Thursday, July 29, 2010

An Amusing Alliteration

The other day I found out that panko is the name of Japanese breadcrumbs.

Naturally, I imagined a machine in which Japanese breadcrumbs bounced down pegs: panko pachinko.

Then, visiting Wikipedia to write this blog post, I learned that the wooden pachinko machine I played with, as a young boy, at a relative's home was also a Japanese thing.  That makes it less surprising that I cannot remember ever seeing any others.  I wonder what family story was there, probably now lost...

Bones for the Kitchen

Our wooden rolling pin is slightly broken because one of the bearings is ruined.  A few days ago my wife and I went shopping for a rolling pin, but we didn't get one yet.  It's not an obvious choice.

What would be an obvious choice is if Bones Bearings made rolling pins.  Rolling pins should work like skateboard wheels.  When they get dirty, the bearings should pop out and be easy to clean.  A rolling pin that did that (especially if rubber rolling pin rings were included in the purchase) would be in its own league.

I've sent an e-mail to Bones, in case they agree.

Best Board Book Byline

Smiley recently check out Mary Murphy's How Kind! from the library.

The book is cute, but begs to be expanded to include examples of saying "thank you" and "you're welcome".  However, the log line on the back cover is priceless:
One kind deed leads to another in this delightful tale of barnyard benevolence.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Learning and Mousing

Today Smiley had two developmental milestones.


This morning we visited our mechanic because the "check engine" light was on, but it was only that the gas station attendant had not put the gas tank cap on properly.  (In Oregon an attendant always does the pumping.)  Since we where there, we stayed to watch two other cars get oil changes.  Smiley was very happy.

During the drive home I asked him, "What did you learn at the oil change place?"  I was curious how he would answer.  Did he even know what the word learn meant?  We so seldom talk about learning as a concept, and I cannot think of any of his books that mention learning.

He promptly replied, "After the clean oil mechanic makes horn beep loud."  Which was a great answer.  He had not known that part of an oil change was checking the tires, fluid levels, lights, and horn.  The horn test had startled him.

So Smiley, sometime (probably not today) and somehow (perhaps not involving the word learn), can and perhaps does see himself as a learner.  That's really interesting, and seems surprising although I cannot say why.


This evening he was really tired, since yesterday was a big day and today he had no nap.  So I let him play some alphabet flash games on the laptop, which I don't think he has done in at least three weeks.

Two of those four games involve typing letters.  The other two involve moving the cursor, which he could not do at all last he tried.  Tonight he had a lot of trouble, but sometimes could get the cursor on the letter he desired.

Then we tried the Linux game Potato Guy using the "Train Valley" playground.  There is a nearly blank picture with a road and train track, and around the picture are lots things to move onto the picture with the mouse.  It's like a felt board or Colorforms.  He still had mostly trouble but some successes, and enjoyed the struggle.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


A little more than a month ago I wrote about credit cards, and did the math to compare a card that gave 2% back with a mileage card.

In a comment, someone asked about the Upromise program.  I finally had time to look at it.  It is mainly an online shopping portal, which helpfully provides its own store-by-store summary of benefits at its list of all stores.  The portal could be a financial help to people that use those stores often enough.  (I don't, but my wife might since she does our family's online clothes shopping.)

There is also a grocery/restaurant aspect of the program that I cannot comment on, since my gluten-free family has such atypical spending habits on food.  It seems that a special Upromise credit might be required to participate.

The Upromise credit card seems otherwise unimpressive.  Many cards offer 1% back in a variety of ways, so it does not stand out from the crowd.

Friday, July 23, 2010

4e Rogue

So, I mentioned reading the D&D 4e Player's Handbook last week.  What did I think?

First, a caveat.  I confess I skipped over most of the character class powers, which in one sense is the "meat" of the book.  And I still have never played the game.  So I'm not sure why you are reading this.  I don't read your blog posts about how much you would enjoy parachuting based only on reading half a how-to book.

The game sure seems to have far more potential for a "story heavy" style of play than its critics often portray.  It certainly is more appropriate for this than the old AD&D I played as a kid.

It uses seventeen skills, which is a solid start and improvement over AD&D.  It changes hit points and healing to work better in a party without a healer.  Using four different kinds of to-hit ratings instead of only armor class means a two-PC party can be feasible in combat.  The main drawback is several character classes are nearly useless unless playing with miniatures on a grid, which means combat will probably slow down the pace of the story compared to non-combat situations.

