Intelligence: A Brief History

This is the first –the shortest– of the three books I came back from SIOP with. I had been looking for a good overview of cognitive ability testing, as it’s one of the more wide spread and important topics in my profession. I know about how intelligence is conceptualized in a lot of cases, but I wanted a book that would walk me through how those theories came to be and give me some more detail on the specifics. Something with a title like this book’s seemed like a home run.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t. This “brief history” was more on the brief side than the history side. It was so brief, in fact, that it only really got to deal in generalities instead of specifics. I think I can still benefit from more information. On the plus side, though, the book was written in a very approachable fashion, especially for someone like myself who’s already familiar with the topic. It also gave me a few good references for more information, which I’ll put in my wish list.

Sam’s Story: Week 74

Guys, this is how it starts:

GERALYN: Sammy’s getting so big…

ME: Yeah. Well, she can’t stay a baby forever.

GERALYN: We need another baby.

ME: What? Woah, woah, woah! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

GERALYN: Well, don’t you think so?

ME: Look, if you just wait another 14 years you can have a grandchild. How about that?

GERALYN: Shut up, Jamie.

In other news, there’s not much other news. Sam continues to climb and build her vocabulary, which now includes “Grande lowfat vanilla late”. She really is getting bigger more quickly, though. She’s a little person now instead of the blob of a baby she used to be.

Earlier today we went to the San Diego Fair for some reason, I’m still not sure why, but Sam ended up enjoying it. We didn’t get a fried twinkie like last year, but this time around I went for the ginormous roasted turkey leg. Now, I have to say that the ginormous turkey leg isn’t all it’s cut out to be. You look at it and think “Oh, man, I’d look like King Loui the XIII eating that thing” and that’s cool, because glutonous royalty is all the rage these days. But while you do feel like a big fat French guy eating it, it’s not that good. It’s overcooked, drenched in messy sauce, and you realize that turkeys must be comprised entirely of fat and gristle. Wait, what was I talking about?

At any rate, pictures!

Sam’s Story next week will most likely be delayed a few days, as we’re going to be traveling to St. Louis to visit family. I should have lots of pictures to show and news to tell, though, once it does go up.

His Dark Materials

The “His Dark Materials” trilogy seems to invariably come up when people are asked to recommend “good” fantasy. Indeed, the series has many of the trappings of the genre: epic storyline, magic, prophecy, adventure in a far-off land, and a protagonist who starts off as low born and eventually finds out that she’s of noble blood. However, it sidesteps cliche by having much of the action take place in an alternate history of our own Earth, in Europe somewhere around the 1800s.

Pullman’s world is an interesting mix of magic, mad science, and theology that sharpens one of the hooks used by good fantasy: world building. Pullman skillfully reveals things about his world –daemons, talking and armor-clad bears, witches, zepelins, and spirits– at just the right pace to keep you interested. It’s pretty imaginative and the non-standard setting puts new twists on even old concepts.

So on one level this book was about adventure and fun, but about two thirds of the way through the first book things snapped into place and I realized that it also has deeper meanings on other levels. Meanings that deal with religion (specifically organized religion), sin, childhood, and what it is to be human. It’s pretty interesting stuff, moreso because one of the main characters is trying to kill God.

Sam’s Story: week 73

I’ve been some research, and I’ve come up with some disturbing suspicions about Sam. I think she’s a zombie.

The other day I was sitting on the floor playing with her when she suddenly turned to me, spread her arms, and stumbled towards me and into my arms. I was delighted, thinking I was getting an enthusiastic hug until I felt her little teeth actually bite into my shoulder. I mean, all the signs are there. Stumbling gait with arms held parallel to the floor? Check. Propensity for biting people? Check. Vacant gaze? Check. Repetitive moaning and piercing shrieks? Check and check. She’s a zombie, man. A zombie. Still, I think we should be all right as long as she doesn’t bite any of us. Much.

As I think I mentioned last week, our undead baby’s newest trick is climbing. She’s crazy for the climbing now, and will entertain herself for huge chunks of time getting up on and off of the couch. Here’s a typical session, step-by-step:

Step 1: Struggling to climb, 1-3 minutes.
Step 2: Success and rest, 3-4 seconds.
Step 3: Jump off and repeat, 2 seconds.

