jmadigan.net

29Jul/04Off

I say, old chap, I’m soaked in my own urine!

Finally, an excuse to not teach your child to speak. To quote:

The WhyCry monitor is a baby cry analyser. The monitor listens to the baby's crying for 20 seconds then digitally analyses it before indicating why.

The device then illuminates one of five crying "expressions" telling you whether the child is hungry, bored, tired, stressed or annoyed.

The WhyCry analyser comes with a comprehensive user guide and a symptoms chart so that once the cry has been translated the chart can then give pointers as to how to rectify the situation.

WhyCry has been clinically tested in Europe, with a success rate of 98% when used in conjunction with the accompanying symptoms chart.

Sometimes real life is more absurd than parody. I'm reminded of that episode of The Simpsons where Herb, Homer's brother, invents a machine that does this very thing. Once again this proves my theory that anything can be associated with a quote from The Simpsons.

Herb: It measures the pitch, the frequency, and the urgency of a baby's cry,
and then tells whoever's around, in plain English, exactly what the
baby's trying to say! Everything from "Change me" to "Turn off that
damn Raffi record!"

Intrigued like any good psudo-scientist, I clicked on the link to the How the Why Cry Works page. I mean, does it use some kind of sophisticated computer algorithms? Do you have to "train" it by having it record cries then enter in your best judgements of what's wrong so that it learns over time? Or does it communicate with a database of continuously updated cry information taken from hundreds of ongoing clinical trials? The answer, it turns out, is so complex it needs a simplifying picture to communicate itself to you retards out there:




Oh, so that's how it works! Crying to microphone to digital processing of signal to indicator lights! It's all so clear now. I was really just hoping for a circle labeled "magic" but this is way more scientific.

My favorite part of this whole ridiculous sham, though is that the product has been "clinically tested in Europe." I don't mean to bag on the continent as a whole, but why does this excuse of "used in Europe for ages" or "tested in Europe" always seem to affix itself to some of the most bogus of claims, most often made on cable television in the wee hours of the morning? Someone once tried to defend the use of handwriting analysis to select job applicants by saying that it was "used in Europe." Why is that? Is it just because we want to believe in something and labeling it as different and ineffable makes it easier to not question what commen sense or rational thought should otherwise tell you?

Maybe. Until then, I have a cheaper alternative to the Why Cry Monitor. First, take a sheet of paper and write the following, each on its own line: Hunger, Boredom, Discomfort, Sleepy, Stress, and Annoyed with Europe. Label each line one to six. Then when your baby cries, roll a die and refer to the handy-dandy table. Works just as well.

Filed under: Samantha No Comments
27Jul/04Off

Welcome back, Dr. FakeName von SpamMeNot!

Imagine that you had a business that sold oh, let's say plumbing equipment. So if someone has plumbing problems they can just look you up in the phone book. Except you don't want potential customers to be able to do that without first giving you all kinds of personal information like name, address, phone number, income, what kind of plumbing they enjoy, favorite boy band, etc. You know, in case you need it. So your name isn't in the phone book. Neither can people come to your store (if they're lucky enough to stumble upon it) in person and get in without exchanging all that information for a secret password. Oh, and there's also another plumbing store every ten feet that does NOT require any of this at all.

Seem like a weird way to run a business? Someone should mention it to places like the New York Times Online, who according to this Wired.com article, are digging a digital hole by requiring you to register with them before viewing their online content. Registering is usually free, but requires you to give up personal information that they can presumably rent/sell to spammers or use to spam you themselves. Besides the fact that a lot of people apparently give bogus data, this hurts businesses because search engines like Google are starting to omit from its searches content that's behind registration walls.

So if the Internet's most important search engine ignores your site, how much does that hurt even someone like the New York Times Online?

The Wired article also mentions the rise of many technologies people are using to circumvent these obstacles, like the BugMeNot plugin for FireFox, which automatically generates logins for these sites without your having to go through the invasive hoops. I use it, and it works great.

Now, I know this is a complex issue. Many sites intend to use that personal information to better serve their customers. When I was at GameSpy we started doing this with GameSpy ID. We said we wanted to use the demographic information to get a better idea of who was using our sites and services. We wanted to avoid showing inappropriate advertisements (like ones for beer) to people who told us they were under 21. And we wanted to target ads based on where people said they lived (like a special on DSL to people living in a particular service area). These aren't novel ideas; I imagine they've occurred to most companies like ours.