It certainly is not the game I am used to.  (Infinite magic missiles and cantrips?)  But nearly all the changes would help an adventure's narrative potential.

Could I make a first level character suitable for fun solo play in a "story heavy" game in an urban setting?  I tried, just for fun.

To have as many skills as possible trained well, I used a human rogue with the feat Warrior of the Wild.  This could give my character every interpersonal and urban skill except Diplomacy, so I guess my character is a bit of a bully.  His trained skills are Acrobatics, Bluff, Insight, Intimidate, Perception, Stealth, Streetwise, and Thievery.

In 4e you have a lot of control over your character's ability scores.  Picking Str 10, Con 10, Dex 18, Int 10, Wis 12, and Cha 16 means the character has defensive ratings of AC 16, Fortitude 11, Reflex 17, and Willpower 14.  The character is about as balanced defensively as can happen.

Well, if the character is a rogue then what interesting back-story can I create?  The book is quite skimpy about the setting, but gives a few pages to alignment and deities.  Without much to go on, I decide the character is the third son of a noble family who spent his teenage years gaining local renown as a rapier duelist.  After becoming disillusioned with city politics and infuriated at how slumlords and guild-masters take advantage of the city's poor, he became a militant Luddite, a follower of Melora working within his city to halt its spread and slow its population growth.

Being a duelist provides some direction for choosing powers.  Most first-level characters have 15 to 30 hit points.  By picking Quick Draw for my second feat, the character can use Hunter's Quarry and also draw a weapon during the first combat round.  He won't be killing Paladins in one blow, but even without surprise he should win most one-on-one fights with other first-level characters.

(He starts combat with +6 to initiative, and if he wins initiative he has combat advantage.  Then he can move up to 6 spaces, use free rapier draw, use Hunter's Quarry, attack with either Easy Target or Torturous Strike, and thus do an attack at +7 to hit against AC for 2d8+3d6+4 damage.  His normal rapier attacks are nothing special: +7 to hit against either AC or Reflex for d8+d6+4 damage and a choice of either movement or riposte if the attack is against AC.)

UPDATE: Heh.  My combination of rogue/ranger has already been nerfed in "errata documents".

$50 Family Survey

If you live in the U.S. and your oldest child is 2 to 11, you can earn $50 with an online research project by the Oregon Center for Applied Science.

Toddler Bible Story Books

I mentioned that Smiley is now remembering stories better, so is time to introduce him to Bible stories, and we bought six "children's Bibles".  There are collections of various short Biblical stories with pictures.

I also mentioned that Smiley's favorite Biblical story is David and Goliath.  So in my reviews of each book I'll cite that story as an example of the text.

Note that none of the books have historically accurate illustrations.  For example, historians know the clothes worn in first-century Israel, but all these books instead use the imagined styles of clothing that Hollywood has popularized.

First, The Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers, with text by Linda Sattgast and illustrations by Toni Goffe.

This book was a pleasant surprise.  Smiley does not care about rhyming text, but as the parent the rhymes do make the book much nicer to read a zillion times.  I also appreciate how the rhymes change format with each story.

However, the rhyming text has two shortcomings.  The first is that I want to change the text sometimes, to emphasize different parts of the actual Biblical story, and improvising rhymes is harder.  But I can always use another children's Bible for those reading times.  Second, a minor personal gripe.  The shorter formats sound quite Dr. Seuss-y, which seems odd for Biblical stories.  (We fish and fish / And wish and wish. / How we wish / We'd catch some fish!)

The pictures are better than average.  Personally, it seems to me that the illustrator's version of Jesus seems a bit scary, but Smiley does not seem to agree.  All the pictures involve a minimal number of characters (for example, it appears that six people brought down the walls of Jericho).

Here's "The Giant Story".  As typical, this text picks a couple important points to retain in its summary (David's trust and Goliath's arrogance) and avoids inserting anything artificial.
Goliath was a giant, / A great BIG giant! / He stood as tall as a tree.
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" / Goliath would laugh, / "Everyone's afraid of me!"
Goliath had a spear, / A long, sharp spear. / He carried a shield and a sword.
David was a boy, / A very young boy, / Who said, "I will trust in the Lord!"
David had a sling / And five smooth stones. / The sling went around and around.
Whizz! went the stone / As it flew through the air, / And the giant came tumbling down!
Next, The Early Reader's Bible, with text V. Gilbert Beers and illustrations by Terri Steiger.

