Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Four New Decktet Games

Here are four more games for the Decktet.

I should add these to the Decktet Wiki but I'm currently too lazy to learn how. (UPDATE: That is done now.)

Two of these games use the term "meld". A meld is a set of cards fulfilling one of the following conditions:
  • contains exactly one instance of each of the six suits (a suit-meld)
  • a set of three or more cards of the same rank (a kind-meld)
  • a set of three or more cards of consecutive ranks that all share a single suit (a run-meld)
Note that Aces and Crowns are not considered consecutive: the counting does not "wrap around".

Circle Search
a Decktet memory game for two children, by David Van Slyke.

Separate the aces and place them face up in the middle of the table. Shuffle the rest of the deck (either basic or extended) and deal out eight cards face-down in a square (a 3 by 3 grid with the middle card missing). Place two tokens on opposite corners of the square, one for each player.

Each Turn
On your turn, declare "I am searching for..." and name the suit from one of the unclaimed aces. Then move your token one card clockwise and turn over the card your token lands on, revealing it for everyone to see. If that card has the suit you were searching for, claim the ace of that suit--unless it was a Crown, which causes you to put back in the middle of the table the claimed ace of the Crown's suit if you have currently claimed it. The excuse does nothing when one of the face-down cards.

The younger player goes first, unless the game was just played and someone one, in which case the previous game's loser goes first. Players take turns until all six aces are claimed. The player who claims the most aces wins. If both players claim three aces the game is a draw.

To play with more than two players make the path of face-down cards larger (always a rectangle with four times as many cards as players) and keep starting positions equally spaced apart. To make the excuse meaningful, the first player to reveal it keeps it as a "tie-breaker" and replaces it with a new face-down card that is first revealed to all players. For children who enjoy counting more than balance, use the remaining cards as a "draw pile" that determines movement around the circle by card rank.

Note: Feel free to add a plot to the game, such as exploring a haunted house or a beach (in which, respectively, the Crowns could be ghosts or crabs that surprise you so you drop a treasure when running away).

Head Solitaire
a Decktet solitaire game that does not require a playing surface, by David Van Slyke

Shuffle a basic (not extended) Decktet and hold it in one hand face-down as a draw pile.

Note: You will soon be holding four piles, one upon another, in one hand. On top is a face-up hand of six cards. Behind it is the draw pile. Behind that, face-up and rotated ninety degrees, is the archive of melds. Behind that is the discard pile.

Each Turn, Part One
Turn over six cards and hold them face-up on top as your hand. If this group of six cards contains a meld, place the meld face-up and rotated nintety degrees directly behind the draw pile; then draw more cards to refill your hand to six cards. If the six cards contain no melds then re-order them as you desire and discard them face-up at the back of all the cards you are holding; then draw six more cards as your new hand.

After exhausting the initial draw pile, the discard pile becomes the new draw pile. It stays face-up. Move it from behind the archive of melds to in front of the archive of melds. If you have a partial hand of cards then your hand is refilled to six cards from the top of this new draw pile. If you had no cards in your hand at this time you have the option of immediately discarding the top card of the new draw pile before drawing a hand of six cards.

Each Turn, Part Two
Go through the second draw pile as before but do not worry about sorting the cards you discard.

The game is over after you go through the second discard pile. Count the number of cards not in melds (in your third discard pile). This is your score: the lower the better. Keep track of your lowest score for the week.

If the extended Decktet is used then the Excuse counts as any single suit or rank and the Pawns have three suits but no rank.

Note: A "head solitaire" is a kind of solitaire that requires no playing surface. Many were popular during the era of British sailing merchant ships.

Old Janx Spirit
a Decktet rummy game for two people, by David Van Slyke

"Oh won't you play one more game of that Old Janx Spirit,
Oh won't you play one more game of that Old Janx Spirit,
For my luck will show, my melds will go, my victory you'll know, and I will crow,
So don't you play me one more game of that sinful Old Janx Spirit"

Note: This game has more luck in the initial deal than traditional Gin Rummy, which is why "knocking" is not allowed and scoring is based only on who can "go out" first.

Shuffle a basic (not extended) Decktet and deal ten cards to each player. The remaining cards, face-down, become the draw pile.

Each Turn
Draw one card and discard one card. On the first turn the draw must happen from the draw pile. On subsequent turns the draw can happen from the top of either the draw pile or the discard pile.

Take turns until, after discarding, all ten cards in your hand are part of melds. Lay down the melds face-down to flaunt your victory. The player who does this scores one point; play again.

Note: There are many different types of winning hands. Here are a few examples:
(i) Two three-card suit-melds in which each card has two suits, and a kind-meld of four aces.
(ii) A four-card suit-meld consisting of two Threes and two aces, and a run-meld of six cards all having Knots
(iii) A single ten-card run-meld in which all cards have Waves

If the extended Decktet is used then the Excuse counts as any single suit or rank and the Pawns have three suits but no rank.

a Decktet game for two players and using a cribbage board, by David Van Slyke.

Randomly determine who is the dealer the first round; on subsequent rounds alternate who is the dealer. The dealer shuffles an extended Decktet and deals out six cards to each player. Then each player selects two cards to contribute to a set of four cards belonging to the dealer named the "crib". Finally, the non-dealer cuts the remainder of the deck; the dealer completes the cut and turns over the top card.

