Week 325: Pigs, Dances and Daddy Daughter Weekend

Just a quick multimedia sampling for you this week. Sam had her operatic debut in her school’s production of “The Three Little Piggies Opera,” which I was disappointed wasn’t sung in the original Italian. Sam played the part of “Brick Vendor #2” and while it wasn’t exactly a headliner role, she did impress us by actually knowing all the words to every other kid’s song. She also got to dress in a red hankerchief.

I also love this picture, because it proves that Sammy is good at “panting Rambos.” Which is a good skill to have.

Geralyn actually did capture the entire performance on video cassette, and while I had strong, virtually palpable intentions of transferring it and post it here, I kinda ran out of time. But I did grab this little bit where we captured Mandy’s song and dance routine while I was reacquainting myself with the camera. It even features the fabled “Mandy Dance” about 1:15 in. It’s kinda totally worth it.

The last couple of days have been a blur. Geralyn went out of town, leaving me to take care of the kids from Saturday morning through Sunday evening. I’ve never been the kind of dad who was afraid of stepping up to take care of his own kids –I still outweigh them and can still outsmart them most of the time– but I have a new appreciation for what Ger goes through every day. Rainy weather kept us indoors, but I started off strong, thinking I not only take care of the girls but do a load of laundry and mop the kitchen floor. I made it until early Saturday afternoon before deciding that I was utterly spent and that there would have been a very good chance that my children would die of starvation if the fruit snacks weren’t kept on the bottom pantry shelf. Fortunately I rallied my strength and things have gone pretty well.

All told, the weekend involved a donut breakfast, the gym (to work off the donut breakfast), a trip to the science museum, a “everybody make your own personal pizza” party, movie night, a Sunday school recital, a trip to the Butterfly House to replace the little plastic butterfly that got washed down the tub drain, and another movie night that should really be more accurately called a movie afternoon. Geez, I can’t wait for Geralyn to get home. Or the sun to come out and dry up all the rain. Either one.

Weight Loss Week 16: 8 pounds to go

April 22 weight: 170.0
Weight two weeks ago: 170.5
5 day avg weight: 171.7
5 day avg weight two weeks ago: 171.4
Workouts in last 7 days: 6

Hrm, stuck in another plateau. Weight spiked up on Monday, then it took me the rest of the week so far to bring it back down to basically where it was last week.

Weight loss graph week 15

It’s odd, because I’ve really cranked up the intensity of my exercise. I went running six days last week, covering 27 miles –a record week for me. That’s a lot of calories burned, but apparently not enough to move the needle much.

The culprit, of course, must be food. I’ve abandoned calorie counting because it’s too much of a pain to do with home made food. I don’t really want to be the kind of person who obsessively enters every component of a recepie in order to get an estimate of its caloric content that’s probably not that accurate, anyway. But it strikes me that a good middle ground is probably to just write down WHAT I eat and approximately how much, even if I don’t track the calories contained in it. So I bought a $.79 pocket notebook and plan on carrying it with me everywhere. Just the act of writing down that I just gobbled a fist full of jelly beans may be enough to make me stop there, or better yet eat something else. So we’ll see how that goes. I really want to get into the 160s, like NOW.

Returning to the topic of exercise, I’ve really been enjoying running lately. I did my first 5K run at SIOP the other week, and signed up for another 5K in my neighborhood this June. But then I found that my local science museum was sponsoring a 10K race in May, so I signed up for that. I think I could do 10K at this point, since I have, in fact, run that far in one go many times at the gym. I’ll just have to do it outside now, on a ground that doesn’t politely move itself underneath me to spare me the extra trouble. I’ll let you know how that goes, too.

Book Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind is the first in a planned trilogy of high fantasy novels by Patrick Rothfuss that follow the adventures of the improbably named Kvothe. At the beginning of the novel Kvothe is a young boy traveling with his minstrel parents and their trope. Ha ha, sorry, I meant “troop.” Bit of a Freudian slip there. Regardless, Kvothe soon finds himself homeless and scrounging to survive on the streets of a large city. The lad is gifted, though, so he weasels his way into University where he sets about learning magic. Only Rothfuss thinks he can trick us by calling it “sympathy” and talking about it like it’s a science, but we’re not fooled –it’s magic. Anyway, the bulk of the book follows Kvothe through his rapid but trecherous rise within the school’s student ranks. Also, there’s a girl.