In addition, she’s taken to bringing things up on the couch with her just so she can throw them off. Good times.

More pictures!

I especially like this one and this one where Sam is looking through one of the absolutely awesome scrapbooks that Geralyn has created. It’s funny to see the differences between the Sam in the picture and the Sam in the pictures of pictures.

The other fun thing I’ve done this week is set up Sam’s first e-mail account. Google is giving out free accounts to beta test their Gmail service, which I’m sure will be around for a while. Given this I decided to reserve Samantha a logical, free e-mail address so that she could use it when she’s old enough (which should be in a few weeks, given what I’ve seen of kids these days). At any rate, she now has samantha.madigan “at” set up for her, and Geralyn and I have even already sent her her first two pieces of e-mail. Below is what I wrote to her:

Hi Sammy,

It’s June 14th, 2005 and you’re receiving your very first e-mail! However, you’re only 16 months old right now and you don’t speak English, much less read it, so it’ll be a while before you can understand this. And by then monkeys may have risen up to enslave the human race and put us to work in their banana mines. And I for one welcome our new simian overlords.

Regardless, I went ahead and created this gmail account for you so that you could have one with a logical e-mail address. Because by the time you’re old enough to set one up for yourself the closest
you’d probably be able to get would be or somesuch. It may be a moot point anyway, as in the future we’ll probably just jam plugs into our nural shunts and access the Internet directly from our brains. But you have to admit, it was a nice thought. Come visit your father in the old folk’s home and say “thanks,” unless you have my brain preserved in a jar then just tap the side of the glass and sprinkle in some food flakes.

I’m going to ask your mother, your grandparents, and your aunt to send you e-mails as well, probably once a year or so. I’ll make sure to send you one every few months, though most of what I’ve got to say for you is chronicled on Still, it’s nice to get letters.

Whatever you’ve done by the time you read this, I’m sure I’ll be proud of you and love you just as much as I do now. More, even.

See you in the banana mines,


My daughter is going to think I’m either totally cool or a total dork. Possibly both.

At any rate, if you’re a Sam fan and want to send her an e-mail, feel free to do so by sending it to samantha.madigan “at” Replace the “at” with @ –I’m just being sneaky to try and fool the spammers.

Picking Napoleon’s Nose

There’s a shopping center somewhat near where we live that has a bronze statue of a pig that Sam absolutely loves for some reason. I’ve named him Napoleon –bonus cool points to anyone who names that reference.

The Old Man and the Sea

I consider myself fairly well read (fun fact: I minored in English Lit in college) but oddly enough I don’t think I’ve read any Hemingway beyond a short story or two. I started remedying that with The Old Man and the Sea, the original fish story about the one that got away. Well, sort of.

One of the first things that struck me about Hemingway’s writing is how expertly he follows the rule of “show, don’t tell.” Over reliance on exposition and explanation are hallmarks of amature writers like myself who can’t find any better way of getting their characterization across. Instead of having a narrator blurt out that Santiago is “extremely proud, highly determined, and an expert fisherman,” Hemingway shows the reader how all of these things are true through action and dialog. The result, at least here, is that Santiago is an extremely deep and nuanced character –a person, even– by the end of the story. It’s very well done.

Beyond that, I get the impression that there’s a LOT going on under the surface in even this short of a novella. One of the things that stuck out to me, though, is the almost existential philosophy inherent in Santiago’s struggle. One of the main tenents of Existentialism is along the lines of “Look, you’re gonna die, but it’s how you deal with that inevitability that matters.” You get the idea that the old man in this book adheres to this adage by the way he just keeps struggling against nature, even though he knows the fight is lost and the outcome inevitable. Lesser men would have just cut the fish loose and sailed home. But in the end, even though he’s ruined, Santiago gains a chance at immortality of a sort through his protoge.

Good stuff. I’ve got another four Hemingway novels already in the queue.


Sam seems to be enjoying her new mobility. If you set her down she take off like a shot and just keeps going until she hits something.

