Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Monday

Update: actually I like this one more . . .

Friday, October 28, 2011


Relia and I sitting at the dining room table as she continues her quest to understand how knock-knock jokes really work.

Relia: Knock-knock.
Me: (wearily) Who's there?
Relia: Um, um, (long pause as she thinks up a joke) -
DF: (running from the other side of the house) KNOCK! KNOCK! (collides with my leg while looking supremely pleased with himself)
Me: Hey buddy, who's there?

We're trying hard to figure out humor over here.

Have a Great Friday

This is from today's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Candidate's Fav Movies

(Note, this post contains some politics but is meant in a light tone. Please take it as such.)

An interesting post at NRO about what each of the candidates favorite movies are. The list is as follows:

Herman Cain: The Godfather

Michele Bachmann: Braveheart, “or maybe Saving Private Ryan

Newt Gingrich: “Probably” Casablanca

Rick Santorum: Field of Dreams

Ron Paul: “I don’t watch many movies”

Gary Johnson: Dr. Zhivago

Mitt Romney: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Rick Perry: Immortal Beloved

Barack Obama: Casablanca, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

If someone handed you this list and asked you to match it to the candidates it would be pretty tough to do so. As it probably should be. Both Obama and Gingrich like 'Casablanca' (as do I) but it almost certainly has to do with the witty writing and the love story more than any possible political reference.
It made me think about what I'd answer if I was a candidate (don't worry hon, only hypothetical!). Off the top of my head, some of my favorite movies of the last ten years, 'Amelie', 'Moulin Rouge', 'Lost in Translation' would probably all lose me votes. 'Firefly' would be a wash (no pun intended). 'Inception' would probably be well respected. Maybe.
Choosing classics leaves you on more firm ground. Who didn't like 'Rear Window'? Same goes for 'West Side Story' or 'Star Wars'.

('Field of Dreams' over 'Bull Durham'? Seriously?)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Goal of the Day

I'd like the kids to learn that when I open the refrigerator door to get them something it is not an invitation for them to jam their way in or open the door to it's widest possible angle. Not sure how to teach them this but as God as my witness; they will learn.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Great Books Read Through

A couple of months back I had a conversation with my dad about our various e-readers. I made a point to him that old, classic books were usually free. To illustrate this I used the example of the Great Books of the Western World series. All of this, I proudly told him, was now free through my Kindle. Well, almost all of it.
If you're not familiar with the series, back in the 50's a collection of the important books of Western civilization was put together by Encyclopedia Britannica. It stretches back to the ancient Greeks and is as far forward as the 19th century, ending with Freud. We had it while growing up and dad gave it to me about ten years ago or so. Here is wikipedia on it.
The only thing not out there for free was the introductory book, called 'The Great Conversation' and two volumes that index the set by ideas. After talking to dad I cracked open the Conversation just to see what it gave me. To my great surprise it had a suggested reading plan.
The set is simply too big to really get your arms around. Literally in this case, it probably takes up five feet on the shelf. But all told it is some many thousands of pages. How is a lay person supposed to know what to read and what can be skipped? Well, the editors offered a way through. Here is what they laid out:
  • A ten year plan
  • Each year has 18 pieces
  • The editors argue that a normal person can get through it if they can read for fifteen minutes a day
  • Each author is touched on
  • The plan is coherent in content and theme, just like you'd want from a well thought out teaching plan
  • At the end you will be a better person for having done this
Well, you know how reading lists get to me! I decided that I would simply have to do this. I'll be starting in January and I'm inviting anyone and everyone to join along with me. Don't have the books or an e-reader? No problem, I'm providing links to online versions. Don't have time for every book? Again, no problem. Skip in and out as you want. No one will hold it against you.
And just to avoid clogging up this blog with posts on dead Greeks and Romans (and English, French and German, etc.) I've set up a new blog for it. You can find that one here.


A few months back I ran across this concert on TV and DVR'd it. What a gorgeous and lush version of 'Roxane' here! Simply wonderful.

