Tuck Everlasting

I think this is a book about an immortal frog. At least that’s what I remember from the movie based on this book that Geralyn talked me into watching. Also, if I had had my druthers, Samantha would have been named “Winnifred” after one of the characters in this thing. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed.

From Amazon:

Imagine coming upon a fountain of youth in a forest. To live forever–isn’t that everyone’s ideal? For the Tuck family, eternal life is a reality, but their reaction to their fate is surprising. Award winner Natalie Babbitt (Knee-Knock Rise, The Search for Delicious) outdoes herself in this sensitive, moving adventure in which 10-year-old Winnie Foster is kidnapped, finds herself helping a murderer out of jail, and is eventually offered the ultimate gift–but doesn’t know whether to accept it. Babbitt asks profound questions about the meaning of life and death, and leaves the reader with a greater appreciation for the perfect cycle of nature. Intense and powerful, exciting and poignant, Tuck Everlasting will last forever–in the reader’s imagination.

I believe it’s a kid’s book, but it’s short and I snagged the book-on-CD from the library to add some variety to my literary diet.

A cautionary tale about focus groups

I’ve done a lot of focus groups in my past. You know: those meetings when you get a bunch of people in a room and start jotting down their thoughts on a flip chart. It’s kind of a poor man’s survey, but it can be quite useful if directed, controlled, and otherwise done right. Sometimes these things have a brainstorming vibe to them, and you start writing down everything that people say. This is to encourage the free flow of information, and you can always go back later and separate the wheat from the chaff.

Sometimes, though, some clown will throw out a big chunk of chaff just to be funny and to lighten the tone. He’s say something like “Hey! Let’s build chemical weapons that magically turn our enemies gay and Irresistible to each other!“. And like good note-taker, you’ll write that down on the flip chart, IN INK. And then TEN YEARS later it’ll all hit the fan as bloggers, messageboard enthusiasts, and more than a few mainstream media outlets assume that it was a serious idea and received forty billion dollars in funding.

So remember: If you’re doing a focus group and someone comes up with something so stupid that it makes you go blind for a minute, don’t write it down. Just laugh, shake your magic marker at him, and move on.


Hard to believe this shot was taken in the middle of January, eh? Well, apart from the dead grass and leafless trees…

Sam’s Story: Week 51

As I mentioned in the pic of the day yesterday, Geralyn had two of her wisdom teeth taken out on Friday, leaving me to play the better parts of both parental roles while she recovered. Luckily, the most stressful thing I had to do was take Sam with me to the grocery store to buy Mac ‘n Cheese and the ingredients for a fruit smoothie. Sam had a blast at the store, but I very quickly learned to keep a good 12 to 14 inches between her and the goods lining the store shelves, lest there be cleanups on aisles 12, 10, 4, and 12 again (forgot the pickles).

The only other trial was, because of the lingering anesthesia in Ger’s system, trying to get Sam to drink last September’s breast milk after I resuscitated it from its deep freeze. Apparently, though, breast milk is all about the packaging and Sam would have none of this nonsense. She took one sip, scrunched up her face, and threw the bottle at me. She then demanded that I immediately uncork a nice apple juice, let it breathe for ten minutes, then bring it to her in the red sippy cup. The cup with the kitties, you oaf, not the tacky one one with the airplanes.

The other change we tried to pull on Sam was moving from simple rice cereal to the slightly more processed but probably more filling Cream of Wheat. Unfortunately this ended up being much more of an ordeal for us than her. Preparing rice cereal was easy: cereal and formula in equal proportions. Following the “For Toddlers” directions on the back of the Cream of Wheat box, however, left us completely flummoxed. To prepare the right amount of cereal, we had to solve the following equation:

Doing so involved plugging in the values for the desired amount of cereal, Sam’s birth date, the current barometric pressure, and for some reason the atomic weight of Beryllium (9.0122 in case you were wondering). Then we went through a four-stage cooking process that resulted in a cup of boiling Cream of Wheat that took half a day to cool down to anything close to an edible temperature. All this while a hungry Samantha screamed at us from her high chair. It was delicious –eventually– but at this point we’re considering just making it up a whole box at a time and freezing it into Wheat-Pops for later consumption.