Suit Casing
The non-dealer starts making the first "suit attempt". A suit attempt is when players alternate setting cards face-up in front of them but cannot use a suit twice and thus may need to say "pass". If your opponent passes but you can play additional cards into that suit attempt you must do so. As cards are played scoring events happen (see below). A special bonus of 1 point is given to the last player able to play in each suit attempt; the other player initiates the next suit attempt.

Note: Unlike traditional Cribbage, once the suit attempt's sum passes 11 there is no reason to keep track of the sum.

Note: Like traditional Cribbage, consider consecutive cards played when looking for runs, pairs, and of-a-kinds. If you have a pair in your hand these will probably not be consecutive (unless your opponent passes so you can and do play the second directly after the first) and thus probably not scored until the next phase of "Cleaning Hands".

Note: Like traditional Cribbage, there is a clean slate at the start of each suit attempt regarding pairs and runs.

Cleaning Hands
Both players pick up their hand of four cards and use it for a second rendition of scoring events (see below). The top card on the deck also counts for each hand, so these are really hands of five cards. The non-dealer evaluates his or her hand first. Then the dealer evaluates his or her hand, and then the crib.

Scoring Events
When scoring the Excuse has a rank of zero and no suit (useful with scoring events of sums of 11) and Pawns have no rank but three suits (irrelevant to runs and sums of 11 but valid for pairs and of-a-kinds). The following events score points:
(a) sum of 11 (1 point)
(b) pairs (2 points) -- so counting the combinations we also get: 3-of-a-kind is 6 points, 4-of-a-kind is 12 points, and 5-of-a-kind is 20 points
(c) runs of three or more cards (# of cards)
(d) a complete suit-meld containing all six suits (6 points)

Note: As with traditional Cribbage, all combinations of scoring events are considered. Thus a hand of cards containing a 4, a 5, and all three 6's is worth a total of at least 24 points as follows:
(a) 3 points for sums of 11 (the 5 with each 6)
(b) 6 points for 3-of-a-kind (the three 6's)
(c) 9 points for three three-card runs (4, 5, and each 6)
(d) 6 points for a complete meld (the three 6's) [and depending upon the 4 and 5 more complete melds may be possible]

Play rounds of dealing, suit casing, and cleaning hands until a player reaches or passes 121 points to immediately win. Use a Cribbage board to keep score.

Note: Because the game is significantly influenced by luck, traditional Cribbage also uses meta-scoring. A player is skunked if at 61 to 90 points when the opponent wins, and double skunked if at 60 points or less. Continuing this tradition is optional but can be fun. If used by family members try agreeing before playing who, if first skunked, will have to do a certain household chore or owe the opponent a foot rub.

It is suggested to allow "muggins" in which a player scores any points overlooked by his or her opponent. If you use muggins then also including the following random events as 2-point scoring events for the dealer keeps players alert: "Sky High" (top card on the deck is the Excuse), "So Low" (top card on the deck is a Pawn), and "Royal Clique" (top card on the deck both last round and this round is a Crown).

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Year-End Financial Pondering

Tomorrow is the last day of 2008. Regarding investments tomorrow and in early 2009, what is wise to do?

Of immediate concern is to remember that your taxes can count $3,000 of capital loss beyond any capital gains as a tax deduction. If your 2008 capital loss is not yet $3,000 more than any capital gains, it is probably smart to sell a bit more depreciated stock before the new year arrives.

Regarding early 2009, I've been collecting advice. During my holiday vacation I've talked with a few family members about investing during this recession. None are professional investors, but all are well-read and understand the math. Here is their advice, salted with links to articles I have found with similar opinions. None of it is innovative, but common-sense sound advice is worth repeating.
  • Have a mortgage and think about gold. The U.S. will probably see more inflation during the next decade. Inflation makes it cheaper to pay off debt. Although too much debt is unhealthy, anyone without a mortgage is asking inflation to hit them harder than necessary. Investing in gold is similarly attractive.
  • Have liquidity. During December the market was volatile but fairly stable as investors are waiting to see how our new president will act once in office. His cabinet appointments have been well received, curing the market drop caused by fears immediately after his election. But for now both psychological and economic factors might cause a further market drop in the first quarter of 2009. If you are risk-averse then the percentage of your wealth in cash should be higher than usual; if you do not mind risk then still an extra large portion of your investments should be liquid enough to reallocate quickly.
  • Don't Flee the Stock Market. Unless your time horizon is short (because you are about to retire, send a child to college, etc.) the market is down so do the first half of "Buy low, sell high". Even if the market drops during 2009, many years from now those who bought during 2009 will be happy. Recovery comes in bigger one-day bursts than drops do with good days tending to cluster at the start of the recovery. Don't be too risk-averse.
  • Flee Troubled Sectors. The saying "Buy low, sell high" is not quite accurate. It should really be "buy undervalued, sell overvalued", which translates into the investment advice of "buy low Price/Earnings Ratio, sell high Price/Earnings Ratio". In a recession certain sectors of the economy see a drop in earnings, which means a jump in their companies' Price/Earnings Ratios. Currently it appears that the sectors of Banking, Retail, and Real Estate are facing systemic issues that will trouble them with continued losses of earnings. Shift away from these and move carefully to emphasize Health, Infrastructure, and Energy in companies where the P/E ratio is low enough and the companies are resilient enough. Certain commodities are also comparatively sound.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Three More November Photos

While sorting photos this morning I found three more November photos worth sharing.