This is my 'Calgon, take me away' video. For when the the kids are driving me a bit nuts. All you other at home parents have these types of things too, right?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Viking Stuff

I was able to watch most of today's game. The first half pretty closely, the second half had a lot of family stuff and then work. From what I saw I was very happy with the play of Ponder. The Vikes are not on the same level as the Packers but they certainly gave them a game. They obviously have some building blocks in place.
After this loss they are 1-6 and certainly not a playoff contender. This has some fans dreaming of draft position for next year and I can't say that it hasn't crossed my mind too. At this point last year there were only five teams with either zero or one win. There were also five teams with two wins. Here is the list and their eventual draft position:

Buffalo 0-6, drafted third
San Fran 1-6, seventh
Carolina 1-5, first
Dallas 1-5, ninth
Detroit 1-5, thirteenth
Denver 2-5, second
Cleveland 2-5, sixth
San Diego 2-5, eighteenth
Cincinnati 2-4, fourth
Minnesota 2-4, twelfth

After this week there will be six teams with either zero or one wins. There will also be four teams with two wins. That means that there are about ten teams in the same neighborhood as the Vikings.
The Vikes have nine games left and frankly I don't see a lot of wins in them. Next week they play at Carolina (2-5). They host both Denver and Oakland and could win either of them. Maybe. Add in a road game at Washington and that's about it. Otherwise they're playing clearly better teams like Green Bay, Detroit and New Orleans. My guess is somewhere between two and five wins.
That would give them a top ten draft pick. If the other bad teams improve they could possibly get down towards the first one. I don't see it happening though. Too many other bad ones in the mix.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

More Conversation

DF is picking up more and more words and the pace is accelerating. This means more conversation, some of it very funny. The best part is when you ask him a question and he very confidently says 'Noooo'. Occasionally he gives you a 'yeah' but not that often.
If he bumps heads he pulls back and says 'sorry' (more like 'sah-ee' but you can tell what he means). He is also very clear about wanting 'up' or 'down' or 'outside'. Very, very clear.
With this you can also do some basic bargaining. Things like offering food or reading a book instead of going right to bed. It also lets us reassure him that, yes, he too will be getting a snack when Relia does. My favorite bit is that he sometimes sings along with the music. Not often and he still has a lot to learn, but it's pretty sweet.
We were kind of afraid that with Relia being so aggressively verbal, DF would be kind of quiet. If he didn't have to talk, why would he? Instead it seems to have gone the other way. The poor guy has to start early if he wants to get a word in edgewise.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Ton of Track

I remember we used to lay out the track when we'd have a snow day from school. Nothing like this though.

Have a Great Friday

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In Honor of Tonight's Dinner

(We had tacos, not Ritz crackers. And DF learned how to say 'taco'.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What is Literature?

The latest Booker Prize winner was awarded yesterday. Congratulations to 'The Sense of an Ending' by Julian Barnes. I haven't read it nor any of the others this year so I have no opinion on its quality. From what I understand the author is very well regarded. I also take it that this years shortlist was widely panned.
This has prompted quite a bit of soul searching as to what the Booker Prize should actually be looking for. Here's an intriguing answer from Jeanette Winterson.
There are plenty of entertaining reads that are part of the enjoyment of life. That doesn't make them literature. There is a simple test: "Does this writer's capacity for language expand my capacity to think and to feel?"
As I said, it's intriguing. Under this definition two of my favorite authors, Heinlein and Stephenson, would certainly qualify since they fit that exact quality. Each of them has expanded my 'capacity to think and feel'. I think Stephen King would qualify too.
In fact, the problem here is that I'm not sure this really sets any kind of real limit. Now, if you think that the debate as to whether something is 'literature' or not is meaningless, then so be it. But if you think there should be some meaningful distinction, even one between high and low art, this is the argument that needs to be had.
So back to the definition. I can't think of any of my favorite bits of work that wouldn't qualify. This isn't because I've got such great taste that every thing I like must be of the highest order. It's more that I like things because they 'expand my capacity to think and feel'. Isn't that obvious?


I should have mentioned that Nano starts in a couple of weeks. I'll keep the sales pitch brief and just send you to their site here. If you've ever been tempted, well, give it a try.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Travel Bucket List

I just wrote out a post for CWT's travel blog regarding my bucket list of future travels. Don't remember when it will be published but I'll flag it when the time comes. It's a little embarassing because the whole thing reads like I've been watching too many of those retirement commercials where people have vineyards and backpack the silk road. Yeah, without winning the lottery, my list will go pretty unfulfilled.
While I was mentally composing the list it struck me how different this list would have been just five years ago, before the kids started arriving. Back then I could dream of longer trips and riskier venues. If I was gone for six months the FP Gal would miss me. If I left her with three kids for six months, she'd probably kill me.
Not that I'm complaining. There are compensations. The cross country road trip and the stay at Yellowstone will be different and better. Even the trip to DC will be better because I'll get to tap into their youthful wonder.

Changes, changes, changes.

Monday, October 17, 2011


After I picked up Relia today she quizzed me on her lunch.

