. That's just how it is.
By the way, they also included a list of additional books that almost made the cut:

The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2003)
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (2005)
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (1997 – 2007)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2003)


Aha! Take a look! The Harry Potter books by Rowling are probably the closest that we come to something that most everyone would have read. That's it. (And now that I think of it, the 'Twilight' books might have taken their place.)
One other thing of note, how many of the twenty books here have you heard of solely from the movie adaptation? That's probably the other route to a shared culture. The book has to be good enough, get enough attention and then be turned into something shared.

(Or . . . you can get some promotion on Oprah . . .)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Language - Suzanne Vega


This is one of those sneaky songs that you don't pay much attention to on the first few runs through an album. But it's now one of my favorites.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Ghibli Art

Holy cat bus, this stuff is cute. Make certain to click the 'earlier' button at the bottom of the pages to see more stuff. I'd love some of the prints for the kids rooms.
On a related note, the FP Gal was thrilled with the Totoro appearance in 'Toy Story 3'. That's one of the reasons why I love her!

Dreamsnake - McIntyre

This was the 1978 Hugo winning book.

The curtain opens on a young healer named Snake, a young woman who uses actual altered snakes to heal people. She is helping a young boy with a tumor, by spurring one of her snakes to attack it, poison the cancerous bit and save his life. While this happens the boy's tribe kills one of her other medicinal snakes out of fear. This is terrible news for Snake since her helpers are rare and difficult to breed.
The curtain opens wider and we see that this is a post nuclear war world, probably Earth. There are still small tribes and towns and levels of technology vary greatly. Snake is afraid that she won't be allowed back with the other healers after losing her snake. She sets off on a quest of sorts, picking up new obligations and directions as she goes.
This won both the Hugo and the Nebula (British sci-fi award) so it must have been well thought of. From this vantage point it's hard to see why. Not that it's a bad book by any means, it just isn't all that good. The world building is interesting but not spectacular. The ideas don't really 'wow' and the writing isn't all that special. McCafferey's 'White Dragon' was nominated for the same award and it's a much better book in many ways.

Monday, November 08, 2010

One Last Nice Day?

Actually, I haven't looked at a forecast, we might have nice weather for weeks and I wouldn't know. Anyway, today was nice enough for us to go to the park. 'Us' being Relia, Felix and I. Relia made a last minute plea for somewhere else but I told her it would be a sin to waste a sixty degree day in November.
Once we got there she ran off to make new friends and left Felix and I with the stroller. The park we went to is right underneath the flight path and we had several jets go over. Every time one did, Felix would become entranced and follow it along until it was out of view. I think he was in awe.
Relia made new best friends. She does every time we go. They're best friends for an hour or so and then she never sees them again. (I meant that to sound poetic but it came out really pathetic. She seems ok with this arrangement. I'm sure that regular school will bring about some life long mates.)
It was a very pleasant time.

Have a Nice Monday

Sunday, November 07, 2010

TV for Every State

Remember the state map with representative movies? Well, someone decided to do the same thing with TV shows. For Minnesota they went with 'Coach' while I would have gone with 'Mary Tyler Moore'. I hate to say it but I don't recognize a bunch of these. (Though maybe that's a good thing . . .)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Overheard

While playing with Relia . . .

Relia: I'm not a baby!
Me: Are you a little girl?
Relia: Yes.
Me: Are you a big girl?
Relia: I'm a big sister!
Me: And what am I?
Relia: (thinking) You can be the cash register!

Nanowrimo Story

Ok, here is the opening bit:

The entire thing, all of it in it's bizarre entirety started with a strange waitress asking me about a drink that I never ordered.

"So how did that Colorado Bulldog treat you? I was right, wasn't I?"

Well, she was cute enough. Enough that I didn't want to just tell her that she had the wrong guy and give her a cold shoulder. Besides I was on the road and when you're out of town you can use all of the friends that you can get, right? So I looked her straight in the eye, focused on her, gave a winning smile and said, "Huh?". Women usually remember me for my wit.

I got a smile in return. "The Bulldog. I told you it was tasty." Her smile fell a bit. "You didn't like it?"

No place to turn now but honesty, "Miss, I'm afraid that you have someone else in mind. I'm a beer drinker. Sorry."

The smile came back. "That's what you said earlier and then I told you to at least try this one out." Some uncertainty in her eyes. Then she glanced down at my suit and then back to my face. "It was you wasn't it?"

"I'm sure if you offered it to me I'd have drunk it. But it wasn't me. Sorry."

This surprised her. "Well, I must have the wrong guy. But boy, you really do look like him. You don't have a brother here do you?"

"Nope. I'm an only child."

"Well, sorry to have bothered you."

My new friend made to leave. "Wait, it wasn't a bother. Not at all." I had to think quickly. "In fact, you've sold me on the drink. I'm sitting over there," as I pointed back to one corner of the bar, "with my work friends. You can bring one of those pit bulls over if you'd like."

