Wednesday, December 28, 2011

More Skype Please

Smiley has a few friends and family members he chats with using Skype.  But as the rainy days arrive he has said he wants more.

Since I no longer use Facebook to read how friends are doing, I would also enjoy more chatting with old friends.

(It's not that Facebook has grown less useful for keeping in touch.  But the boys get jealous when I am paying attention to the computer and they are not participating.)

My user name on Skype is just my name squished together: davidvanslyke.

December Videos

After a very long break from processing any home videos, a few from recent days are online.

During the days before Christmas you can see Gallant trying to crawl and playing in his exersaucer and Smiley making gingerbread cookies on a krumkake iron.

You can contrast Gallant's tired jumper play from his normally active jumper play.  He really leaps about!  (Smiley never enjoyed the jumper that much.)

On Christmas day my wife's parents and brother were with us.  Smiley opened a magnetic number set from his aunt and uncle, a big Richard Scary story book from his grandparents, a toy tool set from us, and a tiny duplo set from his brother.  He also helped distribute presents.

Gallant was napping when we shifted from brunch to presents.  Once he awoke he played with a present and enjoyed some nice tummy time.  Then both boys played more.  Gallant's last present was a noisy one from his aunt and uncle.

The last nights of Chanukah also had a few more "big" presents from their great-grandmother and other relatives, but we did not film those being opened or used.  Gallant got a Mozart Cube since that was one of his brother's favorite toys at that age but it broke from so much use.  Smiley got some puzzles, a magnetic days of the week chart, and a second Frog and Toad book.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Werner Herzog reads Curious George

Here is something delightful I found today after wondering if YouTube had any Curious George cartoons for Smiley to watch as a reward.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Local Wood, Revised

Back in January I wrote about needing a new source of firewood.

Today we had two cords of madrone delivered.  I had not seen only madrone sold since 2008--when I check (which admittedly is not often) only fir or "mixed hardwood" has been offered the past few years.

This wood is great for a small, hot fire.  Very clean wood, cut to the desired 14", and with pieces neither too small to burn long nor so large they force a needlessly big fire.

My inexpensive moisture meter reads 16% to 19%, which if accurate is acceptable for seasoned wood but not superb.  But madrone burns wonderfully slowly and hotly.  Even if at the moist end of what counts as seasoned, this may be the best load of firewood we have ever had.

The wood's supplier is a friendly fellow named Steve Wright.  If you need nice firewood, his e-mail is

UPDATE: I had a moment to do some quick math.  But different internet charts disagree about how many BTUs of heat are in an average cord of fir and madrone.  Fir is listed as 21 to 26 million BTUs per cord.  Madrone is listed as 29 to 31 BTUs per cord.  So fir, which sells for $160 per cord here, costs $6.15 to $7.62 per million BTUs of heat.  Madrone costs $250 per cord, so $8.06 to $8.62 per million BTUs of heat.  The fir costs less money but more of your time since the stove needs refilling much more often.  One stove full of madrone also burns all night leaving big coals in the morning; fir needs refilling during the night or lighting a new fire in the morning.  (I can't find any estimate for the cost per million BTUs for our electric furnace.  It is substantially more.)

Friday, December 02, 2011

Gallant at Six Months

(Hm.  I cannot find any blog post for Smiley's six month checkup measurements for comparison.  Odd.  The best I can find is his nine month measurements.  Sorry!)

Today Gallant had his six month checkup.  He was 25 inches tall (8th percentile) and he weighed 15 pounds, 6 ounces (15th percentile). His head size was 43.7 cm (50th percentile).

But we already knew he was a bit small, chunky, and had a big head.

How is Gallant doing?

He has learned to sit up very well without support.  Of course, reaching to the side for a toy makes him fall over since he does not mind that outcome.

I already wrote about his learning to eat and his first foods.  Eating solid food is his change with the biggest effect for me since a surprising amount of time is taken up preparing his foods and feeding him.

He is farther along towards crawling.  He still cannot hold the crawling position on his own, but can slowly scoot forward by using his back legs and the side of his forehead in a manner that makes me wonder why he does not have a forehead rug burn.  We have the baby corral set up in the sitting room as a safe floor play place when I am away for more than two minutes.

But I am quite happy that Gallant is not crawling as early as Smiley was.  I can still set Gallant down on the floor and know that he will still be there a couple minutes later, which allows Smiley to "babysit" (which he loves) in any room while I go warm a bottle or move clothes to the dryer.

What else?  Gallant now rolls over better, from his back to his tummy and back, without problem.  He is sleeping better but still not through the night.  He still chews as if teething, but no teeth are imminent.  He still will not use a pacifier.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gallant Eating

Gallant learned to eat this weekend.  It was fascinating.

He had two food blends.  One was steamed Asian pear mushed through a baby food mill and then mixed with infant rice cereal and formula powder.  The other was baked sweet potato mixed with infant rice cereal, formula powder, and some water.

(The rice cereal and formula powder add calories and iron as well as improving digestibility.  Constipated infants are no fun.  But perhaps "Constipated Infants" is a good name for a rock band.)

Friday night (and prior) he was only able to get food down if we touched the roof of his mouth after putting food in his mouth.  He would involuntarily push the food out of his mouth with his tongue unless we triggered his sucking reflex to override his gag reflex.  Holding a spoon in his mouth that way was awkward, so we fed him by putting the food on a fingertip and letting him suck on the finger.

Saturday he was able to eat from a spoon for a few bites each meal.  The standard infant spoon feeding method worked: wait for him to open his mouth, put in a spoon with food, pull out the spoon so the food is scraped off onto the top of his mouth and upper gums, and wait for him to swallow as much as will go down.  But at lunch his gag reflex returned after a few minutes, and we would again need to trigger swallowing.  At dinner time exhaustion was the problem: without the sucking reflex eating was too much effort and he almost did fall asleep sucking on my wife's fingertip.

Today was the first day he ate solid food at all three meal times.  He ate from a spoon in that standard way, and made surprisingly little mess.


For the non-parents who read this, eating solids is great news.  Infants who only have milk (or formula) for nourishment usually cannot sleep through the night.  They wake up hungry and needing to make wet poops.  Gallant was no exception, usually waking up every three or four hours.  He would fall asleep at 7pm or 8pm but then wake during the 11pm, 3am, and 5am hours with a diaper change required during the last two wakings.  But solids are more filling, take longer to digest, and produce fewer pooping times.  We might soon be able to get a six hour block of sleep!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dinosaur Livestock

 Many fantasy settings, including the one I am designing, include dinosaurs.

I was curious which dinosaurs would be used by people as livestock.  Unfortunately, searching the internet for the phrase "dinosaur livestock" merely informs you that Dinosaur, Colorado is a ranching town.

(Tangentially, it has a population of 320.  Is that still a town?  Do we have villages anymore?  I know historically that hamlets are too tiny to have a church whereas villages are larger but do not qualify as towns because they lack either the palisade wall or the regular market that attracts visiting merchants.)

Books about dinosaurs were quite simple when I was a child.  They all features a few dozen varieties.  We even believed in the brontosaurus back then.

For extinct animals, dinosaurs have apparently done very well during the past few decades.  Now there are hundreds of them.  I have no idea which are amazingly obscure and which are known to all today's five-year-old boy dinosaur fanatics.  So in my RPG I cannot simply list a few examples of dinosaur livestock.  Attempting to be specific will either confuse readers or doom me to recite a list of dozens of names.

