Saturday, May 31, 2008

Parental Electronics: e-Books and Audiobooks

As a new parent, I find myself reading a lot more with one hand. I spend quite a bit of time each day letting my son suck on my pinky, or holding his bottle, or patting his back as he lies on his side.

Since it is awkward to turn a book's pages using only one hand, I finally put a real e-book reader program on my Palm E2. I downloaded MobiPocket, and it is quite nice. I have a lot more control over fonts, colors, and screen rotation. The Windows half of the software converts other file types to the e-book format, so I can use Project Gutenberg for free reading.

(Is The Burgomeister's Books illegal to use in the U.S. if used as the owner instructs? I do not not know enough about copyright law. From that site I am enjoying e-book copies of five books I do own in paperback, which I think is safe. According to aldoblog, it is legal to check out an audiobook from the public library and make a file copy you listen to once, promptly, then delete.)

I also have been listening to audiobooks more. I now own an iPod shuffle, which is conveniently small and not too expensive. My audiobook chapters are first when it is set to "play items in order" mode, and they are skipped when it is set to "play shuffled" mode.

I did go through the small hassle of changing my audiobook files from MP3 to the iTunes audiobook format. This takes five steps:
  1. Change import format of iTunes to AAC (there is an "optimize for voice" option here too)
  2. Select the MP3 versions of the audiobooks, right click to bring up the context menu, pick "convert to AAC"
  3. Go to windows explorer, rename the .m4a extensions to .m4b
  4. Delete them from iTunes library
  5. Re-add them to your iTunes library
The free utility Rename-It! is handy for quickly replacing a bunch of file extensions in many directories.

Note that this is not necessary to do: in iTunes any MP3 file can have its properties set (in "get info") to "skip when shuffling" and "save bookmark position". An official audiobook file merely has these automatically true, and also allows the audiobooks to be sorted in their own iTunes "browser" of genre/author/book.

Also note, more importantly, that if I were making audiobook files from CD (instead of converting from MP3 files) I could use the handy "join tracks" feature of iTunes.

Futuristic Ammunition

A while ago, after watching the Firely series, I pondered what handguns in the future might be like.

I recently read about three new developments in military ammunition. At this date none are relevant to handguns, but this might be only a matter of time until the technology shrinks.

First, there is an ADS weapon system currently so large it must be mounted on a vehicle that sends millimeter waves to cause a heat/pain sensation (and thus trigger an instinctive flight response) without normally doing actual tissue damage. This sounds a bit like that box from Dune but with long range.

Second, the FN303 takes a different approach to crowd control by being an overly powerful paintball rifle. I can understand that in certain situations when the riot is violently unlawful the "paint and bruise" approach would be an appropriate compliment to the previous "make everyone run" weapon.

Finally, for the times when a soldier is trying to kill the enemy, there is a new rifle that shoots small, programmable grenades. The rationale for such a weapon requires a bit of history.

The U.S. was part of the Hague Convention of 1907 (although not the prior one of 1899), of which part of Declaration III is an attempt to make warfare with guns more chivalrous. It restricted bullets to the "ball" kind that do not expand or fragment and thus pass through the enemy with a minimum of damage. The idea was for a successful hit to take two enemy soldiers out of commission (one wounded and a second to remove him from the battlefield) with little chance of killing anyone.

Even though warfare is no longer attempting to be chivalrous, and even though that agreement only applies to uniformed members of an enemy military (thus not to terrorists), the U.S. military is very hesitant for political reasons to use the hollow point bullets that would be safer for nearby innocents due to less frequent over-penetration. (Hollow point bullets are the standard for hunting and police work, because no one wants to shoot through your deer or criminal and hit someone innocent.)

Thus the appeal of a rifle that replaces bullets with small grenades. They are not bullets, so that treaty does not apply. A small grenade could also damage an innocent bystander, but once the system is honed a few grenades programmed to explode after traveling a certain distance into a room or to an intersection will be more controlled than dozens of "ball" bullets traveling through walls or ricocheting down the street.

