Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year 2014

Happy New Year!

From me and Batman.


Not that I would tell you if I actually did know Batman.  Well enough to know he surely is not spending New Years Eve drinking coffee with an old man.

UPDATE: Google Analytics tells me that my website had  534 people that visited for 10 minutes or more, and this blog had 226.  A toast to you as the year ends!  May you have gained something worth taking into the new year.

First Time to Legoland

Smiley and I visited Legoland in Carlsburg for the first time, on Saturday.  My father and stepmother treated us to the theme park visit.

It was remarkable how Legoland "grew on" Smiley throughout the day.

Initially he just wanted to wander aimlessly to look at the many Lego creations and explore the active play places: the climbing area, and the water cannon areas.

Then he wanted to drive the little cars.  That was his first time driving a motorized vehicle all by himself.

During the afternoon he grew brave enough to try some rides, and by the time the park closed he had tried the two biggest roller coasters.

That is quite different from how I was at five.  My father retold the stories of my first visits to Disneyland.
Growing up in Southern California, I went to Disneyland fairly often with friends or on dates.  By the time I married, I had amassed quite a collection of A Tickets I had no plans on ever using.

Your mother, having grown up in New Jersey, had dreamed of Disneyland but never been there.  We went on our honeymoon.  We tried visiting again when you were an infant, but the people dressed in costumes terrified you.

 We had to leave the park.  You poor mother knew it might be years before she could visit Disneyland again.

You did like Disneyland as a toddler and kindergartener, but only wanted to ride the horse drawn trolleys and carriages.

I finally got to use that pile of A Tickets!
I am glad Smiley has more of a sense of adventure than I did at his age.

(I have not had a chance to go through our photographs of the visit.  Check our family 2013 Picasa Album soon.)

Magnetic Poetry in a Restaurant

Yesterday my family enjoyed brunch in a restaurant in Thousand Oaks named Gluten Free Yourself.

They had magnetic poetry above some of their tables, using magnetic paint on the walls.

You can read the poems my family composed.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

I do not think I have ever done a Merry Christmas blog post before.  But this vacation I am squeezing in more blogging time while visiting family.

Merry Christmas!

May we not be confused about the many things God wants to bless us with or give us!

Smiley Plays Role-Playing Games

Smiley invented a game named Mystery Land.  I mentioned it briefly when writing about our week with Louie.  Here is the longer story.

On June 15th, Smiley visited FunAgain Games for Free RPG Day.  He decided to play the Pathfinder for the first time.  Paizo published a beginner's scenario  We Be Goblins Too! for that day.

He enjoyed playing Mogmurch the alchemist by doing what the others at the table advised him to do.  (He also won the raffle's nicest prize, the book Ultimate Equipment.)

Since he seemed ready for role-playing games, I started to play my RPG with him.  I never took a photo during the Summer, but this recent photo provides a summary of our setup.

Since he does not read much, instead of a character sheet he uses Paizo's item cards with a folder of pockets we long ago received from a Circa promotional.  I set aside lots more items for him to find during the adventure.

He has a miniature on a Flip-Mat.  A couple more miniatures are on the map, and a few others are off to the side.

He likes using dice.  So we have some.

On my side of the map is a salmon paper with my rules summary, another letter size paper with my notes about the adventure, and a 3x5 card with his character sheet.

In early December he created a version for his own game.

His game looks similar but has a very different flow.  Most of the time he talks, telling the story and moving the miniatures around the map.

Since we do not own more pages of plastic pockets, my character's items are off to the side.  He places item cards on the map to show where I can pick things up, and crowds the map with nearly every plastic miniature we own.  (In the photograph below we have been playing for a while, so portions of the map are emptier.)

Notice the left-most card of my inventory shows a tablet with writing.  This is my most important piece of equipment.  A lot of actual RPG discussion involves using the type of actions my generation learned from playing games like Zork.  Players manage their characters by saying things such as "I search the desk",  "I peek around the corner", or "I listen at the door".

But Smiley knows none of those ritual phrases, so he invented the Tablet of Player Instructions.  Every now and then he announces, "The writing changes."  Then I am supposed to say, "I read it."  He then tells me what to do next: what to look at more carefully, where to go next, how to notice a monster's weakness.  Then I have my character do what the tablet directs, and the story continues.

There are also wooden letters.  These are Pokémon, either my allies (notice I have a few in my inventory) or part of the bad guy team.  Smiley adores Pokémon, so they are always part of his stories.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Dividend Investing

Today I made time to finish one of my back-burner projects.

