Sam’s Story: Week 126

Fair warning: this week’s post contains contents of a scatological nature. And for the unlearned, no that word has nothing to do with jazz vocal improvisations. Just read on.

As I mentioned before, one of Sam’s strongest, greatest passions right now is Thomas the Tank Engine. She loves watching the show and when we brought her home a board book featuring the titular train she went bonkers and wanted to read it over and over and over again for several days straight. Now, on a seemingly unrelated point, Sam has had some trouble grasping this whole potty training business. She’s actually okay with the wet works, if you know what I mean, but learning to put numero dos in its designated place is kind of a weak spot in her program. So, I decided to follow some solid (pardon the pun) sounding advice and turn one of Sam’s strengths, Thomas the Tank Engine, against her weakness, the proper placement of …you know. I learned this from an wise old Chinese man who was well versed in the art of war. You know the guy. He used to live down the street from me in Tulsa? Drove a bitchin’ black and gold Trans Am and always talked about getting his real estate license? Yeah, that guy.

What I did was go out on my lunch break and buy Sam another Thomas book, only held on to it when I got home that night. “Sammy,” I said. “I bought you a surprise. The next time you can go poo-poo in the potty, you can have a new Thomas the Tank Engine book.”

The result was a bit more dramatic than I had expected. Sam shouted “I want to go sit on the potty NOW!” and whipped off her pants and diaper like both of them were secured by velcro and she was a Chippendale’s dancer reaching the end of his act. Before I could respond, she was naked from the waist down and bolting down the hall towards the bathroom.

The problem was, of course, that she had already gone earlier that day and the nature of the gastrointestinal process conspired against her attempts at earning her prize. She tried, though, oh how she tried. By the time the dinner hour rolled around she was still sitting there with a look of staunch determination on her face. We had to coax her down from the throne by explaining that if she had a big dinner it might work in her favor. Especially if she ate all her vegetables.

Here’s this week’s pictures, none of which relate to the story above.

There are several there of Sam with her cousin Molly, to whom she owes a great debt for all the barely worn hand-me-down clothes. They were out with some other members of the extended family at the local botanical gardens, where they had some kind of kiddie area with water sports. Sam also had her first chance to lick mixing batters, which was an experience so thoroughly pleasing that it appears to have thrown her into a temporary state of shock.

So, given all the changes we’ve thrown at Sam in the recent weeks –new home, new city, the pay-per-potty program described above– we decided it would be a good idea to throw one more at her. Next week we’re finally moving into our new house here in our new city. After living out of suitcases for two months, it’s definitely about time. We thought we’d just go ahead and spring the upgrade to a “big girl” bed on Sam, so she’ll be spending her nights in the new place trying to sleep in her new twin bed instead of the crib, for which we have other plans. I fully expect carnage and frustration galore as she gets up in the middle of the night to roam the house and pull things off shelves. Either that or she’ll learn to work the remote control and we’ll wake up to the high volume, maniacal laughter of Elmo at 2:16 in the morning.

Wish us luck.

I for one welcome our new toddler overlords

Actually, no. And not just no, but hell no. What is wrong with the world such that something like the Daddle is allowed?

The Daddle

I mean, I love giving Sam piggy back rides, but that’s beyond the pale. She may be able to ride me around and treat me like any other toy, but I don’t need to accessorize for it. And for that price I’ll just buy her a real pony and then throw it away when she gets bored with it.

Originally seen on Thingamababy. Personally I prefer the Yoda backpack.

We don’t need a Lester Bangs, thank you

My friend Sean put up a very interesting commentary on video game criticism on his blog, and it’s really worth a read by anyone even mildly interested in the topic. Sean’s comments are in response to an article in Esquire Magazine on the same subject.

The Esquire piece wonders why there are no legendary game critics in the same vein as rock and roll music critics from the 60s and 70s. Why is the gaming press, of which I myself am an occasional member, content with limiting itself to Consumer Reports type publications instead of writing something that examines video gaming in a larger cultural and artistic context? Why don’t they talk about the meaning of video games and gaming? The Esquire piece, which is also an excellent read, examines several possible answers to this conundrum with the help of Steven Johnson, author of the thoroughly fantastic Everything Bad is Good For You. Games are unique in that their merit typically isn’t derived from their plot, characterization, or dialog. They offer different experiences each time you play. The author of the Esquire piece ends with a plea for someone to come in and fill the role of the super critic the way Lester Bangs filled it for the nascent rock and roll scene way back when.

Sean’s blog entry picks up this thought and expands on it in an insightful way when he notes that “[Rock critic Lester Bangs] had the rare fortune of writing about music at a time when people really liked to read about music — because fans, true fans, wanted to extend the experience of music beyond the record.”

That phrase, “extend the experience of music beyond the record” jumped out at me and immediately made me think of something that Sean expands on a paragraph later: replace “music” and “record” with “gaming” and “game” and it brings to mind all the wonderfully kooky and sublime things that the gaming community is creating to extend the experience into their own lives. Comedy skits featuring game characters. Game walkthroughs. Fan fiction. Music videos. Game mods, maps, models, and levels. The Internet is replete with examples of people not just writing about video games, but creating fan films, podcasts, and just about any kind of artistic expression you can think of. Sean nails it a few pixels down the monitor when he says “I think ol’ Chuck K [the author of the Esquire piece] sort of misses the boat is by looking at the wrong medium.”

This also rings true given what I recently read in The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century about the power of uploading. The Internet and associated technologies have given rise to a new kind of critic that’s alien to what the rock and roll scene had. It’s not the lone expert cranking out manifestos about Cream or Phish or whoever and pushing them out to the masses via a magazine. The new kind of gaming criticism that the Esquire piece is starts off talking about is coming from an army of enthusiasts and up-and-coming professionals who are creating and uploading it themselves. What Chuck from Esquire ends up asking for at the end of the article is the antithesis of the entire video gaming scene and the forces that spawned it in the first place.

Or to quote Sean from his blog again:

Anyone who is looking to writers to fill the need for video game criticism is looking in the wrong place — not just because they’ve come to serve the same function as tv shows or pop songs on the radio (namely, as means by which to get you to encounter advertising — they don’t just write “consumer guides,” they are an integral part of the entire consumptive experience), but perhaps because the form of writing is, itself, totally inappropriate to address the ecology of video game culture.

Read the Esquire piece
Read Sean’s blog post

I’m a Stranger Here Myself

Again, I love Bill Bryson. I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away isn’t really a travel diary like many of his other works, but it does deal with the interesting case of culture shock wherein an American returns to his homeland after living in England for 20 years. The book is actually a collection of weekly magazine columns he did at the time, so you get a wide variety of topics for him to jeer and cheer over –everything from junk food to post offices to tax forms to frivilous lawsuits. So it’s nice that you get a lot of variety instead of Bryson’s just stretching out a walk through the countryside and commenting on various features of the cultural and literal landscape. That’s not to say that Bryson doesn’t take a few well-deserved jabs at American culture –that’s largely the point of the book. He does it, however, with his usual curmudgeonly-but-lovable style.

And it’s funny. Very funny, really. I erupted into snorting laughter several times while listening to this audiobook, which earned me a few worried looks when I was out in public. For example, while discussing the absurdly draconian laws proposed by Newt Gingritch to curb drug use, Bryson quips that if put in charge of such things, his opening salvo in the war on drugs would be simple: “First, I would make it a criminal offense to be Newt Gingrich.”

See also: my posts on A Short History of Nearly Everything and Notes from a Small Island.