I liked The Name of the Wind pretty well as pure entertainment and an example of the genre. It’s a little offsetting that Kvothe is a bit of a Mary Sue character, in that he’s super smart and mature beyond his years from the offset. He learns an entire language in a matter of hours, for example, and more than once he easily grasps advanced academic subjects for the sake of moving the plot along and letting Rothfuss engage in some quick world building. But in the end Kvothe is flawed enough to avoid falling into this trope entirely and he faces his share of genuine adversity. Most of the conflict in the book comes not from swordplay or spell slinging, but from the young student’s struggles against his poverty. He’s constantly living on the edge of destitution and scrambling to not only make ends meet, but save up enough to pay for next term’s University tuition. He works multiple jobs, borrows funds from a convivial but nonetheless dangerous moneylender, launches a career as an entertainer, and scrounges wherever he can. Kvothe is also a bit of a prig and despite his best intentions to make friends and influence people, he can’t help making enemies of a few people in positions to make his life difficult. This was a novel source of conflict for a high fantasy book. You’re used to seeing the youths in these books fight bandits and slay monsters, not pinch pennies and eat out of garbage cans. So if nothing else, it’s unlike other stuff in the genre and it’s very readable even if we do catch ourselves rolling our eyes at Kvothe’s improbable aptitudes.

And while we’re on the subject, don’t let anyone tell you that this book is “like Harry Potter, but for adults.” It’s nothing like Harry Potter except that they both feature young boys learning magic at a school. Past that, there’s nothing alike, neither in character, larger setting, or tone. The Name of the Wind isn’t exactly dark, but it’s not the imaginative, fanciful romp that the Harry Potter books are at their best. I also get the feeling that Kvothe isn’t going to stay at the University once subsequent books are released. And while we’re on the subject, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like the prospect of waiting years before a series is complete and available for reading, you may want to hold off on this one; as I mentioned, it’s only the first of a trilogy, and we all know that those have a habit of blooming into quartets, and then five or six book series, and then so on until the author finally dies. Yes, I’m looking at you, Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin.

Still, Rothfuss is a snappy enough writer and an imaginitive world builder that I was able to look past Kvothe’s “I’m an orphan but I’m totally noble in spirit and can do anything really super effectively” pastiche. As a character he’s kind of “meh” but I’m hoping that Rothfuss moves past that in subsequent volumes. At any rate, I’m along for the ride if he can get them to me before the close of the next decade.

Weight Loss Week 15: 8.5 pounds to go

April 15 weight: 170.5

Weight two weeks ago: 170.0

5 day avg weight: 171.4

5 day avg weight two weeks ago: 171.1

Workouts in last 7 days: 6? I think?

Well, I missed last week’s update because I was out of town at a convention and forgot to throw my scale in my suitcase. So I really didn’t have any good way to weigh myself and this week’s graph involves some guesswork. This causes me much consternation, as I have been trained and conditioned to hate dirty data.

Weight loss graph week 15

I’m hovering right around 170, which is annoying. Eating while traveling is always tough, as you don’t often cook for yourself and it’s hard to go to restaurants where they don’t give you massive portions. On top of THAT, the convention where I was featured 2-3 catered coffee breaks per day where they would roll out these big trays full of cookies, energy bars, cakes, and the like. I didn’t partake every time, but I abstain every time.

However, I’m not at all bummed for two reasons. First, this is an annual convention that I go to almost every year and see old friends and colleagues so I was about 35 pounds lighter than the last time most of these people had seen me. I got several comments and compliments on this, and I’m not going to lie to you –I enjoyed that.