The web's main resource for finding small dinosaurs seems to be the table at the bottom of a web page so brightly colored that at first I doubted its reliability.  But it seems to be well-researched.

As five examples, let's consider both carnivores and plant-eaters.

Among the "lizard-hipped" dinosaurs the saltopus and lesothosaurus are bipedal carnivores the size of rabbits or chickens.  As reptiles they lay eggs, so in a fantasy setting they might resemble chickens that also keep the farmer's rats under control.  But owning too many would make them difficult to feed and not cost-effective.

For plant-eating dinosaur livestock there were several varieties of sauropods suffering from insular dwarfism, including the magyarosaurus, europasaurus, and ohmdenosaurus.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I am enjoying learning how to play blues harmonica.  So far my instruction is from two library books.

Apparently there are three main elements to blues harmonica: trills, rifts, and bending notes down.  (A fourth element is making use of the Circle of Fifths to play five half-steps higher than the harmonica is tuned for.  But the musician need not think about this.)

Bending is a very organic endeavor involving mouth shape that is difficult to teach either with a book or in person, since no one else can see or feel the size and shape of your vocal cavity.  The tips are thus interestingly varied.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing the Harmonica, 2nd edition on page 120 lists its "Ten Tips for Bending Draw Notes"
  1. Think your notes lower
  2. Try whistling a high note and then a low note.  Then sing a hgh note followed by a low note.  Do you feel what happens to your vocal cavity and airflow?  You want to get that same feeling to bend your draw notes.
  3. Stay relaxed.  Place the harp deep into your mouth.  Maintain a controlled, focused airflow
  4. For starters, play a 4-draw and without doing anything else tilt the harmonica downward slowly.  You'll hear the pitch flatten.  You do not want to do this when bending a draw note.
  5. Focus on dropping your tongue flat against the bottom of your mouth, lowering your jaw, and opening your throat wide.  If you feel your nose pinch shut that's good.
  6. Purse (pinch) your lips slightly.  Don't overdo this.
  7. Mouth a "weeeh" vowel sound while drawing the note and then switch to an "aauh" vowel sound.
  8. Just think about sticking your jaw out there like Popeye the Sailor Man.  Stick it out and be proud.
  9. Practice bending with both the pucker technique (easier) and tongue-block technique.
  10. Do not breathe the air any harder.  Creating a draw (or blow) bend does not require more air.  Blowing or drawing harder only makes your bends more difficult.
For comparison, Blues Harmonica by Tom Ball on page 25 lists his tips, some of which are identical and other in direct opposition.
  1. Say "oooh - aaah - oooh - aaah" to yourself while drawing the note
  2. Say "oooy - oooy - oooy"
  3. Raise and/or lower your jaw a bit
  4. Shift your tongue back in your mouth
  5. Pinch the wind supply by tightening the tension in the throat
  6. Tense your lips slightly
  7. Suck harder!
UPDATE: For the sake of comparison, here are four websites with their lists of advice.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The September 2011 Wellness Letter concluded with advice about spending money for happiness.
1. Buy more experiences and fewer material goods.  Experiences (vacations, education classes, concerts, shows, etc.) stick with us but the pleasure gained from a new possession quickly fades.

2. Spend money on others.  Giving activates brain areas associated with the happiness of receiving rewards, and produces happiness by strengthening social bonds.

3. The "buzz" of pleasure from a purchase wears of quickly even if the purchase is large.  Spend money on many small pleasures instead of one big purchase.

4. Delay the actual purchase.  Anticipation is often as significant a pleasure as ownership.

5. Prioritize spending to reduce your every-day hassles and make yourself feel a little spoiled each day.  This affects overall happiness much more than spending on occasional vacations or major life events.

6. Read product reviews to make sure your purchase actually causes people to become happier.
What do you think?

I would add to their second point.  Giving gifts is only half of a dynamic.  The other half is realizing that in one sense we do not really own our things (because when we die we cannot take them with us) and we do not really own what we have given away (because other people claim those)--so the only items we really own are what we are giving away right now.

Personally, the fifth item is key for me.  Because of my wife's celiac we do a lot of baking and the granite counter tops we has installed a few years ago are a huge help as well making our kitchen a nicer place to be.  Because of my tendon condition, allergies, and the hours I spend holding an infant our spa is a huge health benefit.  I'm not a gardener but I know folks who spend money to have a pretty garden which in turns helps them have more peace and rest each day.  Some items provide ongoing happiness, and those are key.

(Ironically, the fifth item is also the one I do worst at.  My family is way above average with thrifty lifestyle choices that save money but increase hassle: heating with a wood stove, using cloth diapers, grinding our own flour, baking our own bread and cookies, etc.)

Finally, I must be an oddball because for me anticipation has nearly zero pleasure.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Teems are Coming to Town

The other day Smiley was singing to himself: "The Teems are Coming to Town!  The Teems are Coming to Town!"

I could not tell whether he was saying teen, team, teem, or something else.  So I asked him, "What is a teem?"

He thought for a moment and then replied, "A teem is some who sings, 'The Teems are Coming to Town!'"

"So," I asked, "Does that make you a teem?  Because you sing that?"

He again paused to think.  "I'm still working on that," he replied.

Gallant's Busy Week

Yay!  That long-lasting cold is finally done.  But enough about me.  Little Gallant had an exciting last week.

On Tuesday he started reaching up to communicate that he wanted to be picked up from his high chair or exersaucer.  He does not always do this, but he does it more often than not and it's a help in knowing what he wants.

On Friday he learned to scoot himself backwards when on the floor on his tummy.  He hates this.  He wants to go forwards.  Previously he would push with his left arm more than his right arm and spin like a gimlet.  That at least gave him a different view.  Now he is retreating, which is progress in the world of muscle coordination but certainly does not seem like progress to him.

He also tried Asian Pears in his mesh feeder bag and loves them.  They are sweet and just the right firmness to provide a soothing challenge for his need to gnaw.  Last night he tried puréed carrot and tried to eat it but was not nearly as impressed.

His appetite is increasing.  A four-ounce bottle is now seldom sufficient.  We took from storage the rest of our eight-ounce glass baby bottles.

Last night Gallant even had a 4.5 hour stretch of sleep.  Woo hoo!  Some day my wife and I will again be able to sleep for six hours at a time.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


Sorry I have not been blogging much.  For two week's I have been under the weather, with the second cold Smiley brought home from his new preschool.

Right now Smiley is helping me mop the kitchen floor, which has not been mopped since Gallant was born five months ago.  Smiley is strong enough to use the mop's lever that squishes the sponge mop head.  The kitchen is only turning into a wading pool very slowly.
Me: My turn now.

Smiley: Why is it your turn?

Me: We mop to get the spots off the floor.  You are doing great with getting the floor wet.  But I do better at cleaning away the spots.

Smiley: Yes.  My job is to get the floor wet.  Your job is to get off the spots.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

BlendTec - Tropical Carrot Soup

Carrots are cheap.  Carrot soup is warming and nice in cold weather.  Time for a third blender soup!

  • 500 grams carrots, steamed (1 pound of carrots is close enough)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice

Put everything in the blender and blend on "soup".

