Sunday, March 29, 2009

Checking Laundry Soap

We're now using liquid Allen's Naturally Laundry Detergent, since that is what our friend Heather at the local Cloth Diaper store recommends.

Back in June I wrote about using Charlie's Soap for laundry. It is also free of additives and suitable for cloth diapers. It served us well for almost a year.

One thing we learned since that June blog post was that even one tablespoon was too much for our front loading washing machine. Half a tablespoon was enough. Here is what happened...

We had the last annual free maintenance on our washing machine. The repair guy taught us to run the machine empty on the "pre-rinse" cycle every few months to check for soap buildup. If this test cycle was sudsy then we were using too much soap.

If there is soap buildup, run the machine empty a few times with a complete cycle. If that does not remove the soap then there are liquids you can purchase to do the job.

After we switched to Allen's soap we needed to again test our soap use. It turns out that the instructions on the jug are accurate: our washing machine did not have extra soap when we used the recommended 1/4 ounce per load.

(Since the Allen's soap is so thick and syrupy we actually dilute it and use a larger scoop. Much easier.)

UPDATE: After a few months there is soap buildup: we have switched to 1/8 ounce per load an all now seems well.


Smiley just had his first molar come through.

No wonder he has been so out of sorts. A cold that has lasted eight days, and difficult teething too!.

He got his first two teeth on Chanukah and Christmas. Those were his two upper left incisors.

His upper right incisors came soon after, in the wrong order (#7 before #8), which made the final incisor's arrival more slow and painful. Then his center two bottom teeth came. Now he has skipped to molars. I hope he does not retain this pattern of doing things in the more difficult way.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Three Consecutive Days

This is a blog post about an answered prayer.

Tuesday was a miserable day, until 9pm. On Tuesday I often prayed, asking Yeshua to help me sense his nearness despite my own exhaustion and grumpiness. That prayer was not answered. But at 9pm both Smiley and I were inexplicably put into much better moods. Tuesday ended well, with joy and a prayer time in which God taught me more about gratitude.

Wednesday was a good day. Circumstances made it easy for Wednesday to be nicer, and for me to continue being grateful.

Thursday could have been as miserable as Tuesday; its early circumstances resembled Tuesday's. But I had learned from God and so Thursday was a great day.

So when I prayed on Tuesday I wanted God to remove the day's unpleasantness. Instead he left me in that day's "wilderness experience" until late at night, so I could clearly see how my "old self" was causing me needless suffering. God did not remove the unpleasantness but used it to teach me, and then two days later gave me a test to make sure I had learned.

That's the important story. The rest of this blog post provides the details. If I did not write them I would be very curious years from now what happened. I expect they will bore anyone else, so proceed at your own risk.


All this week Smiley still has a cold. On Tuesday he was not handling it well.

He awoke an hour early. He acted fussy and clingy. His mood was so fragile and worn thin that he was almost unable to enjoy playing. His appetite was minimal, and surely eating and drinking so little made his mood even worse.

I was very tired, having not slept well the night before. I also had things to do, which is a risky combination.

Moreover, my to-do list items were not exactly uplifting. They would have worn me down a bit even if I was not also dealing with an often-whining baby.
  • My wife's laptop screen went on the fritz. It would go black after a few seconds and would not work again until the lid was closed and re-opened. I managed to back up all of her important folders onto the portable hard drive before it died completely, even dealing with that old bug about copying user "Application Data" folders.
  • Winter term grades were due. One student owed me a belated portfolio, an excused postponement because his daughter had been arrested, so he and his wife were taking care of the ten-month-old grandbaby. He valiantly kept up with the normal homework and scored a 90% on the final exam. Since the final, neither phone nor e-mail worked to reach him. But his portfolio never came (by e-mail) and the syllabus is a contract, so he earned a C+ instead of a B+. He tried so hard and had his priorities right. Entering the lower grade didn't boost my mood.
  • I could not nap when Smiley did because our contractor friend and his partner started the work of building my wife's new garden beds. While Smiley slept two-and-a-half hours I moved dirt, with only a short break for lunch.
After his nap I was even more tired, and no longer with friends. Smiley was still of ill temper. I found myself getting grumpier as the afternoon progressed, and I could not shake off this worsening even though I could see how absurd was its cause: I found myself internally complaining while thinking of all the ways my life was not what I once planned.

I know I have a great life. My work is nicer than the career I once wanted. Where I live is nicer than any place I imagined I would live. The house is comfortable, even if very different from what I imagined it would be like. What I eat is healthier and tastier than the food I grew up with.

Thus looking at my life is a clear example of how God's plans for us are better than our own plans. But still I was wallowing in negativity because the result was not what I had planned!

The end of the day was even harder. I had eagerly awaited my wife getting home from work, so I could take a break from parenting. But when she finally did get home her cold had become much worse: she was only up for dinner and bed.

So I kept going. Smiley took an hour nap at 6pm. Then he played in the bathtub for a while. Then we read board books in the nursery, and he climbed on me as I lie on the floor.

Finally, during the 8pm hour, he was thirsty and drank eight ounces. Then, right at 9pm, he threw up. With this cold that has been at least a daily occurrence, but this time there was no warning. I managed to grab and position the plastic bowl (kept within reach in the nursery) in time to protect the furniture, but he and I both needed a change of clothes.

I expected the worst. Previously, throwing up always put him into a screaming fit of frustrated discomfort, and then have relapses of being inconsolable. He would avoid food or drink for more than an hour.

But this time he did not cry at all. After a few minutes he enjoyed some juice and cheese. His mood was suddenly cheerful and easy to please. Within an hour was happily asleep.

The day ended with inexplicable joy and contentment. I had a nice prayer time and fell asleep full of gratitude for all the good things God has given my family and myself. The troubles of the day had completely fallen away.


On Wednesday Smiley's mood was back to fussy, clingly, and fragile. But my own mood was much better. I was also better rested. It had been my wife's turn to care for Smiley during the night. Also, I had a very small to-do list Wednesday and could focus on enjoying parenting.

We drove my wife to work and on the way home stopped at the grocery store for ice cream and yogurt: I was in the mood for a frozen raspberry smoothie even though it was raining and 45 degrees. (The day before I had been too tired to care for myself well, let alone spoil myself.)

I recorded some videos of Smiley using his bead maze and a good small-motor challenge. I had the energy to hold his hands whenever he wanted to practice walking. We did all kinds of things inside the house (it was a rainy day) and managed to be creative and not bored.

On Wednesday, as I prayed throughout the day, I prayed about the things I was grateful for and then interceded for other people.


Thursday I again woke very tired, having slept terribly. It had been my turn to care for Smiley during the night. Also, my wife's cold had moved from her throat to her sinuses, causing snoring; I could not wear earplugs since I needed to be able to hear when Smiley woke.

Smiley woke still a bit snarfly from the cold and clingy but in a slightly better mood. I started the day with spoiling myself (and him). First I let my wife be free to make scones for a breakfast treat, modifying the recipe to replace the egg so Smiley could have some. Then I took a shower while holding Smiley. Despite the lack of sleep, I felt ready for the day after three scones and a shower.

The weather had improved as much as my mood: warmer and sunny. I called another family, who came to visit. We went to the Parker Playground. The three kids and two adults had a delightful time. (Smiley climbed the entire height of the play structure several times, again really enjoying the yellow slide.) Smiley's appetite returned with the physical activity, which helped his mood immensely. He snacked on crackers, cheese, and casserole. When the other family departed he was so tired that he fell asleep in between my changing his diaper and returning to the nursery with a bottle.

His nap was short, but I did not mind. After it he had more lunch. Then we went outside and did gardening: at first with him riding behind me in the Ergo, then with him playing on the front lawn. I remained prayerful and grateful. Three hours passed very quickly--the first occasion this week when time flew!

My wife again came home exhausted, ready for dinner and bed. Despite being low on sleep I had plenty of energy to spoil her and finish the day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Occupied Spider

Back in December I mentioned looking for matching board books in different languages, so reading to Smiley will help his ear be used to non-English language sounds.

Smiley is now really interested in his books. He loves being read to, even when he is going to bed: swaddled and unable himself to turn the pages or touch the pictures. So we finally ordered a few of board books in Spanish that match some of his English ones.

Of course we ordered the Spanish version of The Very Busy Spider. When I taught preschool that was perhaps the best of all classroom books. The combination of entertaining animal noises and a repetitive chorus made it great for Circle Time. The colorful illustrations that also had a tactile component caused students to want to continue spending time with the book after it was read to them.

Now a mystery has arisen.

The lone Amazon review of La Araña Muy Ocupado says its translation is dreadful. My own knowledge of Spanish is so basic that I only notice a few problems, none too serious (for example the English "...just like that!" has a much different feel to it than the Spanish "...en un momento!").

If one of my readers who is more fluent in Spanish can provide further commentary, I would be grateful.

The English and Spanish text is below. I hope Eric Carle and Penguin Books pardon me for posting it: I doubt anyone will refrain from purchasing such a classic read-aloud experience merely because the text is here. (And if that Amazon review is erroneous or over-picky, I'll write a "correction".)

Early one morning the wind blew a spider across the field.
Un día muy temprano el viento sopló una araña a travès del campo.
A thin, silky thread trailed from her body.
Un hilo delgado y sedoso era dejado por su cuerpo.
The spider landed on a fence post near a farm yard...
La araña llegó a un poste de la valla cerca al patio de un finca...
and began to spin a web with her silky thread.
y comenzó a tejer una telaraña con us hilo sedoso.

"Neigh! Neigh!" said the horse. "Want to go for a ride?"
"Híiiiii! Híiiiii!" relinchó el caballo. "¿Quieres tomar un paseo?"
The spider didn't answer. She was very busy spinning her web.
Pero la araña no contestó. Estaba muy ocupada, tejiendo su tela.

"Moo! Moo!" said the cow. "Want to eat some grass?"
"Muuu! Muuu!" mujió la vaca. "¿Quieres comer hierba?"
The spider didn't answer. She was very busy spinning her web.
Pero la araña no contestó. Estaba muy ocupada, tejiendo su tela.

"Baa! Baa!" bleated the sheep. "Want to run in the meadow?"
"Bee! Bee!" baló la oveja. "¿Quieres correr en el prado?"
The spider didn't answer. She was very busy spinning her web.
Pero la araña no contestó. Estaba muy ocupada, tejiendo su tela.

"Maa! Maa!" said the goat. "Want to jump on the rocks?"
"Maa! Maa!" dijo la cabra. "¿Quieres saltar en las rocas?"
The spider didn't answer. She was very busy spinning her web.
Pero la araña no contestó. Estaba muy ocupada, tejiendo su tela.

"Oink! Oink!" grunted the pig. "Want to roll in the mud?"
"Oink! Oink!" gruñó el cerdo. "¿Quieres jugar en el barro?"
The spider didn't answer. She was very busy spinning her web.
Pero la araña no contestó. Estaba muy ocupada, tejiendo su tela.

"Woof! Woof!" barked the dog. "Want to chase a cat?"
"Guau! Guau!" ladró el perro. "¿Quieres cazar a un gato?"
The spider didn't answer. She was very busy spinning her web.
Pero la araña no contestó. Estaba muy ocupada, tejiendo su tela.

"Meow! Meow!" cried the cat. "Want to take a nap?"
"Miau! Miau!" maulló el gato. "¿Quieres tomar una siesta?"
The spider didn't answer. She was very busy spinning her web.
Pero la araña no contestó. Estaba muy ocupada, tejiendo su tela.

"Quack! Quack!" called the duck. "Want to go for a swim?"
"Cuá! Cuá!" jijo la pata. "¿Quieres ir a nadar?"
The spider didn't answer. She was very busy spinning her web.
Pero la araña no contestó. Estaba muy ocupada, tejiendo su tela.

"Cock-a-doodle-do!" crowed the rooster. "Want to catch a pesty fly?"
"Kikiriki!" cantó el gallo. "¿Quieres cazar este mosca tan necia?"
And the spider caught the fly in her web...just like that!
Y la araña la cogió en su telaraña... en un momento!