The second reason I’m not bummed is that I ran in my first ever semi-official 5k race –the SIOP 5K “Fun Run.” The downside was that the race took place at 6:30 on Saturday, the morning after a late night. Also, it was far too chilly for my tee shirt and shorts. And we spent more time bussing to the race location and waiting for them to set up the trail. But once we got started, I had fun running with a pack of other people. While I found the 5K run easy (I run 5K to 6K for routine workouts 3-4 times a week) I wasn’t anywhere near the front of the pack. The winner had an average mile of 5 minute 11 seconds (!) but I came in #63 out of 107 with a total time of 27 minutes on the nose and an average mile of 8 minutes and 41 seconds. Here’s a post-race picture:

Weight loss week 15

I’m slowly getting more into running now, especially with the warmer weather. I still track my stuff at DailyMile.com, and I’ve sigend up for another 5K in June. I’d really like to find a local 10K to work up to, though. I think I could do that at this point.

Anyway, I’ve got some time before I have to travel again, so it’s time to get back on target. 160s here I come.

Book Review: The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade

I’ve mentioned before how big a fan I am of the guys who make the Penny Arcade webcomic, so you can imagine that when the book tour promoting their new volume, The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade, came to my hometown I went to see them. And it was a really fun event! They got up on stage for about an hour and a half, during which Mike (the artist) sketched on a computer that was projected in front of the crowd (80% of which were wearing black tee shirts, I’d estimate) while Jerry (the writer) ran a question and answer session. They really knew how to work a crowd and afterwords I was able to get my copy of the new book signed.

Speaking of which, the first thing you should probably know about The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade (subtitled either “The 11 1/2 years anniversary edition” or “Nearly 12 years of bullshit” depending on if you look at the dust jacket or the actual hardcover) is that it’s not just another collection of the webcomic fixed in a paper medium. They have those for sale if that’s what you desire, or you can just go read the website for free. Rather, this new book is split evenly between reprints of favorite/relevant strips and big delicious blocks of text describing not just the comic, but the entire Penny Arcade enterprise. There’s a biographical recounting of how Mike and Jerry met and eventually got around to creating the comic, there’s articles about the Child’s Play charity they created, and there’s photos and stories about the Penny Arcade Expo that has quickly risen to claim the crown of “Best Public Expo For Nerds Who Like Gaming Ever.” There are even harrowing tales of how the PA guys ran afoul of the law, almost went out of business, and floundered at almost every step of the way. Almost all these pieces are written by the PA staff (most usually Mike, Jerry, or their business manager Robert Khoo), so while they’re not exactly impartial and obviously aim to leave you with the impression that Team PA is totally awesome, they do get you a lot of inside information and are surprisingly frank about things that the creators and their collaborators did flat out WRONG. So if you’re a fan of PA and are looking for a little more biographical information on everyone involved to date, the book should satisfy.

I should mention that despite all the words in the book, its graphical elements are also outstanding. Some of Mike’s best artwork is scattered throughout the book to give it the right flavor, and the layout and typography make the book a lot of fun to just flip through. Coupled with the brief nature of all the stories contained within, this makes it an ideal coffee table book of the kind that friends may just enjoy opening to any page and starting to peruse. I can’t guarantee what they’ll think of you afterwords, though.

Week 323: Easter!

Okay, ask me how much candy my kids ate. Ask me. Infinity! They ate infinity candy!

Well, at least they had a good time. We dyed eggs on Saturday, but the girls’ hearts weren’t in it because their neighbor kid was having a birthday party at the same time, to which they had also been invited. And they had a bouncy castle. And a clown. We had eggs and cups of bright liquids that smelled of vinegar, so both Sam and Mandy made their exit early. Mandy would periodically trek back up from the neighbors’ house, up our back porch, into the house, then back down to the basement to tell me things like “Daddy, there’s a clown!” This message delivered, she would then turn around, go back upstairs, go out to the porch, then back down to the neighbors’ house where the festivities were continuing.

Unfortunately in all the exuberance Mandy took a bit of a spill on the concrete patio outside the bouncy castle and kinda sorta busted her lip and scraped her cheek. So on Easter morning after she had gotten her enormous basket of candy I started telling everyone who asked that she had fought the Easter Bunny for his sugary loot. And won.

