I mentioned in last week's update how I prefer Sesame Street over Blue's Clues because of the kind of subtle jokes they slip in for the sake of adults. I was reminded of this fact during one episode of Elmo's World show this week. Every week the little red guy picks a topic for the show by announcing that "Elmo has been thinking about ______!" On this particular show, Elmo was thinking about balls.
"Hehe," I thought. "Elmo's thinking about balls." And then I let it go, because I'm not twelve.
Then came the part of Elmo's routine where he wanted to learn more about balls, so he decided to turn on the T.V. and watch The Ball Channel. This is all par for the course with a Muppet handicap. Then I kid you not, the narrator for The Ball Channel says:
"What would the world be like if balls didn't bounce? People would be testy!"
Sesame Street is frickin' awesome.
Here, let's just start with pictures:
The first thing you may notice here is Sam wearing her Eskimo Joe's tee shirt, which I bought her last time I was in Oklahoma. Eskimo Joe's is some little eatery in Stillwater, Oklahoma that has become locally famous for some reason, to the point that the Oklahoma state constitution mandates that every 8th person wears one of their tee shirts. Ger and I own multiple Eskimo Joe's shirts, and we thought it time Sam acknowledge her Oklahoma roots.
I also like the picture of Sam where she's playing with her Mega Blocks. These things, by the way, have turned out to be one of the best Sam-related investments we've made since her polio inoculations. She loves building with these things, and will routinely build towers as tall as she is, as pictured here.
The Tipping Point was one of those books that had been on my radar for a long time, but I'd just never gotten around to reading it. It's often shelved under "Marketing" or maybe "Business" in your local megabookstore, but after reading it I'm not quite sure that's right. It's a book about how social, informational, and traditional epidemics gestate and move through groups. Among other things, Gladwell answers questions about why fashion trends happen, why certain children's television shows succeed, and why teenagers smoke. To explain all this, he sets up a framework involving four groups of people: Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople. He then explains how other elements come into play, like the power of context and the stickiness of a message.
Gladwell makes this all this interesting and fun to read through a light but dignified style, and by liberal use of colorful examples and stories. What I think the author's greatest strength is, though, is how he takes things that we all already know or think --like the importance of the social environment or how we always tend to go to the same people for advice on certain things-- and legitimizes them by citing real, scientific studies. The treat for me is that many of these citations come from psychology, which is as you may know an area of no small interest to me.
While it's far from impossible to poke holes in many of Gladwell's claims (e.g., he overemphasizes how teen suicide "Mavens" and "Connectors" provide implicit permission for other kids to kill themselves while ignoring other, more powerful factors), it's a genuinely thought-provoking work. I'm definitely going to pick up his other book, Blink.
Okay, this is the last of my Stephen King books for a bit. Again, this is one from early in his career, and I once again have to comment on how much more I like it than his later stuff. It's just a ripping good adventure that starts off at a fast pace and hardly slows down at all. I got sucked into the perils of Andy and Charlie McGee, and I wanted to know how things would turn out. Still, King's (perhaps understandable) inability to really write from the point of view of a young girl is evident here, though it's nowhere near as egregious as in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which came much later. And since most of the story is told from Charlie's father's view, it's not a big deal.
What I think I'll do next is just start reading King's older stuff in chronological order to fill in the gaps in my reading list. I've already read most of his later stuff, anyway.
It's been a long couple of weeks lately, and I'm way off on my schedule. Sam, Ger, and I went back to Tulsa to visit my family while my mother recovered from knee replacement surgery. This was great, as my folks hadn't seen Sam since last Thanksgiving and as religiously as they read this site, it's nothing compared to the live act. Sam took a couple of days to warm up to all these weird people, but after she did everything went just fine.
In fact, this trip taught me something new about my daughter: she sleeps like a rock. My parents' house isn't huge, so Ger, Sam, and I all had to share one bedroom. We set Sam's crib up at the foot our own bed and began wringing our hands over how quiet we'd have to be in order not to wake her up. The first night I worried about every time the bed creaked and every time I rolled over for fear that Sam's head would pop up at the base of our bed like a recently woken Jack in the Box. Nothing happened, though, and by the end of the visit Ger and I were stomping around and whispering like she wasn't there.