Sam’s Story: Week 125

Sam has a new favorite thing: the vibrating chair. Her grandma has one of those pads that you can drape over any recliner to turn it into a Vibromax 2000 Brand Muscle Buzzing and Relaxation Station, and once Sam gets on it it’s hard to get her off. Any suggestions that she dislodge herself in favor of other pursuits like bathing or eating are met with –and I quote– “I’m busy, Daddy.” Usually shouted over what sounds like the buzzing of a thousand extremely mellow bees.

Relaxing moments in the vibrating chair aside, Sam has a pretty active week. She once again went to the pool at Ger’s godparents’ house, out again on Saturday, and to a Father’s Day party that one of Ger’s cousins was throwing. And there was another pool there, which I had to take her in even though lightening storms blowing through the area presented the delightful twin threats of electrocution and hypothermia.

This Father’s Day was marked with unhappy undertones for myself, as it was the first one in my entire life that I didn’t have to wish my own dad a good one, thank him for everything he’s done for me, and promise him that his gift was a little late but totally on the way. Or would be after I bought it and put it in the mail, and let’s face it it’s just going to be a gift certificate because I’m awful at buying presents. I think this goes back to one Father’s Day in particular, when I was finally old enough to choose and buy a gift on my own and, inexplicably, settled on a mass-produced, godawful print from the frames department at Wal-Mart. I think there were ducks and a hunting dog and a sunset, all in various tones of brown, beige, and more brown. My dad was clearly taken aback when I gave it to him, but he recovered quickly and thanked me nonetheless. Though he apparently couldn’t help noting that it was certainly the last thing he had expected to receive. I think that most of my gift-buying difficulties stem from that event, as it presents a kind of mental road block where I just give up and take a detour onto Gift Certificate Lane.

Sam, on the other hand, seems to be a natural. She marked the special day on Sunday by presenting me with the Venture Brother’s Season 1 DVD set, still neatly wrapped in a Best Buy shopping bag. Which, of course, is five separate and distinct kinds of awesome.

Here’s some pictures:

You’ll notice that I’ve put Sam to work cleaning my car, but she was actually glad to do it and kept chirping “We giving Daddy’s car a bath!” the whole time. I preemptively dressed her in her swimming suit as I thought that the hose play would result in a soggy Sammy, but she displayed a healthy fear of the hose, yelling “Get out of the way! Get out of the way!” and running for higher ground whenever I reached for it. She did, however, enjoy the rainbows I created by setting it to “mist” and spraying it up into the sunlight.

The last thing I’ll mention this week is that Sam’s diction and pronunciation are coming along nicely. She uses pronouns quite deftly, referring often to “you” or “me” or “she” in the manner most sanctioned by international grammar laws. The only major challenge she still needs to conquer is her “S” and soft “C” sounds. She still almost always puts a “Sh” sound in there instead so that “snake” becomes “shnake” and “Percy” becomes “Pershy.” This normally isn’t a big deal, but can be a little embarrassing if we’re out in public when she gets tired of walking and announces to the world that she needs to “sit.”

The World is Flat

The world is flat, but this book is not. It’s Thomas Friedman’s ginormous examination of globalization and the forces that drive it, starting with the end of the last century and continuing up to about 2:15 yesterday afternoon. The book traces the antecedents and consequences of global communication, outsourcing, and exportation of culture in the last few years, with an eye for excrutiating detail. Friedman is overly fond of creating supurfluous terminology for the sake of creating supurfluous terminology (“The 10 Flateners”, “Steroids”, “The Great Convergance” etc.) but he’s nothing if not thorough. It was kind of interesting to see a big picture examination of the events and trends that I lived through –and to some extent participated in. Things like the explosion of telecommunications, the growth of the Internet, the dot com boom and bust, the proliferation of cell phones, and the love/hate relationship America has developed with outsourcing. It’s neat to see how all these pieces (supposedly) fit together and fed off of each other to produce some kind of man-eating jigsaw puzzle.