Introduction to Psychology

More than a year ago I saw this blog post, sharing praise of an Introduction to Psychology class from MIT's OpenCourseware.

I listened to that class during January and February, while playing World of Warcraft or falling asleep, and enjoyed it immensely.

If you have never listened to a class online and/or if you are an instructor thinking about what makes a lecture's content transfer well through online recording, both the class and Professor Jeremy Wolfe's pedagogy are commendable.

Card and envelope

I'm finally finished writing thank you notes.

I think. If I have forgotten anyone, please accept my apology and feel free to nag me. :-)

I found out that envelopes sized to be one-quarter of an 8.5" by 11" piece of paper are named A2.

For those who are not as proficient with Microsoft Word, feel free to steal and modify the thank you note and envelope files I used if you want to make your own A2 sized notes and cards.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ready to Party

Sorry blogging has been light. Being a parent is very nice; I would much rather do parenting than write about it.

Nevertheless, my family and friends need more pictures and news! Here are some pictures. I'll try to get to the news tomorrow.

For now, a bit of humor...

I was on the phone with my grandmother last week. She asked if we had set up our 529 Plan yet. We said we had picked one out but not made any phone calls yet. However, we have noticed that the little guy is quite ready for college: he likes to drink until he falls asleep, spits up and pees while asleep, often wakes up somewhere he does not recognize, and wants to put his face in boobs -- that sounds like much of college life at some schools!

Smiles


Bath time smile


Tummy time smile


Tickle smiles

Kapow!











Thursday, May 22, 2008

Windows Noises as Music

This one is for Dean: link (with sound, of course).

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Great Pacifier Debate

Unlike advice about feeding an infant breast milk or formula, the debate still rages hotly about when and how to give pacifiers to babies. But a few facts are clear.

First, similar to what I wrote about bottle nipples, pacifiers do not behave like a mother's nipples and do not complain when bitten. They do not encourage biting or poor latching while nursing, but do nothing to discourage it either. During an infant's first three weeks, if it is being breast fed and thus is learning nursing, avoid pacifiers. Let the infant suck on a parent's finger, so you can take it out if there is biting. Mom will be most appreciative!

Second, different babies can have very different amounts of a need to soothe with sucking. For some babies the great pacifier debate is unimportant because they either refuse any pacifier or are inconsolable without one.

Third, more than a few hours per day of pacifier use is correlated to ear infections and dental problems. If pacifiers are only used to aid falling asleep there seem to be no established correlations to health or developmental problems.

Fourth, pacifiers can allow poor parenting habits. A complaining baby might be consolable with a pacifier when what it really wanted was attention or a clean diaper. Again, using a pacifier only to aid falling asleep avoids the potential problem of providing a quick fix instead of proper parenting.

Fifth, if you do use a pacifier, the safest (from potential allergy-development and choking concerns) have a silicone, one-piece design. Here is an example. These also have a hidden advantage: if you have a toddler whom you want to wean from pacifier use you can drill a hole through them.



We bought our son a pacifier a few days ago. I'm happy letting him suck on my fingers. But our son really likes to suck, and the fingernails on my pinky and ring fingers were getting sore!

He is not used to it, so it does not stay in his mouth unless held there. So it is of no use helping him fall asleep unless my wife or I am holding him. Still, it sometimes takes him ten minutes after a meal to realize he is full and sleepy. Now my fingernails have the option of taking a break when our son wants to suck on something during those ten minute time periods.

The pacifier is also nice if these after-feeding soothing times happen when I am tired but the baby wants both sucking and being patted on the back. Then I can have three hands! I'll put the baby in my lap with his head at one elbow, close enough to my chest so the pacifier stays in. I can hold my PDA with that hand to read (to better stay awake) while using the other hand to pat his back. Ta da! Sucking, patting, and turning pages all at the same time.