(I steam the carrots by cutting them into thick "coin" slices and microwaving them for three or four minutes.  For coconut milk we use Trader Joe's Light Coconut Milk since that is what we have handy; if you use normal coconut milk you probably need less heavy cream.  For pineapple juice I use the juice from Costco canned pineapple chunks and eat the pineapple chunks separately as a snack.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Light the Fire Again

Yesterday I wrote that our dehydrator was currently enough to keep our house warm.

Well, this morning I lit a fire in our stove downstairs.  Not because of needing heat, but to help dry out the house.  Not only our windows, but even the inside of the front door was dripping wet this morning.

Five Times

Recall that I drink my yerba maté at one-fifth normal strength.

I noticed the package has a text box proclaiming "Antioxidant Power: When brewed as directed, this tea provides an ORAC value of 10,000 umolTE/240 m, which is  five times stronger than a typical cup of green tea brewed with a tea bag."

Is the five coincidence?  Or are the antioxidant-containing compounds what makes the drink seem "strong enough" for my taste?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

More Trick Less Treat

A few days ago I was at a party for Nathen and folks brainstormed how to make Halloween a bit more high tech using a computer with a wireless webcam.

Decorate the approach to your home.  Put up humorous signs or tombstones or something.  Make visiting trick-or-treaters move slowly past a well lit spot without noticing that you just took a photo of someone's face with the hidden webcam.  (If everyone in that group of trick-or-treaters is wearing a mask then take a group shot.)

When they ring the bell, play a spooky song.  This gives you time to print out that photo of a face and cut out they eye holes to make it into a mask.  Give the mask to your accomplice.

Answer the door and give them candy.  Talk a bit about their costumes or the candy or the weather.  Meanwhile, your accomplice leaves the house from another door and sneaks behind them, wearing a mask of one of them.

Say good night and smile.

Extra points if your accomplice is the family dog.

Gallant Gumming

Gallant is enjoying food.

His older brother started eating injera at six months.  Gallant is interested in food a month earlier, and has started trying to eat.  His list of tried foods has some other early photos.

Rice cereal was a bust.  He wants something to chew, not a nearly liquid substance.

Injera is his favorite.  His infant gag reflex is still too strong for him to get any appreciable amount down.  But he enjoys tasting it as it travels from his high chair tray to his bib and then to the floor.  Here is a photo from tonight's dinner.

Tonight he tried our mesh feeding bag for the first time, with avacado.  That was a great success.  The mesh end tasted interesting, and the handle end allowed a short break for some chewing-teething.

I think he consumed more avacado than injera tonight, even though much more injera went into his mouth.  If we actually cared about him eating food we would use the mesh bag more often.  But he is still young enough (a few days shy of five months) that eating is only for entertainment: his tasting and our enjoying a way he keeps himself occupied during dinner time.

Gallant's First Foods

Back in 2008-2009 I used my blog to keep track of when Smiley first ate different foods.

Might as well do the same for Gallant!  Only the first few will have photographs.
  • Oct. 5th - rice cereal
  • Oct. 24th - injera
  • November 1st - avacado
  • November 10th - Asian pear
  • November 13th - carrot (puréed, he was already teething on raw carrot hunks)
  • November 17th - sweet potato (microwaved 2 minutes for a nice texture for in the mesh bag--slightly squishy but not mushy, as well as puréed)
  • November 20th - oats (ground to be extra fine before made into oatmeal)
  • November 22th - applesauce
  • November 24th - pumpkin
  • November 30th - peaches
  • December 5th - great northern beans
  • December 7th - tomato
  • December 9th - corn 
  • December 13th - onion
  • December 16th - parsnips and beets 
  • December 19th - broccoli
  • December 23rd - cabbage
  • December 28th - potato
  • December 30th - orange (juice in squash and onion soup)
  • January 1st, 2012 - quinoa (ground to be a porridge, mixed with other foods)
  • January 2nd - pinto beans
  • January 6th - green beans 
  • January 9th - mango (nerd quip: "Mango is always yummy!")
  • January 12th - raspberry
  • January 17th - kiwi
  • January 20th - sunflower (in Trader Joe's sunflower butter) 
  • January 23rd - spinach (cooked - don't give babies raw spinach!)
  • January 29th - egg yolk
  • February 1st - yogurt and blueberries
  • February 7th - pineapple
  • February 28th - artichoke hearts


I do not mention our dehydrator often.  But we use it a lot.

This time of year it is especially nifty.  The temperatures (in Fahrenheit) are in the low 60s during the day and about 40 at night.  If we keep the dehydrator going and do some baking each day then we do not need to heat the house with the stove.

Last week our farmer friend Annette sold us a box of Asian pear "seconds".  These are great for dehydrating.  They dry in two days and taste like candy.

Our Nesco dehydrator is old enough I cannot find it for sale, but I think this one is the new version.  We like this model for two reasons.

First, the drying happens top-down.  This means the bottom is cool enough it will not hurt a wood floor or table.  It is also more pleasant to add trays while the machine is on if the air does not blow up into your face.

Second, it has at least 750 watts of heat.  The 450 watt models can only handle 4 to 6 trays at once.  Being able to dry 12 trays is nice.  (I can prepare eight trays of pears in about half an hour, and apples are even quicker with an apple peeler/corer.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mall Scavenger Hunts

I am trying to brainstorm fun and interdisciplinary mall scavenger hunt items.  My friends with older kids could use these on rainy days when their children are bored.

Items can require internet research, since our local mall has an Apple Store whose demonstration computers could be used during the activity.
Here is an example list.  It's not great, but it will show what I'm thinking about.

What are other good items for kids to look for?

Where in the mall is...?
1. (Biology) - an example of Ursus arctos
2. (Business) - an advertisement that uses bandwagon
3. (Nutrition) - a lunch or dinner main dish with less than 30% of its calories from fats [an example in a book counts!]
4. (Visual Arts) - an illustration that uses foreshadowing
5. (Economics) - a store whose stock price has outperformed the S&P 500 during the past month
6. (Religion) - an advertisement or retail product whose artwork contains a reference to a text a religion considers holy
7. (Health) - an eye chart
8. (Business) - an item priced with a chain discount
9. (Business) - a store that uses markup on cost, and another store that uses markup on selling price
10. (Visual Arts) - a golden rectangle

And bring back to the host...
11. (Mathematics) - a mall map on which the center of gravity of the mall's exterior walls has been marked
12. (Chemistry) - an example of NaCl
13. (Politics) - the name of a mall customer able to correctly identify five differences between President Obama's and Ron Paul's visions for our country
14. (Music) - after asking at least five mall customers to chant "air ball..." identify if the phrase is usually a major or minor interval, and usually a third or fourth

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BlendTec - Spicy Tomato Soup

I have recently mentioned enjoying injera with spicy tomato soup.

My wife makes some amazing spicy tomato soups.  But what about when I do not have any leftovers of those for lunch and thus want to quickly make something simpler for lunch?

Time for a second BlendTec soup that uses canned tomato!

  • 1 can diced tomato
  • 1 cup nearly boiling water
  • 2 Tbsp instant mashed potato (I use Costco's Excel Potato Pearls)
  • 1/4 tsp berbere
  • a little raw onion

Put everything in the blender and blend on "soup".

(This is a nice soup, spicy but simple, and good with injera.  I am working on a more complex version that also has peas and carrot, but have not finished tweaking it yet.)