Unfortunately, Friedman is a better researcher than he is writer. The World is Flat positively creeps along like a melting glacier, and its narrative is only rarely infused with any kind of character, whit, or entertainment. The author has this awful habit of repeating anecdotes and points ad nauseum, as if their repitition will bring him some kind of credence that’s otherwise missing. Did you know that India is becoming a high-tech center for outsourced jobs that can be done more cheaply there? Also, India is becoming a high-tech center for outsourced jobs that can be done more cheaply there. In India, outsourced jobs that can be done more cheaply there are building a high-tech center. In India, outsourced jobs high tech purple monkey dishwasher. It just goes on and on and on and on. I get it! Move on, Friedman.

So as interesting as parts of it are, I can’t really recommend The World is Flat, and I’m not even going near the book’s shortcomings as a (one-sided) critique of globalization. If you really want the quick-and-dirty version of the book, the Wikipedia entry has decent summaries of each chapter.

Sam’s Story: Week 124

Did you know you can play games with children? I mean not with them per se, but using them as pieces in your elaborate game of life? I’ve noticed that Sam has elevated mimicry to an art form. There’s almost nothing the won’t try to imitate if she sees someone else doing it. This is useful for teaching her basic life lessons like washing her hands or soldering computer components, but it also leads to some otherwise inexplicable behavior. I’ve decided to put co-opt this behavior for my own amusement.

For example, The other day Sam and I were playing with two orange candles –“Harmmy’s canal and Daddy’s canal” if she is to be believed. And relax, they were unlit. On a whim I held my candle up and shouted “Candle! Candle!” Sure enough, Sam hefted hers and parroted, “Canal! Canal!” The next day Ger was a bit confused when Sam wandered over to nearby table, grabbed a tea candle and started bellowing “Canal! Canal! Canal” why waiving it over her head.” Shhh… Don’t tell her why. It’s funnier this way.

Actually, Sam is surprisingly good about repeating back words. We were at Ger’s godparents’ for dinner last night and Sam was making the rounds, inspecting all the delicate, expensive things just waiting to be knocked over.

“Sammy,” said our hostess as Sam poked at a ceramic lion near the stairs. “Do you know what that lion’s name is?”

“No…” Sam said, searching her memory and apparently coming up short.

“He has a very complicated name.” Ger’s godmother continued. “I don’t think you’ll be able to even come close to saying it until you’re ten years old!” At this point she straightened up and said in a very important tone, “His name is Melchizedek.”

Sam gave her a halfway annoyed look and said, with perfect pronunciation, “Melchizedek.”

Come to think of it, that was a lot funnier than the whole candle thing. Maybe she’s playing us.

Here’s this week’s pictures:

It’s kind of “Sam’s Story: Swimsuit Edition” given that Sam made it to the pool twice this week –once at the hotel where I’m staying and again at the aforementioned dinner with Ger’s godparents.

Sam’s Story: Week 123

Kind of a slow week this time around, so I’ll just start off with the pictures:

Sam did have one of her important firsts: her first baseball game. She actually got really excited about it when we started telling her that we’d be going. All day long it was “We going to a baseball game!” and “We going to a baseball game!” and finally “We going to a baseball game!” When we finally got there she looked everywhere except at the actual baseball game itself. It was like five billion degrees out even when you calculated in the windchill factor, so she did an admiral job of keeping herself hydrated. Too bad she seemed less interested in the game and more interested in kicking at the head of the lady sitting in front of us. She did, however, manage to count all the other people in the stadium. There were four, according to her best estimates.

One new thing I’ve noticed about Sam this week is that her energy levels have become really sporadic. Sometimes she’ll sit still for long periods of time, either watching television, scribbling in her coloring books, or even just cuddling with Geralyn. Other times, though, it seems like she’s bubbling over with energy and can’t sit still. The latter is usually when we’re trying to put her pants or socks on. There’s just something about the words “Sammy, let’s put your pants back on” that sends her into a full-on fit of burbling antics.