Problem is, those kind of intentions are great, but I often wonder how well companies follow through with them. We were pretty hit-and-miss at GameSpy, though we did as far as I know manage to avoid the temptation of selling or renting the lists to spammers. Other places, though, I don't trust so much. And at least we never put text content behind a registration wall like the NYT Online is doing. That seems like suicide when Google stops returning your site on searches, especially when there are a hundred other competitors with most of the same information.

I just wish there were a plugin I could use offline when merchants ask me for personal information. A few weeks ago I went to Lowes to buy some furnace filters. I thought that I understood the script for buying furnace filters pretty well:

  1. Go to store
  2. Find filters (make sure they're the right dimensions so you don't have to hack them down to size like last time)
  3. Take them to the register
  4. Pay for them
  5. Do a happy dance
  6. Leave store

The gal at the register was working from a different script, though. When it came time to pay, she turned to me and said, "Can I have your phone number, please?"

I just kind of stared at her. "Why?" I asked after a moment.

"We need it to help serve you better," she said.

At this point I felt like messing with her, especially since there was no one in line behind me. "Area code six one nine," I began.

"Six one nine," she echoed.

"Two four five,"

"Two four five,"

"Six six,"

"Six six,"

"Three seven two."

"Three seven ...what?" At this point she broke off and looked at me blankly. I stared back. "What?" she repeated.

"Huh?" I said, continuing to stare at her in confusion.

"Wait, wait," she said, smacking the delete key on the register. "Let's start over."

"Okay," I said. "Area code eight five eight,"

At this point she slapped the register shut and handed me my receipt. "Thank you, sir. Have a nice day."

And you know what? I did.

Filed under: General No Comments
25Jul/04Off

Sam’s Story: Week 26

Sam turned six months old this very day. I'm not sure why that seems like such a huge milestone, but it does. We have managed to keep another human being alive for six months --half a year-- on little more than panic, hope, and stuff that came out of Geralyn. She had her six-month checkup and our pediatrician said that she was not only alive, but healthy, happy, and trucking along just fine in terms of development. I think we deserve a cookie for that. A cookie the size of Connecticut.

Sam's adventures in semisolid foods continues, expanding this week to include peas and carrots and feet. Feeding her has become kind of fun, even if nobody thinks it's funny when I tell Sam to eat her mashed peas because they're "full of wholesome green peaness." At least I find it funny.

The next major task creeping its way into minds is baby-proofing the house, which is a bit of a daunting project. I have a solution, though, that comes from an old joke I once heard about an engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician who are all trying to fence in the largest possible area of land in the most efficient way. The engineer made a large circular fence, claiming the circle is the most efficient use of fencing material for the job. The physicist made a long, straight fence, and claimed he was assuming that the line was infinite and thus fenced in everything on the Earth south of that latitude. The mathematician beat them all by making a tiny fence around himself and saying "I declare myself to be on the outside."

Nerdy joke, I know, but I think there's wisdom in the mathematician's approach. Instead of buying all those gates, latches, covers, and bumpers to babyproof the house, I think the much more rational approach is to take one small area --say the upstairs hall closet or the bathtub-- and babyproof it, so that we can just relegate Sam to that area without having to worry about the rest of the house.

I'll let you know how it goes. Until then, pictures:











21Jul/04Off

Krispy Kreme Donuts unveils glaze-flavored drink

Every time I go to Krispy Kreme I look at the donut conveyor line and joke that I could just put my head under the glaze "waterfall" and hapilly let it flood into my mouth. Apparently, someone there was listening, according to this article.

Once the fried dough embodiment of hot and fresh, Krispy Kreme has transformed its original glazed doughnut into a new frozen beverage for summer.

The chain introduced a new line of frozen drinks Wednesday, including frozen original kreme -- a drinkable version of the company's signature doughnut -- raspberry, latte and double chocolate.

A medium (16 oz.) "Original Kreme" will have 660 calories. Unfortunately CNN has jumped on the "carbs are the new fat" bandwagon and doesn't report how much fat is in one of these, but I'm guessing it's a lot.