Ethiopian Cuisine Basics

I have added a copy of the recent injera blog post to the recipes part of my website.  Then it also made sense to add our family recipes for berbere and niter kebbeh.

During Fall and Winter we often have the bowl of injera sponge/batter living in our oven for two weeks. Not only does my wife make great Ethiopian dinners, it is handy at lunch times to be able to make a few injera pancakes to go with some spicy soup or some boxed Indian food. After two weeks we start to get tired of it, use it all up, wait two or three weeks, and then begin a new batch three days before we want to use it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Missing American Girls

A few days ago my family inexplicably received an American Girls doll and book catalog.

The company certainly does its historical fiction schtick well.  The books are only slightly expensive, and contain historical and social lessons a parent could want a child to read about.  Then the dolls are expensive: sort of like Harry & David meets Toys 'R Us.

Personally, I find entertainment in inventing the "missing" historical fiction characters.

Victoria: During the Prohibition era, this daughter of a mob boss uses her friendship with the police chief's daughter to help her father teach others that family is the most important thing.

Liz: This daughter of the Wild West's most secretive highwayman knows the keys to success: an abandoned and crying girl will stop any stagecoach, her parents are both excellent snipers, and when you hide a derringer in your doll's skirts no one suspects you also carry a second in your sleeve.

Indigo and Trixie: With a sharp blade, sharper wits, and a few palms greased with pirate gold this pirate captain's daughter helps her best friend keep open the brothel that three generations of matriarchs have built into a cornerstone of the New Orleans French Quarter.

When Ten Thousand is not Enough

This past weekend my wife and one of her friends made and canned lot of applesauce.

Our Coleman Fold 'n Go camp stove had some trouble keeping both large water baths boiling.

Less portable camp stoves, such as the Camp Chef Explorer, have triple the BTU rating.

Odd that ten thousand BTUs is not enough for a household job!  Triple that would probably suffice.

BlendTec - Tomato Broccoli Soup

I have twice mentioned our BlendTec Total Blender.  Time for a recipe!

None of the soups in the blender's included recipe book use any type of canned tomato.  Several include one raw tomato as an ingredient.

I'm not sure I could taste the difference between a soup made with a fresh tomato or canned.  Canned tomato is much less expensive.  So my first lunch mission as the weather cools off is to create a tomato-based soup with canned tomato.  I'll use diced tomato, since that is what we buy at Costco and keep in the garage.

Costco also has affordable fresh broccoli.  Since I like most tomato-broccoli soups, and already have a use for spinach (in my spinach-mango or spinach-raspberry smoothies) the refined mission is to use canned tomato and fresh broccoli.

After one dreadful attempt, here is a nice second version.

  • 1 can diced tomato
  • 1 cup nearly boiling water
  • 1 clove garlic
  • about 3 cups fresh broccoli, steamed in the microwave
  • a little raw onion


Put everything in the blender and blend on "soup".  Garnish with grated cheese and perhaps black pepper.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cthulhu's Artistic Relative

Heh.  An ancient giant kraken lair contains carefully arranged bones.
In the fossil bed, some of the shonisaur vertebral disks are arranged in curious linear patterns with almost geometric regularity, McMenamin explained.The proposed Triassic kraken, which could have been the most intelligent invertebrate ever, arranged the vertebral discs in double line patterns, with individual pieces nesting in a fitted fashion as if they were part of a puzzle.

Even more creepy: The arranged vertebrae resemble the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle, with each vertebra strongly resembling a coleoid sucker. In other words, the vertebral disc "pavement" seen at the state park may represent the earliest known self portrait.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Green Bike Lane Portions

Eugene and Springfield now have portions of bike lanes bright green.

I understand the intention.  But bright green?

Dark green would make sense as a Federal recommendation.  Years ago a Federal study proved that white on dark green is the most visible contrast (not white on black), which is why freeway signs are white on dark green.

Yellow would make sense, since yellow already means "caution" to drivers.

But bright green means "go!  your turn!  accelerate!".

Why not orange?  It would at least be different, and imply "a mix of caution and braking".

I must conclude that some of my undergraduate friends whom I have lost track of, who back at Pomona formed an I Hate Orange club, have risen to positions of governmental influence and forced some pro-orange study to be ignored.

Washer Magic

Most folks who own front-loading HE washing machines use too much soap.  Residue can build up, causing a bad smell and perhaps even bad performance.

I've written before about how for years we have been using Allens Naturally, a very gentle soap, and only half the jug's recommended amount.  From that old post:
We had the last annual free maintenance on our washing machine. The repair guy taught us to run the machine empty on the "pre-rinse" cycle every few months to check for soap buildup. If this test cycle was sudsy then we were using too much soap.
Back in 2008 we ordered a box of six Washer Magic bottles for machine maintenance.  That repair guy recommended them.  "Use it any time bubbles remain after the washing is done."

Earlier this month we used the first bottle, more than three years later.  Hooray for Allens Naturally!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How We Make Injera

The weather is getting colder.  Time to make injera!

Actually, I started making it on Sunday and ate it for the first time this Fall at lunch time today: three pieces to go with with spicy soup.

Injera has the world's simplest sponge recipe: in a mixing bowl whisk together
  • two cups of teff flour
  • one teaspoon yeast
  • three cups of warm water.

Preheat the oven to just over 100 degrees, then turn off the oven.  Put the bowl in the oven and forget about it until you use your oven that day or until the next morning.

Each day, add a quarter cup more teff flour, perhaps some more water, whisk again, and return to the warm oven.

After three days it has fermented enough to be ready to cook, although you can wait additional days without problem.  No ingredients are added: the "sponge" is now "batter".

A few tricks make the potentially tricky task very simple.  Get these right and the pancakes come off easily and when you are done the griddle or skillet dusts clean with a dry rag.  Ignore them and the batter sticks like crazy.
  1. The batter should be slightly thicker than stew.  It is not as thick as dough.  But it is thicker than crêpe batter.  Add extra teff flour to thicken the batter appropriately.
  2. Use a cast iron griddle or skillet with a glass lid.  Trust me that this is a huge help.
  3. Spray oil onto the griddle/skillet before starting.  No need to reapply oil between pancakes unless you are making a whole lot of them.
  4. Use medium heat, and let the griddle/skillet heat up before you start.  Really.  Once drops of water bounce and sizzle, wait a couple more minutes.
  5. When you pour the batter swirl the griddle/skillet a bit to spread the batter flatter (like a crêpe).
  6. Cover the poured pancake.  Watch it change color, starting at the edges and going to the center.  Uncover it when the center has changed color.  If you like them moist then it's done.  If you prefer them drier then let it cook another minute or two.

Save at least a little as a starter for the next batch.  No need to add more yeast.  Add teff and warm water in that two-to-three ratio until you have replenished your sponge.

During Fall and Winter we often have the bowl of sponge/batter living in our oven for two weeks.  Not only does my wife make great Ethiopian dinners, it is handy at lunch times to be able to make a few injera pancakes to go with some spicy soup or some boxed Indian food.  After two weeks we start to get tired of it, use it all up, wait two or three weeks, and then begin a new batch three days before we want to use it.

Qualities of Classic Horror Stories

Way back in 2009 I wrote some about a favorite horror story, a great book I found about designing a horror story, and how horror stories have similarities to stories about political intrigue.