All I know about wisely investing in times of economic uncertainty and expected inflation is now together in an essay about dividend investing.

Maybe before New Year's I will get to reformat as another web page the portion of Activity 11 of my Math 25 Packet about timing when to buy or sell a stock.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Snowman Bending Backwards

When it snowed eight inches on December 6th I was not expecting such a long cold spell afterwards.

I expected the snowman I built for the boys to melt the next day.  I did not make it top quality.  The head was snow packed in a bucket.  The two body pieces were merely piles of snow I loosely dumped and packed with my hands.

The unexpected result was a heavy-headed snowman that did a slow-motion limbo dance.

Day One

Day Three

Day Four

Day Five

Day Six

On the afternoon of the sixth day I let Gallant whack its head off with a walking stick.

Abe versus Twitter

Yesterday and today I cleared out my inbox and got caught up with our Picasa photos.  I had decided to start the new Gregorian year caught up in that way.

Part of that clean-up was finishing yesterday's post about Louie's week-long visit.  My inbox had a few messages from old friends asking "How is life?" for which I had been procrastinating a reply.  Finishing turning Smiley's kindergarten assignment into a photo-filled humorous view of our week finally gave me an appropriate reply to those e-mails.

That post was worth mentioning on Twitter and Facebook for friends to see.  Back in 2009 I wrote about using social media without ever seeing those websites.  Hooray for HootBar.

I also do not like having my browsing tracked, just on principle.  So I use the Google advertising cookie opt-out plugin and NoScript.

Yesterday I wanted to put my most recent tweet back on my links page, to remind me to do more announcements of blog posts with HootBar.  But I did not want to tell NoScript to allow Twitter, since that allows Twitter to track my browsing on any website with a Twitter button.  (Facebook is similarly nosy.)

The solution was a NoScript setting called ABE.

Here is the ABE code that sems to work.
# Allow Twitter widget on my website (links page) but not Twitter tracking
Site .twitter.com .twimg.com
Accept INCLUSION POST from .davidvs.net
Ta da!  Now I can put the desired Twitter widget on my links page, but not allow Twitter to otherwise see me.

UPDATE: HootBar seems to have problems with tweets that include quotation marks.  For those I must disable ABE to allow myself to log in to Twitter and use the website to post the new tweet.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When Louie Visited for a Week

I have not described our day-today life lately.  I realized I should remedy that by sharing the journaling Smiley did when his kindergarten class's stuffed animal was with us for a week.

Enjoy a week of real and pretend adventures!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Capital Loss Harvesting

Back in February I mentioned that my family's investments had become more liquid because our prior investment style of "buy wisely and hold" was upset by politics.

As a result, this year we get to try out capital loss harvesting.

We could sell appreciated investments to "balance out" our investment that depreciated.  That was our routine before 2013, to get what liquidity we could tax-free.  But this year it makes more sense to lower our income taxes.

Each tax year, capital loss up to a certain amount ($3,000 this year) can be used to negate ordinary income.  Any extra capital loss can be carried forward indefinitely to use in future years, either to "balance out" capital gains or to offset a portion of ordinary income.

(There are some tricky details.  Capital gain and loss has short-term and long-term flavors with slightly different rules.  My summary is only an overview.)

Hooray for a bigger tax refund in April.

Tangentially, that liquidity blog post also mentioned how we give interest-free loans to friends running local small businesses.  That is type of benevolence mentioned often in scripture, but unlike tithing a numerical amount is never suggested or required.  We currently have about 3% of our savings out in these interest-free loans.  I am still praying for more guidance.

The Cost of Child Care

How much does infant care cost in Eugene?

For the "big three" centers, the average price for infant day care is roughly $12,900 per year.

Oregon is the third most expensive state for infant care.

So much for the price.  What is the financial cost?

Let's consider two families.  Both pay for two years of infant care.  They could be doing something else with that money.  Let's measuring the "opportunity cost" in dollars.

If they saved their monthly payments those would earn interest.  So we should use the Sum of Annuity Due formula from Activity 11 of my Math 25 Workbook.
Total = [Principal × (1 + rate)(payments + 1) − Principal × (1 + rate)] ÷ rate
They have 24 payments (2 years is 24 months).  The first family instead does something with their money worth 5% annual interest.  The second family is better at investing and uses 11% annual interest.

