Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Elder Sign Pete

Wow.  My wife and I had time to play Arkham Horror again, only three nights after our previous game.

I randomly drew Ashcan Pete, who once again spent the game closing a gate with an Elder Sign and then dashing to the curiosity shop to repurchase that most valuable of items.

Tonight's game was most notable because the two investigators only owned one weapon the entire game!

I realized while looking at my blog for links to old Arkham Horror blog posts that I never mentioned the craft box I bought that happens to hold most of the Arkham Horror game pieces perfectly.


It is available here for more than I paid at a local craft store.  Amazon has something apparently equivalent and less expensive.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Take That, Yig!

Tonight my wife and I were both finally awake enough to play our favorite two-person game, Arkham Horror, after the boys went to bed.

The random Great Old One was Yig, who is a wimp.  But he arrives relatively quickly and during the adventure Jenny and Kate only found one Elder Sign: not enough to buy them sufficient time.  So Yig attacked the town before we could win by sealing six gates.  Then two women beat him up.

I had never played Kate before.  Her Will potential is so low I just ignored it and let every monster frighten her as combat begins.  Yet this keeps her Fight maximized--and she fights well with her super-science anti-monster apparatus.  She also started with the Gladius.  So all of her combats sounded like "Eeek!  Thwack!  Yay!".

Board Games at Barnes and Noble

Here is a fascinating interview about the history of Barnes and Noble selling board games.

(Hat tip: Story Games forum thread)

Hellebore Shopping 2012

Last April I mentioned the Northwest Garden Nursery, our local and world-famous hellebore breeders.

Today they sent out their annual e-mail announcing when their babies are for sale this year.  They only sell plants four days each year!

This year the days are February 18th, 19th, 25th, and 26th.  They are open from 11:00am to 4:00pm those days.

Maybe see you there!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gallant January Milestones

Recall that on New Year's Day Gallant sat himself up for the first (three) times.  During the first week of January he learned to pull himself to standing when holding onto his baby corral.  By the second week he could sit himself back down.

In the first half of January his "crawling" involved scooting himself forward while reaching with his arms but not moving his legs and sliding on the side of his head.  It looked really uncomfortable but he did not see to mind.  Here is a video.

During the third week he stopped that and did something else quite funny.  Apparently there is some kind of infant instinct when sitting up to look around.  So his newer floor movement would involve:
  • Sitting up, which prompted him to look around and see something he wants to touch
  • Reaching towards that thing as far as he could, which stretches him into a crawling position but he cannot get his legs to go
  • Sitting up again, but facing a different direction because he had extended himself to one side.
  • This prompted him to notice something else.  So he reached towards that, but could get to it, so he sat up again...
  • Now he was facing a third direction but could see the first thing he wanted.  He remembered he wanted it, and realized that somehow despite all this hard work he still is not over there!

Repeat until his frustration level increases to the point of fussing and needing help.

Early last week he learnd to "cruise" sideways along furniture.  Here is a video.

Last Thursday he finally learned to really crawl.  Here is a video

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


That math depart at LCC has a lot of "We are the 99%" signs on professor's doors.

I do understand why, but am tempted to post a slightly more accurate sign.  What percentile of American income earners am I, anyway?

(Tangentially, there are more important issues than percentile envy.  Here are two.  (1) What responsibilities do Americans acquire from being wealthier than most of the world?  Global wealth inequality is much more drastic and tragic that domestic.  (2) How can Americans reduce crony capitalism by promoting small government?  Wealth inequality matters much less when those very wealthy who can buy political influence have fewer opportunities to effect society because the government does not have its fingers everywhere.)

Economic mobility is hard to measure well.  Yet it is easy to measure sloppily, and even the sloppy measurements are revealing.

Age matters a whole lotThis chart has a blurb that sounds discouraging.  But let's do some math.  The Treasury Department report comparing earnings in 1996 to 2005 (pdf) whose data the above chart used also tells us that among the lowest fifth of U.S. earners, in ten years 58% moved upwards out of the lowest fifth of earners--and over half who moved up shot beyond the second quintile into the middle quintile or higher.  Similarly, among people in the second quintile nearly 50% moved up to the middle quintile or beyond in ten years.  (Tangentially, only 17% in this group moved down to the lowest quintile.)  Knowing that earners in the lowest quintile have a 42% chance of staying there after 10 years we can ask:  What is the chance that a person will stay in the lowest quintile for 30 years? (What is 42% of 42% of 42%?)  Only 7.2%.  That is astounding, considering that for most of history in most places nearly everyone in the lowest quintile stayed there all their lives.