I am both disgusted and enticed at the same time. How can that be?



Filed under: General 2 Comments
20Jul/04Off

It’s like a low-carb Ph.D.

Saw this article USA Today (no, not kidding) about some universities are offering graduate degrees in business, but with an emphasis in science and mathematics.

Many students strong in science and math face similar career dilemmas, fueling a stampede into places like law school just as global wars are being waged in biotechnology, cryptology, nanotechnology, forensic chemistry, environmental science and the like.

That has led to the creation of a new master's degree, the professional science master's (PSM), which promises to be the hot degree no one seems to have heard of ó yet. It's so new that its first graduates were in 2002. Fewer than 400 students have earned a PSM. But the programs are expanding rapidly and are now offered at 45 universities in 20 states.

The PSM is being called the MBA for scientists and mathematicians. It's an education aimed at future managers who will be able to move comfortably in the business of science, from a meeting about enzymes to another about intellectual property rights, all the while understanding the goal is not a scientific journal article but marketable products.

The article goes on to explain how the PSM (I guess it's obvious why it's a Professional Science Master's and not a Professional Master of Science, eh?) is a viable and more practical alternative to Ph.D. degrees, which I think makes some sense. You don't need a Ph.D. for every position in a R&D department any more than you need an MBA in any other one. Some, yes, but not all.

Unfortunately the article kind of devolves into a fluff piece that sounds more like an infomercial for the degree rather than any kind of real reporting. They cite unspecified "experts" (always a red flag) about how much the world needs people with these degrees, and liberally quote the backers of the program, faculty, and people who have graduated with one. I don't think there's any dissenting opinion, or even a clue that they tried to find one. Heck, they don't even really talk about the curriculum or what specifically these people study or what standards they're held to.

Oh well. We Ph.D.s don't have anything to worry about, right? Right?

Filed under: I/O Psychology 1 Comment
18Jul/04Off

Sam’s Story: Week 25

The news this week, of course, is that we've started Sam on solid foods. And by "started Sam" I mean "dumped down the front of Sam's face" and by "solid" I mean "soupy mash". But let's back up for a second.

Last weekend we trekked to Babies R Us and bought Sam her high chair. All this week we put her up in it at mealtime, just so she could get used to it. We strapped her in and gave her a variety of dishes, spoons, cups, and other utensils that she could alternately cram in her mouth and scoffingly throw to the ground. While she still needs to grow into it a bit, Sam was instantly happy as a pig in slop when we put her in the chair. If we could have read her mind as we put her in it for the first time, here's what I think we'd have seen:

What? What's this? Some kind of sitting deviOHMYGOD! THIS IS AWESOME! It's all cushy and there's things I can grab and put in my mrf ag ag ag this tastes good OH MY GOD WHAT'S THIS THING I think I can put it in my mouth too THIS IS SO COOL I'm GOING TO SPIT UP it could't get any better unless OH YES THEY'RE GIVING ME MORE THINGS and now I can cram this in my mouth too but this first thing no longer holds my interest since I've had it since three seconds ago so I'll just throw it to the side THIS IS FUN now this thing is boring so I'll just throw it aside too and gnaw on the side of the chair thingie I'm so happy I'm just GOING TO SCREAM AND THROW THINGS!

We went through this for a week until Saturday morning when we decided it was time to actually feed her in the dang thing. So we prepared her a gourmet meal of rice cereal and took the plunge. Now, rice cereal is the soupiest, most liquidy food I've ever seen. It's barely a solid. In fact, if it were any less of a solid, it'd be vapor. The preparation instructions for rice cereal are pretty simple, too:

  1. Mix one scoop rice cereal with four ounces breast milk, water, or juice.
  2. Dump mixture over baby's head

Apparently we didn't read the instructions all the way through, though, and were foolish enough to try to actually spoon it into Sam's mouth. This approach just took a lot longer and got us the same results. Sam's happy funtime antics included grabbing at the spoon, closing her mouth at the last second, slapping at the incoming spoon, turning her head, and getting a big mouthful just to spit it back out all over herself. When we were done I think one spoon full had actually made it into her tummy and the other thirty-nine were on the high chair, the floor, the table, the ceiling, and the cat. Still, she's getting better and we haven't seen her this enthusiastic about anything since ...well, ever. In the meantime, feeding her takes longer, requires more grocery shopping, produces more mess, and gives us a baby that smells like a side dish from Panda Express. Hooray!