(Note: 5% and 11% are reasonable lower and upper bounds for traditional investment portfolios.  In fact, 11% is my family's five-year average rate of return.  That is much less than the overall stock market, at 17.6%, but of course not all of our money is at risk in stocks!)

The two-year costs for each family are:
At 5% annual interest:  [ $1,075 × (1 + 0.05/12)25 − $1,075 × (1 + 0.05/12) ] ÷ (0.05/12) ≈ $27,188

At 11% annual interest:  [ $1,075 × (1 + 0.11/12)25 − $1,075 × (1 + 0.11/12) ] ÷ (0.11/12) ≈ $28,975

But the opportunity cost does not end when their children enter preschool.  The families are no longer making a choice spending money on infant care instead of saving it (or spending it on other things).  But their expense does grow through the lost interest it could have been earning them.

We use compound interest formula.
Total = Principal × (1 + rate)payments
Let us think about college.  These children will be college-aged in 16 more years.
At 5% annual interest:  $27,188 × 1.0516$59,000

At 11% annual interest:  $28,975 × 1.1116 $154,000

So the money they spent on infant care could cover the expense of private college, depending upon how wisely it was saved and invested.

I wonder how many families paying for infant care in Eugene realize that the expense is equivalent to paying for college for their kid?  Or doing that much other stuff with the money?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

A fascinating comment to my blog post about the importance of premarital celibacy deserves its own entire blog post in reply.

I'll put two words in bold, to discuss below.
i was actually enjoying this series of posts until i got to this reason, yet again everything is the fault of a woman and women ALONE OF COURSE need to keep their bodies as temples to the Lord and their husbands.its reasons like these that started the absurd rage of the feminist of this age. men should take total responsibility for their cockups and stop passing blame. we women want to know that our husbands think their bodies are Holy temples for us as well.
The word alone.

I did write "I cannot find any data about husband abstinence.  Are we unimportant?"  The commenter not only ignored that, but went to capitalization in her own assumption that only women's premarital abstinence affected divorce rates.

I also concluded with "My wife and I are overly fond of each other because our brains have been rewired by our body chemistries--what a great deal!  And we have no other competing pair-bonds to distract us from being fond (and staying fond) of each other."  Lacking any statistical data about husband abstinence, I did word my essay to emphasize that in the specific case of my own marriage it seems the same dynamic affects both husband and wife.

I never encouraged a different standard for men and women.  I merely described statistical results of people's choices.  That leads to...

The word fault.

For the sake of discussion, let's assume the commenter's uninformed guess is correct and a man's premarital history is statistically insignificant.  Allow me to paraphrase what that assumption actually implies:

If a woman wants to some day marry, and have a lasting marriage, the most statistically significant factor by far is her premarital celibacy.  She (not her husband) can make the choices that, in general, have the most impact on creating a lasting and presumably happier marriage.

That is power!  She has the ability to make something happen!  (As much as it can be predetermined.)

It is not fault or blame.

I think most men would be thrilled to find any way that their choices before marriage could cause a 35% to 60% decreased risk of divorce.

As I grew up I did make many choices to help my future marriage.  As just one example, I purposefully chose a career (teaching) that would allow me to work anywhere, so my spouse's career could determine where we lived.  This one choice turned out to be crucial--my wife knew her future graduate work and employment would ask her to move to certain cities, and she would not have dated me if my future plans threatened to compete with hers.

The commenter is quite mixed-up about responsibility if she confuses power and blame.  Planning ahead is part of living wisely.

Changes to NAME Monsters and Races

I few months ago I had my first real exposure to Doctor Who.  That prompted one blog post.

I noticed something Steven Moffat did well: opposing each of his various monsters required a different set of techniques.

I had recently played a bunch of Pathfinder, in which too many monsters are little more than differently decorated piles of hit points. These foes may have one or two special abilities that help them attack. But those abilities very seldom change the strategies and tactics clever heroes would use to oppose or fight them.

So I improved my diceless, two-person RPG, Narrative Adventures Made Easy.  I revised the NAME monsters.  They now are more distinct about how to best oppose them.  They also each have their own type of flavorful treasure.

If you have time, I would love to hear constructive criticism at this forum discussion.  Do the monsters seem like interesting creatures?  Would role-playing the hero or heroine opposing them be interesting and fun?

That monster revision also led to a much smaller editing of the intelligent races.

