Friday, May 29, 2009

New Family

At the time of this writing, I'm a couple hours away from heading off to a cabin with my wife and daughter for the weekend. The occasion is Eric and Zoe's wedding. For those not in my circle, Zoe is my sister-in-law, and Eric is her fiancé, Liberty's former boss, and a budding friend to myself.

My other sister-in-law, Dominique, came down with her husband Willie, daughter Sequoia, and son Arlo and stayed with us for a few days. They live in Vermont, and came down for the wedding. Liberty offered them lodging, naturally, and I set about a day-long frenzy of getting the mainly unused downstairs bedroom and bathroom in tolerable shape to handle guests, washing dishes and clothes, cleaning grout, vacuuming, and stocking the house with food. During the early stages of that I managed to throw my back out, and I had previously told Liberty to go hang out with her sister and play while I did all the preparation. So it was very exciting when I was alone and faced with pulling mattresses and boxsprings out of the basement one handed while scooting myself slowly up the stairs, wincing in pain all the while - the ordeal reminded me of countless bad action movie sequences where the hero is injured and crawling slowly to the just-out-of-reach weapon while the villain rants and spouts soliloquies. Not being a big sissy boy, I got through it and the house was in tolerable shape by the time our "company", as we say down South, arrived.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Guns Blazing

Things going on in Auterytown over the next few weeks:

- Going to the Asian festival Saturday, and then to see the much watched and hated Terminator: Salvation
- "Second Amendment Sunday": The Barretts, Liberty, and myself are going to the firing range to check out his .357
- Monday Dominique and her husband and brood will be coming into town from Vermont and staying with us for the week
- Tuesday I'm taking a day off work to go to the zoo with club Allerding
- next Friday and Saturday we're renting a cabin for a couple days to see Zoe and Eric's wedding plus festivities
- Wednesday the 3rd is Stacey's (possibly final) orthodontist appointment
- Friday the 5th Liberty is getting leg surgery
- Saturday the 6th is Stacey's soccer team's going away party
- Sunday the 7th is a canoeing outing with my mentee, Dave

And finally, later that week Stacey will be out of school, and begin her summer of resident camps and visiting extended family out of state. Somewhere in there library books are due.

This would cause a lesser man panic, a lazier man to forget something, or myself to send out scores of emails organizing everything while sippin' my Port.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Does Recess improve classroom behavior?

First, read this, or just eyeball the charts for a few seconds.

This is from a blog I read (or skim) daily at work when I'm waking up and trying to shift gears from Spidey-sense mode (from the 5 or so brushes with death I have with early morning commuters) to code-monkey mode, which requires that your language centers are firing. This entry shows a study relating how much recess school kids are given and how well-behaved they are in the classroom. Although the results don't seem to me as significant as the author implies, it seems obvious that letting kids burn off energy a couple times a day is a good thing.

What struck me most was the first comment after the article, posted by Lilian, which echoes a sentiment of my own:
"It may also affect teachers' effectiveness in the classroom if they get a break too."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Oddities of the "How well do you know me" test

So I created this Facebook quiz the other day that seems to be a popular meme right now. The premise is simply a multiple choice test that asks your friends questions about you... what was your first dog's name, what's your favorite video game, whatever. In homage to Spinal Tap, I created a test with 11 questions, and tried hard to make reasonable sounding alternatives to the correct answers. For example, my first question:

Where does "Medicine for the sky" come from?
a) Sci-fi short story by Asimov
b) pic of Japanese storefront window
c) Hillbilly slang for bitter coffee
d) Theoretical huge machine to repair ozone layer
e) Comment my kid made about a sunset

I must tell this story a lot, because everyone who has taken the test so far has correctly identified the last answer as the correct one. Either that, or some other psychological thing is going on - it sounds cooler than the others, maybe I wouldn't mention my kid if that wasn't the answer, something like that. For those who haven't actually heard the story, it's over on my CQ blog: Here

What I found most interesting in combing through everyone's answers was *how* they got certain questions wrong. For example, most everyone incorrectly assumed my high-school nickname was Stretch. Predictable, but boring. One person, however, guessed the worst possible answer from my list, "Klepto". Why, I ask, would someone think that? Was it a blind guess? Was it them being funny? Or did they assume I had a reputation as a shoplifter when I was younger? I did, mind you, but it wasn't notable enough to be nickname worthy.

