jmadigan.net

30Jul/07Off

Week 183: Swimming, Clothing, and Funny Faces

I'm usually hesitant to turn this blog into an episode of "Kids Say the Darndest Things, By Golly!" but sometimes I can't resist. Sam and I were playing at the pool last weekend when she straightened up and shouted "I'M A MAGICAL FISH THAT POOPS RAINBOWS!"

Sometimes you gotta lead with your A material.

Speaking of swimming, Sam started taking swim lessons at a local community center. I was kind of surprised to learn that the lessons don't involve Geralyn at all, who was told to go sit over there and watch. Instead, a single instructor was to oversee the lessons, which kind of worried me since I didn't think she would be some kind of multi-armed octopus or Hindu Goddess capable of keeping all of her tiny wards --who cannot swim else they wouldn't be there-- on the gaseous side of the water's surface. But it turned out that it was just Sam and one other little boy showed up. And apparently Sam's single classmate suffered from a fear of the six inches of water in the shallow end of the kiddie pool such that an icy fear seized his heart and loosed his bladder. Sam, on the other hand, took every chance she could find to lurch towards her doom in the deep end, so the instructor still had her (two) arms full.

Sam's enthusiasm for the world in general leaks over into other areas of her life, such as slobbering food all over every part of her person. By the time I get home at night she's already gone through multiple clothes changes and would be in need of another if Geralyn hadn't decided that she was totally going to bed in a few hours anyway so what's the point? Even worse, lately we've just been telling Sam to go upstairs and pick out her own replacement clothes, so that by by the end of a day of sloppy fun she sometimes looks like a miniature madwoman who haphazardly raided the loading dock behind The Children's Place.

If she stays inside with us it's not much of a problem, but last night when she went out in the back yard to play with the neighbor girl (who was, by the way, resplendent in a pretty blue dress) Sam did so wearing stretchy pants with "Happy Halloween!" printed all over them, a chocolate-smeared tank top that was two sizes too small, and bright pink tap shoes. I thought that if the neighbor girls' parents came out to say hello, I would be mortified. The neighbor girls' parents did, in fact, come out to say hello.

Mandy is, by the way, doing just great. I wish there was more to report, but it's the same stuff: she's eating food, being charming, and looking happy. The only bad spot was when we fed her too much rice cereal and green beans too close to bed time and Mandy lay in her crib protesting this gastrointestinal largess. The thing I have noticed in the last few weeks is that she and Sam are starting to interact more. Sam will bring Mandy toys, talk to her, and even try to get her to laugh by making funny faces. Mandy, for her part, usually laughs wildly and turns to face Sam when she hears her come into the room. I think they're laying the groundwork for a great relationship.

Geralyn also insists that Mandy is trying to say "Ma-Ma!" but I have my doubts. She's babbling like crazy now, for sure, but all I can make out of it is an intense fascination with discussing "burlap." Which was, come to think of it, Sam's first word too.

Filed under: Parenting 3 Comments
28Jul/07Off

What’s in my camera bag?

Camera Bag

Have you ever been curious as to what's in my camera bag? No? Well, I've already got it all typed up so I'll go ahead and tell you anyway.

  1. Wireless camera remote
  2. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens
  3. Flash diffuser (the white rectangular thing) and hood for the 70-300mm lens (the black round thing)
  4. Canon 430EX Speedlite
  5. Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens
  6. Canon EF-S 18-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens
  7. Rocket blower
  8. Canon Digital Rebel XT SLR camera
  9. Lowepro neck strap w/ memory card wallet and two 1GB memory cards

Not pictured:

  1. Sunpak DigiPro XLF tripod
  2. Canon 18-55mm EF-S USM lens
  3. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens
  4. Canon EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM lens
  5. Lastolite Ezybalance grey/white card
  6. Lastolite silver/gold reflector
Filed under: Photography 5 Comments
27Jul/07Off

Book Review: Blaze

Well, here's an interesting case that continues to prove that Stephen King's supposed retirement wasn't to be believed. Blaze is billed as one of the "Bachman books" because it was originally drafted back in the early days of his career when he was doing some writing under the pseudonym "Richard Bachman." King supposedly "found" the old manuscript in a trunk, which sounds like a load to me, but he's actually giving all the proceeds from the book to charity so you can hardly accuse him of doing it just for the money.