This time the motivation was to make NAME as kid-friendly as possible. In my experience, lthough kids enjoy being creative they also enjoy becoming "experts" at learning a certain level of rules detail. I tried to reserve fun creativity for people playing the game, while providing fun expertise in rules clarity to minimize PC/GM arguments and help the PC make successful plans.

I made a lot of descriptive "flavor text" blend with what I named traits: carefully worded examples of dozens of exceptions to the game mechanics.
As one example, instead of merely saying that sunlight turns Barrowers to stone, there is now a trait named Defeated by Sunlight that specifies this takes only one turn, requires direct sunlight, and counts as what the game mechanics call "defeating" a creature.

But I say nothing about purely narrative issues. What noise do Barrowers make as they turn to stone? Do they thrash about, or freeze in place? When do they drop the stuff they hold, and when does the hero lose the chance to loot the creature of its weapon as that becomes part of a stone statue?
As before, constructive criticism is appreciated at this other forum discussion.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pirate Versus Ninja - Santa Edition

I saw this fun thing today.

I suppose Santa has the belt and boots already.

I could not find anything so dramatic about Ninja Santa.  Most of the images are simply Santa holding swords.

This was the best I could do.

A cute embroidery pattern, with a gingerbread man throwing star.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sea is for Cookie


Putting Children's Song Lyrics to Swing Dance Tunes

Did you ever try making kids' songs less boring by putting the lyrics to swing dance melodies?

Here are four I use on car rides.

Old McDonald works well to Sweet Georgia Brown.

Old McDonald had a farm.  E-i-e-i-o.
And on that farm he had a (animal).  E-i-e-i-o.
With a (noise) (noise).  [Softly, with jazz hands: Here and there!]
And a (noise) (noise).  [Softly, with jazz hands: Everywhere!]
Old McDonald had a farm.  E-i-e-i-o. [bum bum bum]

The Alphabet Song works well to Stray Cat Strut almost without change.

The Wheels on the Bus fits It's Only a Paper Moon so well I need not comment.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly fits It Had to be You.  Just add some "da da ta da da" after the first two lines.

What others can you think of?

More Adventures in Narnia

Smiley loves The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

It was the first "big" chapter book we read to him, a long time ago.

(We tried reading other Narnia books, but none of those interested him.)

We owned the Narnia audio books, and after reading him The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe put that on his ipod shuffle (second generation).

That has been his audio book choice ever since.  Until he started kindergarten and stopped napping, he listened to it whenever he had trouble falling asleep at nap time.  He still listens to the story a few times a month, after school when he is tired but does not want to nap.

Last December he got to see the Adventures in Narnia ballet performance.  It was wonderful.  He still talks about it.

Parts of the performance were scary, but he was brave and kept watching.

This weekend he gets to see it again.  Exciting!

I wonder how the story changes for him as a five-year-old, compared to last year when he had less practice with courage, less understanding of temptation, and less experience with living in a snow-covered place.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Weather Forecasts

Tonight is supposed to be a record cold for Eugene, at least for as long as my family has lived here.  One degree Fahrenheit!

Back in March I had saved a screen shot of other dreadful weather: a week of freezing fog.

In August we had a week that seemed to be apocalypse weather.

That reminded me of the humorous Alderaan weather forecast.

Tonight could be worse...

UPDATE: From this morning's local newspaper articles:
Saturday brought the relative quiet after the storm as Eugene-Springfield residents began digging out from the heaviest snowfall in almost two years and also began preparing for the first subzero temperatures expected to hit the area in four decades...

What does it take to set an all-time record for low temperatures around here, anyway?The official low recorded at the Eugene Airport, at around 7 a.m. today, was 10 degrees below zero.

But, as it turns out, that’s not even a record for the day. That’s because the area’s alltime record low, 12 degrees below zero, occurred on this very date — Dec. 8 — back in 1972.

And today was our probable last chance to set an all-time record low. The forecasted low for tonight is a relatively balmy 7 degrees above zero, said Matthew Cullen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland.

If it’s any consolation, we did set a record low for Saturday, when the temperature dipped to 7 degrees below zero at 11:07 p.m. The previous record low for Dec. 7 was 6 degrees below zero — set during that cold snap in 1972.

Also, today’s temperature was the second coldest ever recorded, at least since the weather service started keeping track way back in 1890.

Saturday’s low of 7 degrees below zero tied for the third lowest temperature, with Dec. 10, 1972.