"Whoo? Whoo?" asked the owl. "Who built this beautiful web?"
"¿Uuu? ¿Uuu?" preguntó el búho. "¿Quién ha hecho este telaraña tan bonita?"
The spider didn't answer. She had fallen asleep. It had been a very, very busy day.
Pero la araña no contestó. Se había dormido. Había sido un día muy ocupada.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Smiley's Top Ten Toys of 2008

Here is a blog post that has been sitting in "draft" since January: Smiley's Top Ten Toys of 2008.

The list is in the order of what he spent the most time playing with. Unless otherwise specified, links are to his videos.

1. Pacifier

Since he only gets his binky (Amazon link) on three occasions, he never complains when we take it away. But he does love it.

Mostly it is used when going to bed to help set apart bedtime from awake time. We also swaddle him, have his mobile make music, dim the lights, pat his back, etc. But the binky is an important sensory symbol of "bedtime now".

He also gets it in the car since the car seat is not very exciting. He would often fall asleep in the car when he was younger.

Finally, once the weather got cold we realized he needs it when on walks. We attach it to the Ergo with a shoelace, so it does not fall if he drops it. Without a binky he will now and then suck on his fingers when in the Ergo; we wanted to avoid chilly little fingers.

Smiley was slow to learn how to suck on a binky properly. For months it was simply the nicest thing to chew on, which was fine with us.

2. Washcloth

Washcloths are the best. They are fun dry, and even more fun when one corner is wet. In the bath or shower they are good to suck on.

Also great in the bathroom, long before the infant has any teeth, is a baby's toothbrush. Those are really fun to suck on because the two sides feel so different in the mouth.

3. His Feet

Toes! What more needs to be said?

One of my cousins, as an infant, worked very hard to get her toes in her mouth for the first time. Then, having conquered the problem, she never did it again. Not Smiley: even at 11 months he still enjoys his toes.

4. Boxes

Boxes are for climbing! We started small and then gave him bigger ones. By the time he was allowed on stairs for the first time he was already proficient.

5. Uncle Nathan's Music Box with Bobbles

I'm not sure what this is named or where to get one. It was his Uncle Nathan's, and until he could crawl it was a favorite.

6. Hello, Bee Book

Smiley liked books he could chew on, and he liked mirrors. This book (Amazon link) was the most chewable and had the most mirrors. He spent more time with it than all his other plastic or cloth books combined.

7. Mozart Cube

The Mozart Cube (Amazon link) was a new toy at the very end of 2008. But he played with it almost constantly for a week. Then he would routinely use it as a chair while he did other things. Then he invented "background music" and switched to patting it as he goes by on the way to do something else.

8. My 1st Otter

This is a great idea. Infants love stuffed animals with appendages that can be sucked on, and infants love washcloths. So here is a stuffed animal with lots of appendages that is holding its own washcloth! These are sold at the gift shop of the Monterey Bay Aquarium (contact link) and are not available online but can be ordered by phone.

9. Sassy Car

This is a great toy (Amazon link) to push around the floor. If you push it one way the little ball pop around. If you push it the other way it winds up. Smiley never caught on to letting it go after it wound up, but he loved tipping it over after hearing the "fully wound up" clicks and watching the wheels spin.

10. Mylar Wrapping Paper

Mylar is crinkly and fun. It's easy to carry in a diaper bag. But one of Smiley's younger friends could bite through it on his first attempt, so it is not safe for every infant.

UPDATE: I realize I neglected some "toys" that my mind instead classifies as "places". His Exersaucer, Swing, and Boppy were certainly favorite things during 2008.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Legos

Smiley is feeling much better today, but has still the cold and its symptoms.

This morning I got out some new toys for him to play with: his first Legos (video) and a set of Aleph-Bet blocks.

I also recorded a great, short video of him dragging his toy phone all the way up the stairs and then pushing it down. Thump, ring, thump, ring, thump, ring. But I must have accidentally deleted it while the Flip was in my pocket. I forgot to turn on the "delete lock" feature after clearing out the Flip last night. Oh, well. He'll push the phone down the stairs again.

Now he is napping. I just finished baking power bars. After his nap we'll go to Borders to take advantage of their "Educators' Week" event.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

2009 Squirrel Count: One

Friday afternoon we caught our first squirrel of the season in our live trap. Before dinner I brought it to its new home.

Most years we move about a dozen squirrels to where my wife or I work. Both locations are beside undeveloped land. Her workplace is especially nice for the squirrels, being surrounded by a large number of walnut trees.

The main problem is that a neighbor feeds the squirrels peanuts. They feel an instinctual need to bury these in soft dirt a few dozen yards away from where they found them, which turns out to be in my wife's garden beds. To protect her plants from being dug up by squirrels (who are not even after the plants!) we move the squirrels.

I thought about trying to sting them on their behinds with my hand-pump pellet pistol. If I only pumped it three times instead of the full ten it would not do more than alarm them. Perhaps it would convince the squirrels that other yards were happier territory. However, this plan is illegal within Eugene city limits. Also, for all I know it would only exacerbate the problem. "The dirt beings are upset and stinging! To appease them we must bury even more nuts in this place!"

Smiley Sick on Shabbat

Smiley has his second cold. We expect he caught it through all of his recent playground time.

This one is not a runny nose cold, but his sinuses are draining down his throat. This makes him cough and burp a lot.

His tummy is also very sensitive. He has thrown up twice when we did not cut pieces of fruit smaller than usual, or when we let him drink more than a few ounces of breast milk or formula at once. When he does throw up it makes him miserable for a while. Not only is that experience unpleasant, but some gets caught in his sinuses and for the next half an hour whenever he sneezes a bit more comes out of his nose.

(We recently tried switching him to the Enfamil Next Step formula, because he is old enough for it and it was on sale at the grocery store whereas the usual stuff was not. This may be compounding the queasiness problem. Tonight we'll try going back to the old stuff, using the supplies we each keep in our diaper bags.)

Today we also babysat two other young children, so Smiley had to be understanding as other kids were playing with his toys or receiving our attention. He did very well, especially considering he was feeling under the weather.

He even had two developmental milestones today. He does not walk, but took a first step today. He also began using his shape sorter the "real way" by putting shapes into the proper holes, rather than holding the box upside down and simply moving the shapes in and out of the trap door on its bottom side.

While my wife took a nap I recorded a longer than usual video of Smiley playing on the stairs. It was nice that most of the day he was happy and vocal, even if he had a few hours of feeling miserable and fussing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

And to Do That to Birds

Yesterday's mention and video of birdsong caused me to remember, of course, my favorite Robert Frost poem:
He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds' song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came.
For many years I would print my own cards to put on wedding gifts for friends. I would use this poem in the card for the bride, but never found a satisfactory matching poem for the groom. Any ideas?

The 2010 Federal Budget: Bad Math and Transparency

I've been bookmarking web pages to eventually write about the 2010 Federal budget. Since I have recently written about my inflation expectation, I should finally compose the blog essay.

First, the math problems. The budget uses what my Math 25 class politely calls "pliable statistics".
  • The baseline used to measure "budget neutrality" is actually inflated by $5 trillion: what is reported as a $2 trillion decrease over the next ten years is actually a $3 trillion increase.
  • Discussions of tax amounts tend to cite tax rates on taxable income instead of the effective tax rate on total income. Moreover, the proposed cap-and-trade plan is effectively a large tax since it would drive up prices by more than its rebate amount.
Misusing statistics has finally causes Judd Gregg to speak out. "Pliable statistics" were also recently used with military Brigade counting.

Second, the size of the budget. To me this is bad news since I prefer Small Government and worry about upcoming inflation. Other people may not consider this bad news. In any case, the budget makes plans for expanding Big Government. It expects the Federal budget to remain above 22% of GDP for more than a decade. The government is not shy about keeping the deficit high (at or above 3% of GDP). The budget is deliberately anti-Reagan and even worries Putin.

Third, the budget overestimates economic growth for the next decade, especially since it relies so much on taxing the economy's small businesses.

Finally, beyond the math-based lack of transparency, inconsistencies abound. Our President procrastinated being intolerant of earmarks. Our Treasury Secretary promised to ignore a new law. Tax-supported colleges lack the restrictions of tax-supported businesses.

Overall, the 2010 budget is a dishonest mess. On one hand this could be called predictable business as usual (but on a larger scale). On the other hand, the new administration promised to have high standards and honest transparency, so I am disappointed.

Compounding the problem is how the media can be lost be or conflicted about how policies and their math work, and too often reports myths.

UPDATE: I should have ready today's news before blogging! Contrary to my last point, there are nice mainstream articles about the new CBO budget analysis. The changes are due to updated estimates, not "pliable statistics". Now that $3 trillion increase over the next ten years is estimated at a $5.3 trillion increase, and the deficit is expected to be not merely above 3% of the GDP, but "unsustainably" above 4% and soon above 5%.

UPDATE: Now I'm stunned by the misdirection in the report on the new CBO analysis. Year-old analysis, before bailouts and stimulus, is used incorrectly. The error margin for five-year projection is placed within a paragraph to implies a false comparison with one-year numbers from the previous sentence. A new official Administration long-term growth estimate is used (2.6% instead of the previous >4%). Finally, a "staw man" is used as if people were actually proposing to do nothing. Not a word is said about inflation!

UPDATE: More explanation of how the official math is bad, by the WSJ.

UPDATE: Ace adds that the defense budget is being cut despite claims of an increase.

UPDATE: Glenn points out this bundle of bad math in a May 11th health care speech.

UPDATE: At the end of June, the way to count "jobs created or saved" is unveiled, and is an Orwellian delight of misdirection and blame-passing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Final Exam: Red Shirts

How well would you do in my Math 25 class? Here are the two hardest problems from today's final exam.

The Enterprise had 430 crewmembers, of which 90 wore red shirts. During its five-year mission 59 crew members were killed: of these 43 wore red shirts. When measured as an absolute percentage (subtraction), how much does wearing a red shirt increase the chance of being killed?

Continuing the previous problem, when measured as a relative percentage (percent change), how much does wearing a red shirt increase the chance of being killed?

Fed Follows Friedman

In early February I mentioned Milton Friedman's recommendation for how the government should stimulate the economy.
Friedman concludes that the most reliable plan for stimulus would be to print money and use it to buy existing government bonds. Historically a one-time printing of money need not lead to inflation, and removing government bonds from the market would move money previously used in those investments to private consumption or investment.
Today the Federal Reserve began doing exactly that in a really big manner.
All told, the Fed will pump as much as an extra $1.15 trillion into the economy via bond purchases. The Fed will buy as much as $300 billion in long-term Treasurys in the next six months. It will increase the ceiling on purchases of mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to $1.25 trillion, up from $500 billion. The Fed also is doubling potential purchases of their debt, to $200 billion.
Now the Big Question is whether the Fed's effort is too big, or whether the combination of this and the other governmental efforts to stimulate the economy is too big. Then Friedman's plan would be derailed by the government causing inflation. Sadly, I do expect this to happen.

UPDATE: China also expects U.S. inflation.

Historical Computer Literacy

Long, long ago, in the Days of DOS, I was computer literate. Back then the phrase meant "Can succeed in an unfamiliar task with unfamiliar software by reading the manual." People who were not computer literate could only repeat what they had been taught by someone.

Later, in the Era of Windows, I was not computer literate. During those years software manuals grew unreadable. Eventually most programs had no printed manual since searching through help files was the only helpful use of documentation. The phrase computer literate changed to mean "Has broad experience with many software applications, and deep knowledge of their tasks." Since I only used a few applications I was no longer computer literate, even though I was in a tier above casual computer users.

Now I wonder if in the new Web Years the old definition has returned. Today I started to use Facebook and Twitter, and got them to do exactly what I wanted, empowered by documentation instead of experience.

I'm brand new to both applications. I do not know what my Facebook "wall" is. I do not know which Facebook input forms go to my "status" as opposed to some other form of posting. I have no idea what a Tweet is. But despite being a complete greenhorn I could do tricky things with these applications because I knew how to search for and make use of documentation: I know about HTML and feeds and browser addons, and know the things to search for in Google to make any needed connections.