Tigger Outfit with Ears

He is Plotting Something

Go for a Walk Now?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Avoiding Materialism When Giving Presents

Every now and then I have conversations with people about their struggles to keep the holidays from being materialistic.

I suppose I am fortunate to not have this problem. My family members actually demonstrate a wide variety of gift-giving philosophies that avoid materialism.

1. Thinking of You Throughout the Year

My aunt has a huge kitchen at her ranch. For many years we have had a silly tradition of mailing her mysterious kitchen gadgets. I wrap them after taking them out of their packaging, and include the packaging in a separate envelope. She tries to guess what the gadgets are before looking at the solutions.

The point of the gift is not that she needs more kitchen gadgets. Keeping an eye out for obscure gadgets whenever I am in a kitchen store simply demonstrates that I think of her throughout the year.

Most often this philosophy takes the form of a "theme" associated with people. My grandmother and uncle send each other silly moose-themed items. My mother-in-law gets presents with teddy bears or lighthouses. When my mother was alive she got penguin items.

2. Making the Day Special

A second way to avoid materialism is to give gifts whose primary merit is that are associated with the holiday. Each December I enjoy receiving a box of See's molasses chips from my grandmother, my aunt's home-made beef jerky, and some scented bath salts from my wife. Without these things the holidays would seem slightly lacking, even though I do not miss them during the rest of the year.

3. Remember Me

Some gifts help the recipient remember the gift-giver in an appropriate way. This year we created Zazzle mugs with photos of Smiley as gifts for several relatives. My father likes buying my wife attachments for our electric mixer. My mother-in-law annually gives us another setting of our flatware.

(Tangent: Years ago, when registering for our wedding, we decided we would want plain china and fancy flatware to make something fancy for every day that was easy to wash. We were told that our Wedgewood White was microwave safe, but it turns out that food heating unevenly can cause the plate to crack.)

It certain can be tacky to give someone a present with the intention that they think about you when using it. But it can also be done well, to help family feel connected and grateful for each other's supportiveness.

4. Spoil Me

Finally, some gifts help the recipient feel loved and appreciated by being something the recipient is known to enjoy but would never get for himself or herself.

This year's example was boots for my wife: she is now enjoying having three new pairs of boots, but would not have splurged with that expense for her own sake. Last year I bought my brother many flavors of Dagoba chocolate bars since he had never heard of that Oregon company.

So, what other gift-giving philosophies avoid materialism?

Is My Two Front Teeth

This vacation has not been very restful because Smiley has been teething.

During the night of Erev Chanukah his upper left central incisor broke through (#9). During the night of Christmas Eve his upper left lateral incisor broke through (#10).

Most babies get both central incisors before any lateral incisors. Apparently our family does not celebrate the holidays in an entirely traditional manner.

Two Old Photos

When visiting with my wife's family I saw two cute photos of Smiley on grandma's desk that I neglected to include among our Picasa album of our best photos. Here they are!

(May, one month old)

Sticking Out His Tongue
(August, four months old)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gain During Three Years

I've been keeping an eye out for articles with investment advice for the current recession. Here is a slightly old one. Here is another. Today I read this one. I'm still not sure how to alter my investment strategies because of this year's economic events.

I am grateful that my family's investments have not suffered as much as those of many families.

Using the end of 2005 as a baseline for our baking and investment accounts, at the end of 2007 we were up 19% from that baseline and now we are down 19%. Since economists are currently writing that the stock market was overvalued even back in 2005 then I cannot complain much about a loss of one-fifth since that time.

Also, the housing market in Eugene grew sharply after we purchased our home and our neighborhood's home values have not suffered much this year. When I consider our total net worth by including the value of our home then the total is now almost even with where it was in 2005.

(I'm too lazy to compare the lesser effects of the gain through how much we have paid off our mortgage with the loss due to inflation.)

The financial summary is that during the past three years my family has seen little change in "official" net worth. On the other hand, and far more importantly, we have a healthy new baby, we have jobs we enjoy, God has been active in my ministry work, and I have helped hundreds of students learn useful math skills and applications. It is good to realize and appreciate this as the Gregorian year draws to a close.

The Mom Song

My wife's mother sent us this link.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Archiving and Framing Many Photographs

My previous post mentioned having old family photo albums and a very large number of more recently taken digital photos.

A friend replied and mentioned digital picture frames and scanners designed for photographs.

I've been waiting to deal with either.

A few years ago there were only a few digital picture frames for sale and they cost almost a thousand dollars. Now there are many to choose from and the price is more reasonable but still not inexpensive enough to be an impulse buy. (For example, here are two for under $50.) I expect the price will continue to drop, so I wait.

