Monday, June 30, 2008

Swing Dancing with a Baby

A few years ago I was at a swing dance party at Karly's house. Michael Clark and I noticed that, unlike at the normal dance location, we were allowed to dance without having to put our drinks down.

So we fooled around with leading while swing dancing as much as we could using only our right hands, with the left hand holding our glass. I nicknamed the style "Captain Hook Dances Swing".

Remember the picture in which I hold little Smiley with one hand, having him sitting in my elbow and held firm between the curve of my shoulder and the curve of my hand's span? That's how I can swing dance with my wife now, while holding the baby.

A large number of moves work just fine without the left hand.

Closed Basics
1. Six count basic (turning as normal, or counter-clockwise)
2. Six count basic kicking
3. Closed break-away basic ("dual rock-step-pivot")
4. Closed Eight-count circle basic
5. Neanderthal Lindy-circle basic
6. Closed flying Lindy basic (Charleston footwork)
7. Facing Charleston basic (20's or in-line)
8. Maxie Dorf Balboa basic
9. Willie Desatoff Balboa basic (break time)

Closed Facing Moves
10. Lolly kicks
11. Tuck turn (with cross hand catch, lead may also turn)
12. Belt turn (but not its behind-back variations)
13. Balboa break turn
14. Crossovers
15. Charleston hacksaw (and variants)
16. Six count kicking basic w/ Charleston throw-out modification (weight down in transition to Facing)

Closed Charleston Moves
17. Pendulum/Stall
18. Lolly kicks (traveling forward)
19. Around the World spin

Open (Crossed Hand) Moves
20. Return to closed by turning the follow counter-clockwise
21. J lead on odd side ("springy left side pass")
22. Sugar push
23. Barrel roll
24. Karly's turn
25. Underarm turn ("check the watch")
26. Kick-through Charleston (after a clockwise turn)
27. Charleston Kick-Around (after Kick-through Charleston)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Webcomics with a Crowning Moment of Awesome

How many of these have you read?

For me, I've read A Miracle of Science and Get Medieval. Those two are now complete. They are fun reads. Both get better as the story goes on, but for different reasons.

Now and then I read Order of the Stick. It's a favorite, but for some reason that website sometimes ruins my wireless connection. So I wait a month or two and then catch up.

I also just found out about Dr. McNinja, which is disturbingly entertaining.

A Nice Vest

For quite a while I have been looking for a nice vest to wear during Eugene's many Cool But Not Cold months. But all the vests I had seen for sale either looked like I had lost a suit coat (no real back) or I was on my way to do hunting or photography (too many pockets).

In January I saw one being worn in the Seattle airport. The fellow wearing it was the owner of an art gallery in Alaska.

He happily shared that he had similar struggles finding a nice vest until his wife discovered the Filson company. Perhaps someday I'll own this vest in brown or charcoal. But probably not; my wife prefers this vest with a collar, also in brown or charcoal, so I expect on my birthday that's what I'll unwrap.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dungeon Running?

Has anyone tried Dungeon Runners? Silly and free might still be a waste of time if it is not relaxing and fun.

I did enjoy Guild Wars: Prophecies, by the same company, a few years ago.

A Firefly Novel

Steven Brust was contracted to write a Firefly novel. The project was canceled, but Brust has finished and freely published the novel on his own site.

Manliness

Where have all the (Jewish) men gone?

And how do you rate on the 1930s marital scale?

Sneaksie Internet Taffers with Tor

I mentioned that my current computer game is the Thief trilogy with its masterful setting by TTLG Studios.

If you have never played it and want to try then check out the free demos here, especially the first two. (If you use an NVIDIA graphics card you may need to use a driver from 2004. Also, here are links to new and old NVIDIA drivers for XP.)

But for me a large part of the escapism in computer games is doing things that are completely different from real life. (Back when I played UT the fact that my gladiator died so often was a fun aspect of the game, not a drawback, for this same reason.)

However, I recently became more sneaky in my internet use by installing Tor, which allows me to toggle on or off hiding my computer's IP address from others. For me this is only something to do to help the world through the power of statistics: the more people who stop broadcasting their identity blindly, the less that online advertising will be and become invasive. Notice!