The two books by Gil are my least favorite.  In too many stories his text leaves out key points.  For example, the plagues in Egypt are simply given as "But the king did not obey God.  So God hurt the king and he hurt the king's people.  The king was afraid."

The illustrations are very nice.  Like those of the first book, they are simple and cute, with a less angular style and depicting actual crowds when appropriate.

The most distinctive feature in this book is the inclusion of several application questions after each story.

Here's "The Giant Story".  Gil includes some details that other authors omit.  He also seems to waffle: is it age-appropriate to mention killing? is the main point David's trust in God or courage?  Rewriting the last two sentences would help greatly.
"Come and fight me," Goliath called.
But not one of God's people would fight him. / They were afraid of Goliath.
A boy named David said, / "I am not afraid.  I will fight Goliath."
"How can you?" asked the king. / "You are not as big as he is."
"God will help me" said David. / So David went to fight Goliath.
He too his sling. / And he took five stones.
The big man ran at David. / He wanted to kill David.
The people with Goliath wanted / to kill God's people too.
David talked to God. / "Help me, God," he asked.
Then David put a stone in his sling.  Away went the stone.
Down went the big man!
The people with Goliath were afraid.  They ran away.
"David is brave," said the king.
David WAS brave. / But he knew that God had helped him.
Third, The Toddler's Bible, with text by V. Gilbert Beers and illustrations by Carole Boerke.

The illustrations are darling.  Not as angular as the first book or round as the second, although sharing the first book's depiction of a minimal number of people.

But Gil's text deteriorates, leaving out even more significant points, inserting inaccuracies, and often becoming preachy with a sentence about why something happened instead of what happened.  David and Goliath is a typical example:
Look at that giant!  His name is Goliath.  He wants to fight David.
How can David win?  He has only a slingshot.  Goliath has a big spear.
But David asked God to help him.  Goliath did not ask God to help.
That's why David won.
Why, Gil?  Since it's a toddler book instead of an early reader's book then there is less need to dumb down the text.  The parent will be doing the reading!  Sigh.

Fourth, The Beginner's Bible, with text by Karyn Henley and illustrations by Dennas Davis.

This is my favorite text.  I just wish I liked this illustrator's style as much as the previous one's.

Here's "The Giant Story".  Notice how many significant details are retained in this version.
The enemies of God's people came out to fight. / They sent their best fighter out first.
His name was Goliath. / He was over nine feet tall.
He called to the army of Saul, / "Choose a man to come and fight me.
If he wins, we will be your servants. / But if I win, you will be our servants!"
The men in Saul's army were afraid.
They knew that Goliath was stronger than they were. / No one wanted to fight him.
Now David's brothers were in Saul's army. / But David was at home keeping the sheep.
One day, David's father called him. / "Take this bread to your brothers," he said.
So David got to go to his brothers. / He got to see the army.
He also got to see Goliath. / And he saw how everyone was afraid of him.
"I will fight Goliath," said David.
But Saul said, "You are only a boy. / How can you fight Goliath?"
"God will help me," said David.
So Saul gave David his armor and helmet. / He gave him a sword.
David tried them on. / But they were too heavy.
David gave them back to Saul. / "I am not used to these," he said.
Instead, David chose five smooth stones from a stream.
He took his sling in his hand.
David called to Goliath, "You come with a sword and a spear.
But I come to you in the name of God. / This battle is the Lord's."
The giant came closer to fight David. / But David put a stone in his sling.
He threw the stone at Goliath.
The stone hit Goliath right in his forehead. / And Goliath fell down.
David trusted God. / God helped David win. / All the people were glad.
Fifth, The Beginner's Bible for Toddlers, text by Mission City Press Inc. and illustrations by Kelly Pulley.

Despite the title and same publisher, this book has nothing in common with the previous one.  It is designed to be portable.  It is small and has a handle.  Unfortunately, that virtue dooms its other potential.  The book is so small that important stories get left out.

The illustrations are quite nice, looking much more solid and finished than the previous books.  However, everyone always has their eyes wide open all the time!  Ack!  Stop staring at me!  (Actually, having big eyes is probably a careful design decision since infants and toddlers fixate on eyes.)

So this is our children's Bible story book that will live in the car, where smaller is helpful.