The Great Formula Debate

There used to be a huge debate among givers of parenting advice about when and how to feed infants formula. Fortunately, most of the dust has settled as the quality of research has improved during the past few decades.

To me, the three most important results of research are:

First, a newly lactating mother will produce colostrum for a few days, which is what a newborn most needs. Besides being nutritionally appropriate, it coats the digestive tract (sort of like Pepto Bismol) in a helpful way. Any mother who can feed her newborn colostrum should do so.

Second, breast milk is marginally healthier for infants than formula, most notably in how it boosts the immune system. For the sake of the infant, feeding with mother's milk is better than feeding with formula. However, formula is a healthy alternative is the mother's milk is not available or other issues arise. Moreover, there is no major "coats the digestive tract" benefit to breast milk after the colostrum days, so mixing breast milk and formula is a possible alternative.

Third, the nipples of bottles do not move as a mother's nipples do, nor do they complain when bitten. During an infant's first three weeks of life nursing is a developing skill and habit. If a mother plans to nurse, then to make this early nursing as smooth and pain-free a learning experience as possible any exposure to bottles should be delayed if possible until the baby is three or four weeks old.



We are breast feeding our son, but he has had formula a few times during the past two weeks.

We already had a "shaped like mom" kind of bottle for when he had nursed completely and still wanted an additional ounce of breast milk from our supply of pumped breast milk in the refrigerator.

Why any formula? During a growth spurt our son sometimes is very hungry but has already eaten more than a usual amount for a meal. Since our backup supply of breast milk in the fridge is not yet ever more than a few ounces, we are hesitant to use much of it at one feeding, and this is where formula shines.

So when he nurses completely, drinks that additional ounce of stored breast milk, and still wants more even after a few minutes to realize if he is full, we'll feed him an ounce of formula. If he was more full than he realized and spits some of it up, no problem!

Also, since the proteins in cow's milk are more difficult and thus slower for an infant to digest, a baby fed formula often sleeps longer after a meal, which is nice for my wife (and her milk production) during our son's growth spurt days because then she can get a good nap in also.

A Newborn Saving for College

Our son is five weeks old, so it's time to start thinking about saving for college. Oh my!

Actually, we have had his Social Security number for a couple weeks now. We could have done this paperwork at half his current age.

There are two kinds of Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), the 529 ESA and the Coverdell ESA. Both work like a Roth IRA in that contributions not tax-deductible but withdrawls are tax-free if done as intended.

Most of the time the Coverdell ESA is the wrong choice. It is specific to a single person less than 30 years old, has an annual contribution maximum is $2,000, and has a 10% extra fee (tax) for money beyond what is needed for education, due at the latest at age 30. So you have to be very careful not to put too much money into it.

The advantages of a Coverdell ESA is that its money can be used for high school expenses, and it has more investment options. So if you knew your child was going to a private high school a small Coverdell ESA would make sense.

But in general the 529 ESA is the better option. It has very high allowance to how much can be deposited, and a lot of flexibility with changing its "beneficiary" among family members. Thus you are really building a permanent legacy of college finances that your children and grandchildren can share throughout the generations.

The 529 ESA is only for college expenses. It has a fair number of options for what investments can fit into it: most popular are funds that automatically become more risk-averse as the child approaches college age.

Both types of ESA are quick to set up (the usual couple weeks for papers to travel to and from us through the mail) and require the child to be born and have a social security number.

For Oregon residents the 529 ESA is an even nicer option. Oregon is one of the few states that offers a state annual income tax deduction for 529 ESA contributions, but only if the 529 ESA is one of the official three flavors with which the state works. Two of these three can be part of a family's established investment account, for ease of bookkeeping.

UPDATE: Fidelity has a page describing 529 ESAs. Among other things, it links to a page by Archimedes allowing a quick side-by-side comparison of 529 ESA options by state.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Pictures at One Month Old


Relaxing outside


Soothing inside


The back yard in early May