The smile came back, "Not a pit bull, a bulldog!" A quick chuckle. "I'll get one for you." Off she went and I discovered that she was a pleasant sight coming or going.

I made my way to the men's room, finished my business there and got back to the table in hopes of arriving before she did. Not to worry, she was nowhere to be seen. I scanned the bar and couldn't spot her at all. Bad luck on my part. There is almost nothing better than a pretty woman who starts a conversation with you unprompted. Sadly, I returned to my lone beer.

A few minutes later she showed up with our original waitress and set a drink in front of me. I started to thank them and then noticed that they were both staring at me. She said, "I just don't believe it!" I don't get that response from women very often. In fact, this was a little embarrassing.

The original waitress shook her head too. "I don't believe it either. You really don't have a brother here?"

By this time my whole table was trying to figure out what was going on. Their conversation had completely stopped and they were looking at me. I muttered something like, "Really I don't have one. I'm an only child."

The waitresses looked at each other and then the newer one said, "Well, you'll have to come with us and check this out. Your identical twin is here."

I glanced around at the table and saw some grins. This felt like a set up for something but I couldn't guess what it was. My coworkers weren't above some kind of practical joke. On the other hand, here were two pretty girls asking me to go somewhere with them. What choice did I have?

So I stood back up, let the table know that I'd be back and asked the girls to lead the way. It was one of those kinds of places where the wait staff didn't wear tags and I didn't know either of their names. I started looking for a chance to find out.

We made our way to the opposite corner of the place. Our seats had been near the window and in the early evening was pretty bright. They led me back where the lights were all artificial and a bit dim. Faces were still visible but looked altered by neon.

We stopped at a table and everyone there looked up expectantly. I scanned the faces and the back of my mind tried to get my attention. The girls looked down at someone and then back at me. Everyone there then stared at me for a second. And then at one of the guys sitting there, someone who looked familiar.

Then it clicked. That was my own face.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Have a Great Friday

Relia picked out this picture 'for Mama'. I think it's the lion fountain at Singapore.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Overheard

While in the car and talking about the lynx family at the zoo.

Relia: What would they say if I was in their area?
Me: Little girl, get out of there!
Relia: And what would they say if you were in there?
Me: Big daddy, get out of there!
(pause)
Me: And what would they say if mama was in there?
Relia: (thinks) How did you get in there?
Me: (laughing) And what would they say if Pop Pop was in there?
Relia: You can stay in there Pop Pop.
Me: And Nana?
Relia: (thinking) You can give them flowers.
Me: And Grandpa?
Relia: You can give them toys!
Me: And Grandma D?
Relia: (thinking very hard) You can give them something to eat!
Me: (laughing again) And what do they eat?
Relia: (immediately) Apple crisp!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Voted!

I took Felix and voted this morning. For reference sake, at 815a I was the 93rd person to vote. I checked the post from 2006 and at 9a there had been about 150. There was some temptation to dress Felix in his elephant costume but I was afraid of being yelled at for 'electioneering'.
Now I'll settle in for a nap (hopefully) and the parade of people ringing the doorbell to get us to the polls.

Gateway - Pohl

This was the 1977 Hugo Award winner.

'Gateway' is a book about voyages into the unknown. Not the warm fuzzy places of the 'Star Trek' universe, but a frighteningly dangerous place with a known (and high) mortality rate. How much can be risked to win riches? Especially when the risks are beyond your control?
The story is about a man names Robinette, and his work to come to grips after one of these voyages. The chapters alternate between his description of the past and his current time sessions with a computer psychiatrist. The juxtaposition works quite well. You know that something terrible has happened but not what it was.
Robinette has won the lottery on Earth and used the money to go to a hollowed out asteroid called 'Gateway'. This asteroid was a found artifact from an alien race. It features nearly a thousand small starships. Humanity has figured out how to start the ships, but not how to steer them. Volunteers go into them and out to the stars. If they come back with something scientifically interesting, they can become very, very rich. If they come back at all. The mortality rate is high and everyone knows it.
Living on Gateway is expensive. The only way a volunteer can afford to stay there is to keep taking trips. If their nerve fails then they are quickly ruined. Despite the dangers, they have to keep going out. But if they score well . . . they are set for life.
I'd never heard of this book before and that's a shame. It's a great one. The ideas are interesting, the characters are compelling and the growing sense of danger is outstanding.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Nanowrimo Story

After all of the rejected storylines I've put out, it's only fair that I tell you what the actual story will be about. Are you ready? (And please keep in mind that a brief summary can't capture the whole flavor.) Ok, here it is.
In this story, an adult man is out of town on business when he runs into another guy who looks just like him. The dig in to find out what's happening and discover that even though they were both raised as only children, they are in fact identical twins. Both of them check with their parents, who swear up and down that nothing untoward happened.
What follows is something of a voyage of discovery as they try to figure out what it all means. This becomes especially difficult when they find another matching guy. And another. And so on.
I'll have some kind of excerpt up from the beginning later in the week.