Here's "The Giant Story".  As typical with this text, the summary is not bad.  The text's flaw is omitting entire important stories, not abusing those that it does include.
Enemies of God wanted to fight the Israelites.  A giant soldier named Goliath yelled, "Bring out your best soldier to fight me!"
The Israelites were afraid.  They did not want to fight the giant.
"I am not afraid to fight the giant," said a young boy named David.
The king said, "You can't fight the giant.  You are too small."
David said, "God will be with me."
David picked up some stones.  "One, two, three, four, five," he said.
The giant laughed at David.
David said, "I am not scared.  God will help me fight you."
David put a stone in his sling and ran toward the giant.  Then he let the stone fly.
The stone hit Goliath's forehead, and he fell to the ground.  The Israelites won!
Finally, The Children's Bible in 365 Stories, with text by Mary Batchelor and illustrations by John Haysom.

This book confuses me.  It has gorgeous illustrations, no longer little-kid pictures.  That is clearly its strength.

However, and completely opposite to the previous book, it's so big!  It is full of text.  Many stories do not even get their own picture, and I don't see any that get more than one picture.

I just don't understand what child would be ready for so much text but not ready for an actual Bible translation.  There must be some niche it fills, but I can't figure it out.

I won't cite this book's David and Goliath story here because of its length.

We're not done with purchasing and reviewing children's Bible story books. But for July we are. I put a bunch more on Smiley's wish list, including some from a Jewish perspective on scripture. I expect that his relatives will get him some of these for Chanukah and Christmas.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Toddler Stories About Autonomy

I just wrote about Smiley's love for the David and Goliath story.  Now I have a question.

Can anyone can recommend toddler books about autonomy?

I'll clarify what I am asking with some stories.

First, why does Smiley like David and Goliath?  He is currently dealing with issues of autonomy and independence.  Today had two new examples.
Before his nap today he had picked out a book to read: his current favorite library book, A Child's Book of Prayers by Juli Kangas.  But he left it somewhere on the way to the nursery, so after I brought his cup of milk to the nursery we had to find it again.  When I did, and picked it up to hand it to him, he asked me to put it back down.  Then he told me to go sit in the nursery and wait for him while he "found" it and brought it to me.
Later, I was carrying him after undressing him for his evening bath.  But he asked to be put down, and then went back in his nursery to walk from the middle of that room to the bath by himself.
Those were just the brand new examples of his desire for autonomy.  Older examples that happened today include helping push the shopping cart, using my keys to unlock the car doors, from his car seat locking and unlocking his car door with his toes, and taking off his own pants.

So it makes sense that he enjoys a story about someone smaller being able to succeed against something big.  The fact that Goliath is a bully or a threat isn't important, although it adds excitement when I use a deep and gruff voice.  Unlocking the car door is as exciting an accomplishment as making a giant fall down.

Another of his other favorite books we found at a used book store: One, by Kathryn Otoshi.  I change the story a bit to make it age-appropriate for Smiley, focusing less on bullying and the protagonist's emotions and more on playing together nicely.  To summarize:
A bunch of friendly colors play together nice.  Red is mean instead of friendly.  The nice colors, led by a new friend, decide to play a new game of being numbers.  Red gets jealous and loudly demands that they stop.  They gather their courage and say that they are having fun, and if red wants to be mean he should go away.  As red is leaving, blue suggests that red does not have to be mean and go away: he could be friendly and play too.  Red decides to be friendly instead of mean.
I know that many children's picture book series include a story about "the class bully" or "controlling your anger" (Little Critter, the Berenstain Bears, probably Arthur, etc.).  But Smiley is not dealing with those issues yet.

What he really would enjoy are stories about all the things a toddler is learning to do by himself or herself.  But my years teaching elementary school and preschool didn't educate me about those, since all of the kids I taught were at least three years old.

Any suggestions?

The Giant Story

About a week ago I mentioned that Smiley is now memorizing stories and reciting them (as best he can) even when the book is not in front of him, and thus it is time to introduce him to Bible stories.

We bought six "children's Bibles", which are not really Bibles but collections of various short Biblical stories with pictures. I'll review them in a later blog post.

His favorite story, by far, is David and Goliath, which he calls "The Giant Story".  He cannot hear this often enough to satiate his love for it.

Sadly, it seems impossible to find an acceptable version of the story on YouTube.  This is not surprising.  I am trying to avoid changes of camera position, especially back and forth during a single scene.  But the obvious way to show tension during the confrontation between David and Goliath is to switch between views of David's face and Goliath's face, and an easy way to make Goliath look huge is to intersperse a camera angle that looks down over his shoulder at David.