Similarly, a few years ago a flatbed scanner was the only household way to scan photographs. Now there are special scanners for photographs (here is an example). I expect than in a few years there will be similar devices that accept an entire stack of 4" by 6" photographs in a cartridge and automatically scan each. At that point I'll either buy one, use a friend's, or spend a few dollars at a store that owns one. Then a chore that would currently take many hours will probably take less than an hour.

Reminiscing with Technology

Okay, the videos I cued to upload to BlipTV overnight have been renamed and given their proper date.

Technology is a strange things. My wife and I were given a Baby Book for Smiley as a baby shower gift. We do intend to use it, but have not yet opened it. It is downstairs at the bottom of a pile: on it are stacked things that will some day go into it, such as the hospital identification bracelets from his birth and his first hand prints. But this Baby Book will never have much inside it.

On the other hand, the internet currently has 138 short home movies that document his first eight months.

Similarly, when I was little my family owned an inexpensive 110 camera and each year used about four rolls of 24 photos (half during December at Chanukah and Christmas). After being developed these were kept in photo albums that filled up after several years and were browsed only a few times each year.

On the other hand, my wife and I already have 226 photographs in this year's Picasa album, which we often enjoying browsing, and which family and friends have enjoyed from all over the world.

Even more absurd, my wife's office's computer's screen saver can cycle through the all digital photographs we have taken of Smiley with our DSC-W55 digital camera: currently more than 2,800 of them!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tocatta and Flip

Recall that one of the two reasons I got a new computer was to be able to edit videos faster. This is going well.

Three days ago Shamus posted this very cute thing. Because I use the Firefox extention NoScript I had no idea what video was in that post. I had saved it for an opportune moment, and something to do while I changed the format of thirty-three videos seemed opportune.

In the eight and one-half minutes of the Tocatta eleven videos converted from .avi to .ogv format. On my old computer I might have gotten one video done in that time.

In other news, I am finally up to date with editing videos. I'll start the FTP bulk transfer to BlipTV in a moment and then go to bed. Sometime tomorrow I will apply the correct name and dates to the new batch of uploaded videos.

Hats and Snacks

Remember the big hat that Charlotte knit for Smiley? It was so big on him when he was six days old (but stayed on him well).

We tried it on him the other day when sorting through his clothes to archive his too-small clothes in boxes in the closet. It is not so big on him any more.

Before going for a walk on a chilly day, he liked my hat more.

I am still working on a recipe for great teething biscuits. Here is a photo of Smiley eating one from Try Three.

He enjoys those a lot, but I do need to watch him like a hawk when he has one because he can bite off a piece large enough to be a potential choking hazard. But in the middle of the night when his teething is painful, it's much more peaceful to give him biscuits and change them on him when they start to get mushy than to listen to him fuss.

Carrots work too, with the same safety caveat.

Train Ride

We just finished a very nice train ride. We boarded the southbound Coast Starlight on Sunday evening at about 5pm, transferred to the Pacific Surfliner in Los Angeles, and arrived in Salona Beach a little past midnight the next night.

This was a nice way to travel with an infant from Eugene to Southern California, especially considering that Smiley is teething two upper teeth and had a very rough night on Sunday. When consoling a baby the parlor room of the train is better for walking than a motel room and its rocking motion is soothing.

The parlor room also has a small area without baseboard heaters or electrical outlets which Smiley used quite a bit as a play area.

We had the smallest size of private room, a roomette. If the train had been too crowded for Smiley to have any play space outside of our room this would not have been sufficient. But our trip was not crowded and it was plenty for us. The seats were wide with leg room and comfortable for napping.

The upper bunk was sufficient for me, although narrow.

The restrooms were much larger than an airplane restroom and one had a changing table.

Here is a hallway and the dining car, just to complete the tour.

Smiley loved the large windows with moving scenery.

I was surprised that he had no appreciation of sunsets. Sunsets are so universally admired that I assumed there was something almost instinctual about enjoying them. Here is the coast a little north of Santa Barbara.

Between the interesting views and the rocking motion of the train he had no trouble falling asleep.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Growing Boy

Last night, before falling asleep, Smiley drank 11.5 ounces.

On Wednesday he was weighed at 16 pounds, 11 ounces.

So he drank 4% of his body weight.

I weigh about 160 pounds. To do the same, I would need to eat 7 pounds of food.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big Church Issues

Here are two more related articles from Leadership magazine.

The first is about getting people out of the pews and to do more helping each other. To me the most interesting part is how the pastor of this church tries to train his congregants to be supportive of each other. But his summary line is:
We used to invite them to attend church; now we invite them to be the church.
The second article is about getting people out of the pews and into the community. A pastor sums up his methodology with:
We organized them into home groups that met every other week. They were so eager to grow and be together that they started meeting every week. Eventually I tried to launch a worship service, because that's what I was taught to do. People who had grown up in the church came, but none of the new believers did. I was expecting people to leave life to come to church. We learned that wherever life happens, church should happen...Three things deter spontaneous multiplication: buildings, budgets, and big shots.
It is interesting food for thought.

Entitlement Crisis in England

I wrote a little while about what is being called the "upcoming Entitlement Crisis".

I am glad to see this is getting increasing visibility in the news. The problem has both a political and economic side: with more visibility there is a better chance of having a thoughtful and merciful political solution. Failing that, there will be a market-driven and merciless economic solution.

Glenn Reynolds wrote about pensions on Dec. 1st, and has had other relevant posts since about U.S. issues.

I have noticed that England seems to be the "canary in the coal mine" for this crisis, as well as other issues.

Regarding pensions, I saw this article that claims three-quarters of all new jobs there since 1997 have been governmental jobs with high pensions. There is also a British town where half the people claiming incapacity benefits instead of working. A otherwise un-notable article about welfare for mothers has an interesting set of comments in which the "kids need their moms" crowd and the "moms don't need so many kids" crowd argue past each other without ever having real dialogue; I was surprised that no commenter mentioned the country's rocketing promiscuity issue.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kyung Dan

I wrote earlier about rice duk.

Our favorite kind of rice duk treat is Kyung Dan. I found a photo online. The ones we get made fresh in Washington on Fridays have three rice balls in each of four flavors of topping: plain (corn starch), yellow bean powder, ground white or black sesame seeds, and cinnamon.


With or Without a Building

Here are two articles from Leadership magazine about church groups that enjoy lacking a building, or make extra use of theirs.

The first starts partway down the page where it says "Scattered Saints". The second is here.

Smiley's December Weight

A problem with quality control for vitamin D3 is causing a nation-wide shortage of infant vitamins. Too many are on the product recall list. We've been waiting for almost a month for our prescription, which was finally ready today.

Smiley's pediatrician's office is within walking distance from the house, a block away from the pharmacy. So my wife dropped Smiley and I off at the pharmacy on her way to work and we walked home.

On the way the pediatrician's office kindly agreed to do a measuring and weighing of Smiley, when we visit relatives for the holidays and they ask us how big he is we can tell them. He is 27 inches and 16 pounds, 10 ounces.

UPDATE: A month later, at his nine month checkup on January 9th he was 28 inches tall (45th percentile) and he weighed 17 pounds, 13 ounces (10th percentile). His head size was 46.5 cm (65th percentile).

A New Home for Keen and Izzy?

After a lot of deliberation, my wife and I decided to give away our lovebirds. We're first trying with Craigslist.

With little Smiley in our lives we simply don't have time to play with the birds as much as we used to and they are slowly becoming less sociable. They are also afraid of Smiley, which further prompts them to be high up when outside their cage, instead of on our shoulders or the back of my wife's recliner.

Perhaps in a few months, when Smiley is done teething and not as clingy, we will get a young, unbonded male lovebird (that can bond with my wife instead of another bird). That is the best type of lovebird pet and what we originally planned on having, but we adopted Keen and Izzy because a friend was moving and the birds needed a new home.

UPDATE: Well, that was quick. Within an hour I received an e-mail from a nice gentleman who breeds birds locally and gives the young to the local "companion animal" program for the elderly and disabled. He will take good care of Keen and Izzy and provide them with the mates they so dearly long for. He will also give us a young, un-bonded male when we wish (when Smiley is done teething with its occasional "hold me so much" days) so we can have a pet lovebird the best way. That is a much better outcome than I had hoped for.

UPDATE: Because Craigslist will remove the ad after thirty days, I've archived it here:

We have two lovebirds, sisters born in October 2004, named Izzy and Keen. We would like to give them to a suitable home.

Free with them are their cage and its accessories, seed mix, and a partial bottle of vitamin drops for their water. The cage has a sliding partition allowing them to be separated during the mating season months when they become territorial about their own sides of the cage. (During those months they are still friendly towards each other when outside/on their cage.)

We adopted the birds from a friend when they were about a year old and had already bonded to each other.

A year ago they were very friendly, preferring to perch on the back of an occupied recliner or ride on someone's shoulder to be near people. With a new baby in the house we have had less time to play with them and now they are slightly less friendly: they are afraid of the baby and now prefer to watch us from the curtain rods or windowsills. We would like to give them to a suitable home that has more time to spend with them, so they re-socialize and are happier.

They have spent time with wings clipped and unclipped, and are happy either way. Currently the wings are unclipped since they fear the baby and feel safer above him. Before the baby we would often keep their wings clipped, their cage open in the evenings, and a fuzzy blanket beside their cage: they would explore the living room while we had dinner and we enjoyed our evening, then put themselves to bed inside folds of the blanket when they got tired.

Both birds enjoy shredding paper and eating peas and corn. They have noisy periods of talking to each other, but almost always quiet any time their cage is covered. They enjoy spending Summer daylight hours (i.e., when we are at work) with their cage outside on a deck/patio if a towel is draped along the half top to provide shade.

Both birds respond to "up" when on/outside their cage and a finger is placed to their chest: they step to perch on the offered finger. They usually respond to "no" with a finger shake when exploring a place they are not allowed (in our house, in the small space between the fridge and the cabinet above it); when they are feeling too ornery for the finger shake to be effective then taking hold of a broom works as a potential threat.

Please note that birds are disturbed by any change in the environment, especially change to a noisy and busy place. If your home is festive and full of guests during the holiday season (i.e., without a quiet room) we will request that you wait until January to pick up the birds.