(Of course, the answer is not really 7.2% for any individual.  People with a work ethic do better than average.  Those who less diligently pursue a career do worse than average.)

American mobility is slowly decreasing but is still remarkably high compared to most places and most of history.  Over forty working years most below-average earners advance their careers enough become above-average earners.  The average American household income in 2010 was $67,530.  How many places in the world offer a reasonable expectation to earn over $67,000 each year by the end of your career?

What factors besides age matter?

College matters, somewhat.  This chart mostly tells us two unsurprising things: families that stay in the top quintile normally send their kids to college, and having a college degree predicts very little about future income besides "not lowest quintile".

Parental income matters statistically, although not very much for the middle two quartiles of earners.  See the right side of this chart.

The broad and flat spread of American incomes also matters statistically (remember this chart).  Most other countries with more mobility have more income equality: where everyone is about the same a smaller change will cause a more dramatic shift up or down.

So, back to my question.  I expect my household percentile must be above 50%.  Age matters, and my wife and I are both almost forty.  College matters, and my wife has a doctorate and I have two master's degrees (and we are both employed in jobs that make use of those degrees).

(We're in the middle two quintiles, so parental income is not a significant factor.)

On the other hand, I work very part time and we live in a city with a comparatively low standard of living.  My wife could have a larger salary if we lived in a big city, but we prefer it here in Eugene.

It turns out my question is actually easy to answer.  I go to this website and type in my household's 2010 income.  The website's calculations then tell me that my household was about the 65th percentile.  Should I put a sign on my office bulletin board or door: I'm part of the 65%?

That might be our high point.  In 2011 our income was much smaller because my wife had three months of time off after Gallant was born and then went back to work part time.  She went back at half time and has been increasing her hours but is still not back to full time.  There is little incentive for her to work full time again when taxes are increasing and working means less time at home watching her little boys grow up.

Found My Hat

The photograph of myself that I use on my website and on discussion forums is a few years old.  Back then I was still wearing my favorite hat.  (Two years ago it finally got too stinky to wear.)

I have been wanting to replace the hat but could not find one like it.  I recently found that its manufacturer now has a website.  Here is the hat: a classic wax safari by The Australian Outback Collection.

With little kids a hat is much nicer than an umbrella.  At the end of a walk I can hold Smiley's hand while hauling his bicycle up our hill.  While in a parking lot I can hold his hand while also carrying a few bags of groceries with my other hand.

Luvable Friends

Now that Gallant is eating solid foods his poopy diapers are not as messy and potentially explosive.  We can safely dress him in shirt and pants without worrying about leaks out the back.  It is easier to check his diaper if we can peek down the back of his pants!

But it can be hard to find shirts for seven month old infants that are not "onesies" with extra fabric that snaps at the bottom.  Then my wife found on Amazon a three-pack of new long-sleeve infant shirts for $5.

This seemed too good to be true.  Other options were at least $5 for a single shirt.  (For example, this one, which we can also recommend.)

The inexpensive three-pack is made by Luvable Friends, and their shirts are great.  We bought a second three-pack after we were so happy with our first order.

Since the size is "six to twelve months" we need to roll up the sleeves a bit before putting one on Gallant, but that is to be expected.  Being slightly oversized now means they are long enough his tummy does not get cold when our house is slightly chilly.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA killed?

Instapundit has recently linked to two interesting articles about SOPA, the bill I mentioned a few days ago.  First, it is probably a dead bill (but a very similar bill named PIPA in the Senate is not, so keep writing to your Senators).  Second is an ironic account of how the movie industry historically fights the new technologies that eventually become its main sources of revenue.

Today is a day many websites protest these misguided bills.  The comic Questionable Content has the best effort I've seen so far, which explains in detail why SOPA is so misguided (it censors domain names but not IP addresses).