I’ve also noticed that she’s developing her own unique mannerisms, like twirling her hair or biting her lip and twisting her torso back and forth so that her arms swing back and forth like little fleshy whips whenever she’s reached a moment of indecisivenes. This is all very cool, of course, because it means that she’s developing her own personality and poker tells.

Finally, to close this week out, here are my 10 favorite things about Sam at the moment:

  1. The way she pronounces “strawberry” as “saw boobie.” Better yet, “Strawberry Shortcake” becomes “Saw Boobie Hort Cake.”
  2. Watching her put all her stuffed animals down for a nap with a kiss and a “Goodnigh. I love you.”
  3. The way she’s picked up on the game of “Let’s find something green” (or white or red, or whatever) and how well she plays it.
  4. The way she loves to water the plants in Grandma’s garden
  5. The way she keeps saying “Thomas is a maheen” (as in “Thomas the Tank Engine”) after I taught her to classify things as animals, plants, people, or machines.
  6. The way she proudly announces “I drinking from a big girl cup!” right before dumping the entire contents of said big girl cup down the front of her shirt.
  7. The way she scoops up handfulls of bubbles from the bath and tries to blow them in my face.
  8. The way she laughs when I lean in and blow them in hers first.
  9. The way she would still eat black olives, refried beans, and red onion all day every day if we let her.
  10. The way she says “Mmmmm! This is GOOD” when she likes something. Especially black olives, refried beans, and red onion.

I should really keep a list of these things.

The Golden Ratio

The full title of this book is The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, The World’s Most Astonishing Number. Now, I know you may not believe me when I say this, but despite this being a BOOK about a NUMBER, it’s really not as exciting as you might expect.

Still, I enjoy stepping outside my own areas of expertise or experience and looking into new areas like mathematics. I think the problem is that I’ve been spoiled by stuff like Bill Bryson’s excellent A Brief History of Nearly Everything, which manages to take material that should by all rights be boring and make it engaging by focusing on the quirky personalities and the bigger picture of how it relates to our everyday lives now. Unfortunately that wasn’t really the case with The Golden ratio.

Briefly, a golden ratio (a.k.a., “the divine ratio” or “the mean and extreme ratio”) is achieved when a line is divided into two segments such that the ratio of the smaller segment to the larger is the same as the ratio of the larger segment to the entire line. Here, here’s a picture I ganked from Wikipedia’s entry on the topic:

If you assume a unit length (like “1 foot” for one of the line segments) and do some math, you end up with the irrational number “Phi,” which approximates to 1.61803… Phi is like the underappreciated cousin of another irrational number, Pi, which you may remember from basic geometry as 3.14159…yadayadayada. Irrational numbers like Phi and Pi have the quality that they can’t be expressed neatly and exactly as the ratio of two whole numbers. You can calculate them out to an infinite number of decimal places and they’ll never end or repeat.

So with that little math lesson out of the way, this book goes into how ancient philosophers, mathematicians, artists, musicians, architects, and even Mother Nature made use of Phi to make aesthetically pleasing or interesting stuff. Or that they didn’t. One of the author’s more annoying habits is to spend a whole chapter conjecturing about how, say, the ancient Egyptians used Phi to design the Great Pyramids of Giza, only to reveal in the last paragraph that no, they didn’t after all. Psych!

Still, Phi does really show up in some interesting places, like the shapes of spiral galaxies or nautilus shells or mathematical oddities like Fibonacci numbers. It’s an intoxicatingly cool idea to think that Phi is a kind of building block that ties the universe together in some mysterious way if we could only fully comprehend it. Like if you calculated it out to enough decimal places, you’d find a hidden message like this from the Almighty Maker himself :

But some interesting anecdotes and mathematical gymnastics aside, the author rarely succeeds in making things that interesting for any period of time. Fascinating as the underlying ideas are, this seems like a topic that could be covered sufficiently in a magazine article, journal monograph, or encyclopedia entry more appropriately than a whole book.