This week I helped create a short horror story writing contest for school age children (which may or may not actually happen).  The rules were pretty simple:
The submission must include two items: the horror story and a short explanation of how each of the ten attributes below were used.  The explanation should be clear and accurate: it will be more important for judging than the story itself.  Younger children may simply write a phrase or two after each of the ten attributes; older children should compose their explanation in paragraph(s).
Here are the ten attributes I came up with.  What others am I missing?  What makes a classic horror story?  After all, shouldn't there be thirteen attributes of a classic horror story?

1. The danger is personal.  The protagonist, or a loved one, is threatened.

2. The first shock happens early.  Often the opening scene involves the protagonist (or a loved one) witnessing or suffering a freakish situation.

3. The mood builds slowly with few releases of tension.  The eeriness, helplessness, desperation, confusion, and dread grow gradually but relentlessly.

4. The protagonist becomes wrapped up in more and more problems.  Yet although tensions abound, few become violent.  The protagonist is not in an action story and cannot simply fight his or her way to freedom or victory.

5. The protagonist witnesses things that cannot be explained and is opposed by varieties of people or creatures that have never before been encountered.

6. Things that should be permanent act temporary.  (A shouted curse has a long-lasting effect, the dead come back to life, etc.).  Things that should be temporary act permanent.  (Fog never leaves the town, the abandoned asylum is haunted by flashes of illusionary memories).

7. Because of the inexplicable events, unique opponents, and mixing of permanent and temporary, the protagonist is ignorant for many problems about which of his or her options will calm or inflame the situation.  The growing mood includes new uncertainties about what to do and new worries that a new strategy will actually make things worse.

8. When the protagonist does feel a sense of victory, the gain is partly hollow.  As examples, a clue explains why the monster appeared but not how to defeat it, rescuing someone alerts the villain that protagonist is an opponent worth monitoring and dealing with, or defeating one opponent reveals a deeper layer of evil in control.  (Note: for young writers this is often the most difficult criteria to  include, but also perhaps the most powerful for improving the story.  Don't settle for a struggle only one layer deep!)

9. Purity has real value.  Evil hearts draw evil forces.  If the protagonist can remain pure, he or she can escape being attacked, detected, or slowed by the evil forces.

10.  The unexpected happens!  (In any or all of the first nine criteria, for example... Another friend or family member is involved.  Another freakish event happens.  Another part of the protagonist's history is revealed as a source of tension.  A strange creature
ambushes the protagonist.  A strange phenomenon causes the protagonist to doubt his or her sanity.  An unforeseen complication provides additional worries.  A partial victory is surprisingly easy but alarmingly hollow.  The protagonist recognizes another habit or
mindset that counts as a helpful kind of purity.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Wicked Bad Guys in Far Away Land

In my previous post I mentioned Far Away Land without providing any background.  Time to remedy that!

My wife and I both saved many books from our childhood to share with the children we hoped to have.  Since Smiley enjoys fairy tales, we brought out some of her books of fairy tales that are sentimental because of their wonderful illustrations.

We should have anticipated that Hansel and Gretel would be so frightening...

Smiley knew about plenty bad guys.  But Hansel and Gretel introduced two unprecedented levels of badness.  There was the witch who wanted to eat someone and got burned up in her oven: people eating people was newly wrong, and a person burning in a fire was startlingly horrific.  Even worse was the wicked stepmother who wanted to abandon her own children in the wood.

The part about the oven turned out to be easy to smooth over.  We talked about our stove downstairs in which we burn wood to heat the house.  The fire does not hurt me when I put logs in.  The fire only burns the wood.  Witches are not real people: they burn like wood.

(Not universally true about fairy tale witches, but for now it works.  In his mind a witch is some sort of hybrid doppelganger-scarecrow.)

But thinking about a stepmother abandoning her children was really disturbing.  Smiley had trouble falling asleep that night.

The next night he wanted to read Hansel and Gretel again, and he asked me what the word "wicked" meant.  I saw a great opportunity to help ease his troubled mind.

We talked about the bad guys he knew about.

Most of them were not bad all the time but did make bad choices: his imaginary friend Magalene, the two bad mice, the troublesome trucks of the Railway stories, etc.  I emphasized that these characters wanted to behave but had trouble behaving.  I reminded Smiley that he also had times where he wanted to behave but had trouble behaving--but he was a good boy, not a bad guy.  Some stories are about good people making mistakes.

However, he also knew about a few character that never even try to be good: Goliath, the Big Bad Wolf, the ninjas that try to tempt Magalene, the fierce bad rabbit, the rats who wanted to put someone in a roly-poly pudding.  These were "wicked", I explained.  Someone who is wicked does not even try to be good.

(That is not quite theologically correct, of course.  But it as close as I could manage with a three-year-old.)

Smiley felt much better.  He knew it often required a lot of effort to be a listening boy when he was not inclined to behave.  Yet he almost always tried, and usually succeeded.  Suddenly he saw himself as stronger than Goliath or the Big Bad Wolf, who lacked the willpower he daily practiced exerting.

Then we talked about how in Hansel and Gretel the stepmother and witch are both wicked.  They too were not even trying.  They were scary, but also slightly pitied.

Yet Hansel and Gretel was still troubling for another night.

Then Smiley started to ask whether any of his friends were wicked.  I assured him none were.  Smiley realizes that most of his playmates are not as wonderfully behaved as he is.  (Although his impression is biased.  We host much more than half his play-dates, and disobedience often happens when it is time to stop playing and leave.  Smiley is just as susceptible to those minor fits as his friends, but sees it less often.)  So we talked about all of his friends, and how they all try to behave and listen.

Again Hansel and Gretel was still troubling that night.

Then, the next day, Smiley decided that "wicked people live in Far Away Land".  Ever since that proclamation he has never had trouble sleeping because of thinking about villains in stories.

I am still finding out what Far Away Land is like.  I knew it would be complex because I have read the original Peter Pan:
I don't know whether you have ever seen a map of a person's mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child's mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still.
I have learned that Far Away Land is where pretend things live.  Animals wearing clothes, toys that talk, witches, ninjas, and everything else make-believe lives there.  Despite its name, it is inside Eugene, unlike California which takes days and days to drive to and staying in motels.  It is surrounded by a tall wood wall that keeps the wicked people inside.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Assisting, Demonstrating, Scaffolding

Yesterday Smiley had some friends over for some "Art Exploration Time".  I'll use the event as an example of three types of teaching.


Smiley had not seen a hole punch in many months and probably did not remember ever using one.  He wanted to make holes in a paper plate.  Since his hands were not strong enough to use the punch, he got some continued assistance.  (The photo is not very clear about this, but you can just see Smiley behind his friend Stern, with Stern's mom helping use the hole punch.)

We also made gingerbread cookies.   Smiley is a good helper in the kitchen but needs continued assistance.  If I measure out ingredients he can dump them in the mixing bowls.  He can stir the mixing bowls without spilling, but does not stir adequately for most recipes.

Smiley likes being a helper.  He does not shy from activities that require continued assistance.  He can still feel more capable and knowledgable despite requiring constant help.

The same can be true for adults, too.  Many activities for adults, from scuba tours to kitchen canning classes, offer participants as much continued assistance as they desire.