I am not worried about these bills passing.  But they are key demonstrations about how misguided and lobbyist-bought many politicians are by supporting these bills that will do nothing claimed is their intention while giving great power to media companies and money to lawyers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Remedial College Math Questioned

Here is an interesting study that questions whether remedial math classes at two-year colleges have any statistical help towards achieving a two-year degree.

The issue investigated is not really relevant to most of my students.  Those researches compared students who took remedial classes with students who went directly into "college algebra".  Most of my students are in the process of earning degrees or certificates that only require basic math (Math 20 and/or Math 25) and do not take algebra.

(I also question whether local employers would want a college to give a degree to a student able to do algebra but not work fluently with percents, proportions, and measurement unit conversion.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Plank Variations and Back Extensions

I am working on core muscle strength.  I wrote about why here.  What do I do?

Although sit-ups are the most classic abdominal exercise, they can hurt the back or neck.  Current trends recommend starting with the "Plank" exercises.

The basic plank looks like this: basically balancing on toes and elbows.  To be safe be sure to do four things.
  1. Do not lift the head up and look forward.  Position your neck flat, in line with your spine.
  2. Slightly tighten your glutes.  (Squeeze your tushy.)  You want your back flat, but the abdominal muscles alone are lousy at keeping your lower back flat and spine safe.  A happy and healthy lower back needs support the glutes in any strenuous position.  (Try noticing the difference tightening your glutes just when standing still and holding something heavy).
  3. Tighten your abdomen.  (Suck in your tummy.)  This also helps support your spine.  No need to do a complete stomach vacuum unless you like that.
  4. Tense your lower trapezius to lower your shoulder blades down from your shoulders towards your pelvis.  Imagine your scapulae are part of your abdominal core.

There is more to it once you get used to those fundamentals.  (If it is too difficult, try with your knees down.)

Once you can do the basic plank for a bit, try some variations.  This video shows a bunch.  I like the ones where I have motions to count: with the basic plank moving from elbows to hands and back down, and with the side plank moving hips as high as I can and then down.  I also do the ones with moving one knee forward at a time since that gives me something else to count.

I also do back extensions since these strengthen the paraspinal and intraspinal muscles more than plank variations.  The same four tips above keep this exercise safe with no tweaking of the neck or rounding of the back.

For the back extensions, since I do not own a fancy weight bench with ankle supports I keep a belt looped around the bench and hook my ankles under the belt.  Or I lay on an exercise ball and brace my feet under a chin-up bar placed in a doorway a few inches off the ground.

Some day I'll get bored of planks.  Here seven other abdominal exercises that look fun and emphasize the obliques.

A final warning: none of these exercises work as they should without the ability to activate your lower trapezius muscles.  This comes through stretching.  I'll write about my new stretching routine in a later blog post.

Stretching Advice

Remember how so much of what I learned as a child about dinosaurs is wrong?  Now for something completely different (but along that same theme)...

People my age have mostly learned erroneous information about stretching.

Static stretching is important.  It has important uses.  But is easy to do badly.  For example, the traditional two-arm door frame stretch of the pectoralis major muscle can harm the shoulder capsule.  Better to stretch one arm at a time with the shoulder as close to the door frame as possible to minimize backwards torque on the arm.

The Stark Reality of Stretching was a landmark book about how muscle tissue functions and what this implies about stretching.  That book is certainly worth checking out from the library, or owning if you do daily stretching.  (A few of my friends also swear by Pain Free.)  But be aware that the book has three big flaws.

First, it only discusses a few lower body muscles.  The book does not even try to be a complete guide to daily stretching.

Second, it ignores that the amount of muscle tension helpful when stretching varies from person to person.  Stark recommends holding an appropriate static stretch with minimal perceived tension until the muscle relaxes: if you want, repeat it with more stretch rather than start with greater tension.  That is safe advice for someone in therapy and the best way to stretch for many folks.  But lots of people can stretch well with more-than-minimal tension.

Third, it ignores dynamic stretching.  For non-athletes this is a minor issue.  Dynamic stretching surely has its place as warm-ups for athletic activity, but I have not read anything suggesting it helps with "normal life" posture and flexibility as much as (let alone any more than) static stretching.