Not many pictures this week, but here’s what we’ve got:

Sam still isn’t walking yet, but man she’s close. I think all she needs to do is get the idea that she can stand and move around without leaning against something and then WHAM! I’ll be sitting on the couch watching her, and then she’ll stand up and walk across the room, down the stairs, out the front door, and over the horizon before I can close my gaping mouth. And that will be bad, because Geralyn will think that I’d lost her and can’t find her, just like I lose my wallet every time we’re in a hurry to go somewhere. And I’ll look in my gym bag, because that’s where my wallet usually is, but Sam won’t be there. She’ll be halfway down the Baja Peninsula by then, never looking back. Go, Sam, go!

Next week will be the 52nd chapter in Sam’s Story, marking about one year of this epic, ongoing tale. I’m not sure what I want to do after that. On the one hand I could continue the weekly updates. I can usually find time to do work on them over the weekend, with the worst outcome being that I post half a day late on Monday morning. I like doing them, and I think there are going to be stories to tell for a long, long time. On the other hand, I could stop doing the regular updates and just post little stories about Sam as they happen, letting you get your pics fix through the Photo of the Day which features Sam more often than not. I’m not sure which way i want to go, though. Do any of you readers out there have an opinion on this? Would you miss the regularity of the weekly updates? Please, let me know one way or the other. Now’s your chance to de-lurk.

Sans wisdom teeth

Geralyn got her wisdom teeth taken out yesterday, and here they are. On the plus side, they’re much easier to brush now. Geralyn is fine, but for a while there she and Sam were reduced to the same vocabulary and ate the same kind of food.

Getting fired for blogging

I have a few self-imposed rules about what I post on this blog. I don’t post about politics, I keep the language relatively clean, and I try not to just post a link to something else without providing some kind of commentary of my own. These rules are flexible and I’ve broken each one once or twice, but there’s two I don’t ever break: don’t write about work and don’t write about co-workers unless you have something nice to say.

Why? Well, a lot of it falls under the perview of “don’t be a jerk,” but it could also get you fired. Much of my work involves confidential or sensitive information that it’s obviously wrong to share, but some Brittish guy was fired from his job at a bookstore because of the unflattering comments about the job that he made on his blog. Complaining about this is just stupid, because the guy was obviously making crass, unpleasant remarks about his work and the people there, including his “Evil Boss”. Would it have been any different if he had distributed the comments via an ad in the newspaper or handing out pamplets?

This site lists even more examples. I just don’t get people like this. That last site even lambasts some employers as “Blogophobic Companies” and has an “International Blogger’s Bill of Rights” that says:

  1. If an employer wishes to discipline an employee because of his/her blog, it must first establish clear-cut blogging policies and distribute these to all of its employees.
  2. Blogging employees shall be given warning before being disciplined because of their blogs.
  3. NO ONE shall be fired because of his/her blog, unless the employer can prove that the blogger did intentional damage to said employer through the blog.

This strikes me as ridiculous. You don’t have any “right” to avoid the consequences of what you say on your blog. Or out loud in the hallway, for that matter. If you post inflamatory stuff about your employer or co-workers, they can do what they see fit. If what they do is unlawful under existing laws or contracts, then you’ve got a case. If not, then perhaps you shouldn’t be such a snarky gossip.

1337, d00d!

I grabbed this screen capture after my 1337rd post on the QT3 forums. If you don’t know why this is funny, then you’re not 1337 enough to get the j0k3. You may or may not be happy about this.

Categorize this!

As you may have noticed, I’ve added categories to this site. This means that each post is categorized into one or more category, categorically. I initially shunned this feature because it so often seems pointless and leads to having a dozen categories, most of which have one or two posts associated with them while the everything else goes into a kind of demilitarized blogging Shangri-la like “General” or “Daily Life” or “Misc.” But I wanted a way for people who were only interested in say Samantha to find an archive of stories only related to her while ignoring the rest of my inane ramblings. You can do that now.

Once I decided to do this, though, the main task before me was to define the categories. A cursory glance at my archives showed a fair variety in the subject matter of posts, but an underlying factor structure was not crystal clear. To resolve this, I endeavored to apply my six years of graduate school in psychology and do some kind of scientific data reduction. Specifically, I applied cluster analysis, which is a multivariate statistical procedure that takes a sample of observations about entities and organizes those entities into more homogeneous groups.

To start, I took all the 322 blog posts and had a group of subject matter experts rate each one on a variety of dimensions related to content, tone, voice, subject matter, reading level, word count, and the frequency with which I had used the word “poop.” These data were entered into a SAS dataset and analyzed using SAS’s PROC CLUSTER procedure. The output provided a wealth of information about the data’s possible underlying structure, but of particular interest was the Semipartial R2. Using this statistic for each of the solutions in the last fifteen iterations of the clustering procedure, I created the following Fusion Plot:

As you can see, there is a sharp dropoff in the Semipartial R2 at around 4 clusters, suggesting that to be an optimal solution to the data. Indeed, the four-cluster model explained over 85% of the variance in the original data, and this hypothesis was further supported by a dendogram that suggests a four to six cluster solution:

Finally, a plot of the four-cluster solution in multidimensional space using canonical variables pretty strongly suggested four (or possibly five) clusters:

Given these scientific results, I arrived at the following four categories for my blog:

The “General” category could have been further broken down upon rational review of the data, resulting in smaller categories like Gaming, Books, Movies, Family News, and Stupid Observations, but I decided that none of those individual topics would be of interest enough to most visitors to warrant splitting them out.

You guys are totally buying that I did all this work, right? Right? Pffftt.

Anyway, the way Movable Type handles category archives, though, has me pulling my hair out a bit. I want to have date-based archives, too, but I want category-specific archives for the Photo of the Day. But to have that, it kind of messes up the other archives so that you can only browse individual entries (like through a permalink link) within a category and not across categories. It really ticks me off, so if you know of a solution let me know. If I can’t figure anything out, I’ll probably end up creating a separate blog for the Photo of the Day, output it (and its archives) to a static file, and include it in this main site with server-side includes. What a pain.

Finally, you may also notice that I changed the layout of blog entries. It occurred to me that there were three types of elements to a blog entry: those about the entry (the date, the title, the author), the entry itself, and those related to what you can do in response to the entry (link to it, comment on it, find similar entries). So I separated them. Title and date are at the top (I trimmed author, since I’m the only one on this site), and then put the comment link, the permalink, and the category archive link at the bottom. The latter also makes sense in that you don’t force people to scroll back up in order to comment or get a permalink.

So, hope you enjoy the fruits of my labor. There are more tweaks to come, as well as a total redesign if I can get around to it.

Sam’s Story: Week 50

Man, we’re getting close to one year old. I don’t think I’ve ever even kept a plant alive for this long. Sam hasn’t made any vast developmental strides this week, but she has been a chatterbox. She constantly engages in what childologists call “jargon,” which is this babbling kind of pre-language. I liken it to speech without a vocabulary, because she’ll look at things and make purposeful sounds (usually “Dis!” or “Dat!”), gesture towards them, and look at us like we’re utter morons for not getting her drift.

One big change is that we’re no longer taking her into the aptly named “cry room” at church. For the agnostics among us (that is, those who see insufficient evidence to either confirm or deny the existence of cry rooms) these are glass-walled rooms outside the main body of the church where you take babies so that their crying doesn’t interrupt God while He’s chatting with the rest of the congregation. Thing is, parents tend to take all their troubled children, even older ones that should know how to behave. The result a couple of Sundays ago was complete pandemonium, with screaming children running amuck and scattering Cheerios and Goldfish crumbs everywhere while the parents blithely ignored them. Within an hour, they had established a primitive hunter/gatherer society, killed the fat one, and established some kind of public speaking ritual involving a conch.

So we took Sam into the main church where she did fairly well until this last Sunday when she decided that what the world needed was a more noise. Imagine the priest asking us to pause in respectful silence during prayer:

Priest: …And the needs that we hold silent in our hearts.

Congregation: [Respectful Silence]

Samantha: Du-da-du-DAAAAAAAHHHHHHIIIIEEEEEE!! [Laughs]

Me: Damnit!

But we’re trying. Now, some pictures:

This is my favorite picture of Sam in quite some time. Geralyn picked up a packet of foam letters from the $1 bin at Target and we dumped them in the bath to make Alphabet-And-Sam Soup. The packaging for the letters was emblazoned with the claim “Educational!” presumably because they’re …letters. Which I guess makes them educational in the same way that a keyboard is educational. But Sam loves them, and we both giggle when I use them to spell out curse words while Mommy is in the other room.

You may also notice Sam sitting in something fancy. This is the shopping cart liner that Geralyn picked up, what I like to call her “cart condom.” Studies have shown that shopping carts are home to over twelve trillion different kinds of bacteria, some of them the size of small dogs. So it was important to protect them from Samantha, who can get really dirty.

Sam and Ger have also been keeping up with her Friday playgroup, which is great because it gets them out of the house and lets the both interact with humans other than myself. In fact, Ger found out the other week that there are actually two playgroups in our area. I immediately started laughing at the idea, mainly because I was envisioning the turf war that would happen if they ever happened to both try and meet on the same turf on the same Friday afternoon. It involved that number from West Side Story, finger snapping, and lots of posturing by new moms with babies on their hips. Usually when I start giggling at nothing in particular, it’s because I’m thinking about this kind of stuff.

Fancy dinner

Sam at the Saint Louis Club on Christmas evening. She was quite resplendent in her purple satin dress and Winnie The Pooh high chair. She was actually quite well behaved for most of the dinner, and when she got listless I cured it by taking her to see the various Christmas decorations.


This is the back of my computer. As you can see, it’s getting pretty bad. I wish they sold 12-inch network cables. With a few of those and a wireless mouse/keyboard, I could tame this jungle somewhat.

What do you do?

It’s 7:04 and you notice that your baby has a dirty diaper. Not just wet, but dirty. Thing is, at 7:15 it’s going to be time to take her upstairs and give her a bath anyway.

What do you do? What do you do?


We sometimes give Sam these little “Veggie Wagon Wheels” as a snack. They’re about the size of her fist, and the first thing she always does is cram the whole thing in her mouth.

Gone exploring

Samantha eventually found the one cabinet we hadn’t babyproofed. She made the most of it when she did, but fortunately we keep all the katanas and scorpions elsewhere. All she got was a bunch of tupperware, but she had a blast taking them out of the cabinet and banging the hell out of them.

Go, Baby! Seriously, go.

TiVo occasionally records some really weird stuff for us. The other day Ger was looking through its “TiVo Suggestions” and noticed something called “Go Baby!”. It’s this little 5-minute mini-show about a little baby and the disembodied hand that raises him. Baby does things that babies do, like going to the beach, playing with a toy drum, and presumably crapping his pants. The show looks like it’s done on a double-digit budget using a few stock photographs and the demo version of Macromedia Flash. A typical scene looks like this:

Sam, of course, loves the show. She’s mesmerized by it. I, on the other hand, am totally creeped out by it. First of all, the low-budget, photo-and-Flash look of the thing makes me think that the titular Baby grew up on the wrong side of The Uncanny Valley. He looks human, but the way he moves make me think he’s a robot covered in thick latex skin.

The worst part, though, is the voice of the disembodied hand. It’s got this weird, overly exact enunciation on every tittering word. It makes me cringe and I’m always expecting its next words to be “It puts the lotion in the basket!”

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. You can see three episodes on Disney’s website here.