Blaze tells the story of a character of the same name --a big, mentally deficient small time criminal with, of course, a heart of gold. Blaze has had nothing but hard luck, living through a string of tragedies and hardships that pushed him down a life of petty crime, but which couldn't really harden his gentle nature. Blaze and his new partner George decide to step things up, though, hatching a plan kidnap a baby from a rich family so they can hold him for ransom. But before they can act, George is killed. Blaze attempts to go through with the plan, thanks in part to (supposedly) beyond-the-grave cajoling from his deceased partner. Hilarity does not ensue.

There's some fairly interesting things going on here with the character of Blaze. You can tell that King is trying to paint him as a sympathetic character, a kind of tragic figure you're supposed to be rooting for. I just had a bit of trouble feeling TOO bad for the guy by the end of the book. Sure, he had had some really bad breaks in his life, but in the end he was kidnapping and endangering a BABY. He wasn't rescuing it or posed with some kind of moral dilemma where he had to choose between the lesser of two evils. Blaze was stealing a baby and putting its life in direct danger because (in the beginning, anyway) he thought he could get rich doing it. It just didn't work for me and I was in fact NOT rooting for him during the climax or any other point in the book.

The one source of real tension in the book was whether or not the kidnapped baby would die. King establishes a pretty strong pattern of every chance Blaze had at happiness ending in death, be it his mom, his friend at the orphanage, a prospective father figure, or his partner George. I was tense right up to the end, because I could see where the pattern was going and I didn't want an innocent baby to repeat it. I won't tell you if he does or not just in case you do read it.

I should also probably note that there are some obvious parallels between this book and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Both contain a big, overpowered dummy (Blaze and Lennie) and both contain a more diminutive, high-strung partner who supposedly looks out for the dummy (George and, um, George). Both involve guys who are down on their luck and who just want a shot at happiness but find out that it's unattainable and that all their hopes are false. And both involve bad things happening after the man-child chokes someone to death while in a passion. The parallels are amusing to pick out, but I'm not sure there's a whole lot else there. King doesn't dig as deeply in that rich earth as Steinbeck did, at any rate.

So, a decent read if you're into King. Like his other Bachman books it's short and a fast read, so you're not looking at much time or effort to get through, making it good for a little diversion.

Filed under: Books 1 Comment
25Jul/07Off

Photo of the Week: Virtual Childhood

I'm bending my "No kids in the PotW" rule a bit here, but the idea for this picture came to me while browsing through The Sam's Story and Parenting archives. This is, unfortunately, how a lot of our family has to experience their grandkids/nieces/whatevers most of the time. But it's better than nothing. Yay Internets!

See the rest of my Flickr photostream.

Filed under: Photography 1 Comment
23Jul/07Off

Week 182: The Future, Bossy Bears, and Swimming Holes

One of my favorite things to do with Sam lately has been just to talk with her. Her verbal abilities have developed to the point where they can sustain actual conversations instead of strings of simple declarative sentences, and she's gotten savvy enough to explain her thought processes, reasoning, emotions, and other things that she could never really let us in on before. She's even moving on to more complex and abstract concepts like time, though the concept of a time before she existed completely bamboozles her. She insisted, for example, that she must have been at Ger and mine's wedding 10 years ago but just doesn't remember it, probably because she sat in the back.

Lately, though, she's been fixated on the concept of the future. One day while sitting in her car seat she piped up with "I don't see any futures here." Seeing this as a rather pessimistic viewpoint, I explained that the future was something that hasn't happened yet, like her next birthday. And that when I say something like "In the future, I wish you wouldn't ask 'Why?' after every statement I make" it means that you shouldn't do that any more. And actually, I wish she wouldn't do it in the present, and the past for that matter.

This seemed to give her brain something to gnaw on, but apparently her synapses got kind of tangled along the way because last night she got up out of bed, wandered into our bedroom, and announced that "I don't like the futures. I think there's futures at Homer Simpson's house. But the futures are only at my birthday." She then turned around and padded back down the dark hallway to her room, ignoring my questions about a bad acid trip.