Feathers to Stay on Top?

A couple months ago I lamented that so much of what I learned as a child about dinosaurs was incorrect.

A new theory suggests that smaller, feathered dinosaurs developed wings to help them stay on top of prey about their size when grabbing it with raptor-like claws.  Much safer grappling from on top where your prey's teeth and claws cannot reach!

The theory itself is too new to deserve much comment, but the article is a great example of how dinosaur knowledge has changed since my childhood, when the Archaeopteryx was the only feathered dinosaur talked about.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Back Pain and Spoon Theory

Christine Miserandino's essay The Spoon Theory is one of the great essays of the English language.  It is a must read, especially if you teach English or do counseling!

Now I can truly empathize with rationing of daily health.  Here is the story...

I've been dealing with severe back pain for almost two months.  I had one vertebra badly out of alignment, another less so, numerous vertebrae with limited or no flexibility, misaligned hips, and so much fascia solidification and poor posture muscle habits that I was unconsciously twisting my torso to the right when standing still.  (When I bent down to touch my toes you could see my hips swivel and return to proper alignment.)

How did this happen?  I am left handed, caring for an infant, and had terrible posture.  To keep my left hand available I was spending hours each day holding Gallant to my right.

When sitting, I would hold him with my right arm as I sat with him to play with him, feed him bottles, or soothe him.

When feeding him in his high chair I had been positioning my chair so I would be turning to the right to go from the bowl of food to him.

When standing, I carried him on my right shoulder.  Look how bent my normal holding him position was by the end of November!  (When we took this picture I thought I was standing properly.)

My back health is much better now.  I'll write later about the lessons I've learned about posture and core muscle use.  But first I should share what it was like to need to ration my daily back use.

(Regular readers of this blog know about the health issues I normally deal with: allergies, lax ligaments, poor posture, a six-month sinus infection, minor skin problems.  Some of these keep me from functioning at 100% energy and focus.  The sinus infection was truly dreadful: much worse in pain and limitations than my back problems.  But none of those required me to ration my efforts throughout the day.  This was a new phenomenon.)

At its worst, a month after the sharp pains began, I could not even lift a step stool or a gallon of milk without suffering an intense, stabbing pain that prohibited continued lifting.  A visit to a physical therapist and another to Bill helped enormously but temporarily.  When I left Bill's office most of my vertebrae were adjusted to be as they should be and my fascia problems were mostly cured.

But I soon regressed.  The problem was how my lax ligaments and very weak lower trapezius muscles (from years of bad posture) meant that my spine was now held together by almost nothing.  I was no longer trying to hold up my back with the wrong muscles and inappropriate fascia stiffening.  But as yet nothing was there to replace them.

Bending forward would slowly cause problems.  Smiley likes when I play with his toys on the floor with him.  Should I do this?  I could, but after half an hour or so I could feel that I had done something unpleasant to a vertebra or two.

Holding any weight while twisting my torso at all might immediately cause problems.  I had to learn to be very careful with how I sat down while holding Gallant.  Smiley likes to be in Gallant's baby corral to play with his baby brother.  When Smiley asks, should I lift him over?  I could, but only a limited number of times before my vertebrae went funkier.

I could carry Gallant's 16 pounds without problem, but holding Smiley's 32 pounds caused problems.  Smiley likes to be held, especially if he is sad, scared, or got a bump.  Should I pick him up?  I could, but my back would pay a price.

At first I needed to return to the physical therapist or Bill to "reset" the harm I did to my back by being with my boys.  So I needed to ration my back use efforts in three to five day spans.

After a few weeks of certain stretches and exercises my back muscles were strong enough and posture improved enough that less harm happened.  I still got very sore, but it was more of a surface level issue, and at home my wife could gently crack my back to "reset" it--but Bill recommended we only do that once each day (before bed to help me sleep).  I still had to ration my back use, except daily.

Today was the first day that I did not feel like needing to be "reset" at the end of the day.  My back muscles and posture are protecting me from nearly all back use harm.  Hooray!