Sam and Ger also took a jaunt up to St. Louis to visit the other side of Sam's family for a few days. 0nce again, Sam got to know the joys of swimming. I think they visited a park or two and had a play date with cousin-at-some-level Molly.
While on vacation Sam got less than her usual dose of Sesame Street, but she quickly picked the habit back up upon our return. On the plane ride back, though, I had read a book called The Tipping Point that talks about social epidemics, often in the context of marketing or product development. One chapter was particularly interesting for the way it examined how Sesame Street was a carefully engineered phenomenon (albeit one with good intentions like education and promoting pro-social values). Apparently the show evolved very quickly thanks to extensive testing of what held kids' attention and what didn't.
The other thing, though, that really caught my eye in that chapter was the report on a show called "Blue's Clues" and how it supposedly out-Sesame'd Sesame Street. I was familiar with the show only to the extent that its merchandise had permeated the aisles of my local department store (which was to a great extent indeed), but I knew that it was about this little dog named "Blue" and that it was a kid's show. I decided to check it out.
I hate that little blue dog.
Actually, I don't hate it, but I don't like the show. I think part of Sesame Street's genius is that it appeals to both kids and their parents. I like watching it with Sam because it's full of wit, humor, and in-jokes that are kind of just there for adults. It's also clearly educational, with lessons on reading, counting, and not being a jerk. Blue's Clues, on the other hand, is 100% for kids. It's full of pregnant pauses, overly simplistic storylines, and a dipstick in khakis named "Steve" who is apparently the only person in the room who doesn't know he's acting like some kind of moron. And while the episodes may be easy for kids to follow, there doesn't seem to be lessons associated with them. Of course, Sam loved watching the show so I'll probably keep recording it, but it's definitely going in the "backup" column as something we put on when we need to immobilize Sam without the use of ropes or tranquilizers. It may kill every other show in the ratings, but we'll see if it has the staying power to stick around for 35+ years.
So at least for a little while longer until she learns to work the remote, Sam will stick with the Street.
I'm on a bit of a Stephen King bender again, and after Doloris Claiborn I'm surprised again at how much better King was earlier in his career. The Dead Zone is ostensibly about a guy who comes out of a coma in possession of the ability to tell someone's future (among other things) just by touching them. But at another level it's about how an ordinary man deals with the extraordinary (a staple of King's storytelling) and the tricky moral dilemmas that this kind of ability brings with it. Ultimately, The Dead Zone's main character, Johnny Smith, has to find out that with great power comes great responsibility (apologies to a certain other her for stealing his line there).
One thing I like about this story is that until the end you're never completely sure that Smith isn't at least a little crazy. King sets up a parallel story about a serial killer that doesn't quite work out the way he originally telegraphs it, and unlike in the movie adaptation of the Dead Zone where everything is clear-cut, we're not really sure that Johnny is doing the right thing when he makes the decision that forms the lynch pin of the book's plot. It's just plain entertaining stuff.
The only sad thing is knowing that there are only a finite number of King's older stuff to read through, and even fewer that I haven't already read. I'm starting Firestarter next, though.
Sorry, I don't really have anything to write about this week. Sam has been up in St. Louis visiting Ger's parents since last week, so all I've got are these pictures of her playing with "walk chalk" in the back yard. She totally loved the stuff, even though she can't do much with it except make chicken scratches right now. But she had fun discovering that you couldn't use it to mark on the grass or Daddy.
I've actually been thinking lately about when will be the appropriate time to stop doing these weekly updates, or at least shift the focus from Sam to my thoughts and experiences as a parent. Eventually, it'll start to intrude on Sam's privacy and she'll launch some counter-blog effort that will tell the world all my worst secrets. Maybe she's already started. I think that day is still a ways off, though, and I can content myself with creating archives of stories that her friends and enemies can dig up with their futuristic Internet search tools.
Selection matters, yes it does. So I decided to create a new weblog for it: Selection Matters dot com:
"Selection" in this context deals with employment selection and a constellation of related sub-topics: employment testing, interviewing, recruiting, employment law, I/O psychology, and more. There are a lot of Human Resources blog out there and there are a lot of employment law blogs out there, but none of them focussed narrowly on employee selection, which is my area of expertise. So I thought it would be fun to create one. And, honestly, I also wanted to network in the I/O community and give future prospective employers something relevant to find when they did a Google search on me.