In that same photo you can notice Smiley's stamp set.  A multi-colored stamp pad was something new for his friends.  So I demonstrated how to use a damp cloth on a plate to clean the stamps before switching colors.  Even three-year-old Stern caught on immediately and needed no continuing help.

Stern's sister, Giddy, wanted to help roll the dough flat between the silpat baking sheet and the plastic wrap.  But she immediately realized the new challenge: unlike rolling clay on a table, this task involved boundary conditions since the dough should more-or-less fill the silpat.  "What do I do?" she asked.  I demonstrated starting from the middle and moving dough towards an edge that still needed more dough.  She caught on and needed no other help.

In my math classes at LCC I do too much demonstrating.  A constant issue is how to better use class time for assisting students that are struggling more, and how to design activities that use scaffolding for students that do not require as many demonstrations.


A fun part of silpat gingerbread cookies is looking at the pieces between the cookie-cutter shapes and wondering what they look like.  I thought this piece looked like a wild boar, but Giddy decided it was a lion.

After making the mane with orange glaze she paused, unsure what to do.  "I have a hard time seeing the tail with that shape," I commented.  "Could you help me see the tail?"  She did: it is starting at the back, curving across the lion's yellow side, and ending in the red tuft of hairs.

My small and vague suggestion was just enough to get her going again.  This kind of small nudge is called scaffolding, after Vygotsky's theories.  A good teacher notices when a student is almost capable of more but needs a tiny nudge.

Smiley needed a more physical type of scaffolding when he tried to thread some colored yarn through the holes he punched around his paper plate.  Although he is practiced at making bead necklaces using wire or using dental floss and a blunt needle, he could not get the soft yarn through the holes.  So I made a stiff "needle" of tape on one end, which allowed him to proceed.

By doing as much scaffolding as possible we show our kids that they can be independent learners, but also that all learners sometimes get stuck and need small nudges to continue.

UPDATE: Smiley's friends names have been changed to "blog names".

Painting Objects with Parts

Towards the end of September we noticed a change in Smiley's painting.

Most of what he did and does for "painting" with colored paints was mixing colors in this dish of paints and in the bowl of water supposedly for cleaning his brush.  Making lines and curves on the paper not as interesting or engaging.  That much has not changed.

But previously he did not have any structure to his lines and curves, even if he named them (usually as escalators, train tracks, or roads).  Now he is painting objects made up of parts.

That purple item mystified us for a two weeks.  Smiley finally decided it was a flower.  Even if it was not originally anything in particular, it still demonstrates his slowly developing awareness that where on the paper he puts his lines and curves can be an important choice.

Yesterday he painted another mystery.

We know what this is: a map of Far Away Land.  He has been drawing these on his doodle pads, and now made one with paint.  The circle around the outside is the fence that separates Far Away Land from the rest of Eugene.

I am not yet sure if the placement of his other lines and curves has any intentionality. I have not had yet an appropriate time to sit with him and repeatedly ask, "Who else lives in Far Away Land?" and "Where is their home?".

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Political Parties: Unions versus Corporations

I remember that back in the 1980s I figured out the difference between Democrats and Republicans.  (I make no claim that my observation was correct, since I was not very aware of politics at the time.)

Democrats valued caution.  They did not want to use the environment in ways that might wreck things, change how unions worked, or relax regulations on corporations.  Republicans valued progress.  They believed that America was prosperous enough to fix anything it might damage, and favored tinkering with policy in the hope it would foster innovation and improve average wealth.

Surely my observation about the difference between the parties was incomplete.  Perhaps it was entirely false.

Today the contrast is sadly clear, and quite divorced from the normal folk who belong to either party.  The Democratic leadership is in bed with the unions.  The Republican leadership is in bed with large corporations.

Today Instapundit had amazing examples of both.  The "Occupy Wall Street" protests are astrotrufed with unions hiring union members and unaffiliated Hispanics to participate. The ABA is a great example of regulatory capture

Most Americans are neither union leaders nor managers of large corporations, and are increasingly realizing how little we are represented in our republic.

The obvious way to reduce cronyism is to shift Federal power back to the states.  As Stephen Bainbridge writes:
Corporations do influence the government, of course. But then so do labor unions, the legal profession, the medical profession, special interest groups based on one form of racial or ethnic grievance or another, and lobbying interests ranging from Iowa corn to Texas oil. The problem isn’t corporations, the problem is that we have a government that has its fingers in nearly every aspect of the economy. That means that policy makers have the ability to pick economic winners and losers every day, and it’s only natural that those policies would be of concern to the people that they’re going to impact most directly, the businesses affected by them.

Eugene's Busy Three-Year-Olds

Since the rainy days are approaching I'm compiling a list of things that kids Smiley's age are invited to do around town for free or for little cost.

Please chime in if you know of other activities!

Eugene Park and Recreation (calendar, news) offers occasional, usually free activities.  For example, this weekend had an interpretive walk through Delta Ponds.

Springfield Parks (calendar) also has occasional, usually free events.  For example, next week has the Edible Festival at Willamalane Center on Saturday ($5 per adult).

The Eugene Library (kids page) has free weekly story and song events.  For three-year-olds the time is Wednesdays at 10:15am or 11am.

The Museum of Natural and Cultural History has free monthly Little Wonders stories and activity days for preschool-age kids on the first Wednesday of each month.  If you can find parking in the small lot next to the museum then the front desk will provide a temporary parking pass.

The Science Factory also has monthly Tot Discovery Days on the first Friday of each month.  These are only free if you are a member, but if you have a little kid in Eugene you probably are a member anyway since the Science Factory is a great thing to do on rainy Winter days.

The Schnitzer Museum of Art has free admission on the first Friday of each month.  Not as age-appropriate as the Science Factory offering, but free for families not Science Factory members.

The NAAG Gym has an open gym hour most days.  The cost is $4, or $3 for gym students.  This is less expensive than Bounce.  Smiley also prefers the equipment at NAAG.  (Smiley is currently a student in the weekly class on Thursdays at 2:30pm.  If you want to visit the weekly class, it's free the first time as the guest of an enrolled kid!)

The local homeschooling network, Barnraisers, often organizes activities for younger kids as well as school-age kids.  For example, yesterday I took both boys to River Turns Farm in Coburg for a tour and fruit picking, and most Mondays afternoons in October we are hosting an "art exploration" time.

Total Blender, Part 2

In August I wrote about our super-blender.  Time for an update.

Its ability to make soups quickly without heating up the house as much as using the stove did improve our summer dinner routines.  The types of soups that we made exclusively with the blender was limiting, but my wife had no trouble adapting a few of her tomato-based soups so that most of the preparation was done with the blender and the stove was used only a few minutes*.

The blender does grind grain well simply by putting in two cups of grain and running the blender on its highest speed (for the default 50 seconds the "speed up" key runs).  The result is finer than with our grain mill.

But it will not replace our grain mill.  Doing two cups at a time requires too much babysitting, compounded by the fact that the blender is so incredibly noisy at maximum speed that being anywhere near it is annoying**. The grain mill is slower but its large hopper and quieter noise win the prize.  However, it is nice to have the blender as a backup for when we are out of flour mix but want to quickly throw together a loaf of bread dough before bedtime to ferment and rise overnight.

My wife and I have discovered we like vastly different fruits and vegetables in our raw juices.