Wearily Blessed

Today I'm running on only three hours sleep. Partly it is my fault for staying up later than I should have. Also, Smiley had a long fussy and half-asleep time last night.

Anyway, on days I am very tired I tend to either feel especially frustrated or especially grateful, based upon whether I have a big To Do List that day or not.

Today was an especially grateful day.

I'm a morning person, and the final exam I gave was done by 10:30am. I did not start to crash until at least 10:35. Ensuring my math students had the most smooth and enjoyable test possible was my only big To Do item today beyond from parenting.

I sometimes nap when Smiley does, but today was expecting phone calls (which did come in) and needed to start a fire in the fireplace. So I worked a bit more. It could have waited, but I graded the exams for those students I knew were worried about failing the class, and then e-mailed them that they passed. (I am technically not allowed to share grade information by phone or e-mail, but sometimes provide imprecise grade information when I know students may be frantic.)

During Smiley's hour-long nap I also created a Twitter account and then bent Twitter to my will.

The rest of they day I spent playing with Smiley. We played inside and outside.

Today had the first cherry blossoms of Spring, and was the first Spring day of loud birdsong.

I have a .plan

A couple months ago I found out what Twitter was. In some ways I'm a bit behind the times. Besides the VMS joke, I mean.

A few weeks ago I also found out that Facebook was the new king of social networking sites, and it accepted a Twitter feed.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter interest me. But since someone needs to help organize the neighborhood's stay-at-home parents I thought I should be learn about social networking. So last night I made a Facebook account. Today, during Smiley's afternoon nap, I made a Twitter account.

Lo and behold, I have more than 40 friends who already use Facebook, including some I had lost contact with and am very happy to be in touch with again.

Many of these friends are too busy to read a friend's blog posts but do read short Twitter messages. It would be nice to use Twitter to keep in touch with these non-blog-reading friends, but without inconveniencing myself. What should I do? Some Google searches to the rescue!
  • The FireFox addon TwitterBar allows me to contribute a Twitter message from the browser's address bar, so I do not have to go to any webpage.
  • The Facebook Twitter application duplicates all non-reply Twitter messages as Facebook status messages.
  • The Twitter HTML widget creator allows me to put my most recent Twitter message on my blog and links home page.
  • The RSS feed for your Twitter messages is on your page, not your home page. Finding the RSS feed for your Facebook status messages requires excavation.
So now I need never go to Facebook or Twitter again! When I start using the internet my home page reminds me what I last wrote. I can write something new in the address bar of the browser. My friends that follow Facebook or Twitter get to hear from me, and I am minimally inconvenienced.

I'm sure I actually will go to Facebook every few days, to read how my friends who do not blog are doing. But it is nice to have an unobtrusive system that allows me to send out what I think of as mini-blog messages.

UPDATE: TwitterBar is now HootBar.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Househusband Social Networking

Smiley is finally old enough to enjoy playing with other children. Only a month ago he was humorously not sure what to do (but shared his toys quite well).

So I am trying to find other children his age that live within walking distance, to arrange play dates. (Do parents still call them that?)

The hypothetical archive of parent resources is the United Way Parent HelpLine. But their information is incomplete and out-of-date because other groups do not responsibly keep in touch.

There is a local Mommy Meetup group. But they do not allow dads.

This part of town has a popular bakery and a Bambini store, both with bulletin boards used by parents for social networking.

The Eugene Library has story times on Tuesdays and Fridays at 10:15 am, and a music time on Saturdays at 10:15 am. Smiley would like that, and I would meet other parents.

There is an indoor playground co-op on the north side of town named Tiny Tots.

The website Oregon Family has other local events, but none so easy to get to. But this page does mention a parent networking group that lacks its own website.

There is a local Birth to Three organization which works with small parent education and support groups. These usually continue on unofficially as social groups. But I am not interested in an initial support group phase, nor being grouped with families who live across town.

ParentsConnect does not have a Eugene group.

Finally, I joined Facebook to see what it had to offer. Sure enough, there is a local parent group there. But it is inactive, only five people, and is also a Google group.

UPDATE: Additions and corrections made above.

UPDATE: At the end of Spring Break week I created a blurb on Craigslist. Perhaps this will work best?

UPDATE:  The Bounce gym is highly recommended by many parents of toddlers.  It has open hours most weekdays.

Parker Playground

Last Thursday I took Smiley to the playground at one of the nearby elementary schools, after 4pm when the playground is available to the public.

Smiley increasingly enjoys people watching. I expected we would use the swing and he would watch other kids play.

I was surprised. He conquered the play structure. Starting at the bottom he could climb to any platform, and enjoyed going down both slides. Not bad for an 11-month-old who cannot yet walk.

The links below are to movies. We did not manage to take a good picture of Smiley going down either slide, but the movies have that and more.

This is the play structure. He started down by the bridge.

Ladders separate platforms. The ladder to the top platform had the most steps

But he could climb it!

Here he is crawling to the big slide.

Being up high is so much fun.

There was a nice view of the basketball players.

Getting in position to slide down takes concentration. He went slid down many times.

The small slide is fun too, and a good place for people watching.

Another a concentrating face as he turns around to back down.

We returned on Friday but he was too tired to play much. Then Eugene had four rainy days. Today we'll finally get to go back.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Campaign Promises Update 2

About a month ago I wrote about President Obama's campaign promises. At that time he was doing fairly well.

Apparently that has changed more than the Obameter shows, because of earmarks and signing statements, taxing health benefits, and stem cell decisions, terrorist detainment, and different treatment of auto workers and AIG executives.

UPDATE: In early April, a tobacco tax broke what was probably Obama's most significant promise about no new taxes facing those earning less than $200,000.

UPDATE: Another broken promise, about wiretapping.

UPDATE: Two more in April, about economics.

Sitting Room

Today I realized that we now have a "sitting room".

I've read that phrase but doubt I ever heard it spoken. Wikipedia says it is synonymous with a living room. But until recently our living room was not very good for more than one person sitting. It had a decent recliner and an old couch that did not offer enough support.