Sam also got candy, and one addition to her basket was a package of Pop Rocks that I had been hanging on to for a while. You remember Pop Rocks? Those little handfuls of sugar-coated gravel that would pop and snap inside your mouth and blow your head clean off if you combined them with Coke? Without telling Sam what to expect, I let her gobble a mouthfull and then documented the results:

The transition from frame 5 to frame 6 is my favorite.

Easter evening we had Geralyn’s entire family over to our house for an Easter party. Ask me how many family members were at our house. Ask me. Infinity! Infinity family members were at our house!

Not that it was bad in any way. In fact, the girls had more fun playing with their various cousins (and, in one case, trying to shove one of them down the play structure slide) and there was ANOTHER egg hunt with MORE candy. We had given up trying to regulate their candy intake about eight hours ago, so they pretty much gorged until they looked green in the face. When we finally tried to give them a bath around 9:30 that night, Sam had a total sugar crash. She just lay there in the tub, saying “I’m SO TIRED. I want to GO TO BED.” I squirted her in the face with cold water until she got out of the tub, which is also a good trick for teaching errant cats a lesson. At any rate, sleep was instant in coming, deep for its duration, and released reluctantly in the morning.

And yet, they both wanted candy for breakfast. But don’t worry; I only let them have a couple of pieces.

Book Review: Dune Messiah

I really liked Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune when I first read it a few months ago –so much so that I named it one of the best books I read that year. But upon finally getting around to the sequel, Dune Messiah I’m pretty disappointed. It’s really boring.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see some of the impressive literary clockwork that Herbert assembles in the book. Where Dune told the story of Paul Muad’Dib’s rise to the Emperor, controller of the universe’s only source of the coveted super spice “melange,” and general badass dude, Messiah tells the story of his downfall. It also follows through on one of the more interesting concepts introduced in the first book: Paul’s spice-induced ability to foresee the eventual species-wide extinction of humans and the hard choices he has to make in order to steer history towards a lesser evil. Indeed, Messiah fast forwards to a point where Paul’s fanatic followers have propagated a holy war that has destroyed entire planets and left over 60 billion people dead in just a few years. By those measures, Paul is the worst monster history has ever created, yet he has to bear the mostly private burden of knowing that he’s killing all those people to save the race as a whole while simultaneously trying to outmaneuver his political opponents and crafty assassins. Angst!

The problem I have with Messiah is that it suffers acutely from a kind of talking head syndrome. It’s not until the back sixth or so of the book that anything interesting happens. Dune had sword fights, skirmishes, Paul and his mother tromping around the deadly desert of Arakis meeting and learning about the Fremen, and all other kinds of adventures. Messiah devotes literally dozens of pages at a time to sitting in a room listening to conspirators talk to each other. And then talking about what the talking means. And then thinking about what the talking about the talking means. It’s terrible and jarring to see how Herbert has switched gears so abruptly from fascinating adventure and world building to stark exposition and naval gazing.

Not that some of the ideas aren’t interesting. The way that Paul must grapple with his precognition and how he has to grasp at things to try and leave humanity on the path to survival in the wake of his inevitable fall is a complex and fascinating idea, for one. And I liked the idea of how his strengths are the things that ultimately do him in –sometimes literally. It’s just that I wish Herbert had found ways to make this story less tedious in its execution.

Is the third book any better? I’m on the fence at this point.

Weight Loss Week 13: 8 Pounds to Go

April 1 weight: 170.0

Weight a week ago: 171.5

5 day avg weight: 171.8

5 day avg weight a week ago: 171.6

Workouts in last 7 days: 6

Another pound and a half down, though the 5-day average weight was basically a wash. I let myself have a “fall off the wagon” weekend but got right back on track Monday. I’m SO close to being in the 160s. Hopefully I will be in the next few days, though with Easter coming up I’m no so sure. There’s going to be a lot of candy and food at our big family gathering this Sunday.


Weight loss graph week 13

No picture at the moment. Maybe tonight.

I started mixing in a bit of weight lifting to my workout routine, and this has reminded me of something very important: lifting weights after not having lifted weights for a long time makes you hurt very, VERY much. So sore. Still, it’s nice to have some variation and it’ll be good for the long term.