I liked this version for showing the stone's flight.  But we always watch videos with the sound off, and Smiley said "too much talking" when the characters did little but move their mouths for a few minutes, earlier in the video than my bookmark.

I'm not sure why I like how these two versions showed the fight taking more than a moment.  The Biblical account makes it sound like David ran, shot one stone, and the fight was over in a few seconds.  Perhaps it was that quick.  For some reason it seems to me even more miraculous and glorifying to God if the encounter lasted a little longer.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention an inaccuracy in many versions of David and Goliath that irks me.  The Israelite army should be pitifully armed, and almost unarmored!  We read in First Samuel 13 that the whole army has only two swords, spears, and sets of armor.  In the next chapter we read of Jonathan killing some Philistines, and in the following chapter the Israelite army defeats the Amelkites.  So by chapter 17, with Goliath, the Israelites have probably claimed some weapons from defeated foes, and maybe some people found armor that fit.  But overall the army must still look very shoddily equipped!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Used Bookstores in Eugene

Eugene has a ton of used bookstores.

I'd like to visit a bunch of them, now that Smiley is old enough to behave well while shopping.  Any suggestions more recent than that 2005 article?  Anyone know which have large toddler book sections?

Thanks for any help!

Preaching to the Choir

Heh.  There's a website named OpenBook that shares the status messages people forgot to make private.

This is great for insecure people.  People can reassure themselves that their political views are shared by others.  (Because of today's news headlines, I searched for fannie freddy and sure enough...)  People suffering from grass pollen allergies can have their misery love company!

Heh.  I'll never waste time there again, but I do appreciate the reminder to check my privacy settings.

The Scariest Unemployment Chart?

Lately the news has been full of two contenders for the title of "Scariest Unemployment Chart".

Apparently the big question is whether the U.S. will soon experience inflation.  The experts are divided, and their arguments rest on whether the current high unemployment sitation is sufficiently atypical.

Should everyone buy gold?  The new health care legislation expects that people will.  I wonder if that is good news for GLD?

I'm not too pessimistic.  But I am grateful for my work, and would like to know how to invest!

Some of My Math Students...

I love this XKCD cartoon for all the wrong reasons.

Smiley Photo Shoot

Our friend Jessika Loucks is a photographer, and did a photo shoot of Smiley.  Great photos!

Old McDonald

Smiley loves the song Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

Unlike most toddler songs, YouTube has an excellent video for this one, performed with a flannel board by librarian Kelsey Coulter at the Worthington Libraries.  She does the song great, with motions and dramatic pauses so Smiley can shout out the name of the next animal.

Her video for Three Little Pigs is okay, but not performed as well.

There are other Old MacDonald Had a Farm videos, too.  This one uses puppets, which would work well if it also used pauses to beg for audience participation.  This one mixes farm photographs with cartoons, which is nice, but it changes the song so Smiley has trouble singing along.  This one equates farming with jogging.  This one is cute but strange, so not yet for Smiley.  The award for wierdest goes here.

The Worst Movie Ever

A month and two ago (yeah, haven't been in a blogging mood) some friends and I were talking about the worst movie ever.

My nomination, which is certainly the worst movie I've ever seen, is The Two Jakes.  It's so bad that when it was distributed newspapers laughed that a number of theaters reversed the order of the two reels and no one noticed.

Unfortunately, I did see it, at one of those theatres, on a first date.  Oh well.

So, what is your nomination for the worst movie ever?

ABC Videos

Smiley liked the alphabet.  Considering how lousy the Twinkle, Twinkle videos are on YouTube, I was pleasantly surprised to find two good videos of the alphabet song.  We can sing to balloons or fridge magnets.

The fridge magnet folks did a counting video too.

Throw a Kiss, Harry

This little book is one of my favorites.  Why aren't treasures like this book (and the Ant and Bee books) reprinted?

Twelve Variations

Smiley loves the song Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

I found a PDF file of the song in ASL, but have not learned it yet to teach him.

The YouTube videos for it are unimpressive.  The only one that Smiley liked that was appropriate for him was a boring one of Dora with color changes, here.  Some day he will find out that Dora is not just the Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star girl.

But I did find some good ones about Motzart's Twelve Variations.  Smiley gets bored from hearing piano performances, even when kids are playing.

Wildlife videos by James Knott

I've mentioned Smiley's fixation on one Little Bear story that has a robin.

Yesterday I realized that he has never heard a robin's song, so we went to YouTube.  I found a series of short and interesting wildlife videos that included a fun one about opossums.  And I learned the difference between an American and European robin.

After we watched most of those James Knott wildlife videos, we found a sugar glider video that made him laugh and laugh.

Binaural Sounds

A recent article about binaural beats made me curious, but the phenomenon is neither new nor very interesting.  I suppose without an evil criminal mastermind behind the scenes there is no drama in combining an illusionary phenomenon and the placebo effect.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Economy According to Fiduciary Management

The mutual fund FMI Common Stock (FMIMX) has very well-written semiannual reports.

The first few pages provide a report of economic conditions that is about as objective and interesting as you'll find anywhere.  The language is fairly easy to read too, since the writers realize that many people own FMIMX only because it is in their retirement plans.

If you are interested, check out the last link above.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Nice Day Numbering Eighty-Something

I am not teaching at LCC this summer.  Unlike last summer, my family is not saving up for a big purchase.  My plan was to use the summer to reestablish my good habits: running in the morning, prayer time each morning, using the weight bench after breakfast and when Smiley has his nap, and having a more regular waking up and going to bed time.

So far that plan has been an utter failure because of an unusually severe pollen season.  For most of the past four weeks the grass pollen counts have been above 600, and often over 800.  (Anything over 200 is "very high".  The Willamette Valley has a lot of grass pollen.)

So I have been congested, headache-ish, and tired.  But no more!  It seems that the end of last week ended the grass pollen season, and grass pollen counts are now down to about 80.

Coincidentally, this week the temperature is also in the 80s.  I suppose things could have been worse.  What if late June and early July had pollen counts of 60 to 90 and temperatures of 800!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

D&D 4e

A week ago I mentioned soliciting feedback for my RPG.  About 300 people went the game's webpage.  About 10 looked at it for more than ten minutes, and another 15 for three to ten minutes.  Only one provided helpful feedback, but his was lengthy and incredibly helpful.

Saturday I spent several hours working on edits, but have much work remaining to untangle how I inappropriately mixed together setting-generic and setting-specific material.

But now I'm taking a break from typing up my game, since at the library this morning my hold request for the D&D 4e Player's Handbook 1 finally arrived.  This is exciting!  During my elementary school years I spent countless hours playing Advanced D&D.  Then in high school I switched to RuneQuest, and in college to various systems I created.  In graduate school I played a few hours of 2nd Edition D&D, but not enough to get a sense for anything beyond what applied to a single, low-level character.  So I pretty much skipped both 2nd and 3rd Edition.  It's like re-meeting a childhood friend and learning how much about the person has changed.

(I've read online about the problems with 3.5e and how 4e is as much like a MMORPG as traditional D&D.  Call me naive, but I am still eager to enjoy this 4e book.  Perhaps I'm clueless.  Perhaps I'm old enough to trust that people prioritizing storytelling can use just about any game mechanics.)

Smiley in July

During the last month Smiley has reached several developmental milestones.


His memorization of stories has greatly increased.

He started small, of course: in early May he had memorized Where Does it Park? and parts of Inside Outside Upside Down.  In early June he had mostly memorized The Foot Book and could sing the alphabet, although we did not capture that well on film until a few weeks later.  Since mid-June his favorite books have been the Little Bear stories, which he has not memorized verbatim but can retell in his own words.

During the past week he has shown two memorization milestones.  First, memorizing longer stories, such as the Little Bear stories, and then retelling them without the book: especially in the car seat he tells himself the stories as best he remembers them.  Second, he now memorizes more quickly.  For example, today at the library I read him the board book How Kind once, and in the car driving home he was already able to recite quite a few of its sentences.

Since he is now retelling stories without the books in front of him, it's time to start familiarizing him with Bible stories.  We got a few at the library today.

Play-Acting Scenes

Related to memorizing books is play-acting scenes from stories.  At the end of June he invented the games of pretending to be stuck like Pooh and pretending to find a baby robin like in one of the Little Bear stories.  Those remain his favorite two scenes from a book, but he now play-acts others.

Poles and Sprinklers

Yesterday he slid down the pole at the playground by himself for the first time.  I still keep my hands by his waist, but I no longer need to help him move from the play structure to the pole.

Last summer he was usually afraid of the sprinklers.  Unsurprisingly, this summer he loves them and asks for them.

Adding Things to Chase

In mid-June he briefly played keep away but lost interest.

During the past two weeks he has discovered tickling, and now regularly adds tickling to playing chase.

He also likes adding "stop and go" (freezing like Red Light, Green Light, but with simpler words) to playing chase as long as he is the one giving those commands.

More Oil Changes

Smiley continues to be fixated on oil changes.

Every naptime and bedtime he wants a "Broken Car Story" as well as an Uncle Nathan Story and a Bubba Story.  (I often cheat and tell a story about Nathan or Bubba taking a car to the mechanic.)

He delights that the pretend fire truck in Amazon Park is easy to get under, making it ideal for pretending to do an oil change.  Although we have not filmed it, he also gives the sitting room's love seat an oil change when either chair is reclining so the footrest is up.

I also once let him watch that YouTube video that before was too boring, and he was fascinated by the entire thing.

I have no idea why he finds oil changes and broken cars so fascinating.  It's not like we are trying to direct his attention to boyish things.  His favorite colors are green, orange, and pink.  (He has no pink clothes, for which I am now doubly grateful.  With his long hair he is mistaken for a girl often enough anyway, so it seems polite to strangers to avoid pink.  But I shudder thinking about if he could pick out clothes that mix green and pink, or orange and pink.)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

My Diceless RPG Goes Public

So, having written a new RPG that fills a needed niche (designed for two people), how do I share it with the world?

First I submitted it to online lists of free RPGs maintained by Chris, John H. Kim, and Lance Alan Dyas.

Then I asked for constructive criticism on the forums of Story Games, EN World, Thousand Monkeys Thousand Typewriters, RPG Laboratory, and (also here incorrectly, which turned into a discussion of HTML versus PDF).

Finally, I use my own blog.  Constructive criticism, please!

(For those who are interested, Chris's list generates as much traffic as everyplace else combined.)

UPDATE: Amazingly helpful feedback here at

Monday, July 05, 2010

Ah, Luxury!

Last night I finally finished writing (for now) the first two sections of the RPG setting, about religion and the intelligent races.

Next I will deal with the monsters, of which I have two separate drafts, both so rough I fear the corners will cut the pixels on my laptop screen.

But not today.  Smiley napped for three hours.  I spent one hour in the spa (which we keep at 100 instead of 104 degrees to safely allow for long soaks) and my back feels so much better.  Then I read inside.  I do not read as fast as my wife: during two and a half hours I read 200 pages of a Mercedes Lackey novel.

My writing has taken up so much of my free time this year that I can only remember reading three just-for-fun books.  Goodness that feels nice to do so much reading, to simply rest in something that someone else has created for others to enjoy.

And I am looking forward to creating a bunch of silly yet suspenseful monsters.  Perhaps that will start tonight.

New Blog Category

Since Smiley is now talking well enough to say cute things, I have made a new blog category named Family Stories.

I am not calling it "Cute Family Stories" since I will also share some family anecdotes and personally formative memories.

My blog seems like as appropriate a place as any to record these things for the next generation, since my family seems to treasure what is funny or sentimental instead of lewd or scandalous.

More Cute Smiley Talk

Smiley had developed quite a sense of imagination and pretend, but is a very literal little boy.  When I ask him what he drew on his doodle pad, he normally answers "An octopus" since that and spiders are the only things he knows that look sort of like lots of crossing lines.

When I went into the nursery to greet Smiley this morning, he was sitting cross-legged in his sleep sack with his hands in his lap.
"What is in your lap?" I asked.

"Food," he replied.

"What kind of pretend food are you eating?" I asked.

There was a long pause.  "I don't know what kind it is," he said.
Not laughing was tricky.  I sometimes guess wrong about how specific his pretend play is, but so far can always tell by his conversational pauses when he had details in mind before my questions and when he is improvising an answer to satisfy my curiosity.  But this was the first time he simply ended the conversation by choosing ignorance or lack of creativity.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

New Gluten-Free Loaf Bread Recipe

I like sandwiches.  Growing up, I almost always had cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch.

Now that the weather has finally warmed up, I get more sandwiches.  My wife will be baking dinners less often, to avoid warming up the house, so we'll have fewer leftovers.

So it's time to re-learn how to bake bread.

It took my wife a long time to perfect her gluten-free loaf bread.  She began with a family recipe* that used rice, tapioca, and potato flours.  This now-obsolete recipe compensated for using flours with so little protein by including dried milk and extra eggs.