Blatantly Telegraphed Revenge of the Sith

Ger and I finally got to go see Revenge of the Sith last night (movies are quite a bit more expensive when you have to hire a baby sitter). It’s been discussed to death all over the ‘net by this point, so I won’t say much. Except that the Separatists are about the dumbest, most gullable bunch of bug-eyed aliens I’ve ever seen led blindly to their death. I’m paraphrasing from memory, but a few lines to prove my point go like this:

General Grevious: I’m relocating you to Mustufar. It’s a volcanic planet. You will be safe there.

Separatists: Okiedokie!

Now, call me jaded, but I don’t think “volcanic” and “safe” are two words that belong together unless also accompanied by “get away from.” But wait, it gets better:

Darth Sidious: I’m sending my new apprentice to Mustufar. He will …TAKE CARE OF YOU. BWUHA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

Separatists: Okiedokie!

I mean, c’mon. That’s dumb, even by “villains get their comeupance” standards. Can’t be subtle, can we Mr. Lucas? Oh, wait, sorry. I forgot a spoiler warning. Here:



Sam’s Story: Week 72

As I’ve been saying for a few weeks, Sam’s verbal skills are steadily improving. But while she’s constantly surprising me how well she understands (e.g., yesterday she understood and followed the two-step command of “Go get the ball and take it to mommy in the kitchen”), her actual spoken vocabulary is still pretty limited. And most of it isn’t actually words, but animal sounds and political polemics.

Still, I imagine some of the Sam fans out there (hi, Mom!) may be curious as to what Sam’s voice sounds like. I think she may sound different by the time she’s twenty-five, but in this update I bring you the first of what will hopefully be a recurring bit: “Sam Says.” Just click on the links below and you should hopefully hear what I’m talking about. Or you may have to download the file and then play it, depending on how your browser is set up.

The cat says…
The turkey says…
The cow says…
The sheep says…

I made the clips by taking some footage of Sam with our cam corder and then just ripping the audio tracks out and converting them to .mp3 files. Next installment: The seal, the duck, and some unintelligible gibberish that we don’t know what the heck it means.

Developmentally, Sam has hit two minor milestones besides imitating a turkey. First, she’s figured out that she can climb (or attempt to climb) up onto chairs, sofas, and other precarious places. This was cute at first, especially when her rump was dangling off the side of a chair, but we’ve quickly realized that from a safety perspective this is about as good as “learned to load a shotgun with rock salt.” It probably won’t be lethal, but there will be much stinging in the near future. The second development is that Sam has learned to kick a ball. In fact, she’s quite an accomplished dribbler in more ways than one. We’re signing her up for the varsity team tomorrow.

Picture time.

As you can see, we went to the park again this weekend. One other feature of Sam’s personality that seems to be crusting over is that she’s fairly independent and fearless. As soon as we set her down, she’s off like a shot. We had fun and Sam got some great exercise, but I think we jogged after her over a three square mile area that day. Independence and fearlessness are both healthy qualities in a good old-fashioned American, but I just hope she doesn’t invade any of the other children.

The Zombie Survival Guide

If you picked this book up at the store and thumbed through it, you’d probably conclude that it belongs in the “Humor” section of the bookstore because it’s a kind of parody of every dumb thing that victims in zombie horror movies always do. But once you actually start reading this thing, you realize it’s not really funny, not in a laugh-out-loud way. The only humor in the whole thing is the meta-joke that the author takes zombie-preparedness so seriously. Rather than being the tongue-in-cheek lampoon that you probably expected, the book’s tone is completely serious, with practical and well reasoned advice about how to survive a zombie attack, how to most effectively go on the offense against the undead, and how to escape from a zombie-infested area. The best way to describe it is probably as non-fiction set in a fictional world where zombies really do exist.

None of this is to say, however, that it isn’t a good read. In fact, I was totally engrossed through the whole thing, thanks in no small part to how approachable the text was, even for such an outlandish topic. I can’t really explain why I was so interested in hearing, for example, about how best to hole up in your house to survive an undead siege (tip: take all your supplies to the top floor then demolish the stairs –zombies can’t climb). But I was. I’ve never read anything so absurd and rational at the same time.

Like a kid in some kind of store

There’s a good old-fashioned candy (and ice cream and fruit smoothie) store near where we live and across from the park where we often take Sam to play. When we set Sam down there the other day she made a bee line for the colorful bulk candy displays.