Relia: Guess what I ate today?
Me: What?
Relia: Peaches and pizza. Wanna know what was on the pizza?
Me: Sure.
Relia: Goop [our family word for sauce and cheese] and meat.
Me: What kind of meat was it?
Relia: Pizza meat!

Blue Letter Day

Today, willfully and happily, Relia wore jeans to preschool.

Happy Monday

Gorgeous shot from Vienna.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

At the MOA

This morning I took Relia to the MOA while the FP Gal stayed home with DF. The one on one dynamic is an unusual thing for us now and in some ways much easier. We had more freedom of movement and fewer demands. Here are some of the things that happened:

We stopped so I could get some coffee. They had a chalk board where people could write about their dreams. I asked her what she dreamed about, fully expecting her to say something about princesses or something. Nope, she simply said 'the sun'. I dutifully wrote that down.

There was an older lady using two of those ski pole thingees as she walked. We met her as we were getting on an elevator.
Relia: Why does she have those sticks?
Me: Uh, it helps her.
Nice lady: Do you like these? They help me walk.
Relia: (pause while she tries to keep the conversation going) My Grandma D is still alive!
Nice lady: Oh . . . !
Me: (shakes head and struggles for words while the door closes)
Relia: I wish we could have talked with her longer.
Me: (still shaking head)

While on the fourth floor we walked past the Mexican place with stuff outside including a plane. Another family walked past us and the kids said, 'Look a helicopter'. Relia corrected them, 'It's an airplane'. The father said to me, 'Your kid is smarter than mine, I guess.' I didn't know what to say about that but it was true.

I pointed out a picture of Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' in a shop window. I'm putting a puzzle of it together and have been studying it minutely. She couldn't care less. There are limits to culture even at the mall.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reamde - Stephenson

Quick review and then some detail, ok?

Neal Stephenson's latest is a kind of computer culture thriller. It reads like a cross between Clancy and a hacker magazine. With a little bump for the quality digressions that Stephenson is so well known for. It's a big book (1000+ pages) but reads quickly enough. It features not one, but two different action sequences that are at least 150 pages long. 'Reamde' isn't as mind stretchy as some of his recent stuff but it was well worthwhile.
Now for some of the things that struck me (possible spoilers):
  • The main family features three brothers that grew up in the farm country of Iowa. The family is extremely into gun culture. The opening scene features a Thanksgiving family reunion shooting range. Given where I grew up (and especially my in-laws!) I felt pretty at home with all of this.
  • Lots and lots and lots of guns in this book. They are treated respectfully throughout. Both in terms of people being taught to use them properly and in showing how useful they can be.
  • One of the brothers has become very wealthy by creating a World of Warcraft style computer game. The insights here are genuinely fascinating, both in gaming culture and in innovative entrepreneurialship.
  • A large portion of this takes place on and near the US/Canada border in the area between British Columbia and Idaho. It sounds like gorgeous territory. Made me want to go hiking. More importantly, made me want to be qualified to really go out and do some serious hiking.
  • Numerous comparisons between different US cultures, all illuminating rather than derogatory. Specifically the midwest rural types, the blue state coastals and the survivalists of the mountains. It's rare to find sympathetic treatment of all three in the same book.
I enjoyed it but I didn't love it. In fact, once I was done I had a strong urge to read either 'The Cryptonomican' or 'Anathem' again. If you enjoy Stephenson, you should read it. But you don't have to rush out and do so.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rainy Afternoon

We had a nice and rumbly thunderstorm roll through here around lunch time today. Very nice. I was hoping it would stay through the afternoon but it didn't. Or at least it's done now and hasn't come back.

The last few weeks have featured oddly warm weather. Especially for October. Some nights were legitimately hot. I confided to the FP Gal that I was ready for something cooler and it may have arrived. I could go for a nice killing frost actually. Get rid of the wasps (a real problem for me this year!) and stop the fall allergy season.
On the other hand, I don't want the really cold stuff that will be here in a few weeks either.


Monday, October 10, 2011


Relia brought a bunch of crayon pictures home from preschool today. The top one on the pile was labeled 'American Robin' so I asked her what it was.

Relia: It's a robin.
Me: What color is its tummy?
Relia: Its tummy is red.
Me: And what color is your tummy?
Relia: Golden!

Happy Monday

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Bad Songs from Good Bands

Inspired by the comments from this post, I'd like to write about when good bands go bad. These are some of my favorite bands/singers and some of their music that I just can't stand.