My wife discovered before her parents did an affordable source of quinoa, millet, and amaranth to grind into flour.  For several years she has been adjusting her loaf bread recipe.

That obsolete version really only worked well in a jelly roll pan, creating a sheet of bread one slice thick.  That's not nearly as satisfying as using a loaf pan.  The new recipe makes nice loaves of bread.

Her middle versions were not as forgiving when switching flours.  Her new recipe can handle substituting our a cup or two of our flour mix with teff or other flours.

Today I asked my wife to teach me her current recipe, which she did, and then I put it online.  Enjoy!

*My wife was diagnosed with celiac after Pesach of 2005.  Her father has less severe gluten-intolerance, but has known about it roughly two years longer.

New Website Favicon

I was never really sure what to use for my website's favicon.  My website does not really have a unified theme.  It's just a hodgepodge of stuff, with so many more things (like old poetry and short stories) waiting to be added when I have enough free time

I created in the middle of 2008.  This was long before I started using Facebook in March of 2009, so in my mind one purpose of my website was to help old friends I had lost touch with find me online.  Although I did not want my website to pridefully shout "look at me!" I did want it to say "this is the David you were looking for".

Not sure what else to do, I used a shrunk version of that picture of myself as the favicon.  Although I did not like to emphasize myself, the tiny picture was not really recognizable, so I let it be.  You can see it in the tab bar of this screenshot.

A couple weeks ago I had a better idea.  Way back when I was at UCSB as a math graduate student and also rewriting the UCSB Math for Elementary School Teachers class to match then-current State Framework, I designed a pretty pattern block design while at one of Phyllis Chinn's PROMPT conferences.

(You can steal the svg file if you want to use Inkscape to play with pattern blocks!)

I could use this design, or perhaps one I liked more.  I played around with my pattern blocks and could not make anything I liked better.  I took a photograph of my three favorites with that same overall shape.  The one on the left is nice but slightly too busy.  The central design is too symmetrical, like a science fiction naval logo.

So yesterday I made that oldest design into that svg file, and then as best I could into an icon.  The shapes get very distorted when shrinking the entire arrangement to fit a 16 by 16 pixel grid.

But that idea for an icon did not even last a day!  While falling asleep last night, I thought of an even better idea.

A favicon is an ideal place to put BS"D.  Sure, it will confuse people.  But an unrecognizable tiny image did too, so my website is no worse off.

So this morning I used an online favicon generator and made a new icon.

Ta da!  Now my website gives God credit for his inspiration.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Random Villains for Urban Adventures

I've lately realized that I am truly terrible at inventing short RPG adventure plots for an urban setting, focused on people.

I cannot even get off the ground.  Most writers agree the first step is creating the main villain, and I seem to have some sort of mental block against thinking up villains.

(I am too used to RPG adventures that focus on an item or place.  Find the special enchanted item, safely deliver the important document, explore the uncharted wilderness or ruin, etc.  S. John Ross has made a Big List of these.)

So, being a nerd, I designed a spreadsheet to help me brainstorm.  After much consideration about what makes a villainous motivation, I identified the following aspects.
  • submotive: the emotional state that drives the villain
  • motive: the broad intention (but not yet a specific goal)
  • mechanism: what needs to happen (but not yet a specific plan for how to do this)
  • MacGuffin: the thing the action focuses on
  • style: how the villain normally acts

The spreadsheet randomly picks one example of each aspect.  Then my job is to create a plot summary using them.
For example, if the spreadsheet hands me the five items "illness, stop physical threat, earn esteem and favor, signet ring, believes one deed will fix things" then I could imagine a villain who is trying to save the life of a very sick relative. Let's say the villain's initial goal and plan was virtuous: present gifts to the king to earn his favor so he will sign and seal an request that the royal physician help the sick relative.

But it turns out that acquiring an audience for the king is not easy, and the villain realizes he or she has no gifts worthy of earning a monarch's favor.  So the adventure ends up being about the villain trying to steal a gift (or things to sell to buy a gift), and when that does not work trying to bribe a palace guard, and when that does not work trying to break into the royal physician's rooms.

Maybe the PC becomes involved at the final stage.  Someone tried and failed to break into the royal physician's rooms.  The PC is hired or ordered to investigate.  The PC might learn about a recent series of similar yet odd thefts, and the attempt to bribe a palace guard.  Either clue could eventually lead to the villain, just as he or she is about to try one last and desperate deed...

Ta da!  A nice adventure focused around a character, not an item or place.