I waited a few weeks before mentioning the site here or trying to promote it elsewhere, just to see if it was really viable. Apparently it is, as I've had enough material to make posts nearly every day. And not one of them has a picture of Samantha in it. Yet.
I think that the site is also the best one I've made from a code point of view, though the real pros out there would probably still call it armature. It's totally CSS-driven, without a single HTML table or even image tag outside of the blog posts. All the layout images are handled through CSS, as is the positioning. It also makes way more use of Movable Type than jmadigan.net, with essentially every single page being handled by MT modules, indexes, or inserts. The only thing I use FTP for is to transfer images for individual blog posts, and I'm working on setting MT up to handle that, too.
Does this book count as a biography? It's the tale of glam rock pioneer Motly Cru (I'm not going to bother looking up the HTML code for the umlauts), tracing the childhood and adolescence of each band member all the way through the formation of the group, their stellar success, their plummet into irrelevancy, and their eventual dissolution. It's told in disjointed chapters penned most often by the four band members, but occasionally others like their manager. It gives the whole thing a pretty authentic feel, even if you're constantly aware that it's all been passed through a sieve of PR and probably altered to make things more dramatic. But in a way, that's how life really is when viewed through the lens of memory --it's foggy, distorted, and hardly ever lines up perfectly with anyone else's recollection.
There are a few genuinely dramatic and touching chapters in the book, though, like the one where Tommy Lee laments his months in prison after assaulting his wife or when Vince Neil writes about watching his 4-year old daughter slowly die from cancer. I couldn't even finish reading the latter because I got to it the night after Sam left with Geralyn for a visit to St. Louis. Most of the chapters, though, had me rolling my eyes at these decadent men living and acting like children and wondering "WHY OH WHY is everything falling apart? How could this be happening?" You know, when they're taking drugs, drinking, cheating on their wives, leaving their families to go on tour, and resorting to business practices that a three-year old would find childish. Their angst is ridiculous and they are, by and large, obviously dumbasses and misfits.
Still, this is a pretty well written (I'm sure they had a ghost writer or at least ghost editor for parts) drama that pops along at a good pace and gives a lot of insight into at least some of what really happened. Well, probably happened.
Sam has discovered a new delight in life: "Walk Chalk." My parents' patio looks much more festive now.
I don't know whose green ball this is. It just appeared in our back yard one day and none of the neighbors will claim it. Sam loves it, though.
Not a whole lot to report this week, other than Sam has reached one of those monumental milestones usually associated with toddlers: she has learned the "go limp" tactic of nonviolent resistance when we want her to walk one way and she wants to go the other. I was pulling her along by the hand the other day when she went loose as a noodle and forced me to drag her along like ...well, like a toddler. And here she is, barely 19 months old and applying such advanced tactics. I'm so proud.
Sam must be getting some kind of toddler newsletter because the other thing she's picked up is stranger anxiety. But in this case, she has misread "stranger" as "Uncle Brent," who she liked just fine last Thanksgiving. I think it's because Brent made the mistake of trying to show Sam how her new toy stethoscope worked, which probably reminded her of trips to the doctor and getting needles jammed into her pudgy little legs. So Sam had a Class 5 freak out and took her time warming back up to her uncle, during which she gave him wide berth.
The only other thing to report is that when she's not flopping on the carpet refusing to go somewhere, Sam is in full ape mode and will delight in repeating whatever you do, especially the things you wish she wouldn't. Yesterday I showed her an air sickness bag and jokingly mimicked barfing into it to show her what it was for. She snatched the bag from me, stuck her face in the opening, and went "BLEH! BLEH!" as loudly as she could.
Again, so proud.
Here's another example of King trying to stretch his literary muscles and do something different, as there's only a smattering of the supernatural and horrific in this book. It's also a great example of how King can get away with hanging a bunch of pointless prose on the too-thin skeleton of a plot. There are huge chunks of this book that serve no purpose and should have been cut. But on the other hand, the title character of Doloris Claiborne is a great piece of work. She's genuinely complex and faced with a set of terrible choices that drastically affect her personality and her future. She's some of King's best work in the realm of character building.
Whenever possible, we try to coordinate Sam's clothes with whatever toys she's playing with at the moment.