  • Tears for Fears, 'Shout' - I don't like the rhythm or the message. And this song just got played into the ground. In the pre-cassette days I'd fast forward through it.
  • Naked Eyes, 'Always Something There (to Remind Me)' - Liked this song just fine when it first came out. Then it got overplayed. Even later it became one of the most popular song on retro '80s radio. Gah.
  • Sting, 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot' - This isn't one of his biggies, true. It came from his 'Mercury Falling' album which was mostly very strong. Only two bad songs and Sting went ahead and released one as a single. I'd scratch this one right off of the disk.
  • REM, 'Happy Shiny People' - Maybe a stretch to call them a favorite band but I liked a lot of what they did. But not this one. Later on they did 'Everybody Cries' which is probably even worse. It doesn't bother me as much because by then I didn't respect them anymore.
  • Duran Duran, 'Notorious' - The song itself is blah but it marked a pretty clear line. Everything before this: good. Everything from then on: bad.
I tried to think of an example with U2 but it's hard to do so. They went through such a forgettable era in the '90s that it's hard to pick just one. If pressed, I'd go with 'If God Will Send His Angels' but this is a target rich area. You could pick most anything off of 'Zooropa' or 'Pop' and I wouldn't argue with you.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Friday, October 07, 2011

Worst of the 80's

Rolling Stone conducted a poll of its readers to find out what the worst songs of the 80's were. Ready?

10. Rick Astley - 'Never Gonna Give You Up'
No real argument here, it's not a good song. However, it really isn't any worse than most of the awfulness that was popular around '88 and '89. My guess is it stands out now because of the rick-rolling craze.
9. Taco - 'Puttin' On the Ritz'
This wouldn't have gotten my vote. It's certainly not a great song but it isn't bad. In fact, it has some good ol' nostalgia going for it.
8. Toni Basil - 'Mickey'
I'll disagree here too. This song still has wonderful pep and energy. Would not have gotten my vote.
7. Bobby McFerin 'Don't Worry Be Happy'
I have dim memories of this song being overplayed back in the day but it doesn't bother me now. Sorry, not on my list.
6. Falco - 'Rock Me Amadeus'
This song has been in heavy rotation on the '80s channel that I listen to lately. Not once has it bothered me.
5. Men Without Hats - 'Safety Dance'
C'mon, this is a great song! Well, maybe not great but certainly fun and listenable.
4. Wham! - 'Wake Me Up (Before You Go Go)'
Another fun and upbeat number. I've got it on my iPod as we speak. Jitterbug.
3. Chris de Burgh - 'Lady in Red'
Um, not a great song but certainly not that objectionable. The first slow song on the list. Wouldn't have even been on my radar as far as bad songs go.
2. Europe - 'The Final Countdown'
Ok, this is a bad song. If it came on the radio while I was driving I'd change the channel. Now it really only works as a punchline from 'Arrested Development'.

and . . .
1. Starship - 'We Built this City'
A truly dreadful song and a worthy choice for worst. Ick. No disagreement here. What makes it worse is that somehow this held the number one spot on the charts. So what did they miss? Even just sticking with other number ones, well, the most obvious:

New Kids on the Block - 'Hangin' Tough'
Milli Vanilli - 'Blame it on the Rain'
Cheap Trick - 'The Flame'
Dionne Warwick - 'That's What Friends are For'
Peter Cetera - 'Glory of Love'
Bon Jovi - 'You Give Love a Bad Name' (can't stand this one)
REO Speedwagon - 'Can't Fight this Feeling Anymore'
Tears for Fears - 'Shout' (and this is a band that I like quite a bit)
Tina Turner - 'What's Love Got to Do with It'

There are probably more earlier in the decade but nothing that stands out as truly bad. My list for the 70's would be much, much longer . . .

Have a Great Friday

I think this is how Ozzie sees himself.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


We're still working on alphabet stuff with Relia. She's more and more interested in what letters go with what words. We often will say 'what sound does it start with' and then matching that up with the correct letter. So the other day we were talking and whales came up.
It went something like this:

Me: What sound does 'whale' start with?
Relia: Wuh.
Me: And what letter says 'wuh'?
Relia: (pause) Um . . . I don't know.
Me: It's a 'W'. That's a tough one. It doesn't say its own name.
Relia: (pause) That's because it doesn't have a face.