So I suppose that, for me, using Tor is a lot like why I acquired a concealed handgun license without any plans to own a gun. Whether or not you care about it, having it helps make society a little bit more protected.

Anyway, with a Windows XP machine using Firefox it is trivial to download and install Tor. If you also have cable modem speed, try it too!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Looking Back at Twelve Weeks Old

Note: Enough of calling him "the baby". Since my wife wants to keep his name off my blog I've decided to nickname him Smiley here in the blog.

On Sunday Smiley will be twelve weeks old. It's time to look back and remind myself about what those weeks were like, before I forget.

First Four Weeks

The first four weeks were the most difficult. We avoided using a bottle during this time, until Smiley was quite used to nursing. Since my wife's milk supply was a bit low this usually meant he went to bed slightly hungry and thus not smoothly. Fortunately we had family staying with us for this time, so there were more people to take turns rocking and singing Smiley to sleep.

Initially an infant is what a friend's pediatrician humorously calls a "crib potato". Newborns are a finite state machine with six states. They do not do much besides look around, eat, sleep, soothe, and use up diapers.

Parenting is exhausting but not terribly tricky. A content newborn is resting or looking around at the world. An unhappy newborn needs attention, a changed diaper, feeding, or soothing (usually all four in that order). So there is not a lot to keep track of, but also not a lot of reward from interaction with the new baby.

Soothing involves the Five S's of swaddling, positioning on the side, soothing with spoken words or song of volume comparable to the baby's noise, using rocking or jiggling to keep the head slightly moving independently of the body, and soothing with sucking.

I have one of those foam contour pillows that has both a concave edge and concave side. Even now, when Smiley seldom needs much soothing, I still put him to sleep by swaddling him, sitting with the pillow on my lap with the concave edge around my belly, lying him on his side upon the concave side, talking or singing softly to him, gently bouncing his back or the back of his head with my right fingertips, and letting him suck on my left pinky. (I've noted before that my right hand can take a break to change pages on an e-book.)

Smiley always liked bouncing while resting upright on someone's shoulder. Since my wife and I are swing dancers, the easiest bouncing for me is a swing dance basic step. Smiley's favorites are the Charleston basic and the Willie Desatoff (break time) Balboa basic. During those first four weeks I did a lot of those.

Weeks Five and Six

At five weeks we started supplementing Smiley's nursing with pumped breast milk and formula when needed. His growth jumped from half an ounce each day to an ounce per day (where it has stayed ever since).

Suddenly it was easy to put him to sleep. Once full he feel asleep quickly without any of the fuss to which we had become so accustomed.

On the other hand, he still had the very limited routine of what he did and what he wanted.

The first four weeks seemed quite long enough. Starting with week five, if Smiley only aged half as fast I would not have minded at all. He was easy to care for and I could see how these New Baby Days were passing quickly.

Week Seven

Week seven saw two changes. Most exciting was that he began to smile. Also nice was how his metabolism began its first change towards solid food: instead of a half dozen small poopy diapers each day he henceforth has one or two big ones.

For his first week of smiles they were cute and heartening but not actually social. Almost randomly he might respond to a tickle, smile, silly noise, or funny face by smiling. His early smiles were more of a challenge for photography than a developmental milestone. Yet it was gratifying to see him visibly happy for the first times and not merely content versus unhappy.

The seventh week was also when he decided to become picky about his position in space. Henceforth he might be in a mood to be on his side, or upright, or sitting. One more type of thing to check for when he starts fussing. (I suppose he could conceivably at times want to be upside down or spinning rapidly, but we've never checked for those possibilities.)

Weeks Eight and Nine

A lot happened during the eighth week.

The smiles became regular things instead of random maybes. Initially this was an emotional trap for us parents, who were now tempted to feel responsible that he always would be happy beyond merely being content. Of course, no one is so happy they always giggle. But little Smiley does smile an awful lot.