But I'll surely remember two months of tough parenting decisions.  After a morning when Gallant has been especially demanding, so that Smiley really wants me to play with him, do I disappoint him and refuse to play with toys on the floor in case I need to carry him for more than a few minutes during the days until the next doctor appointment?  The boys really enjoy playing together, and I can relax a bit when they do play together, but can I risk lifting Smiley into the baby corral when it might hurt my back so I do not sleep as well that night?  Smiley bumps himself while playing: do I not pick him up to comfort him the way he most wants so that later in the day I will still have the back use to play on the floor with him?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Tropical Miso?

Today I invented a fun soup.  I was in the mood for something like my five minute miso soup, but also had half a can of coconut milk to use up.

This worked surprisingly well:
  • half a can of coconut milk
  • about the same amount of water
  • miso
  • frozen peas
  • frozen green beans
  • dried fueru wakame
  • a tiny bit of dehydrated mashed potato
The coconut and miso flavors went well together.  The mashed potato very slightly thickened the broth and its included butter helped enliven the seaweed flavor.

Monday, January 02, 2012


You have heard about H.R.3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, right?

Two senators that represent me in Oregon.  Senator Wyden opposes SOPA and has proposed a better alternative.  I cannot find any information about how Senator Merkley plans to vote: even his Twitter feed neglects the issue.

You can write to your senators here.  I wrote:
Thank you, Senator Wyden, for opposing SOPA and suggesting a more safe and sane alternative.

May Senator Merkley also oppose SOPA!

 another Oregon household
If you share my senators, you can also contact them using their web pages (Wyden and Merkley) or Facebook (Wyden and Merkley).

Postal History

My great-grandfather was a postman.  Back then, in his town, people would leave an annual "tip" of a few cents in the mailbox during December.  With that extra money he was able to buy his wife and each child their own holiday gift (gasp!) and have an entire turkey (gasp!) for the holiday dinner and leftovers.
(I think these were Christmas gifts and dinner, because even though they were Jewish back then Chanukah was a minor event talked about at synagogue without home participation, similar to Tish B'Av today.)

Today the big facts about the Federal postal service are that it needs drastic revamping, is not broke until 2013, and its praiseworthy role of inexpensively delivering rural mail is funded not by taxes but by flooding everyone with junk mail.

Oregon is about to close 21 post offices (or is it 41?) and every processing center except the big one in Portland.  I feel for those postal workers whose jobs are in jeopardy.  But I do not expect this will be a huge tragedy.  Surely private companies will appear to fill the needs of rural towns: alternate local delivery options (here in Eugene we even have a pedal-powered delivery company to help businesses with same-day local deliveries) and new services for speedily delivering mail addressed to Portland post office boxes.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Gallant's New Years Day

Today Gallant sat himself up for the first time.  First three times, actually.  That is great: he often wants to be sitting (instead of on his belly) so he can manipulate a toy with both hands.  I place him sitting many times each day, and soon I won't need to.

Yesterday he did his first real crawling motion, instead of pushing with his legs while the side of his face is on the floor.  He did it again today.  Both instances were brief and when in pursuit of a toy: reaching for an object prompted his arms to move appropriately for crawling.  I'm in no rush to have a crawling infant, although our baby corrals are cleaned and set up so the house is ready.

Spiritual Disciplines

During 2011 I finally read the classic book Celebration of Discipline.  It is a delightfully practical discussion of how to adopt Yeshua's habits and the ways doing so changes us.

(For part of the year a chapter of this book would be the initial topic of discussion when I met each week with a prayer-and-accountability friend.  Maybe this year I'll blog a bit about my reaction to each chapter and how its discipline is part of my life.)

I also read the far more dry and academic The Spirit of the Disciplines.  That book made a few good points but was mostly too abstract to really interest me.

Spiritual disciplines are simply those aspects of being Yeshua's disciple that require some intentionality.  They are "disciplines" because they require self-discipline to do regularly and well.

Disciples study their master's lifestyle, worldview, use of scripture, and methods of worshipping.  This is a broad and big task!  So there will never be a complete list of spiritual disciplines.

Celebration of Discipline discusses meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

The Spirit of the Disciplines discusses solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice, study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission.