We finally decided to replace the couch, as an Engagement Anniversary present for each other. We have always wanted a loveseat to cuddle on. We eventually purchased a reclining sofa and loveseat set. The manufacturer is an Oregonian company named Pacific Motion that currently lacks a website. The pieces are so well made that the lifetime warranty covers not only frame and fabric but even the foam.

So now we have a decent recliner and four other really nice places to sit. Since we do not own a television but the front window is big, I suppose we should start using the phrase "sitting room" instead of "living room".

Tangentially, we also decided to do a second large purchase at the end of the summer. In the Summer will be teaching more math classes than previously planned so we can afford something else my wife has always wanted: a hot tub. We expect inflation soon, so it makes sense to purchase any long-lasting expenses now, before prices go up.

UPDATE: The new sofa and loveseat can be seen in this video.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Concept Study: Holiness

I have not written a new concept essay since September!

Time to fix that. Today's essay is about holiness.

As before, I mention it here in the blog because the P'nei Adonai website has nowhere for a potential discussion using comments.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Here is a not-so-short introduction to the economic legacy of Arthur Cecil Pigou.

The article begins by asking a fascinating question: when does an so-called free-market economy include enough so much government action that it should no longer be called capitalist?

It concludes not with a bang but a whimper, not recommending anything in particular except to call for
a new understanding of older ideas...a clearheaded perception of how different institutions actually work, and of how a variety of organizations—from the market to the institutions of the state—can go beyond short-term solutions and contribute to producing a more decent economic world.

Was it Greenspan?

A month ago I wrote about crisis blame.

Alan Greenspan is finally involved. Two weeks ago, one of his old Objectivist friends wrote an essay lamenting Greenspan's departure from Objectivism and blaming his policies for enabling the current economic crisis. This week Greenspan wrote an article in the WSJ to defend his policies from blame.

The big issue is the gold standard, and since the monetary base has recently skyrocketed we will all soon find out if Greenspan was right or wrong to leave Objectivist teaching.

Who is Significantly in Debt?

One of my math students used this article for an article report in Math 25.

The article includes an interesting graph showing what percentage of Americans devote more than 40% of their monthly income to debt. The data compares 2004 and 2007, broken down into six income categories.

In only slightly related news, the most entertaining quotation I have read about debt and stimulus was written by Monique Stuart.
Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) his appearance on Meet the Press this morning was asked if more stimulus was needed for this economy, and this was his response:
I’ve got people in South Carolina who are thinking about buying a car but are having a very difficult time getting a car loan. But their biggest fear is they think they may get laid off in the next six months. So if we could get credit flowing in the consumer areas, I think it would stabilize the economy more than anything else.
How exactly is getting credit flowing to unworthy borrowers going to stabilize the economy? I’m just some young (dirty) blond chick, what do I know? I may be wrong here but, it seems to me, if your biggest fear is that you think you may be laid off in the next six months, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about buying a car. I’m just saying.

5 States, 35 Counties

In February I linked to an article that said five states (California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Michigan) have most of the toxic mortgages.

A more recent article narrows it down to 35 counties that have half the nation's foreclosures. And beyond that list of 35 the article says
Even among them, there are some areas that are worse than others: "Eight counties in Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada were the source of about a quarter of the nation's foreclosures last year."

UPDATE: Here is some nice detail about why the effect is regional.

Oath Keepers

Last week I mentioned the "Tenth Amendment Movement". It turns out that people in the military are also paying attention to states' rights.

More Green Skyscrapers

Back in November I linked to an article about using skyscrapers for farming.

Recently another article described how families that live in skyscrapers have a lower carbon footprint, since their homes share walls with other heated homes.

Isaac Asimov imagined a future in which everyone on Earth lived underground so that the entire planet's land could be used for agriculture. Orson Scott Card imagined a future in which a planet's entire surface was one steel building--the planet had to import all of its food. Did any science fiction writer imagine skyscrapers used for both farming and living?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Saturn Changes

My wife and I own a 1999 Saturn SL2, which Consumer Reports believes was the last great car the company manufactured. It has certainly served us well, for years in upstate New York weather as well as in Oregon.

The car is not a miracle of modern engineering, but the problems in manufacture were noted by Saturn and fixed at their expense (twice, and a third time that turned out not to apply to our model).

I recently received a letter from Saturn describing their upcoming split from GM. Interesting news. Every Saturn employee with whom I have had contact has been knowledgeable and helpful. When I have asked, they reply that they like their co-workers and the work they do. For their sake, I hope the company continues and thrives in some form. Job skills can be provided by training, but established teamwork and enthusiasm are difficult to replace.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I've been busy with all sorts of work and chores for the past two weeks.

Tonight I finally have a chance to try to get caught up on photographs.

Here is my routine, which mainly uses the gThumb software for Linux:
  • copy everything from the digital camera to the portable hard drive
  • copy everything from the digital camera to the laptop
  • sort the new laptop photographs by month into folders
  • delete blurry or inferior-redundant photographs, rotate when needed
  • add a caption to the best photographs
  • sort by caption and then copy those with a caption to a new folder
  • upload that folder to my Picasa albums then delete it
It does not take very long. Except that I have 574 photographs to deal with. Ack!

UPDATE: Half done! Now bedtime.

UPDATE: All done! Now I just need to blog about the photographs since December 16th. And finish processing videos, and blog about videos since October.

Old Couch

In December I used Craigslist for the first time, to find a new home for our lovebirds.

Today I used it again, to find a new home for our old couch. As before, I am using the blog to archive what I wrote there.

In 1997 my grandfather gave my wife and I his old couch, whose supportiveness was even back then a bit used up.

Now its 15+ years old and the support for sitting is entirely gone. Sitting on it for a couple hours will probably cause a sore back.

But it's still an okay couch for lying on -- nice for a nap, a place to sleep when the spouse is sick, or for watching a television high above the foot of the couch.

The leather has some small worn places, and one small hole where my father-in-law sat on it and his keys punched through.

Dimensions are 7' long, 3' deep, 2'9" tall.