True that, little girl. True that.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

At the Park

Tuesday is Nana day so after I picked up the kids I dropped Relia off at the FP Gal's parents house. DF hates this (he wants to stay too) so I tried to cheer him up by taking him to a park. We had the park all to our lonesomes, which was odd since it was a nice day. Not that big of a deal since he really isn't dependend on finding new friends yet. And in some ways it was nice since I didn't have to dodge someone else's little darling while keeping him from tipping off of a platform.
We did the slides and the swings and (his favorite!) the steering wheel. We walked around for a bit. This park is right next to a large playing field, currently striped for football. No one was there so we walked out there.
After some time he got tired and wanted to be carried. So up on my shoulders and we took a long route back to the car. Nuh-uh! When I tried to put him in he tried to shut the door. DF was not done at the park!
So we walked back to the equipment and I let him lead me to where he wanted to go. To my surprise it was simply to a bench. I sat down and helped him up. We spent about five minutes simply watching the jets fly overhead. Watching the leaves falling and blowing around. For the moment he was content and happy to just sit there with his daddy.

Time passed and we got up. Did a slide or two and then went home. But that part where we sat there was special to me. High point of the day.


Relia: Dad, can we got to West Virginia?
Me: Probably some day.
Relia: Good. I really want to go their so I can make some cousins.
Me: (pause) 'Make some cousins'?
Relia: Yes, I want to go their and make some cousins.

I asked her how you 'make' cousins. She told me that you talk to them and be nice to them and then come back a few days later and do it again.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Big Things

An interesting article from Neal Stephenson on our society's inability to do 'the big things' as well as we used to.
My lifespan encompasses the era when the United States of America was capable of launching human beings into space. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on a braided rug before a hulking black-and-white television, watching the early Gemini missions. This summer, at the age of 51—not even old—I watched on a flatscreen as the last Space Shuttle lifted off the pad. I have followed the dwindling of the space program with sadness, even bitterness. Where’s my donut-shaped space station? Where’s my ticket to Mars? Until recently, though, I have kept my feelings to myself. Space exploration has always had its detractors. To complain about its demise is to expose oneself to attack from those who have no sympathy that an affluent, middle-aged white American has not lived to see his boyhood fantasies fulfilled.
He talks about the various ways that we've let risk aversion hold us back. One of the things he highlights is how our copyright system allows people to block the path of anyone who would follow in their way and yes, that's a serious problem. He doesn't mention this but we've also set up a large net of environmental law that makes construction difficult. This is a value choice, and may be the correct one but we should honestly acknowledge the trade off.
I think it goes a bit deeper than this though. It seems that we've lost the desire to think big thoughts. In about 70 years, we went from horseback to a visit to the moon. Our communications made a similar jump from pony express to instant intercontinental phone contact. We've made similar jumps in industry and medical innovation.
But what's next? When was the last time you heard about the wonders of 2050 or 2100? There is some speculation about the next generation of various computers and whatnot but it's all short range. This could be because things are moving so fast that everyone is afraid of how their predictions would play out. Or maybe we've somehow lost our nerve and the future scares us too much.
I don't like either of those ideas, but the second one scares me most.

Happy Monday

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Watching the Runners

Today was the Twin Cities marathon and our little family went down to the creek to cheer on the runners. I took Relia last year and she enjoyed it (I think the FP Gal and DF stayed home). This year we all went and it went pretty well.
We parked and walked down to the course where we found a curb to sit on. The FP Gal and I cheered on the marathoners but the kids were quiet at first. I fully expected DF to get into it but he seemed more baffled than anything else. After a bit Relia got into it. Especially once we started pointing out names on shirts so we could make some cheers personal.
DF finally warmed up and wanted to rush onto the street. We steered him away and let him run around near some trees. Eventually the trees got Relia's attention too and we were pretty much done with the runners.

I'm sure the runners appreciate the cheering. They certainly seem to. But I can't help feel strange to sit there and watch ordinary people making huge effort. They run past and we cheer them. Then we go home and eat lunch.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

New Car

We put a deposit down on a new car today. Well, new for us; technically a used car. The FP Gal wrote about it here. Not a fancy car, but one that will serve our needs and give us the space needed for a third car seat.
The most astonishing thing about it and what made us move so quickly is that it is a used car with only 2000 miles on it. As far as we can figure it was only driven to church on Sundays by a family of seven. The inside looks very nice and the thing is functional as all get out.
It's red, like the car in the picture in the link. I suggested that we name it Cherry Baby, but the FP Gal has protested.

Quick Kid Story

Tonight while the FP Gal and I were finishing up dinner, Relia came up to DF and and loudly 'whispered' in his ear to distract us for a minute. He of course had no idea what she was talking about so he ran off. She then decided that it was up to her to do the distracting so she put on an impromptu dance.
We never did figure out what she was up to.