Sam continues to be Little Queen Bossy, often insisting on directing every nuance of our playtime fun. Which isn't that fun. We all went to the bookstore the other day so I could get that certain new book that just came out, and we turned Sam loose to pick out her own. Despite my attempts at luring her over to the shelves full of Dr. Seuss and other classics, Sam bowed to the brainless attraction of merchandised crap like Disney, Blue's Clues, and Care Bears. Much to my exasperation the book she finally picked out was some insipid Strawberry Shortcake drivel about how the titular character forgot to take her lunch to school and had to have her dog (named, of course, Pupcake or Poopcake or something equally inane) retrieve it for her.

I, on the other hand, was trying to push a book I had found called Bossy Bear on her. It's about an obnoxious little bear who bosses everyone around and demands that everything be done his way until he discovered that people will eventually tell him to just go to hell and leave them alone. I thought this might be a better message to subtly get across to Miss Bossy Britches than having some pastry-themed menagerie retrieve a bag full of sandwiches, but what do I know? In the end, Sam miraculously decided that she didn't like the Strawberry Shortcake book after all and that I could just pick one out for her. So Bossy Bear it was, and you know what? She loves it. She wants to read it constantly and I think she may even be taking the hint because she'll now occasionally say "I'm not a Bossy Bear!" and let me actually offer a playtime suggestion. Neat. Thanks, children's books section at Borders!

Mandy has been doing fine. She's continuing to become a better eater, and I think I'm required by law to share a photograph of her with mashed prunes smeared all over her face. So here you go. She got her second ever dip in a swimming pool last weekend, showing off her new swimsuit. On the same topic, this picture totally cracks me up for some reason, probably because of what Sam's doing in the background. I dunno, I'm easily moved to mirth sometimes.

It's been fun watching Mandy grow up, because for all the differences between her and her sister (and there are several) it's still exciting to watch them go through the same stages. Mandy now rolls around like and can almost sit up unassisted. She also recognizes her name and will turn to you if you say it. Being a good student of the scientific method I've tried saying other words in the same tone --"Cucumber!" "Ancillary!"-- and she largely ignores me unless it's her name. So that's cool. And man, I'd almost forgotten how great it is to just get unconditional affection and glee out of someone just by moving into her field of vision. This kid, she loves to smile and she'll give you one just for the asking.

Filed under: Parenting 6 Comments
20Jul/07Off

Goodbye ads, hello meta

You may have noticed that the Google Adsense ads are gone. Or maybe you didn't because you people never clicked them, earning me literally pennies per day. On good days. Maybe you didn't see them because you use Firefox with ad blockers that filter them out so that you don't notice them much less click on them. I know that's why I didn't see them, so ...right on!

At any rate, I think we can chock this up to a failed experiment and not really worth continuing. I actually don't care, since my expectations were pretty much zero going in and opening the site to check it in Internet Explorer and then seeing a huge color ad for stuff by a raving lunatic like Anne Coulter pushed me over the edge.

To make use of some of the new real estate I added a couple of sections to the links bar over there on the right. One is kind of a "meta me" collection of links to my profiles on various services and Web 2.0 sites:

The other group of links go to places where I'm part of the online community:

Enjoy your clicking. It's on the house now.

19Jul/07Off

Book Review: Rage

Rage

This is one of Stephen King's oldest books, originally written in 1966 and then published a decade later under the pen name "Richard Bachman." It tells the story of Charlie Decker, a high school student who goes on a short shooting rampage in the process of taking his algebra class hostage. Charlie has severe problems with authority and seems to have a few bugs working away at his mental health, which leads to a pretty tense situation. After he takes over the classroom, the balance of the short novel is spent seeing how Decker proceeds to play mind games with the adults who try to defuse the situation and the classmates who are trapped in the room with him.

This is, understandably, an disquieting book to read in a post Columbine and post Virginia Tech world. There's probably a lot more going on than King intended. In fact, this undercurrent started started well before either of these recent shootings. Following the book's publication there were at least three possible copycat shootings where student shooters either quoted directly from the book or had a copy of it in their possession. For this reason, King demanded that the book be taken out of print, which it has in the U.S. So, you know --collector's item.

I found the book itself to be okay, though certainly not among King's best work. It's hard to deny that the premise is an interesting one, particularly in the way that the real focus of the work isn't on the violence itself (that's pretty much over within the first few pages), but on the relationship that forms between Decker and his classmates as he holds them hostage. Most of the other students actually identify with their captor and take the opportunities he gives them to act out against authority, break down class and clique barriers, and gain an understanding about each other that would be impossible in a normal day at school. Imagine The Breakfast Club as directed by Quentin Tarantino and you get the idea.

Unfortunately King doesn't really take the premise and run with it anywhere particularly interesting besides "nobody understand kids" and "the popular kids get their comeuppance" with a few dirty stories thrown in for effect. There was an opportunity here to do a lot more and explore the nature and pitfalls of childhood social systems more deeply, but I don't really feel he hit it squarely.

The other problem I had with the novel is one that I have with a LOT of King's work. The main character, Decker, is supposed to be a teenager, but King writes him using the same kind of omniscient, overly clever and almost world weary voice that he reverts to in so many of his characters. Decker spouts colloquialisms and insights that you just don't believe are coming from a 17-year old kid, even a supposedly intelligent one. It's not quite as egregious as in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, but it's distracting.

So, not a terrible book, but not one of his better ones, either. The premise sets up something potentially interesting but King just doesn't yet seem to have the insight to turn it into something about the lives of teenagers that's thought provoking. He does, in fact, seem to do this a lot better in later years with books like Christine and It. I'd recommend those books way before this one.

Filed under: Books 3 Comments
18Jul/07Off

Photo of the Week: It’s a Trap!

This one is another result of a stretch assignment where I wanted to start with an idea and try to clearly communicate it through a picture. I've started carrying around a little notebook in which I jot down ideas for pictures as they occur to me, and this is the first fruit of that practice. I found the mouse trap during some Spring cleaning and made the coupon myself in Photoshop.

The background is once again courtesy of my do it yourself light box. I also bought a multi-pack of poster board in different colors so I could try out different backgrounds. I kind of like the orange one, too:

These photos are, of course, dedicated to Admiral Akbar.

Filed under: Photography No Comments
17Jul/07Off

My New Column is up in TIP

TIP

Looks like the July 2007 edition of The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist (a.k.a., TIP, SIOP's quarterly magazine) is online, including my column that I co-author with Marcus Dickson. The column is "Good Science Good Practice" and in each issue we try to highlight research that bridges the gap between scientists and practitioners. Preferably without resorting to cage matches. This time we talk about things we saw at the 2007 SIOP conference in New York. Here's a smidge:

Later in the conference a panel of other experts on employment testing gathered and discussed how certain scientific and methodological advances in test validation were faring in the field. Specifically, the symposium, entitled “Validity Generalization in the Workplace,” discussed alternatives to traditional test validation strategies that are widely accepted as useful and acceptable by researchers and other experts in the testing industry, but which are sometimes regarded as inscrutable or untested (pardon the pun) by others. Examples included job component validity, validity transportability, and meta analysis. The panelists, all of whom use these validation tactics in their everyday work, explained that they are most often useful and necessary when traditional approaches like criterion-related validation are impossible due to time constraints or the lack of enough incumbents to achieve adequate statistical power for the required procedures.

The incumbents were also forthcoming with many of the sometimes irritating realities of this kind of research, including the fact that one must be able to replicate job analysis procedures for transportability studies and that there was still a certain amount of legal risk involved in these processes given that the courts have yet to build up a strong history of neither support nor opposition for these approaches despite their widespread acceptance among academics and other science-minded practitioners. The presenters also sheepishly provided a somewhat unsatisfying answer to the question of “how close is close enough” when it comes to comparing the components or requirements of two jobs for purposes of transporting validity: “That’s up to you to decide.” It seems there is still a place for professional judgment in the brave new world of alternative validation approaches.

Also of interest for those you who get the print version of TIP, they've changed the cover format to include photographs on the covers. A welcome change, and I since photography has become a hobby of mine I'm hereby making it my life-long goal to get a photograph on the cover. That way I'll be both inside and outside the magazine, which will pretty much make me unstoppable.

16Jul/07Off

Week 181: Squash, Swimming, and Pumpkins

The pictures this week are a little heavy on the Mandy, mainly because she's finally gotten to where she's sitting up and doing stuff. You can only photograph her so many times just lying there on her back. She has, in fact, started to get much more interactive. She still hasn't learned, however, where to draw the line between conversation and screaming. It's not uncommon for her to sit in her chair and babble making all kinds of fun nonsense sounds, but she's just as likely to grab one of her stuffed animals by the ears, lean into its face, and just start screaming at it in a strangely purposeful way. Like she expects it to GET HER POINT, YOU INSIPID LITTLE BEAR! So this puts her communicative prowess on par with most Internet message board users, but still with plenty of room to grow.

Mandy is also improving her table manners, and has moved on from simple rice cereal to all kinds of theoretically delicious foodstuffs. She seems to really dislike the green mush that's supposed to be peas, but she absolutely loves the brown mush that's supposed to be butternut squash. This is a passion we do not share, mainly because of the time I was taken out to lunch as part of a job interview while I had the stomach flu and I had the misfortune to order a big bowl of butternut squash bisque, which I reasoned would be the mildest thing on the menu. I had one spoonful, then spent the rest of the meal desperately trying not to vomit all over everyone in sight --the interviewer, the waiter, the people three tables over, everyone. Mandy, on the other hand, seems to take willful delight in projecting her squash all over the place, often explosively and with a big grin. Good thing she's already got the job.

We finally took Sam to the pool-slash-megawaterplex (goggles and all) this last weekend, much to her initial glee. Of course, shortly after we got there she busts out running across the concrete and falls down, scraping her knee and forearm fairly badly. Badly enough to bleed and leave her a crying, blubbering basket case. She kicked her freakout up a couple of notches when the blood from one of the wounds started spreading, prompting her to shriek "It's getting bigger! IT'S GETTING BIGGER!" Even after the scrapes were washed, disinfected, and bandaged she couldn't calm down and wanted to go home despite our declaration that we had just paid $21 to get into this place and weren't going to leave before Daddy had a chance to get good and sunburned.

After about 20 minutes of incessant freaking out, we were getting kind of embarrassed and exasperated. We had tried everything we could think of and I eventually had to just taker her out to the car to calm down. Still, it was hard to be mad at her when she sat in my lap, pulled my arms across her chest and said between blubbering gasps, "Put your ...arms around ...me and never ...let go." Eventually she was fine, though, and we had to deal with a new hissy fit when we told her it was time to go home.

Still, sometimes it IS easy to get mad at Sam, since her willfulness is quickly becoming legendary in our household. Last night we were sitting on the floor playing when she spontaneously picked up one of her toy trains and threw it against the wall.

"Sam!" I said. "Do not throw your toys! If you do it again, you're going to get a time out."

This said, she looked me straight in the eye while kneeling down to pick up the next nearest toy --a plastic orange pumpkin.

"Sam," I said, knowing the look in her face by now. "Do not throw that."

She stood up, smirking and cocking her arm back.

"Don't do it, Sam." I felt like I was trying to talk down a lone gunman. As it often does, the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was running through my head.

She paused, looking me right in the eye for effect. The pumpkin twitched in her hand.

"Put it down, Sam. I'm warning--"

The pumpkin bounced off my forehead and continued on a secondary arc to the ground some distance away.

There was much screaming and taking of time outs (both by her, actually), but I had to admit --it was a pretty good throw. I was actually kind of proud of her on that.

Filed under: Parenting 3 Comments
12Jul/07Off

Book Review: The Assault on Reason

The Assault on Reason

I don't normally read political books, but I picked up former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's The Assault on Reason on a whim because the premise sounded interesting. I was kind of hoping for a erudite discussion of how logic, science, and rationality have been disappearing from the American landscape. You know, like the debate (in finger quotes, that) over evolution, the subjection of science to politics or business, our near pathological fascination with celebrity gossip, and the erosion of our educational system when it comes to math, science, and related subjects.

Instead, as you may have already guessed, the book is about 10% all that stuff and 90% prolonged polemic against the Bush administration. Gore essentially takes the political headlines from the last six years or so and neatly arranges them in a way that clearly shows the current President's offenses, most of which come from the displacement of public, reasoned debate and constitutional freedoms by a fanatical political doctrine and various cheap tricks. Nothing that Gore brings up should be news to anyone who watches The Daily Show, much less those who follow real news outlets (I won't admit which group I fall into), but I found the impact of having everything stitched together in one cohesive narrative to be astounding.

Gore provides detailed examinations the Busch administration's handling of things like the case for war in Iraq, the science behind the environmental crisis, the hurricane Katrina aftermath, state sponsorship of torture, suspension of habeas corpus, blocking of Federal judge appointments (the book was published before the allegations of their politically-based firings came out, but I'm sure it'd be in any future revisions), cronyism, the manipulation of the press, secrecy, and wire tapping. He then ties it all together with the common threads, such as the expansion of the Executive branch's power, zealous political doctrines, reliance on special interests, and the erosion of opportunities for public debate fueled by reason and facts. When one looks at the whole picture using the road map Gore provides, it's really quite damning. I mean, even more so.

Not everything that Gore said really rang true to me, though. One of his central, repeating themes is that the ability of Americans to become active participants in their democracy is hamstrung by the one-way nature of television as the dominant medium. This I don't necessarily disagree with, though I think he overstates it. But what kept confusing me was how he seemed to think that the printed book and pamphlets that were the main outlet for political thought during the nation's birth and infancy were much more conducive to two-way, reasoned debate. I understand that access to a printing press and a street corner on which to hand out your pamphlets was much easier than producing and airing a 30-second TV spot is today, but it's still just one guy selling books or pamphlets. I don't see the two-way communication that Gore says was going on there. It seems like he's just looking for something supposedly more wholesome to contrast television against, which is all just a lead-up to what he sees as the real savior of reasoned political debates and exchanges: the Internet with all its blogs, social networking, videos, and assorted tubes.

All in all this was a really interesting read that I'm glad I went through. Gore comes across not as a whiner, but as a level-headed and amazingly intelligent observer of the big picture. I don't believe all his arguments, but it's nothing if not thought provoking.

Filed under: Books No Comments
11Jul/07Off

Photo of the Week: Sunset, Sunrise

Sunset over "The Farm," Ger's family's place out in the middle of nowhere. I like the colors on this one. See the rest of my Flickr photostream.

Filed under: Photography 1 Comment
9Jul/07Off

Week 180: Sitters, Photos, and Hobbies

Well, we hit a milestone for Mandy this week: her first baby sitter. Ger and I went to a birthday party for an uncle Sunday night, and since her parents wanted to go as well we were deprived of our usual source of childcare. Fortunately a neighborhood girl stepped in to the rescue, and things turned out much better than Sammy's first experience with a baby sitter where we came home to find the house completely empty, both baby and sitter missing.

Dealing with the sitter has always been Ger's thing, though, and I usually steer clear of it. But last night when the sitter rang the doorbell Ger was indisposed and so it was left to me and Sam to greet her. Unfortunately I couldn't remember her name, and just lamely said "Look, Sammy, it's the er... baby sitter ...person." Heck, I didn't even know for sure that she was the sitter. A door to door vacuum cleaner salesman could have rang the bell and I would have let him in so I could show him where all the diapers were kept and telling him that he could help herself to the soda in the fridge.

Fortunately it wasn't and things went very smoothly. I think Sam was delighted that we had brought her this person who was actually being paid to do whatever she was told. Within seconds Sam was directing her activities in the area of how to build a proper train track NOOO NOT THAT WAY HENRY GOES IN THE TUNNEL ARE YOU STUPID? When we left Mandy was lying in her bouncy seat minding her own business and Sam was informing the sitter that she, Sam, was George and that the sitter was The Man in the Yellow Hat, except that she was also a monster and that she should chase her now. We tipped her well when we got back later that night.

Making comparisons between Sam and Mandy has become kind of a hobby. We think we know, for example, if one of them is going to spend time in jail which one it's going to be. But I'm not saying. What's also fun is trying to recreate some of my favorite pictures of Sam with Mandy and see how they turn out. Take these of bath time in my Mom's sink, for example:

Everyone needs a hobby, and this is better than dressing squirrels up in little tiny clothes and having them reenact scenes out of history. Obviously.