After tonight, the overnight low temperatures are expected to reach into the 20s on Monday and Tuesday, and into the 30s by Wednesday night, according to the weather service.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Biscotti Day

Today it snowed like crazy.

The boys and I made a double batch of our Double Chocolate Brownie Biscotti.

Two-thirds will become holiday presents.  The rest is for us to eat.

Step in Time!

This evening at bedtime we noticed the chimney sweep in one illustration of the original Curious George book.

So the boys got to watch Chim Chim Cheree and Step In Time before brushing their teeth.

Map Like the OSR Crowd

Dyson Logos is famous within the OSR RPG crowd for his blog and distinctive style of adventure maps.

Today I saw he has composed a three-part tutorial for how to copy his style.

Michael Wenman, an OSR mapper of whom I have not previously heard, decided to do the same thing.


You can even currently download Swords and Wizardry Complete for free.

UPDATE: I found a (probably illegal) web-page copy of Matthew  J. Finch's free PDF  A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, which provides a much better introduction to OSR RPGs than any Wikipedia article!  Now no account registration needed to read the essay.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Online Sermons

What do I look forward to doing when I get more free time?

One thing is reading some of the famous sermons I have never read.

Here are some resources I have found.  Do you know of others?

Played Thief 2

Yesterday's post about the Thief games prompted me to wonder how easy it would be to run Thief 2 on my Ubuntu laptop (a Gazelle by System76).


I saw that installation from the CD should work with wine.  But my laptop was having trouble with my old CD.

The $10 download available at Good Old Games worked great with PlayOnLinux.

I did not apply the version 1.19 patch named NewDark.  I still do not have time to play the game.  In fact, it is not a priority for when I do get more free time.  But it is nice to know I could, and that thanks to Good Old Games the game will not go obsolete for a very long time.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Charities for Veterans

On Veterans' Day, Fidelity published a very nice article about how to wisely contribute charitably to help veterans.

How to Act Like The Doctor

I decided to dress up as The Doctor for Halloween.  I have watched very little Doctor Who.  But now I had an excuse to study what made his character so likeable and memorable.  What did I learn?

How to Act Like Doctor Who

Be active.  Dive into the unknown.  Keep fit and healthy.  Run a lot.

Never give up.  Act!  Trust improvisation.  Be persistent.  Overcome you fears.  Enforce your personal boundaries.  Be positive.

Admire yourself through your dress and speech.  Stand tall and take big strides.  Let your confidence and vanity fill you with child-like play and enthusiasm.  Smile too much.  Enjoy musical instruments, toys, and childhood games.  But be serious when seriousness is needed.

Travel to meet people, not see places.  Be aware of everyone around you.  Compliment people.  Enjoy solving problems and helping people.  Forgive people who need forgiveness.  Show tough love to people who need tough love.  Stand up for people who needing protecting.

Excel at active listening.  Sometimes interject random and witty remarks.  Avoid revealing your own personal information.

Ignore rules that make no sense.  Wear whatever you want.  Respect rules that help people or make society function smoothly.

Be curious.  Observe and connect the dots.  Ask questions and find out what motivates people and organizations.  Appreciate being taught or corrected.

Read about science and history.  Talk quicky about technology.  Insert yourself in history.  Invent geography.  Interject quirky yet well-informed remarks into conversations.

Find a companion you can trust.  Defend your close friends.  But do not be afraid to travel by yourself.

Use a trademark phrase with eloquent variety.  (Past doctors used "Brilliant!", "Fantastic!", "Geronimo!", and "Allons-y!".)  When something does not work, say, "Well..."

Wear a vest.  Button it randomly.

Offer people candy, even if they are your enemies.

Enjoy bananas.  Avoid pears.

Carry a sonic screwdriver.

(Much of this list was ideas taken from these five links, as well as the Wikipedia descriptions of the personalities of the Doctors.  I also put together my own conclusions from the few episodes I have seen.)

When Life Gives You Lemons

As I study social dynamics, I am often struck by how different a traditional sense of humor is for men and women.  Very often it fits with the misleading but somewhat true motto "men create, women consume".

Here is perhaps the most dramatically differing example I have seen.

For me, the difference is much more funny than either individually.

Local Banjos

A friend has started a banjo-crafting business.  It finally has a webpage: Weitzel Banjo.

I have no plans on learning to play the banjo, but can certainly appreciate the beauty of his craftsmanship.