Notice how making such a list depends upon how you define the terms.  Is there a difference between solitude and secrecy?  Is meditation a subset of prayer and study?

There are plenty of disciplines not discussed in those two books.

As Yeshua's disciples we should think twice before departing from his lifestyle.  We should memorize verses of scripture (and Yeshua's own parables and sayings).  We should spend time with the needy.  We should help God distribute the good things of his Kingdom.  We should pray about what to do with our free time.  We should enjoy the Biblical holy days and Shabbat (I do respect that people can acknowledge and learn from these without actually celebrating them).

Some people also include helpful habits such as journaling and composing worshipful songs among the disciplines even though Yeshua did not do them.

Disciple versus Believer

In 1980 Dallas Willard wrote for Christianity Today:
The word "disciple" occurs 269 times in the New Testament.  "Christian" is found only three times and was first introduced to refer precisely to the disciples...The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples and for disciples of Jesus Christ.

But the point is not merely verbal.  What is more important is that...the assurances and benefits offered to humankind in the gospel evidently presuppose such a life and do not make realistic sense apart from it...

Dare I tell people as believers without discipleship that they are at peace with God?  Where can I find authority for such a message?
We need Yeshua's yoke.

UPDATE: Heh.  The google ngram for the words disciple and discipline shows how in about 1925 the word discipline became increasingly used for a meaning apart from being a disciple.  The word discipline has always appeared in more books, but before that time the two words appeared in rough proportionality

Sin is a Worship Disorder?

I have recently started read (with a group of friends) the book Redemption, about the lessons learned about pastoral counseling from the Mars Hill church.

So far this passage has stood out the most:
[S]in corrupts worship.  The result?  Not a ceasing of worship but a distortion of it.  We never stop worshipping.  Rather, in sin, we worship anything and everything other than God.  We tend to exalt a substance, an experience, a person, or a dream to the level of a god.  We define life by its attainment, and we feel like dying when it eludes us.  It becomes bigger in our eyes than God himself and takes his place in our lives.  The Bible calls this "idolatry".  So addictions, for example, aren't just drug, alcohol, food, or pornography problems.  They are worship disorders.
Sin as a worship disorder makes a lot of sense to me.

But I should add that only worshipping God does not mean only wanting God.  I tried that and it does not work.  Once, years ago, I prayed that God would help me to only want him.  He answered my prayer and it started driving my wife crazy.  "What do you want for dinner?"  "Doesn't matter."  "What do you want to do this weekend?"  "Doesn't matter".  After a few days I humbly confessed how my effort was misguided and prayed to want God most instead of only.

That passage also caused me to remember an experience from 2006 when praying together and for each other was what a bunch of children most wanted to do.  Since that day I've seen adults with that attitude, but not again with children (probably mostly because the children were so young at P'nei Adoani and are so young at The River).  For example, Smiley often asks to pray but I have never heard him pray by himself--he still treats prayer as something to do to spend time with his dad, instead of as a recreational activity for all occasions.

Singing About God and Satan

One of Smiley's favorite books (and mine too) is A Child's Book of Prayers, from which he has learned to sing the Johnny Appleseed prayer.

(We have not yet taught Smiley who Johnny Appleseed was.)

In November, prompted by Thanksgiving's timely topic of being thankful, Smiley and I began adapting that song as something to do in the car.  We start by one of us brainstorming four things for which we are thankful, then sing substituting those items into the song.  (Yes, the original has three.  It's sillier to make sure the new version scans poorly.)

As one example:
The Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
   mushrooms and garlic,
   and mints and those chocolates with nuts inside

The Lord is good to me.
Garlic is mentioned often.  Prior, I had no idea that Smiley was so mindful of it.

Meanwhile, Gallant at six months is still young enough that he finds hooting vowel noises to be vastly amusing.  I know this because I sometimes use this trick to calm him on the changing table.

One evening in December we went to a party at a restaurant that was a bit noisy in the main room but which had restrooms in which the piped music was easy to hear clearly.  While changing Gallant there, the song happened to be Sympathy for the Devil, with its clear "whoo whoo" repeated in the background.  Gallant thought this was the funniest diaper change ever.  This place had built-in funny vowel noises!