Free if you can transport it away.

Anecdotally, my grandfather was the chemist who convinced the board of Johnson and Johnson to recall all Tylenol during the Tylenol Crisis, perhaps still the foremost example of a company putting customer care before profits. This was his couch for watching television in his den. A bit of history to accompany a well-used piece of furniture.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Sunflower Cookies

Earlier this week I baked power bars. Those are yummy.

Today I was in the mood for something different and cookie-ish. Since I'm low on sleep and tired I decided to do the easy recipe for peanut butter cookies.

The only problem is a lack of gluten-safe peanut butter. In this country roasted peanuts are almost always contaminated. My wife has not found an affordable gluten-safe peanut butter. We once tried making our own peanut butter but that was so not worth it.

So I used a jar of sunflower butter from Trader Joe's, which we had in the pantry for no particular reason. It worked quite well. The taste was changed, as you would expect, while the consistency remained the same.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Political Prediction

I have been doing much more political blogging than usual. This post is part of finishing that trend.

Last week I wrote about my political fears. This essay will be a political prediction.

Normally I blog to help process my thoughts, so it is unusual for me to mention social expectations. But I will make an exception and write to archive my thoughts, not process them.

My prediction is about how the political parties will evolve in identity.

I did not pay much attention to national politics until after I graduated from college. But based on what I did notice and read I developed the impression that the Democrats and Republicans were evolving quickly during my lifetime. For a while they were pro-tax versus pro-business. Then they were Big Government versus Small Government. Then they differed on investing American money and lives to promote democracy abroad. Most recently they were dominantly doves and hawks.

The next predictable obstacle will be the Entitlement Crisis. The government has made too many promises. It cannot keep providing the promised amounts of welfare, Social Security, health care, pensions for government jobs.

How will our political parties respond to this crisis?

Unfortunately, government is getting getting bigger. This is politically strategic: if it is inevitable that the government must soon scale back its programs, then it gets more options on how to do so by doing more now. But additional spending hastens the crisis's arrival. Politicians are opting to have flexibility instead of time to plan carefully.

Most Federal programs are Constitutionally justified by the Commerce Clause. Since the New Deal this clause has allowed the Federal government to expand greatly and create entitlement programs. The Constitutional balance is the Tenth Amendment which emphasizes State authority.

Since the 1930s these two parts of the Constitution have been in mild tension. Now the tension is exploding as the Federal government is embracing debt while attacking profits:
"There will be a time for them to make profits and a time for them to get bonuses," Obama said. "This is not that time."
Several states are ready to refuse Federal aid that has too many strings. The governors, while not fans of Rush Limbaugh, at least agree that business profits are needed to support government. The increase in tension between Federal and State authority is probably the most significant backlash against the stimulus bill. It is part of an established but growing "Tenth Amendment Movement".

How will the Federal government adapt to shrinkage forced upon it by the Entitlement Crisis? Will it adapt acceptably?

I think a more important question will be, "Will people perceive the Federal government as adapting acceptably or unacceptably?"

Once the change beings, those who perceive (accurately or not) that it is happening unacceptably will attempt to shift programs -- and the decisions about which programs to keep or cut -- to State control.

The Commerce Clause and Tenth Amendment will clash. Some States will attempt to claim the authority to rebuild programs deflated by unfulfillable Federal promises. The Federal government will try to retain authority over its programs, but will willingly sacrifice some for the retention of others.

My prediction is that the Democrats and Republicans will take sides in this clash as their new primary identities. The Democrats will become the pro-Federal party that values nationally broad regulations and norms, extolling as virtues unity, uniformity, and collective wisdom; the Republicans will become the pro-State party that values letting 50 different attempts at revising the Entitlement culture develop and learn from each other, extolling as virtues independence, diversity, and experimentation.

UPDATE: Do I think my prediction is likely? No. But it must be as likely as other silly things.

UPDATE: An approaching issue I have not thought about but perhaps should is what would happen if more than half of voters do not pay taxes (thus taxation without representation for the others).

UPDATE: Since neither established political party is working against big-government, a Modern Whig party has formed. This seems an odd choice of name, since the older Whig party was very much for Congressinal power.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Toddler Tropical Cookies

After three months I decided to try modifying the in-process teething biscuit recipe again.

However, now I can cheat.

My previous goal was to make a hard biscuit that dissolves quickly without creating a potential choking hazard, the way Cheerios do. I never managed this. But I have since discovered OrgraN crackers (Smiley likes the salsa flavor) which fulfill this role nicely.

Smiley is also old enough to eat food safely in small bites. These days we can hand him an entire banana, a peeled quarter-apple, etc.

So my new goal is simply to make something nutritious he will enjoy. Here is what I tried this morning:
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/2 cup teff flour
  • 1 banana, smushed through a baby food mill
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 5 Tbsp coconut milk
Mix, shape into little cookies on a silpat on a cookie sheet, and bake at 425 degrees for 7 minutes.

The cookies have a nice consistency. To my taste they need some citrus flavor (replace some of the coconut milk with orange juice) but I expect that is merely my sweet tooth talking. Smiley also ate one cookie, but nap time was approaching so he was too tired for me to judge how much he enjoyed it.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Discipline and Mentoring, Part Three: Mentoring

This essay is the third part of a series.

Part one discussed three different ways to teach a learner who is so young he or she lacks the self-control or skill to succeed in a situation.
  • Training taught a specific behavior in an arranged, calm, patient setting using gesture, phrase, and negative reinforcement. It was mechanical and anti-social.
  • Teaching taught a specific, simple skill. It took advantage of "teachable moments", was very conversational, and was social and fun.
  • Correction taught norms and self-control to a child too young to be responsible for her or her behavior. Before being redirected to better behavior, the child was led through the steps of being aware of his or her action, comparing it to a standard, and then doing something to fix or apologize for the mistake.
Part two formed a segue by categorizing the above three techniques as discipline. The young child lacked the self-discipline (self-control and skill) to be successful so the teacher had to compensate for the lack. In contrast, mentoring used three parallel teaching techniques with a learner that did have the prerequisite self-discipline.