My nickname was Stork, from one particular kick of a soccer ball during an after-school pickup game. I chipped it with my arms extended, and the effect was very stork-like. The following year a fellow classmate, Terry Cook, also tall and occasionally odd-looking when kicking a soccer ball, acquired the nickname "Emu", sort of a derivative of mine.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hulk Smash

I'm about 3/5 through Malcom Gladwell's "Outliers", and it's an equal to two of his other books that I really enjoyed, "Tipping Point", and "Blink".  I just finished the chapter discussing the 18th century European "culture of honor" among small herding families who lived in the hills, and how necessary it was to be prepared to fight to defend your herd, and hence your livelihood.  If there was any threat to your herd, you had to take very prejudicial action, and having other families be afraid of you and your overreaction was a boon for you, and may just keep your family from starving to death.  So you end up with insecure feeling and loud and proud acting people all living up in the hills, away from large cities, away from the rule of law.  Yes, there will be blood, as the saying goes.
That mentality, and some of those families, made its way to Appalachia, where it was hard for a European to do much besides goatherding, and eventually gave us several blood feuds that could have started as something significant, like which side of the Civil War your family fought on (think Hatfield/McCoy), or seemingly meaningless things like a social cut or cheating at cards.  The culture of honor demands men who answer insults immediately and strongly, to maintain the family reputation, to scare off any threats to your herd... except the mentality stayed strong through those families' descendants, who may not have been herdsmen.
Fast forward to the present day, and you still find remnants of the culture of honor.  In search of this, "Outliers" reports of a study conducted of how different groups of young men react to insults.  Those who reacted the strongest all had one thing in common.  I'll summarize with a line from the article:  "Call a southerner an asshole, and he's itching for a fight."
Here's a link that discusses the study in detail:

Thursday, May 07, 2009

How to be awesome like me

-- a whimsical manual, in blog format
I've been toying around with this idea for a while now of a sort of self-help book.  It will mix the ideas of how to succeed as nonconformist in the corporate world without making people hate you, which I have gotten really good at over the years, and how to write pragmatic code, non-buggy code in the shortest time possible, which I have also gotten pretty good at.  I have no real direction of where the book should go, or if I should write it at all, or if I should turn it into a blog that I'll update whenever the mood strikes me and play the rest by ear.  I'm not sure yet if I'm going to actually start the blog or not, because, well, it's pretentious. Even by my standards.
Here's a sample paragraph from what would have been the first entry, where I'm introducing the concept of the proper way to object to things to improve your position.  The concept is, like many of my thoughts on life, stolen directly from a movie.  In this case, Kevin Pollak tells us to "object once to get it on the record" in "A Few Good Men" (the one with Tom Cruise, not the gay porno, which Wikipedia assures me exists, but with which I am otherwise unfamiliar - in this case, I could not handle the truth, not at all).  Anyway, here is said paragraph:

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


This year's birthday was tolerable.  I had some well-wishing from the family down south, Eric and Zoe invited us over for dinner, my high-school chum Chris has invited me out drinking this Saturday, and I did the usual melodramatic reflection on life.  You know, alternating between wondering where you went wrong and how you got so lucky.
At least, hopefully you know.  I'd hate to think I'm the only one out there suffering through that roller coaster.  Is it a flaw in thinking or a natural extension of empathy to be able to better bear pain that you know other people also bear?  Or maybe that's a throwback to being a little kid and being obsessed with "fair", where you win the spelling bee at the expense of your peers, and "unfair", where you are caught pulling April Cornelison's hair and get publicly chastised by Julie Smith, her best friend.  Poor April.  I'm so sorry, honey.  I hope you know it was because I was madly in love with you, and, well, that's just how little boys are.
So after taking stock of where I am in life, I took stock of stuff I've been meaning to get around to, and it turns out I'm slowly accumulating quite the to-do list.  Here is the abbreviated version: