Sam’s Story: Week 131

One of the changes in Sam that I’ve noticed over the last week is that she’s become much more independent. Used to be that she would try to run this greedy little monopoly on our attention –if we were doing anything else besides playing with her, feeding her, or bringing her fruit snacks, we were in direct violation of some parent-child contract she had cooked up in her head. This kind of iron grip on our mind share could only broken by the Power of Dora, or possibly the denizens of Sesame Street, who we called upon for help whenever we absolutely had to. Recently, though, Sam will go off for longer and longer stretches of time –sometimes minutes— and do her own thing without demanding our involvement. She’ll color, play with her menagerie of stuffed animals, or whatever else happens to be in reach. Like the phone or the cat or the contents of the vegetable crisper.

This kind of goes hand in hand with the increased use of her imagination. Sam will now routinely pick up any object at all and announce that it is something it clearly is not. Which is awesome. So a pair of book ends become dogs, a strip of pink ribbon becomes a backpack, or a shallow plastic tray becomes a swimming pool for her Weebles. Apparently this kind of thing can make her little mind snap, though, as one excursion into make believe culminated in her asking, inexplicably, “ARE YOU A BOAT, DADDY? ARE YOU A BOAT?” as loud as she could for like fifteen minutes straight. I tried every answer I could think of –“Yes!” “No!” “Only on Tuesdays!”– but nothing would stop her. We just had to let the imagination fever run its course, at which point she just looked at me and said, “Daddy’s NOT a boat.” And that was that. I remain, to this day, not a boat.


You may also notice that we took Sam back to the pool this last weekend. This seemed like a sensible thing to do, given that the outside temperatures were pushing 5 hoojillion and 100% humidity. We quickly found out that Sam’s previous healthy respect for the water had at some point blossomed into a near psychotic disregard for all dangers of the type aquatic. She went totally bonkers for the pool, to the point of trying to leap in whether or not we were there to catch her and deciding that it was the greatest thing in the world to be thrown high over the waves and drop into a splash-inducing free fall. She was a total maniac for the water, and by the end of the afternoon she was practicing advanced techniques like shimmying around the pool edge and swallowing great gulps of chlorinated water. I’m quite proud and exhausted from all the fear.

Oh, and lest I forget, there is some significant news on the pregnancy front. We ended not having the amniocentesis done given the positive blood test and ultrasound results. The ultrasound technician, who was not as foul mouthed as the last one, did have a thing about hamburgers and hot dogs and revealed the sex of the baby.

In other words, Sammy is going to have a baby sister. Woo!

And actually, I still can’t make any sense at all out of those ultrasound pictures. I think that the baby is actually talking out of her femur in the picture above. Or maybe spine. I don’t know. All those grey smudges look the same to me. All I know is that everything looks healthy so far and I can’t wait to meet her in person.

Sam’s Story: Week 130

This whole child thing is getting way complicated. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Sam was a much simpler creature. You just had to make sure she was rested, fed, and clean and that was pretty much the extent of it. Now someone has exchanged that Parenting for Beginners accessory with an advanced model that is not only capable of telling you her most complex desires and emotional states, but in fact will not stop doing so. At all. Ever.

And many of these desires seem completely random and inexplicable. So instead of just crying because she’s hungry, Sam will insist that Daddy pick up the purple Weeble NO THE PURPLE ONE DADDY and put it on the couch AND NOW I WANT A STRAWBERRY no I don’t want it anymore Daddy put on a Dora DVD I want to watch a Dora DVD Sesame Street Daddy open the door I want to go to the playground NOW DADDY NOW now I want Daddy to chase me CHASE ME Daddy has a baby in his belly PICK UP THE PURPLE WEEBLE DADDY! Is there some kind of cheat sheet that I can use to keep up? Because this kid changes her mind faster than mine can keep up.

Still, frantic and bizarre as it’s all becoming, I think it’s all worth it at the end of the day. All Sam has to do is blurt out one hilarious non sequitur or demonstrate some bit of mundane conversational banter made precious simply by virtue of coming from a two year old. Last night we were sitting at the dinner table when she looked up at me and said “So how was your day, Daddy?” in a perfectly casual tone that suggested she really was interested. I’m sure she just picked it up from Geralyn, but the fact that she’s now getting old enough to ask such a question and expect an answer is completely awesome. Nevermind that as soon as I started to answer her she started shouting/singing “Happy Birthday” to the cat.


On the pregnancy front, things are going pretty smoothly. Geralyn is having another blessedly uneventful time of it so far, with no morning sickness or any of that other nasty stuff. Just like with Sam, in fact. The only stressful thing on the horizon is a possible amniocentesis later this week. Apparently when expecting mothers are of a certain age the genetic councilors come out and tell them frightening stories like how there’s an increased chance that their kid may turn out to be the next Attila the Hun, but that they can totally test for that kind of thing. Unfortunately the most foolproof of these tests involves stabbing you in the belly with a huge needle to suck out some baby juice. Of course, they don’t say things like that, they say something like “insert a long syringe into the abdomen to extract a sample of amniotic fluid.” But your imagination kind of takes the latter and rewrites it to the former. I mean thinking about it makes me squirm and I don’t even have a uterus.

Still, we want to do what’s best for Baby and for Mom, so we’re going to consider all the options. At any rate, we have an ultrasound appointment coming up which should hopefully leave us with precious knowledge of the baby’s sex. So place your bets now and tune in next week.

Spam Kings

Spam Kings

The full title here is Spam Kings: The Real Story behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and %*@)# Enlargements. I co-worker of mine used to get flabbergasted every time the topic of unsolicitted commercial e-mail, or Spam, was brought up. Not because it annoyed him, but because he just didn’t understand how these people got away with it and how they did their work. Why didn’t police just knock on their doors and arrest them? I was kind of interested in the same question, so I picked up this book looking for an answer. I was also curious as to why these people do what they do. Do people really buy stuff from them? Enough to make a living? Enough even to get rich?

Spam Kings did answer these questions, in a way. It actually tells the stories of both spammers and anti-spammers, dedicated Internet users who try to unmask, report, and otherwise thwart those deliverers of junk e-mail. In particular, the book follows the stories of one person from each side, highlighting how he/she got involved in the spamming/anti-spamming scene, the methods used, and the hijinks that ensued. It sounds like it should make for an interesting story –the main spammer character in the book is a Neo Nazi for crying out loud– and it does in parts. But McWilliams somehow manages to take an inherantly fascinating (if distasteful) topic and drain it of most of its drama and life. I don’t expect him to make everything more melodramatic than it is, but this book was pretty hard to get through in most places. It could have really used some humor, commentary, and more examination of the big picture that spamming played in Internet culture. The author gives the anti-spamming subculture a good treatment, but largely ignores the rest of the world would make it that much more approachable to the typical reader. Instead, it reads more like a 9th grade world history book than the story of new-age cyber criminals and the grass roots campaigns organized to defend against them.

Its other problem is that there are way too many characters and not enough to differentiate them. The two main protagonists are fairly well drawn out, but far too often the book would flop into discussions about othe players and their activities that were honestly of no interest. Okay, is he talking about the herbal viagra guy, the diet pill guy, the hacker secrets guy, or some new guy I don’t even know who the heck he is? Do I care? Is there even a difference between them? Can’t I just skip to the next section?

So I really don’t recommend this one. You may, in fact, get more entertainment out of reading the actual spam in your e-mail inbox.

Sam’s Story: Week 129

Prior to the last few weeks I was always skeptical when parents of older children would tell me that kids would “test the boundaries” as a part of natural social and mental development. “Oh, my little Billy,” they’d say. “He’s a handful, but he’s just testing the boundaries. It’s how he learns.” I usually just nodded, but I always privately thought it much more likely that Billy was just a little bastard at heart and that the only boundaries he’d be testing later in life would be prison bars. If we’re lucky.

Alas, the last few weeks have disabused me of those quaint notions. Samantha, previously the most milquetoast of creatures, has begun poking, jabbing, and kicking at every boundry she can find. Take the following exchange, which happened over the weekend when Sam grabbed my power drill and pointed it at her left eyeball.

“Samantha,” I barked, “put that down! It’s not a toy.”

“It’s not a toy,” she repeated, putting it back on the floor where I had carefully left it and then stepping back. She then gave me a sly look and added, “I can just look at it.”

“That’s right. Just look. Knock yourself out with all the looking.”

Keeping an eye on me, she edged closer to the drill again. “I can just touch it,” she said, kneeling down and laying a single finger on it.

“No, Samantha. Don’t touch even it.”

This got her to stand up and remove the offending finger. Again she gave me a coy look and gently nudged it with her toes. “I can just kick it.”

I’m pretty sure that if I had left her to it she would have moved on to poking it with a stick or activating it with telekenesis, but I figured the easiest thing to do was to just put the thing away. Dangerous power tools aside, I can see I’m in for a balancing act. I don’t want to stifle her natural curiosity and attempts at exploring the world. I want her to experience and learn as much as she wants to. But obviously there are limits as to what’s healthy and what’s socially acceptable. I guess we’ll just have to do our best and hope she doesn’t end up sharing a cell block with little Billy.

And now, pictures.

The last thing I wanted to address this week is the mystery that has recently developed around Samantha’s coloring books. Like many kids her age, she delights in grabbing fist fulls of crayons and scribbling madly over some cheery outline. Or she’ll ask us to draw something like a heart or a flower of Thomas the Tank Engine so that she can color it in. I don’t have any frame of reference for the artistic merits of her work, but most of her coloring seems to me to be within the normal parameters of a two year old. Here’s a typical portrait:

Now this picture makes my inner child chuckle for reasons that are both too obvious and too uncouth for mixed company, but it’s a good example of what you’d expect from someone who can’t hold a crayon in anything but a tight fist.

However, when flipping through the coloring books I find that up to ten percent of the pictures resemble something more like this:

Note the slight increase in penmanship. Crayonmanship. Whatever. Now, either Sam is entering into and out of a temporary state of artistic savantedness or we have a phantom artist hitting the books when I’m not looking. I don’t want to cast any aspersions, but I do sometimes see Geralyn sitting at Sam’s little table, hunched over something. So it’s either her or, if Saturday morning cartoons have taught me anything, Old Man Jones wearing a rubber mask and using a fog machine.

Comments bug fixed

I finally got around to tracking down and fixing the bug that was causing commenter info (name, e-mail, URL) not to be remembered in the comments fields. It’ll now set a cookie to remember such minutia. So if you had quit commenting or gnashed your teeth every time you had to retype that stuff, it’s all good now. Make the most of all the time this frees up in your life.

A failure to communicate

“Hi! Thanks for calling Gold’s Gym! How can I change your life today?”

“Actually, I just wanted some information on membership rates.”

“Awesome! Have you ever worked out before?”


“Awesome! Are you a member here?”

“Huh? No, I’m thinking of joining and I want to get information on membership rates. I just moved to town.”

“Awesome! Where from?”

“California. San Diego.”

“Awesome! How do you like it here? Why did you move? What’s your name?”

“Uh, sorry, look, I’m not really trying to make special friends right now. How about those membership rates?”

“Oh, I can’t help with that. I just answer the phones.”

“You’re doing a heck of a job. Is there someone there I can talk to about membership rates?”

“You bet! Want me to transfer you?”

“Yes. Please.”


“Thanks for holding, can I help you?”

“Hi, I wanted to get information on membership rates?”

“Awesome! Have you ever worked out before?”

“Are you the same guy?”

“What guy?”

“The same guy I was just talking to.”

“The guy that answers the phones?”


“No. He’s sitting here right next to me, though. You want to talk to him?”

“Look, I just want to get information on membership rates.”

“Why don’t you come down to the club, work out for a while, and see how you like it?”

“I know what the inside of a gym looks like. I just don’t know how much yours costs. THAT is the problem I’m trying to remedy here. Can you just tell me your membership rates?”

“Well, we don’t give them out over the phone.”

“Because you think someone may be listening?”

“Because they’re kind of complicated. It’s easier to go over if you’re here.”

“Can we just pretend that I’m sitting across the desk from you right now? I do know which end of this phone to put up to my ear.”

“No, we don’t really do that.”


Needful Things

Ah, good ole’ Stephen King. It’s nice to know that he’s always there with a ripping good yarn to give me a break from the steaks of heady non-fiction that I sometimes find myself in. Needful Things is the last of his stories set in the the town of Castle Rock and it follows a common pattern and set of themes that he has developed in other books: a malevolant force comes to a small community (most often in Maine) in order to wreak havok and is finally stopped by a noble hero, usually a law enforcement official. It’s essentially the same theme as seen in The Tommyknockers, parts of The Dark Tower, Christine, It, ‘Salem’s Lot, Desperation, The Regulators, From a Buick 8, and Storm of the Century. And those are just of the works I’ve read.

Still, familiar as it is, Needful Things is still a pretty good read with an interesting presentation of the old plot. A sinister merchant sets up a store and makes faustian deals with the residents of Castle Rock in order to fulfill their wishes and sew seeds that grow into dissent and disaster. I mentioned in my discussion of The Tommyknockers that King excels at building up tension until it releases with a bang, and he does it again here –literally in this case. It’s nice to see all the groundwork he lays grow into something exciting by the end. It’s not King’s best work in terms of creating something unique or literary, but it did pull me in for the ride.

Sam’s Story: Week 128

This is kind of a special edition this week. I’ve been studying the traffic logs here at, and I’m kind of alarmed at what I see. Traffic is actually up overall, but there has been a slight dip in the last few minutes. If growing up in the 80s and watching way too much TV has taught me anything, it’s that when things start to get stale you’ve got to make some changes to the lineup. Here’s just three examples I can think of off the top of my head:

Following this conventional wisdom, I thought I’d give you, dear denizens of the Internet, a sneak peek at a new character we’ve been working on for upcoming editions of Sam’s Story. Here’s the first publicity photo:

In other words, Ger is pregnant again.


Now, to serve you better, I’ve taken the liberty of preemptively answering the 5 most common questions I think you all are likely to have. They are:

  1. No, we don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl yet.
  2. Yes, we intend to find out as soon as we can. Surprises are great if it’s Christmas or if you’re Ed McMahon headed for my front door, but that’s about it.
  3. Yes, we meant to do this. All is going according to plan.
  4. I’m not sure yet. At the moment, I’m thinking that when the baby is born, I’ll discontinue the Sam’s Story weekly updates and just do a combined weekly update for the whole family. There’s no way I could find either the material or the time to do two weekly updates.
  5. Walrus.

On a side note, I’ve yet to decide how to handle blogging about the pregnancy. I did a lot of that the first time around (click here and scroll to the very bottom of the page) but it was mainly about the learning experience of a couple of first-time parents who had never been through that particular act of gestation before. I don’t think I’ll have as much to say this time around, so when I discuss it it will probably be in the Sam’s Story updates or an occasional lone update as warranted. We’ll see.

What I do think I’ll do is do like I did before and take a weekly picture of Geralyn so we can track how that little baby making belly of hers progresses. Here’s this week’s picture (click for full size version):

With that announcement out of the way, let’s see some pictures of Sammy!

The majority of these pictures were taken out in the back yard with Sam’s swing set, or “playground” as she calls it. It’s got a few swings, some monkey bars, a covered picnic table, and a slide. Sam seemed dubious about the slide at first, but she got quite into it after a few experimental slithers down its bright yellow surface.

The only other thing I’ll say about Sam this week is that she has developed this odd little habit where if I ask her to do something she doesn’t want to do, she’ll look at me and say, for example, “No, Daddy wants to go get my shoes,” like the world’s most ineffective Jedi. Sometimes she even does the little hand gesture. It’s funny, though maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to call it ineffective. I usually do end up getting the shoes.

Moving into a new house as a text adventure game

Family Room
You are in the family room on the main floor of the house, having just moved into your new place earlier that day. There are boxes and furniture everywhere. A couch sits haphazardly in the corner.

You are 8% moved in out of a possible 100%.

The couch is green and looks very comfortable. Unfortunately the movers left it facing the wall.

The couch is too heavy for you to move by yourself. Perhaps if you had something to slide it on…

You don’t have any furniture moving pads.

There are exits north to the kitchen and east to the entryway, as well as stairs leading up to the bedrooms and down to the basement.

You are in the basement.

There are many boxes here, including a small box, a medium box, and a large box. Your new HDTV is also here, along with your Playstation 2 and a copy of Guitar Hero.

You connect the Playstation 2 to the TV.

I don’t think your wife would appreciate your goofing off while you’re supposed to be unpacking.

I don’t think your wife would appreciate your goofing off while you’re supposed to be unpacking.

I don’t think your wife would appreciate your goofing off while you’re supposed to be unpacking.

Sorry, I don’t understand what you mean.

Which box do you wish to examine?

It’s a brown cardboard box. “Very Heavy Things That Go Upstairs” is written on the side with black permanent marker.

You drape a blanket over the large box. Well done.

It’s a brown cardboard box. “Miscellaneous.” is written on the side with black permanent marker.

It’s taped shut with what seems to be an entire roll of packing tape.You try to cut the tape with your fingernails but fail.

There is an exit to the east leading to the office as well as stairs leading up to the main floor.

You are in the office.

There are more cardboard boxes here. There is a computer here. There is a roll top desk here.

You don’t have Internet access. The cable guy hasn’t come to hook it up yet.

You wait for the cable guy to show up.

You continue to wait for the cable guy to show up.

You continue to wait for the cable guy to show up. He arrives and hooks up your internet access.

I don’t think your wife would appreciate your goofing off while you’re supposed to be unpacking.

You open the roll top desk. Inside are a pile of rubber bands, return address envelopes for your old place in San Diego, and the key to a padlock you haven’t seen in years.

You take the key.

You are in the basement.

There are many boxes here, including a small box, a medium box, and a large box. Your new HDTV is also here, along with your Playstation 2 and a copy of Guitar Hero.

You hack at the tape with the jagged edge of the key until you can rip it open. Inside is various junk, including furniture moving pads.

Sorry, you don’t see that here.

Sorry, you don’t see that here.

You take the furniture moving pads.

You are in the family room on the main floor of the house, having just moved into your new place earlier that day. There are boxes and furniture everywhere. A couch sits haphazardly in the corner.

You put the pads under the couch and drag it into place.

Your wife says that’s not where she wants it.

You move the couch again. Okay, now she’s happy with it.

You are 9% moved in out of a possible 100%.

Oh no, you’re not getting off that easy.

You are in the family room on the main floor of the house, having just moved into your new place earlier that day. There are boxes and furniture everywhere.

Tales of installation

I’m not really the handiest of people. I mean, I have hands –two of them– but I’m not as good as some at using them to build things or install things. And coupled with the fact that that we’ve just moved into a new place this has led to a lot of conversations like this one:

“There, there’s your bathroom rack thing. Freshly installed.”

“Is it level? It doesn’t look level.”

“It’s level.”

“Did you use one of those things? Those things that make sure it’s level?”

“You mean a level?”



“It doesn’t look very sturdy.”

“It’s fi–HEY DON’T TOUCH IT! What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking I might, you know, hang some towels on it.”

“Woah, woah, woah. No, this is just for kleenex. One kleenex. Kleenexum.”


“Towels go over here. On the floor.”

Sam’s Story: Week 127

The big event recently, as I mentioned last week, is that we finally moved into our new house. Now it’s not a mansion by any standards, but coming from the postage-stamp sized houses of Southern California it sure feels like one to us. I keep thinking of those diagrams that show the size of Earth relative to Jupiter or the Sun whenever I can’t remember where I left my wallet. Which is often.

This also means that Ger and I have had to develop some new attitudes about letting Sam roam the place unattended. In California we usually wouldn’t let her stay on another floor unattended, and the place was set up so that we could pretty much keep an eye (or at least an ear) on her this way. Now she can be totally out of the picture at any time and the image of her in my mind changes from her doing safe things like reading to her stuffed animals is replaced by images of her taking an electric drill to the basement drywall or doing backflips off the stairs. But we’re getting used to it.

Sam, too, has had to adjust to the size of the new place. Our second night there we were playing in the basement when I told her it was time for her bath. Sam acquiesced and climbed the stairs to the living room on the main floor where she paused to look around with a confused and slightly worried look on her face. She then turned to me and asked “Where did the bathtub go?” I mean, I climbed stairs, Daddy, and I distinctly remember the bathtub being upstairs, so WHAT’S GOING ON, MAN?

She’s got things figured out now, though. Last night we were playing on the swing set in the back yard when I decided to engage her in conversation about the new place. “Sammy,” I said, “do you like the new house?”

“Yeah, I do like it.”

“Why? What do you like about it?”

At this Sam paused to purse her lips and gather her thoughts. “I like the oveeeen, and I like the microwaaaave, and I like the dishwasherrr, and I like the teveeee, and I like the siiink…” This went on for like five minutes, with her just sitting there on the tire swing and naming off all the appliances and fixtures she could think of, stretching out the enunceation of each one as if to say “Ohmygosh, there’s just so much cool stuff here!” And funny as it was, I had to agree with her –I like the TV, too.

Sam also had absolutely no problems transitioning to a full twin bed, either. The first night we put her in it she gave it an initially dubious look, then seemed to decide that it was okay before demanding that one of us get in there with her and read “Go, Train, Go!” seven hundred times in a row. She slept through the night without getting up once that we know of until about 7 a.m. the next morning when Ger found her halfway down the stairs in search of breakfast. I swear, this kid is so easy going it’s eerie sometimes.


Most of the pictures, you may note, are from a trip to “The Farm,” which is a place out in the country that Ger’s parents, aunts, and uncles own. Sam has been there before. There’s a rickety old barn with a swing, there’s a beach, and there’s a small lake. Sam thought all of the above were increasingly awesome as the day went by and she learned valuable new skills like throwing rocks or slinging wet sand at everyone in sight.