Finally, note that the ideal lovebird pet is a male adopted very young so it bonds to its human owner. This pair of females would be great for someone breeding lovebirds (both lay eggs each Spring and Fall even without a mate) but as pets are second-rate since they will never become as sociable as would a young, unbonded male. On the other hand, second-rate but free has some merit.

Monday, December 08, 2008

More about Vaccines

I recently wrote about vaccines.

Today Glenn Reynolds links to an article published yesterday and his own article on the subject.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

History and Heroes

Wong Fei Hung is incredibly famous. He was a real historical figure, born less than 200 years ago, who significantly contributed to benevolent governmental reform and to valued cultural preservation. After his death his accomplishments were embellished to include a Robin Hood-like help for the poor and fight against institutional injustice.

Most of Hong Kong cinema celebrates his life: he is now an archetype, not just a personality: there are serious, funny, old-fashioned, modern, and allegorical Wong Fei Hung movies. Wong Fei Hung might be the most famous person not involved with the beginning of a religion.

I was introduced to his name in the commentary by Rick Meyers and Jeff Yang from the Drunken Master DVD: of the most important movies in Hong Kong movie history...

...this movie had much more depth in Hong Kong because he is not only just taking the Confusian/Toaist central figure, he is taking the most beloved figure of all of Hong Kong cinema, a guy named Wong Fei Hung, and turning him into an Animal House type character. This was unheard of! This was revolutionary at the time this came out. Most great Kung Fu cinema involves this character Wong Fei Hung. There are more than 100 movies about Wong Fei Hung and the thing that most amuses me is that most of the great ones that come to America are also Wong Fei Hung movies except that Americans don't realize that Once Upon a Time in China 1-3 is a Wong Fei Hung movie starring Jet Li, Iron Monkey is a young Wong Fei Hung movie starring Donnie Yen as Wong Fei Hung's father...

Wong Fei Hung has almost the level of reverence that you might ascribe to, say, an Abraham Lincoln.

There you go.. I'm trying to find a cinematic equivalent of Wong Fei Hung that Americans or Europeans would understand, and I can't. I mean, you take James Bond, you take Indiana Jones, you take any of the great series, you combine them, but none of them are like Wong Fei Hung.

...but no one had ever played Wong Fei Hung like this.
I also cannot think of an equivalently famous and revered American personality, although Jewish culture has an equivalent in its Elijah stories.

In contrast, in a recent Harris poll about the "best" U.S. president in history revealed the ignorance of Americans about history when Clinton ranked above Theodore Roosevelt.

Hm. Not only was Theodore Roosevelt a fighter, a political reformer, an opponent to corruption, immensely popular during his days, and the only person to earn both the Medal of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize (and back when the latter meant something) but he was a contemporary of Wong Fei Hung. Someone should make a movie or comic book about the two of them traveling together, helping the poor and combating injustice as they walk softly and carry big sticks.

(As an aside, the commentary from which I quoted is great. If you have any interest in martial arts movies, it is reason enough to get the Drunken Master DVD.)

Teething Biscuits (Try Three, Still in Progress)

I wrote about experimenting with baking gluten-free teething biscuits here. I've tried twice more since then.

Here is my current recipe. It makes "chew bricks" shaped like biscotti that so far have been safe to hand to Smiley as long as he remains closely supervised so they may be removed as soon as they begin to crumble (or put into a mesh teething bag).

Hopefully future versions of this recipe will create a biscuit that dissolves quickly without creating a potential choking hazard, the way Cheerios do.
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/2 cup teff flour
  • 1/2 banana, smushed through a baby food mill
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • water
The measured ingredients are mixed in a bowl with the water slowly added until the dough just barely starts to form a ball. Then knead and bake as biscotti...
  • shape on the baking sheet as a thick slab with rectangular footprint and rounded/dome top
  • bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes
  • take out of the oven, let cool, and then slice
  • turn slices so one of the cut edges is up
  • bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes
  • turn slices over so the other cut edge is up
  • bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes
  • let cool a long time
The final cooling is to make the biscuit very hard and dry, almost stale.

Google Morality

An update on the international and tricky issues facing Google.

Linux by Big Blue

An update on what is happening with Linux. My last post about the topic was here.

Elijah Stories

Jewish culture has a tradition of Elijah stories. In these folk tales Elijah has returned to earth after he ascended to heaven in Second Kings 2:11, to do more tasks appointed by God. Usually he is in disguise and reward or punishes people according to God's will.

For me, Elijah stories are difficult to write. Except for being disguised Elijah has no traditional repertoire of special abilities: instead he prays, knowing what is God's will, and his prayers are answered. I find it extremely tricky to write a satisfying story with a deus ex machina character.

I would love to be more gifted at writing Elijah stories, especially to tell little Smiley bedtime stories. Making up songs involving bottles and diapers was engaging for many months, but by month eight is getting old.

The most famous of Elijah stories involves a sick cow that dies and a crumbling fireplace that hides treasure. But there are hundreds of others.

Here is an Elijah I wrote for sermon I gave in March of 2004. It is an adaptation of a tale told by Peninnah Schram, with a better ending.
Once there was a kind and pious couple who had five children, and deep faith, but no money. The father was a farmer, but his animals had died from disease, and he had not been able to find work for many weeks. His family was increasingly hungry as they tried to use their last food slowly.