Filed under: Parenting No Comments
6Jul/07Off

Book Review: E=mc2

I'm not quite sure why I keep going back to these history of science books, but I enjoy them. E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation is pretty much what it says. But if you're looking for just another Albert Einstein biography, author David Bodanis is mostly going to disappoint you here. It's more like a biography of the eponymous equation, examining each term (heck, even the equal sign) in great detail and giving a thorough accounts of the history of each piece and the impact it has had on modern living.

The book strikes just the right balance between physics lessons (don't worry, there's no math) and explaining the scientific achievements leading up to and following in the wake of the equation's discovery. I'm hard pressed to think of a subject that would include French aristocrats getting beheaded over the construction of a wall, Madam Curie's radioactive cookbooks, high-brow academic bickering, and detailed discussions of how make uranium atoms asplode real good. My favorite part was something that actually sounds more like the final level in some World War II video game than a physics textbook: a small group of Norwegian commandos (actually mostly former plumbers and machinists) creeping into a heavy water factory in order to sabotage it and derail the Nazis' 1942 atomic weapon program.

It's all very thorough and very readable and I had no idea that there was so much that went into and came out of the fact that mass and energy are the same thing in two different forms. The end of the book even looks forward billions of years to show how the equation predicts the Earth will end (in flames as the Sun gives one final cosmic belch) and how the universe itself will eventually sputter to a stop. But don't worry, you'll be long dead.

Filed under: Books 3 Comments
5Jul/07Off

Photo of the Week: Jelly

A jelly fish at the aquarium in Jenks, Oklahoma. I think they were under some kind of funky black light. Far out.

Filed under: Photography 1 Comment
2Jul/07Off

Week 179: Trips, Mosquitoes, and Fish

This week's update is a bit delayed because we all went down to Tulsa to visit my mom, sister, and brother-in-law. It's a multi-hour drive from where we are and we embarked with a fair amount of trepidation given that we would be asking two children to sit still for longer than is natural. Amazingly they did pretty well (hooray for portable DVD players and car lighter adapters!), though several more pit stops were necessary. Here's a fun fact: There's not much to do in a McDonald's parking lot. When did they get rid of all the fast food restaurant playgrounds? It's kind of sad that most entertaining thing Sam found during her play breaks was a large pile of gravel. Though, to her credit, she did christen it "dinosaur Mountain" and did her best to climb it. Repeatedly.

Once we got there things got better. Well, slightly. There were monumental rainstorms most of the time we were in Tulsa, which meant that Sam didn't really get to leave the house much. And when she did, she was immediately assaulted by mosquitoes the size of pit bulls so that by her second day there she was so thoroughly bitten that she looked like she was covered in bright red polka dots.

Actually, we did go one day to the new Aquarium in Jenks, Oklahoma. For Sam this was probably the high point of the visit. Though she may appear entranced by the charms of nature when confined to a 500 gallon Plexiglas jug, she actually started the visit off by flitting from one display to the next, pausing barely long enough to identify its contents before running to the next. "Oh, a fish. Let's go to the next one. Oh, a turtle. Let's go to the next one. Oh, a shark. Let's go to the next one. Oh, I don't know what that is. Let's go to the next one."

Eventually after she had briefly smeared her fingerprints and/or forehead over every tank in the place, Sam did slow down enough to revisit each of them at a more leisurely pace. She touched stingrays, she fed turtles, she gazed at fish. It was grand. Also, we went to the mall. Yay!

Sam seemed to take (again) pretty raedily to her relatives, warming up to them in no time. She even colored a picture for her Aunt Shawn and engaged Uncle Brent in a round of a game I like to call "IT'S A MONSTER! RUN!!" which is pretty much what it sounds like. Of course, it helped that they gave her presents, like a British police officer helmet, which she used to go on patrol looking for soccer hooligans.

Sam also took fairly well to her sleeping arrangements, which consisted of her own bed in the spare bedroom. Well, eventually. On the first night five minutes after I put her down I heard screaming. I opened the door and turned on the light to find her trying to exit the room via the closet. She did better after we gave her a night light.

Mandy, of course, did just fine. She mostly slept on the drives and was happy to just hang out with whoever wanted to hold her while we were there. It was kind of fun to wash her in the sink, too. I'm not quite sure that she'll weather traveling so well after she gains more mobility, though.

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