He also was finally able to bring his hands to his mouth whenever he wished. This allowed him to self-soothe much more. The weather also was nice, so he could spend a lot of time outside in his swing being alternately content and happy as he looked around and put his hands in his mouth.

During his eighth week he also learned to "coo" and play the "echo game", as I described earlier. This was truly delighful.

Weeks Ten and Eleven

Smiley might be starting to teethe. It is too soon to know for sure, but he has increased in his drooling and his desire to chew on things.

Fortunately he is not confusing sucking (for eating and soothing) with chewing (for entertainment and perhaps teething). Nursing would become problematic!

At ten weeks he enjoyed chewing on a stuffed animal if we put it in his mouth and kept it there for him. His otter's tail was the perfect shape.


By eleven weeks he was drooling and chewing on my shoulder any time I carried him upright leaning against it.


And at eleven weeks he was holding his stuffed animals in his mouth by himself.


At ten weeks he also became picky about which parent he was with. Now he sometimes is in a Be With Mommy mood or a Be With Daddy mood. Yet one more thing to check when he starts fussing.

Cooing

At two or three months of age infants begin what is called "cooing". They start experimenting with making vowel noises, sometimes preceded or ended with an easy-to-make consonant noise such as m or g.

Moreover, the infant delights in having its noises echoed.

This was a delightful development with our son, for as parents it was the first truly interactive activity my wife and I had with him. Before the "echo game" he might smile in response to something we did, but usually our stimulus that prompted his smile was of a different kind: not a smile but a silly noise, funny face, or tickle. Now he and we could do the same thing back and forth at each other.

(At about the same time he began to smile regularly in response to our smile. So by week nine smiling also felt socially interactive. But the "echo game" came first for our son.)

I've added some videos of his "echo game" to our Picasa movie album. Enjoy!

Movies

Cloth Diapers III

I've written twice about using cloth diapers. Time for another update!

The bumGenius 3.0 we purchased at the Cloth Diaper Outlet are working better than ever after we stopped using liners.

My wife and I generate three loads of laundry each week (two color loads and a bleach load). Now we do an additional load every day for the cloth diapers. Our electric and water bill has increased about 30 cents per day, of which a portion is from my wife being home on maternity leave and using her computer a lot during the day. Out front loading machine only needs one tablespoon of Charlie's Soap per laundry load. Thus the cloth diapers cost about a quarter per day, or less. Compare this to buying diapers at a wholesale club for about 17 cents each.

Moreover, since we are doing a daily load of baby's laundry, he winds up wearing the few "best" outfits we have in his size repeatedly. (Other parents will recall"best" for babies is about temperature-appropriateness and convenient snaps much more than cuteness.) We received a lot of newborn-sized clothes as gifts. Now as we are beginning to purchase larger baby clothes we realize we are also saving money since we do not need many changes of clothes.

UPDATE: One Tablespoon of Charlie's Soap is too much for our front loading washing machine. We switched to using half that.

Neti Pot Update

Back in February I mentioned getting a neti pot. This month it has been a great help.

The neti pot is usually sufficient to make my nose completely happy after being outside on a recent high pollen day or after becoming sneezy from dust after sweeping or moving wood.

It does not help on those few June days with the kind of pollen that makes my eyes itch, but most days is much quicker acting and helpful than allergy medicine. Hooray!

Recent Busy Weeks

July has been a busy month! Sorry for the lack or regular blogging.

The trip to Monterey was very nice, but also exhausting. Normally my wife and I do not get too far behind on sleep, despite having an infant, because we go to bed early enough. Also, as needed I can watch the baby while she sleeps late in the morning and she can watch the baby while I take a nap in the afternoon.

But while visiting family we stayed up later than we normally do, and could not do our respective extra sleeping during the day. So we returned to Eugene really tired. My wife caught up on sleep the following Wednesday and Friday; I caught up on sleep Thursday.

I expected life to return to normal, but did not count on atypical chores.

First, we had a cord and a half of firewood delivered to the driveway. I needed to move it to the wood shed beside the house, which I did a bit at a time over several days. Baby was happy to watch for half an hour or so before getting bored.