And now for the half time show. More update after these pictures:
























The other big step that Ger and I have been contemplating recently is abandoning our child. Oh, just for a few hours, mind you. Hiring a baby sitter, in other words. This is what really stinks about living away from extended family --there's nobody to dump the kid on so you can go to a movie or eat dinner at a restaurant without nachos on the menu. You have to pay someone to do something that grandma and grandpa would give their left spleen to do. And not only that, it's a huge ordeal finding someone that you trust. Geralyn has been asking around, pestering neighbors, the priest at our church, and complete strangers. So far, she's only gotten recommendations for --and I'm not kidding-- eleven and thirteen year olds.

That's fine, I said, but I was still unsure of who was going to babysit the babysitter. I'm not leaving my baby alone with an eleven year old. I remember eleven year olds. We were all monsters back then and we didn't deserve enough trust to take care of a guppy, much less a substantially more complicated organism like Samantha. And it only gets worse until they turn twenty three. Problem is, not many twenty three year olds will work for $9 an hour. Not now that Wal-Mart has moved into town.

In other Internet news, you should check out Irony Central's "The Story About The Baby" if you want some great baby-related humor. It's crass at times, but this guy writes almost exactly what I wanted these updates to be. The only difference is that I pretty much keep these updates factual so that friends and family can feel like they're really keeping up on Sam without worrying about separating fact from fiction. This guy probably stretches the truth for the sake of comedy, but it's really funny. make with the clicking.

14Jul/04Off

Been “Reading”

I've mentioned before how much I love my Apple iPod, and it bears repeating. I'm listening to it now, and one of its best applications has been listening to audiobooks. Between my half hour commute and a visit to the gym, I can listen to an hour and a half every weekday. With a baby on board, it's sometimes the only way I can enjoy books that don't involve star-bellied sneeches. That's why over half of the books you see on my Now Reading page are audiobooks (always unabridged; abridged books are for chumps).

Of course, one of the drawbacks of reading is that sometimes you read something that sucks, like (pardon the pun) Anne Rice's latest vampire book. I made the mistake of listening to Blackwood Farm, partially because it seems to unite the Vampire books (including Lestat, who's really a pretty cool character) and the Mayfair Witches. I had enjoyed the first two or three vampire chronicle books, back before Rice got so successful that she could swat aside editors like flies. I quit reading around "Pandora" when the books started to look more like novelizations of really, really bad soap operas.

Good grief, but Blackwood Farm has got to be the worst book I've read in a long time. It's terribly boring for a book about vampires and witches, full of weeping and moaning and pining. And while I realize "perverted" is a relative term, this book is just beyond the pale. Sex with ghosts (including the ghost of the main character's dead brother), incest, a 15-year old sex addict, and a hermaphrodite vampire who turns others by having them drink blood from ...well you don't want to know. Ugh. At least I can happily ignore further contributions to the perverted arts from Rice.

Before that, though, I read the fifth Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Rambling Story. Like Rice, I suspect J.K. Rowling's momentum as a successful writer has wretched her free of editors who could help her focus and polish a bit more. Unlike Rice, though, Rowling can still spin a tale that's so entertaining and imaginative that I don't mind flopping around a bit without direction.

In fact, I think Rowling is a genius in many ways, and very much the architect of her own success. It's been a while since I was a pre-teen, but I can see how she deliberately constructs her books to appeal to them. She has teenage characters in a familiar setting (school), and many of the problems they face are familiar to teens: homework, hormones, malicious or incompetent teachers, tests, bullies, adults who don't understand them, and the desire to be popular and liked by their peers. There are also, by the way, more positive themes like friendship, loyalty, industry, sportsmanship, and tolerance. Rowling takes all these mundane elements and covers them with a veneer of the fantastical to make them interesting enough to entrance readers with her imagination.