Each morning the mother would pray for her husband, “May God grant you favor today, that someone at the marketplace would hire you. We must not give up hope.” Then the farmer would walk to the town’s market, and look for work, but find none. In the evenings they would both weep and pray.

On the morning when their last food was eaten, the mother prayed, and the father left for the market. On the road he met a very old man who seemed unbent by age but well wrinkled by wisdom. The old man carried two tools: a measuring-line and level. He waved to the pious farmer, and said, “I am Elijah, messenger of God, and master of disguises. God has heard your prayers. You must take me past the town to the city’s slave-auction, and sell me as a slave. Give me one gold coin, and use all the rest to buy food and animals and seeds for your family and farm. And keep my identity a secret!”

The farmer did as he was told. In the city that day the king’s minister was buying slaves to build the king’s palace, and he paid 80 pieces of gold for the old man who was a master builder. The father gave one piece to Elijah, who breathed on it and then pressed it very flat and scratched into it the words “may blessings flow”. Elijah gave this piece of gold to the farmer, and said, “I must go with my new master now. Wear this gold plate on a necklace under your clothes, and your animals will prosper and you will never suffer poverty again.”

The king’s minister took all the slaves he had purchased to the flat land where the palace was being built. “Hear me, new royal slaves!” he said. “The palace was supposed to be finished many months ago, but the slaves building it were careless and built badly. The king is angry, for we had to delay to fix what was built wrong. Now, when he visits this site, we worry he will beat us—myself included. Such is your lot as well.”

Elijah spoke to the king’s minister and said, “Sir, I am a master builder. Would you give me my freedom if I made sure the palace was complete before the month’s end?”

The minister replied, “Surely I would, but such a goal is impossible.”

That evening, Elijah prayed and many angels came down from the heavens and finished building the palace. Then they left, taking Elijah with them. In the morning, the minister woke early and saw the palace complete, and found that the master builder had disappeared. Realizing a miracle had occurred he lifted his hands and called out, “Whether you were angel or a man of God, enjoy your freedom!”

Years later, when the farmer was financially secure, Elijah visited him again and asked to take back the gold inscription, so that he might give it to another who needed it. As the farmer handed him his necklace he said, “O great tzaddik, of course I heard about the palace being built in one day and see that the miracle must have been in your plans and why you were disguised as a master builder. But why did you ask me to sell you as a slave? You could have simply given me money, and built the king’s palace as a free man visiting the palace.”

Elijah replied, “God Most High works in situations, not around them.”

Friday, December 05, 2008

Local Crime Spree

I wrote earlier about how Eugene is a very safe city. Overall it is still safe.

A .pdf document with 2006-2007 crime statistics is here. My relatives can see that the Southeast neighborhood where I live is especially safe.

But to be fair, I should now note that since September the city has been within a minor crime spree of bank robberies and home robberies.

Ready for Shabbat

Smiley did not sleep well last night. I'm tired, even after napping myself during part of his first nap today.

So I won't try to write much now, during his second nap.

I'll just mention that Wednesday night I happened to find that YouTube has quite an assortment of videos of infants on skateboards. Since I did not grow up in a home with a skateboard I am not sure if rocking back and forth over one truck is a normal game when developing balance or something amazing. In any case, it's cute.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Matching Board Books in English and Hebrew?

My wife and I are trying to help Smiley grow up used to the sounds of languages other than English.

It is easy enough to find matching board books that tell the same stories in English and Spanish. Here's an example.

I'm having trouble finding similar pairs for English and Hebrew. I can find a board book introducing the alef-bet. I can find Hebrew board books lacking an English match. I can find English board books with Jewish themes.

But I can't find classic children's stories from the U.S. or Israel that are published separately in both languages, except at high prices on e-bay.

Any ideas?

Squirrel Trap

Okay, our squirrel problems are not so bad.

(Having a baby apparently makes me neglectful of blogging our squirrel live trap work this year, but it proceeded as usual. I have lost count so I am unable to even present a summary Squirrel Count as the cold weather sets in.)

Risky Foods in Mother's Milk

Here is an interesting article my wife found in PubMed.

The summarized conclusion:
Exclusion of allergenic foods from the maternal diet was associated with a reduction in distressed behavior among breastfed infants with colic presenting in the first 6 weeks of life.
In other words, if your breastfed newborn is colicky then reasonable suspects are what any cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, or fish you are eating might be contributing to your breast milk.

(This did not apply to our baby, but might be of help to other families.)

Baby's Vegetable Relations

Recall that peas make Smiley upset and gassy? Yesterday he tried garbanzo beans and we had a similar lack of sleep last night.

It turns out that garbanzo beans are actually closely related to peas. Here are scientific names so you can find Smiley's legumes on the chart.
  • Garbanzo beans are faboideae cicer arietinum
  • Peas are faboideae pisum sativum
  • Lentils are faboideae lens culinaris
  • Pinto beans are faboideae phaseolus vulgaris (not on the chart)
Given this information it should not have surprised us that garbanzo beans caused a problem. More intriguing is that lentils did not.