I have found that I like filling the blender with spinach.  I like spinach, and eating more is a healthy idea.  I add half a cup of milk so it blends, and on top dump about half a cup of either frozen mango or frozen raspberries.  (For me, blueberries, banana, or apple do not combine well with spinach.  And those five exhaust the list of fruits we can affordably buy organic year-round.)

My wife makes her juices with cantaloupe, carrot, and then some fruit.  Surprisingly, I do like carrots and cantaloupe but have learned that I like to eat those flavors, not drink them.

Lastly, we're making more pancakes and waffles in the mornings.  But that is simply because we have a reliable blender.  A normal blender would help with those equally well.

* She uses the stove before blending to saute onions and garlic, and/or uses the stove after blending to bring the soup to a rolling boil for a few minutes so it will safely keep longer in the fridge.

** We also had to explain what we were doing to the confused FAA personnel who knocked at our front door.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

In Real Life

Smiley had his first day of preschool today.

I would write more, and put up photographs, but I am also terribly sick with an awful cold.

Yet I cannot go to sleep before retelling this conversation after we got into the car this morning:
Me: Remember, when we had the tour of the room two days ago we were told that today Daddy could not stay long.  But in a few days I can stay with you more and see what you do.

Smiley: Okay.

Me: But when I do stay, I might not be able to play with you.  I will have to do what your teacher says.  Maybe she will ask me to help other kids.  In preschool the teacher is the boss.

Smiley: Yes.  In classes the teacher is the boss, not the daddies.  That's how it is in real life.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Gallant at Four Months

Yesterday Gallant had his four month checkup.  His measurements (and percentiles) were length 23.4 in. (10%), weight 12 lb., 6 oz. (10%), head 16.3 in. (25%).

He is very slightly shorter and heavier than Smiley was when he was four months old.

Smiley at four months:

Gallant at four months:

Yerba Maté, Part 2

A bit more than a month ago I wrote about drinking yerba maté.

I decided to buy some from Eco Teas.  That brand is a good product: unsmoked for a more pleasant and healthier taste, and well-processed to include very few branch bits.

Amazon seemed to have a good deal, but the Eco Teas website is even less expensive if you actually want five pounds (which I did not).

In any case, compared to quality tea it is very cheap!

I soon realized that I only like yerba maté if I treat it like black tea.  I use about a tablespoon per 40 ounce teapot (instead of a tablespoon per eight ounces).  I add milk.  I really like the result, but it is nothing like the traditional experience.

It also means I am only getting about 6 mg of caffeine per eight-ounce cup, according to my handy caffeine chart.  That is comparable to decaff tea or hot cocoa!
Herbal Tea: 0 mg
Decaffeinated Tea: 1-8 mg
Hot Cocoa: 8 mg
Decaffeinated Coffee: 4-10 mg
Milk Chocolate (4 oz.): 4-40 mg
Dark Chocolate (4 oz.): 20-140 mg
Soda: 22-55 mg
White or Green Tea: 30-60 mg
Yerba Maté: 30-40 mg
Oolong Tea: 50-100 mg
Black Tea: 80-140 mg
Energy Drinks: 75-160 mg
Instant Coffee: 90-200 mg
Espresso (4 oz.): 180-220 mg
Drip Coffee: 160-300 mg
NoDoz (2 pills): 200 mg

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Project Five or Bust

One of my LCC colleagues, Phil Moore had great news in February.  I'm finally getting around to blogging about it.

He organized a search named "Five or Bust" on a math forum to organize a "proof" by overpowering evidence for the conjecture that
k = 78557 is the smallest positive odd integer such that k + 2n is never a prime number for any positive integer n
Phil writes about his project's completion:
It is easy to show that 78557 + 2^n is never prime, being always divisible by 3, 5, 7, 13, 19, 37, or 73.

To show that 78557 is the smallest number with this property, we need to find for each odd k < 78557 some value of n which makes k + 2^n prime.

A collaborative search in 2001-2002 narrowed the search down to 8 values of k for which a prime or probable prime value was not known for the sequence k + 2^n. A probable prime is a number which passes a number of tests that all prime numbers will pass and most, but not all, composite numbers will fail. I started searching these 8 sequences in summer of 2007 and eliminated three of them by discovering three large probable primes. My largest discovery in June of 2008 at 358,640 digits was at that time the largest known probable prime.

In October of 2008, I organized the distributed search project "Five or Bust" to search the remaining 5 sequences. In November 2009, we found the fourth probable prime, narrowing the search to the single sequence 40291 + 2^n.

In early February, Engracio Esmenda of Chicago discovered that 40291 + 2^9092394 is a probable prime. This number contains 2,737,083 digits, and if written in 12-point font on a single line, would be over five-and-a-half miles long. We are pretty sure that we have found our prime, but we can't actually prove it. The probability that a random number of this size which has passed all of our probable prime tests is actually composite is about 1 chance in 10^1800. To prove it is actually prime would take about 4 trillion years on a typical computer of today, maybe only 300 billion years if the Generalized Riemann Hypothesis is ever proven.

Twenty of the values that have been discovered over the years of this search are probable primes as opposed to proven primes, so in order to make a mathematical theorem out of this, we are going to need some improvements in theory, technology, or both!

This project has been so much fun that I am a little sorry to see it end, but I am also relieved, as there was no reason to think that in the worst case, the search could easily have gone on for decades.
Congratulations, Phil and Engracio!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Smiley's Weapons

Even toddler Bibles have swords, bows, and arrows.  At the beginning of the summer Smiley began asking about these.

So my wife and I made him a pair of boffer swords.

He is still too young to learn the Four Rules of Boffer Sword Safety, which is okay.  He and his friends do not move fast enough or hit hard enough to be dangerous.  At this point the one rule "Swords hit legs" is sufficient.

He likes them.  They are a great way to be energetic outside.

I also retrieved from the garage my children's bow an one arrow.

Smiley was able to notch the arrow next to the bead attached to the string, but then lacked the coordination to shift how he held the bow or draw back the arrow. Perfect!

The bow and arrow are now back in the garage, having served their purpose for now.

Both types of weapons helped him continue to learn the difference between tools and toys.  In general, tools have more rules, have one way to properly use them, and are less indestructible.  Tools need more respect.

Unremembered Loss #25

Douglas Clarke, a cousin-in-law, publishes a monthly newsletter named Unremembered Loss about what he is learning as a writer.  He does not write much, but he writes worthwhile stuff well. 

Some issues are about technique.  For example, issue #24 was about writing a strong opening paragraph.  Other issues are about his personal growth either as a writer or as a father who tragically lost a teenage son.

Most issues are two pages.  Some months almost half of the newsletter's text is examples cited from his own novels and short stories, included to make his commentary clear.

The latest issue is #25, which discusses how he wrote this short story.  Its lessons directly apply to writing a short story about any life lesson.

If you like making up short stories, writing, or reading about someone's personal growth, consider subscribing.  Unfortunately, Douglas does not update his Unremembered Loss archive page well, so you do need to subscribe to reliably get new newsletters.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gallant at Three Months

In early August I wrote about how Gallant was doing at two months and how Smiley was doing as a big brother.  Now it is the end of September.  Gallant is mostly through his third month.  What has changed?

Smiley still enjoys being a big brother and helping entertain the baby.

Smiley likes reading together too.

Gallant smiles a lot. He has a great smile.

Gallant has gone from having just found his fist in early August to being able to usually grasp something with both hands to be able to suck on it.

His love for being upright grows unbounded. He likes taking steps

and standing on laps

Since early August has progressed from sitting propped

to being tucked into the exersaucer with many towels and a pillow

to standing unassisted in the exersaucer or in his jumper

Only a couple weeks ago did he begin to enjoy tummy time.

He is nearly teething. (Smiley was also nearly nicknamed "Drooly".)

He still will not suck on a pacifier.  He tries chewing on it, and it zips out of this mouth like a shot watermelon seed.

So, go visit our 2011 photos.  Yesterday I uploaded 110 new ones from August and September.  The photos in this blog post are merely a few, and not all of the best.

Oh... Gallant had two "firsts" today.  He rolled over from his tummy to his side (both sides).  And he sat happily in the ergo upright, facing in, legs spread.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Smiley's First Board Game

What published games do I play with Smiley?  (My wife and I are now enjoying Arkham Horror.)

The only board game Smiley understands is Uncle Wiggly.  The game is a less well known simpler version of Chutes and Ladders, with only one ladder and all of the chutes only going back three spaces.  It uses number cards instead of a spinner.

When he was two years old it was two games.  We used the board and rabbit-characters that moved on its path as one activity for telling stories.  We used the number cards as another number-identification activity.

Now when Smiley plays he usually has his rabbit ignore the counting cards while my rabbit protagonist my play by the rules.  His rabbit hops about as he wishes, taunting my rabbit whenever it encounters trouble and must move back three spaces.

Sometimes Smiley uses is the only rabbit, and asks me to help him use the cards.  

Smiley does not know the books the game is based on, but he likes the plot of a rabbit going for a walk on a path and meeting "good guys" and "bad guys".  I have placed a hold request at the local library for the Uncle Wiggly Storybook so soon we can meet these characters.

In any case, since Smiley is finally interested in playing a game by the published rules I have added Candyland and Chutes and Ladders to his Amazon Wishlist.  Unfortunately, neither my wife nor I saved our childhood copies of those games.  Our relatives can get them for Smiley for the December holidays.

New Socks

For the past year I have been wearing a new kind of sock.

Remember how I used to wear an "Acrylic Blend Cushion" sock of a brand first called Towncraft and then called Stafford?  J.C. Penny stopped carrying those.

But Costco makes a Kirkland "Outdoor Trail Sock" that also works as the only sock I ever need.  It is soft enough to make my feet happy but thin enough to even work with my dress shoes.

(They also last even longer than the 14 month life of the previous kind.)

Unfortunately, it is a seasonal item.  Just last week they arrived back at our Costco.  Get them while you can!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Arkham Horror: Lies, the King in Yellow, and Statistics

I tried the board game Arkham Horror in May and loved it.  I recently was given the game and the expansion The King in Yellow as birthday presents.

(That expansion sounded like the best to own if I only intend to own one.)

Tangent: The expansion includes three distinct parts.  Foremost are more cards to aid replay value.  Second is a new way to remove sealed gates or gain Doom Track time (special Mythos Cards about the evil theater production can be included in that deck, the more they are placed towards the top the more they add difficulty).  Third is a new set of dire consequences for the Terror Track increasing.  Currently I have only tried using the extra cards.  The game is hard enough without two more ways to increase difficulty.

The only fundamental strategy for the game is to notice that not all unstable locations have an equal probability of turning into a sinister gate to another world.  The team of players should prioritize protecting the high-probability locations by "sealing" them.  (This involves closing a gate while using knowledge gained from clues about the evil forces invading Arkham.)

A consequence is to also notice where clues appear.  When no player has the ability to seal a location, closing a gate may still be worthwhile in a location where many clues are likely to appear before another gate would open there.

So, how does including the cards from that expansion alter the strategy?

The short story is that the "big four" unstable locations are Independence Square, Unvisited Isle, The Witch House, and Woods.  These four locations represent 60% of all potential gate occurrences.

Furthermore, the Science Building, the Historical Society, and Hibb's Roadhouse and are (in that order) the most appropriate places to close but not seal a gate.  These locations often get new clues, but seldom get a new gate.

Here are the new statistics.


13 Occurrences (15%): Independence Square, Unvisited Isle, The Witch House, Woods
8 Occurrences (10%): Black Cave, Graveyard, The Unnameable
2 Occurrences (2%): Hibb's Roadhouse, Historical Society, Science Building, Silver Twilight Lodge


13 Occurrences (17%): Black Cave
12 Occurrences (15%): The Unnameable
11 Occurrences (14%): Science Building
8 Occurrences (10%): Historical Society, Woods
7 Occurrences (9%): Hibb's Roadhouse, Independence Square, Unvisited Isle
2 Occurrences (3%): Graveyard, Silver Twilight Lodge
1 Occurrences (1%): The Witch House

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Yerba Maté

Our hallway closet has a shelf with some teas my wife and I do not normally drink but we keep in case visitors want them.  This stash includes a bag of yerba maté that is several years old.

One evening last weekend my father wanted something with caffeine, but all our coffee is decaffeinated (since my wife is the coffee drinker and she is nursing little Gallant).

So my father and I tried the yerba maté.  It was good!  I was surprised that I liked it, remembering it from years ago as an acquired taste I lacked.

We get most of our teas from Stash Tea, which does carry some.  Amazon also has quite a few available with Amazon Prime free shipping.

Do any of you have a favorite source of yerba maté?  Are there big flavor differences between brands?

The Wellness Letter and Naturopathy

My family has read the Berkeley Wellness Letter for years.

Earlier this month I mentioned Bill, a friend and naturopathic physician.  The Wellness Letter has often provided us with topics of conversation.  That publication often recommends against treatments that research-based naturopathy would recommend.

As one example, the April 2011 issue recommended against any chiropractic neck manipulation, concluding with the sentence
Despite some claims, the "click" or popping sound that may occur during neck manipulation does not indicate that the procedure has corrected some problem.
Bill agrees with that statement, but realizes it misses the point.  The Wellness Letter is focusing on some high-publicity cases of chiropractors moving the neck too violently because they are focusing on making sounds happen.

Yes, some people have well-understood risk factors and should avoid chiropractic neck manipulation.  And any chiropractor emphasizing the sounds or judging success by the sounds is indeed behaving dangerously.  But properly performed chiropractic neck manipulation has insignificant risk for most people and when combined with deep tissue massage can aid neck mobility even if no sounds happen.

A second example is from the July 2011 issue.  A full-page article on the benefits of magnesium concludes with a recommendation to not take a magnesium supplement because these can cause diarrhea, or much less often nausea and cramps.

Bill agrees with that risk, but would again claim it misses the point.  The best studies he knows about recommend an average of between 200 and 400 milligrams of magnesium per day for optimal muscle health.  This is much more than most Americans get from food.  Once again there are some risk factors, but many if not most Americans could benefit with no ill effect from a magnesium supplement.

Naturopathy would often recommend trying a magnesium supplement--although not foolishly before a wedding or road trip!  The risk is a brief inconvenience: a day or two of diarrhea.  The potential benefit is a lifetime of better muscle health.

UPDATE: A concluding emphasis that since there are risk factors known for both chiropractic neck manipulation and taking a magnesium supplement it would always be wise to check with your doctor before agreeing to either treatment.