One of the best insights Rowling makes, though, is that there are adults who are incompetent and who do not know what's best. We as adults know that other adults are sometimes stupid, ignorant, and unfair, but we expect children and teens to never ever think so. I very clearly remember realizing this as a kid when one of my teachers did something spectacularly stupid and ignorant of the facts. Yet I was powerless to do anything about the injustice and felt trapped in the situation and powerless to affect it. This kind of thing happens all the time in the Harry Potter books (especially the fifth one, where it's a prominent theme), and I think young readers react to it. So do adults who remember.

Filed under: General Comments Off
11Jul/04Off

Sam’s Story: Week 24

Kind of a slow week here on the Samantha front. But even small changes are adding up, as I'm still amazed some mornings when I come in to get Sam out of her crib and I swear she's grown another three inches. It's spooky sometimes, because it's like this little person somehow snuck up on me when I wasn't paying attention (or paying too much attention to to the details).

<--BEGIN SAP-->

Nowadays, though, Sam's definitely a little person in her own right. I know she has been since before she was born, but lately she's been much more interactive and downright fun and I realize that I've fallen in love with her. Don't misinterpret that --I loved her since I met her, but it was different. Early on she represented more of a task list or a challenge. Keep her clean. Keep her healthy. Help her get enough sleep. Calm her down when she got upset. Sam's happiness was a goal and my parenting relationship with her was more along the lines of a challenge or set of objectives I had to figure out how to reach. Under the surface, the whole thing was really about me and how good a parent I could be, even if I would have given anything --my money, my freedom, my life-- to succeed.

Now, though, Sam smiles at me and I know that smile is JUST for me. It's not gas and it's not a learned response gained through pairing stimulus and resposne. She reaches for my face when I pick her up and she watches me when I move around the room because she knows me. In other words, I now have a relationship with her that extends beyond whether or not she's securely strapped into the car seat or counting the number of times she's pooped. We're father and daughter.

<--END SAP-->

And now, some pictures:















Other things that happened this week include a trip to Babies R Us to pick up Sam's high chair. We're getting perilously close to starting her on solids, and we figure it's a good idea to first get her used to sitting at the table before we give her food to smear all over it. We may start her on solids as soon as next weekend. *Shudder* In the meantime, she's been practicing with her cup.

I also took Sam on one heck of a long walk on Saturday in her new "jogger stroller" (which also serves perfectly well as a "walk briskly because it's too dang hot stroller"). I didn't really mean for it to turn into a three hour tour, but I took a wrong turn and got lost in some neighborhoods. Before I knew it I was lost and everyone was speaking French. Eventually I found my way back, but not before Sam was hungry and pissed. Can't say I blame her.

Filed under: Parenting, Samantha 1 Comment
7Jul/04Off

You can fry anything and put it on a stick

Last weekend Ger, Sam, and I went to the San Diego County Fair. Now, if you'll pardon the pun I'll point out that I'm not that much of a fair person. Rickety rides that are built to be broken down? Pass. Hucksters trying to get me to play rigged games for craptacular stuffed toys that I wouldn't want if they were free? No thanks. Obnoxious arts and crafts to make my house look like Holly Hobby exploded all over it? Nah. Prize winning livestock so smelly it makes me think --just for a second-- that vegans may be on to something? Uh-uh.

That all being said, though, there is one very good reason to go to the fair: The food. Any state or county fair teaches us the incontrovertible truth that you can fry anything, put it on a stick, and sell it by the truckload at the fair. At the Wisconsin State Fair I once counted over twenty foods on a stick, ranging from the traditional (corn dogs) to the ingenious (a row of chocolate-covered strawberries) to the bizarre (pizza) to the sublime (cheesecake). This year, though, took the yellow sponge cake, even though it wasn't technically on a stick. This year, we had a fried twinkie.

That's right. We found a place that sold fried twinkies, fried Snickers bars, and fried Oreo Cookies. We had to try it, and this was the result:




Click for an even larger, higher calorie version. What you see there is a twinkie, covered in batter, fried in oil, doused in powdered sugar, then drenched in chocolate sauce. Just looking at it was equivalent to a 9,000 calorie meal. I thought it was disgusting and could only take one bite, which gave me diabetes for half an hour. Geralyn and the sweet tooth that sometimes takes over her mind, on the other hand, thought it was great. So your mileage may very.

While I stood there at the fair giving myself an insulin shot, I wondered what could possibly top fried twinkies or fried Snickers bars in terms of the utter destruction of one's health. The answer, of course, is simple: fried cigarettes. I fully expect to see them make a big splash at next year's fair.