Just in case you were curious (I know you were), we tried turnips and parsnips at the same time because they are so closely related to broccoli and carrots, which he has successfully eaten earlier.
  • Broccoli is brassica oleracea
  • Turnips are brassica rapa rapa
  • Carrots are apiaceae daucus carota
  • Parsnips are apiaceae pastinaca sativa
Locating phylogenetic trees for these is left as an exercise for the reader.

UPDATE: If you are looking for that grain species tree with photographs, it is here.

Reported Dangerous

The Telegraph has a new photo essay entitled 20 of The World's Most Dangerous Places. By "places" it means "countries".

Its emphasis of recently "hot" countries for newspaper reporting made me wonder about bias in the list.

Which countries did the Telegraph leave out? Which did it exaggerate? As a quick but incomplete answer I checked Wikipedia's list of countries by homicide rate.

Unreported by the Telegraph although remarkable in their homicide rate (at five times the list's average) were El Salvador, Sierra Leone, Honduras, and Venezuela. Brazil is also notable but it is currently fashionable for newspapers to emphasize its potential rather than its problems. Russia is 20th on Wikipedia's list, but in Soviet Russia we list you.

Which countries does the Telegraph exaggerate? Its photo essay features several countries with less than average homicide rates. Thailand is 35th on Wikipedia's list; Pakistan is 41st; Israel is 65th. It seems slightly insulting to include these countries. India is not on the Wikipedia list but this web page and this article agree on data placing India in the 50s on Wikipedia's list.

Two postscripts... First, there is older U.N. survey data available here. Second, the Wikipedia page also ranks Iraq first but does so by counting war deaths as normal homicides: the Iraq Body Count is reliable but includes all violent deaths and for an interesting contrast observe that for the past few months Baghdad has had a lower murder rate than New Orleans, Detroit, or Washington D.C.

Free Audiobooks

This afternoon, while Smiley took a nap, I decided to search for free audiobooks. I still enjoy listening to these when I take Smiley for a walk. I was wondering if I should put any on my Amazon wish list.

No need to shop for any! A Google search led me to this article, which had many sources of free audiobooks, most notably Project Gutenberg.

As a start I downloaded A Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, and Pilgrim's Progress.

My brother is difficult to shop for. I suppose, besides some fancy tea or chocolate, I can prepare for him a CD of MP3 files with some of these free audiobooks that I know he would enjoy.

A Blip in BlipTV

The BlipTV side allows uploading videos in a group by FTP.

This is supposed to work promptly, and has in the past for me. As soon as the FTP session is done the videos appear on the BlipTV "dashboard" where I can assign them a correct name and date.

Yesterday afternoon, while Smiley and I took our naps, I uploaded a bunch of videos this way. But they did not appear on the dashboard. I assumed there had been some sort of error, probably due to my internet provider or cable modem. So yesterday evening I uploaded the videos again, individually.

But that bunch of videos appeared in the "dashboard" this morning, at 2am according to the files. Since they were duplicate copies (without the proper name and date) I deleted them.

I wonder what caused twelve hours of delay?

UPDATE: I tried again with 35 videos on the evening of December 9th. Everything worked perfectly. Whatever was wrong has either been fixed or was not a recurring problem.

Cake Car

My wife sent me links to this advertisement and this behind-the-scenes video.

Monday, December 01, 2008

September Videos

September's videos of Smiley are up. Huzzah!

You can see his first time in a high chair and his first time eating solid food.

We took two camping trips that month. On the first he discovered the wonderful softness that are sleeping bags. He sang to one and then snuzzled it. On the second he plays in his jumper and outside on a sleeping bag.

By the seventh of the month he could somewhat crawl, but ended each forward scoot by flopping forward onto his face.

Two videos are just of him being cute. I can tell he is hungry in both because his is moving his mouth but not talking.

We recorded a lot of videos on the 22nd. He was very talkative that day. That week he also had developed a fake cough as an attention getting device. My wife also teased him with her slippers: he could not decide which one to crawl after.

The next day we retired his swing, which he had outgrown. He said goodbye to it by trying to eat it.

A week later he chased the camera, which made him smile. That was his first fast and coordinated crawling. By the end of the month he was confident crawling but not truly proficient.

September had nice weather. He spent a lot of time in our gazebo, which we had converted into a large playpen.

To conclude, a cute recording of him kissing his friend The Baby in the Mirror, who has left the bathroom mirror to visit him in one of his books.

Not Fair!

Today I went to LCC because a student made an appointment for extra office hours. Since it was not a Tuesday or Thursday, my wife was working a full day so I took Smiley with me.

My co-workers have not seen Smiley in a while (except on video) and so I stayed at the Math Department an extra hour letting people visit with him. He also got to visit with these people, but by then he was overdue for a nap and not as social as usual.

Gayle was wearing her necklace from Lithuania and Smiley liked it a lot. Chewing on it woke him up enough that when we said good-bye he waved and blew her a kiss. (He makes the kissing noise but does not yet do the hand motion.) Not fair to play favorites, Smiley!

Leaf Chore Done

Yesterday and today I did get the leaf raking, sweeping and blowing done before the deadline.

It turns out that if you first grab the handle on the side with constrained hand, it is quite possible to use a wheelbarrow while carrying a baby.