Practicing a simple skill requires training. This is even true with a lone adult. When learning to play a musical instrument it is important to practice scales for several minutes each day: this is as arranged, patient, and anti-social as any other training; there is still reinforcement, both the disappointment when a mistake is made and the pleasure when mistakes are avoided.

Learning a compound skill requires more than training. A compound skill is best taught be mimicry and example. If I want to learn how to use a potter's wheel, or do the motions of a martial arts form, or how to better focus my mind in prayer, then I should study under someone who has already mastered the skill. This type of mentoring I'll called apprenticeship.

In many ways apprenticeship resembles training. It usually happens in an arranged environment. There is often little dialogue since sufficient supervision and guidance is a few timely reminders or hints. Patience and calm is required. It is anti-social in the sense that the situation is impersonal: the pair of mentor and learner are acting out roles with little opportunity for being social or expressing personality.

With apprenticeship, what is valued is mastering the compound skill.

Learning a simple skill for the first time requires teaching (as previously defined).

I will call the equivalent type of mentoring explorations. Like teaching it is social, fun, and involves a lot of conversation. It builds off of many "teachable moments" that arise as the learner explores a new setting to develop concepts and foundations.

Once Smiley develops the self-discipline to not want to put every plant he sees in his mouth I could take him to the back yard to explore its different plants and places. Perhaps he would learn about textures and colors. Perhaps he would try rolling down the hill, crawling through leaves, or climbing into bushes. Perhaps he would learn what I refer to with the words "rhododendron" and "hellebore". I do not know beforehand what will develop, but he will be learning.

Similarly, once Smiley develops the self-discipline to turn a book's pages one at a time we can explore how books tell stories. Perhaps he will point to each character in each picture and ask, "Who's that?" Perhaps he will care about the overall narrative. Again, I do not plan a lesson but supervise and guide his learning.

With exploration, what is valued is discovery, making connections, and refining vocabulary.

Learning behavioral norms for the first time requires correction (as previously defined).

The equivalent type of mentoring is mediation. As with correction the learner is helped to focus on his or her actions and feelings, be mindful of the standard, and fix the damage by making an apology or facing an appropriate consequence. But in mediation all the children involved are assumed to have the prerequisite self-control and skill to handle the situation so the mentor only needs to provide supervision and guidance. There is no longer a need to separate the misbehaving child or to use a question to help shift the focus from what is wanted.

The most effective routine I know for nearly all mediation situation involves this fill-in-the-blank sentence that both parties in the conflict use:
When you _____
I feel _____;
please _____.
The first phrase is simply to help the child get started. It is incredibly natural to cite what was done to you before shifting focus to yourself.

The second phrase recognizes that, for children, the harm in most offenses is emotional. Nate would have been willing to let Jill have a turn with that toy if she had asked nicely, but she just grabbed it. Jill would have enjoyed sharing the blocks and building things with Nate, but he barged in and took blocks from what she had built to start his own edifice.

The third phrase asks the child to take some responsibility in resolving the conflict. The child's request might not be polite ("go away") and might not be helpful ("let me play with this toy until I am bored with it"). But whatever is said the child has had once more occasion of responding verbally instead of with fight or flight.

After both children have made use of this sentence the mentor mediates an outcome. Perhaps it is unreasonable for Nate to use the toy until he is bored with it but a timer can be used to start taking five-minute turns. Perhaps both children have stated workable outcomes and the mentor's only job is to praise them for resolving the situation on their own.

If a young child who normally has the self-discipline to offer an apology is emotionally worn out by the mediation process a second kind of vicarious apology may be a helpful part of resolving the conflict. Ideally the child tells the mentor what to say to the other party. Unlike the vicarious apology of correction, this is not speaking instead an immature child who lacks the self-control or skill to apologize, but speaking "along side" a more mature child who recognizes an imbalance in desires, attitude, and energy level. Metaphorically it is not carrying an immobile runner across the finish line, only offering an elbow to lean upon during the last few steps.

With mediation, what is valued are the feelings of the children, but the feelings are explicitly not license to act inappropriately.

All three types of mentoring also work with adults.

The years I led a religious congregation I made use of all three. I would use apprenticeship to help someone practice the words to a liturgical prayer or the steps to a worship dance. I would use exploration to allow a service to be worshipful to all congregants in different ways, and to guide the discussion after each sermon. I would use mediation (sometimes with that same preschoolers' procedure) when congregants had conflicts.

Discipline and Mentoring, Part Two: Discipline Verses Mentoring

On Wednesday I wrote an essay about imparting discipline to very young children. I purposefully never used the word "discipline". But that was the overall theme.

Now that I finally have a moment to write the second and third parts of this series I have changed the title of that previous post. Time to continue this exercise in vocabulary and philosophy.

What do I mean by discipline? (Remember, I'm defining words as I need to, not using the standard dictionary definitions.)

Discipline is when a learner lacks the self-control and/or skill to succeed and so the teacher must compensate for this lack.

Such a lack usually is present only with very young children. In previous essay the examples included:
  • being trained to not touch something dangerous
  • being taught how to stand in a straight line
  • being corrected after hitting a friend.

, in contrast, is when a learner has the prerequisite self-control and skills to be successful and the teacher only provides supervision and occasional guidance.

To continue with examples:
  • a toddler now has the self-control to not touch dangerous objects and is taken on an exploration of the back yard
  • a child now has self-control and skill to mimic how an adult stands or moves and enrolls in a kids' karate class
  • a preschooler now understands that hitting is wrong and requires apology, and normally has the self-control to not hit, but just did hit during an unusually heated conflict and now that conflict needs adult mediation

The third post in this series will provide more detail about mentoring and relate it to discipline.

There is no specific age at which a young child matures from discipline to mentoring, nor does it usually happen all at once.

I once was the Head Start teacher for a three-year-old who overnight developed the maturing to switch from discipline to mentoring in almost every area. I called his mother to compliment his progress from a surly and uncooperative child to cheerful team player. She told me she had just delivered a baby. The three-year-old had been taught roles of "the baby" and "the big boy" and made the transition as soon as mom was back from the hospital with the new baby!