Here's a few other pictures from the day:








Unfortunately Sam is still too young to enjoy the fair, even though the whole thing had, for some reason, a Dr. Seuss theme, replete with puppet shows, magicians, and other stuff for the kids. Next year, though.

Filed under: General 2 Comments
4Jul/04Off

Sam’s Story: Week 23

Sam's newest thing this week has been squealing. It's a high-pitched, strangled, ear-splitting squal that sounds like someone is stomping on a cat, yet it's still somehow cute. We love it and appreciate it as the precursor to future, more horrifyingly adorable screams.

It's also been getting harder and harder to deny Sam's interest in grow-ups food. I almost wrote "adult food" there, but that phrase makes me think of eroticly-shaped cakes and edible boxer shorts. And I don't want to think of those kinds of things. If you put Sam on your lap and have any kind of food or drink in front of you, she's pretty much garunteed to reach for it and try cramming it in her mouth. Of course, this pretty much goes for anything within reach that's not nailed down, but she watches us like a hawk when we eat. Last night I had her sitting in my lap while I drank water from a plastic tumbler. She was so interested that I put the cup to her lips and tilted it. She drank like a pro! I'm going to try it with a double vanilla latte, next. Low foam, of course --I'm a responsible parent.

At this point, I'd like to point out that the picture below is irrefutable proof that this 4th of July my baby was more patriotic than yours:




I mean, look at her. She's so patriotic that she owns the popup book version of the Patriot Act, with these little tabs you can pull to slam shut the Guantanamo Bay prison doors and everything. She has the entire "Lil' Republicans" playset, including the Plush Rush and the Cuddly Coulter dolls. Your baby by comparison, is probably French and can't get enough of the Baby Michael Moore DVDs.

Well, what else is new this week? Ah, we did make another trip up to Carlsbad to have lunch with the Tabors, including their 7-week old daughter Hannah. It was nice and there was fruitful exchange of information and tips, as there always is when new parents get together over a menu of fried foods and 12,000 calorie salads.

After the lunch, we went to the outlet mall and Geralyn had a shopping spasm that left us with some new clothes for Sam (we've decided she looks better in red than she does in green). Then on Sunday we went to the San Diego County Fair, which was so wonderful I'll have to do a separate update about it.

Until next week, here's some new pics:

















2Jul/04Off

These people must really love their jobs

The people at video game publisher Interplay must really like their job. Enough to work without pay and without hope. The company, based right near where I used to work in Irvine, California, is essentially kaput. They have no money and no future. But according to this article, that hasn't kept people from working without pay or benefits until the California's Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, forced them to shut down. It's like an anti-strike:

The closure followed a snap inspection of Interplay's offices by investigators, who found the company was without workersí compensation insurance and had not paid employees. According to officials, there were 14 staffers on-site Friday during the inspection...

Despite the increasingly daunting scale of Interplay's difficulties, Caen brushed them off. "I hope to have that [insurance] back by Monday or Tuesday," he told the Register optimistically. Caen also had the esprit to question the semantics of Chuang's article. "The company has not shut down. [The state] canít do that. It can only let me not let employees work," he said.

In addition to breaking the closure news, Chuang also confirmed that Interplay employees had not been paid for over a month, had no health insurance, and had been told to remove their belongings from the building due to a looming lockout by Arden.

Still, some of the Interplay staffers at the office on Friday held out a more genuine sense of hope than their employer. "The reason I stick around is that Iím a diehard loyalist and I love the people I work with," IS manager Steve Jobes told the Register. "If there is any sliver of hope that Interplay may someday turn around, I want to be there to see it."

I mean, I know what it's like to love a job and employer enough to work hard for long hours and no extra compensation, but this is beyond the pale. No pay? No health insurance? No worker's comp insurance? Put these people to work in the fields and put the migrant laborers to work in the offices!

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1Jul/04Off

Mmmmmm….

I must point out that last weekend Geralyn made the best cheesecake ever to exist in the history of man or the dung-flinging apes that he evolved from. Here's photographic evidence:




It's got a key lime thing going on with a chocolate brownie crust. Jealous? I'm hungry just thinking about it.

Filed under: General 1 Comment