Moving Firewood

Also, July is strawberry season. A nearby farm (River Bend Farm and Pleasant Hill Orchard, no website to link to, phone is 541-520-2561) has lots of U-Pick fruit throughout the year. In July their strawberries are $8 for a five quart bucket. So this past week I have spent a lot of time picking, cleaning, freezing, and of course eating strawberries.


U-Pick Strawberries

Finally, for Father's Day I got a single-player computer game to play now that I have given up World of Warcraft. When I save a game it tells me how many minutes I have been playing that level. The week after Father's Day I had an entire 7 minutes of free time to play the game. This week I've been able to play a little bit more, and actually finished a level!

Of course, I've also had a math work (grading final exams) and ministry work (planning kids' activities, doing a sermon, meeting with some people) as always. Now I need to finish revisions to the Math 25 Packet for my math work, and then establish a regular schedule of website essay updates for P'nei Adonai.

Two Better Decks of Cards

While on vacation in Monterey, my brother-in-law, P.D., introduced me to one of his inventions. He has created a better deck of cards, which he named the Decktet.

The history of the invention was the he was playing a role-playing game with friends and decided to put the characters in the story and other plot elements on a deck of cards. The factions involved naturally introduced the concept of most card having two suits. He limited the deck to 36 cards because that was enough for playing fun card games and he wanted all the deck to have real narrative consistency (a card with suits X and Y has a picture of something from the story involving X and Y).

With his permission, I'm experimenting with a larger version (for now named the Deck60) that has 60 cards. With this larger version five-person games work nicely. The cost is abandoning the narrative consistency; my cards don't have words or pictures in the middle.

I'm especially excited about these decks because we came up with a nice game like dominoes but with more to it. I used to live in New Orleans, and know how fun dominoes can be. But normally dominoes is lacking in depth: our game, Biscuit, has just enough.

I'll make the Deck60 available when I'm sure it works well, and worth having besides the Decktet.

UPDATE: I had erroneously estimated that the probability of straights was closer to what card players expect with the Deck60, but the Decktet is actually better in that way. (P.D. did the math I was too lazy to do.) This probably is the "straw that breaks the camel's back" and makes the Deck60 not worth further investigation. Sorry to anyone with a family of five.

Rabbit's Friends and Relations: Monterey

Hm. This is the sort of preface I really shouldn't have to explain to anybody. (Especially since this post's title is not actually funny enough to warrant any needed explanation.) In the Winnie-the-Pooh setting, Christopher Robin has many stuffed animals but Rabbit is a real pet rabbit; thus any other real animals are "Rabbit's friends and relations".

Three weeks ago there was a nice family reunion in Monterey. My wife, baby, and I got to see both real relations and lots of animals.


Everyone except for P.D., who took the picture.


My wife's parents and some aunts and uncles.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a great one, even if they do not have a Shark Tunnel that elementary schools use for overnight field trips as happens at Newport in Oregon. It has lots of great exhibits.


Hungry Penguins


Full shark

Perhaps the most unique exhibit is actually two exhibits on jellies. My wife loves jellies, and took over 300 pictures of them. She uses these as her screen saver at work; she already had lots from our trip to Monterey in 2005.


Blue Jelly


Box Jelly


Bell Jelly


Upside-Down Jelly


Mediterranean Jelly


Spotted Jelly


Comb Jelly

It was a very nice vacation. Even the thirteen hour drives were not bad, which was much better than we feared for our first experience of a long trip with a baby in the car.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Movie of Baby!

Hm. Picasa has all sorts of ways to adjust the file size of a photograph I upload from my computer. But it does not have any options to resize a movie.

It also does not allow me to directly link to a movie file, so I put it in its own album and now share the link to that album. Only temporarily can you watch little Smiley play with a rattle, since this file is 28 MB! If anyone knows of a free utility to shrink it for a more permanent shared archive, please let me know. (Should I re-install Videora?)

UPDATE: Link changed

This is for you, Brian... you have asked what he does when playful, and this shows him pretty much at his most interactive with his surroundings.

To give the little guy credit, he was playing with the rattle for a while before we got the camera, and after filming this we found out he was both hungry and had a dirty diaper. So this video does not do justice to his duration of attention on the rattle: he often is content to be on his back or side shaking it about for more than a minute and a half.

UPDATE: I've altered that album to have other movies too. Eventually the rattle movie will vanish when I run out of Picasa space. The new link is below.

Movies

Heartbeat Bear Stole Her Baby!

Tracy also works at the LCC math department.

A few days after my son was born she told me a great story about her first child's first night home from the hospital.

A few companies make stuffed animal bears (two examples) for a newborn's crib that have some electronics inside to make noises that are supposed to be like the sounds inside a womb, which supposedly helps newborns fall asleep. Most of the adults I have talked to that have used such a thing have nicknamed it "Heartbeat Bear" since the dominant motif in the sounds is a heartbeat.

My baby was given one such stuffed animal as a baby shower present, but as a newborn did not show any notice of it or its noise. Tracy, however shared that her son was quite resonsive to their Heartbeat Bear.

The first night he was home from the hospital, when she woke up in the middle of the night and went to check on him in his Moses basket, the baby was gone! Her husband was still asleep and in bed. Where was the baby? She panicked, and looked all around, and finally found him. He was still in the Moses basket but had become hidden. Tracy had put the Heartbeat Bear inside the Moses basket, far up at the "head" side, way under the overhanging shade. She wanted it to be out of the way while making its hopefully soothing noise. Her son had managed, at three days old, to wiggle all the way along the length of the Moses basket to snug up against the bear and was sleeping peacefully.

Tracy followed up her story by noting that her son, as an infant, seemed to like and be soothed by any loud and steady noise. "Especially the vacuum," she said. "I vacuumed a lot those first weeks."

I share this story now because my son, at eight weeks, has suddenly taken a liking to his Hearbeat Bear's noise. But not for falling asleep...

During the past two days he has made a notable bit of developmental progress, from being able to fairly routinely put his fist randomly against his mouth to able to very regularly get his thumb in his mouth to suck on.

The occasion on which he most regularly sucks on his thumb is after I change his diaper. I move him from the changing table to the crib, so he is safe while I go wash my hands. Now he finds his thumb, looks at the "other baby" in the crib mirror, and makes noises at it while sucking his thumb. If we turn on his Heartbeat Bear, he becomes even more talkative. My guess is that he thinks the noises are coming from the "other baby" as part of the conversation.



He also finds loud and steady machine noises to be interesting and soothing: the vacuum, blender, mixer, etc. Why do many toddlers become afraid of these noises when infants find them soothing?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Three Flavors of Church in China

Here is a fascinating article about the current state of Christianity in China.

The article especially focuses on the different strengths and weaknesses present in the underground church, the urban house-churches, and the public churches--and how these three have begun increasingly working together to build each other up to fullness of ministry.

The seven core values on page 3 of the article were also interesting.

A Modern Client-Only PC?

Back when I was an undergraduate college student, there were computer rooms on campus that had "client only" machines. These were partial computers with a monitor, keyboard, and network connection but without any disk drives--all of their programs ran off a "server" computer somewhere else on campus. (Their only private processing power was just enough instructions to run their monitor, keyboard, and network connection.)

After home networking became common, I wondered when the equivalent would become common for families. Why spend the money to have more than one complete computer if your home could have a single "server" and then family members could have very inexpensive "client only" machines?

It appears this will never happen; the way computing technology has advanced you might as well put a bit more on an inexpensive machine. A modern attempt is the ASUS Eee PC.

Farewell, World of Warcraft

I'm done with World of Warcraft now.

While my wife was pregnant and tired, WoW was an ideal way to relax. I could enjoy spending time with friends while in the living room with her, and at any time leave the game or take a quick intermission to make her tea, bring her a new book, talk to her if she had some energy,and so forth: when leveling a character the game is very interruptible. Moreover, my character was a "Rogue" expressly so it could hide and become invisible at any time, allowing it to be safe while I was interrupted to do something in real life.

But and my life and my character have changed too much for me to keep playing. Although the game is at its best at level 70 with the widest variety of things to do and challenges to solve through teamwork, now none of that is suitable for a five or ten minute block of time, and with a new baby in the house I no longer can set aside an hour long block of time to enjoy being social and participating in the teamwork required to solve a tricky quest chain or exploring a dangerous dungeon.

Also, the game works best when much of its time is a "background activity". During the cold Winter months I was often online "playing" but actually my character was just waiting. The game's interface has convenient tools for finding and joining a group to attempt a quest or dungeon but it might take an hour or two to muster a worthy party of adventurers. So I would have the game going in the background (in a wide window where I could see at the edge of my screen if anyone responded to the "looking for group" feature) while doing e-mail, math work, ministry word processing, etc. Now my life's "background activity" is caring for a newborn and I am not skilled enough at multitasking to have two!

It was quite fun to guide a character through the game to reach level 70. The setting was enormous and fun to explore. I met many nice people, whom I will miss chatting with (hopefully some will keep in touch with blog comments or e-mail). I was able to enjoy some adventures with exemplary and interesting teamwork.

I've finished exploring the game's setting and cannot repeat the sense of wonder and thrill at traveling to and through those dramatic and often beautiful places. That exploring fills many happy memories, but it is done.

I could replay the game with a second character to play in short blocks of time, but that has no appeal to me. I've never seen the few most difficult raid instances, but otherwise been everywhere and feel like I've "finished" the game even though it has no actual ending.

Finally, springtime is here. Now that days are warmer and rain is less present I can resume my outdoor past-times.

The best writing I did about the game was back in January when I wrote a series of articles explaining why I enjoyed World of Warcraft, and how my ministerial work helped inoculate me against that game's addictiveness. Here are the links for that series:
The most interesting and helpful writing others did in reply to my WoW questions starts here.

Sadly, I'm not entitled to give my account to a friend according to section 8 of the terms of use. It seems a waste of real-life time to have my character just vanish forever.

Ant and Bee

Hm. Someone needs to republish the Ant and Bee books!

As a small child, I only had a few of them, but they were among my favorites!

More Blogs

I've added a few more links to my "Interesting Reading: Blogs" sidebar section.

Two are friends from UCSB whose blogs I have learned about: the Hald and Sammis families.

The third is Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids, which I found out about from this article, sent along by my father. Eugene is a safe enough city I see children outside without supervision all the time, but I enjoyed by "ranging" during my childhood so much I sympathize for the plight of today's big city kids.

The fourth is Engram's Back Talk, which is a good source of graphs for my math classes.

Dave Barry on Big Government

As the election season grows ever more intense, it's worth re-reading Dave Barry.

Lode Runner for Free!

I do not know what to make of the U. S. government using taxpayer dollars to offer coupons to help Americans watch television, or the fuss plaguing the One Laptop per Child project (a heated review of OLPC is here).

But I am happy to find that Lode Runner is now available free on-line, in its classic form and in an updated multiplayer format!

Fun Pictures

It has been a while since I had a blog post of entertaining pictures!

A Tolkien poem-cat.

Are dust bunnies distant relatives of tumbleweeds?

Silly ads for glasses, by Oogmerk.

A silly Lego ad which is a take-off of a famous photograph. (Tangentially, an essay about advertising to kids.)

More photographs from Harbin's ice sculpture festival.

Motivational posters with a military theme.

Big maps of fantasy cities I've never heard of, and a pretty painting.

The cheerful and brightly colored land of Super Mario Brothers, as Mario must see its never-ending toil.

And speaking of video games, a speed run of the old Nintendo game Kung Fu.

A Present Danger

The American Thinker had an article recently on the threats Jews face worldwide.

Back in January, Forward had an article with sad but slightly humorous (from a distance) irony: Chavez has been spending too much time with militant Muslims and began to think that Venezuela's Jews might also be using places of worship as arsenals. Too bad the P.R. reaction to this blunder was short-lived for the raids proved much more about Chavez than the Jews of Venezuela.