August 31, 2005

Poo-Poo Polka

Elizabeth sent me this blog item about potty training a young boy. I love this paragraph:

Just as you finish wiping him, you notice that he has somehow gotten more than a little bit of crap on his foot, and there are now several little crap footprints decorating the bathroom floor. For a moment you're distracted by the fact that the pattern looks like something you might find on the floor of an Arthur Murray Dance Studio. What might the dance be called? The Fecal Dance? The Poo-Poo Polka?

I think I'm in trouble when Dorothy's turn comes along. :-O

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)

Catastrophe Rankings Over The Top

Today's NYT article on the hurricane disaster in New Orleans has a quote I also heard on NPR yesterday:

"It looks like Hiroshima is what it looks like," Gov. Haley Barbour said, describing parts of Harrison County, Miss.

With all due respect to the suffering of those affected by Katrina as well as the damage done, it just doesn't compare to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The bombing of Hiroshima killed 80,000 people immediately, and another 60,000 or more due to aftereffects. The death toll is not at all comparable to Katrina's damage. As far as property damage, you can see in this image of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb how total the devastation was. Louisiana and New Orleans are not nearly as damaged.

Of course, because the destruction is not complete, rebuilding may actually be more costly (since they're not starting with a 'clean slate'). And yes, the suffering and damage due to Katrina is horrible. The rescue and revival effort is going to be massive. But I think the governor of Mississippi should talk with more sense. He won't, of course, because he's a politician.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:15 AM | Comments (1)

August 30, 2005

Photos from the zoo

I'll write about the trip to the zoo later. And I'll post last week's photos later. For now, you can see the numerous photos from yesterday's trip to the zoo. Enjoy!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

Language Explosion

The explosion of Dorothy's language abilities has been continuing, and we wanted to record her current state before she gets to the level of the high school debate team.

Below are new words she can say and/or sign (that she couldn't do as of the last report), and words that she now says that she only signed before (at least, these are the ones we can think of right now):

  • Animals: Cat (pronounced "wahnwa"), bear, owl, dog, bird, deer, bunny, duck, fish, sheep, frog

  • Food: Milk, water, cracker, cookie, cheese, apple

  • Misc. objects: Socks, bus, bike, bah-bahl (for big/blue ball), diaper, frisbee, bathtub, slide, moon, Aquadoodle (said as "ahdoo"), block, door (she can say these last two very clearly)

  • People: Dorothy, Meemom, Poopop (sounds like Boopah), Emma

  • Abstract: Help, bye, outside, down, up, high five, please

  • Compound words: Other (said "oh" as in "o-bear" and "o-sock"), more (e.g., she's now saying "more food" instead of just "more")

Some of these words are also used to name specific books. For example, the book "I Love You, Little One" has a picture of many animals in it, including deer, so she calls it the deer book ("dee"). And "More More More Said the Baby" is the "baby" book.

She also chatters on for long periods of time, although it's mostly babbling that we can't understand.

Dorothy knows many body parts. She can point to her head, hair, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, shoulders, belly button, knees, feet & toes. And she understands some colors pretty well. If you ask her to hand you the blue duck, etc., she usually gets it right.

It's pointless to try and list all the words she can understand, because 1) there are so many, and 2) she understands more than we realize. I'll see if I can collect anecdotes to give examples in a separate post, but here's just one to give you an idea. At the zoo yesterday, after lunch we'd put the remaining pieces of cheese on the front of her stroller for her to eat as we were going around. They stayed there for a little while, and I thought she was full. So I asked her if she was going to eat them, and got no response. I then commented that maybe I should throw them out, since they were getting soft in the sun. She immediately grabbed them and snarfed down the cheese before I could blink.

UPDATE: Additional words that we either forgot, or heard very clearly for the first time today, are: pizza, eye, teeth, open, rhino, and OK. Elizabeth figures that Dorothy is now learning to say almost one new word a day. :-O The avalanche is beginning...

Posted by Tom Nugent at 11:55 AM | Comments (3)

A Falling Onion Controversy!

Thanks to Scott for pointing me towards the latest in the science vs. religion wars, courtesy of that most stolid of news sources, The Onion ("Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory").

Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

Gotta love The Onion to put things in perspective. :-)

Posted by Tom Nugent at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

Interest-Only Mortgages

A story in Saturday's New York Times ("Good News, Bad News: Your Loan's Approved" by Eduardo Porter) highlights the growth of interest-only mortgages for home buyers. It appears that over 50% of new prime mortgages have been interest-only in the last two years, and subprime mortgages are up to nearly 25%. I believe most of these mortgages are also ARMs, which means that not only do the home "buyers" get hit when the mortgage changes over to paying principal in 5 or 10 years, but they also get hit when the fixe-rate term expires and the interest rate becomes adjustable.

Prices are set on the fringe. In other words, it's the small fraction of people who are actually selling an item that set the price for all owners of that type of item. So how, exactly, can anybody believe that real estate prices can not possibly go down? One simple recession and a lot of people are going to lose their houses.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

August 28, 2005

Ahh, Clarity - More on "Intelligent" Design

Today's New York Times has an op-ed piece on the debate over evolution and more, as centered around the so-called "intelligent design" idea ("Show Me the Science" by Daniel C. Dennett). The author makes an excellent summary of why the arguments put forward by the intelligent design crowd are deceptive, misleading, and ultimately don't do anything useful.

It's late at night as I write this, so I don't have as much commentary as I did on previous pieces on this topic. But go read the editorial - he clarifies why there is no real controversy over the teaching of evolution, and how the intelligent design crowd has made it seem as if there is a controversy.

He summarizes the question of the eye (whether it was designed or evolved) simply:

Take the development of the eye, which has been one of the favorite challenges of creationists. How on earth, they ask, could that engineering marvel be produced by a series of small, unplanned steps? Only an intelligent designer could have created such a brilliant arrangement of a shape-shifting lens, an aperture-adjusting iris, a light-sensitive image surface of exquisite sensitivity, all housed in a sphere that can shift its aim in a hundredth of a second and send megabytes of information to the visual cortex every second for years on end.

But as we learn more and more about the history of the genes involved, and how they work - all the way back to their predecessor genes in the sightless bacteria from which multicelled animals evolved more than a half-billion years ago - we can begin to tell the story of how photosensitive spots gradually turned into light-sensitive craters that could detect the rough direction from which light came, and then gradually acquired their lenses, improving their information-gathering capacities all the while.

We can't yet say what all the details of this process were, but real eyes representative of all the intermediate stages can be found, dotted around the animal kingdom, and we have detailed computer models to demonstrate that the creative process works just as the theory says.

All it takes is a rare accident that gives one lucky animal a mutation that improves its vision over that of its siblings; if this helps it have more offspring than its rivals, this gives evolution an opportunity to raise the bar and ratchet up the design of the eye by one mindless step. And since these lucky improvements accumulate - this was Darwin's insight - eyes can automatically get better and better and better, without any intelligent designer.

Brilliant as the design of the eye is, it betrays its origin with a tell-tale flaw: the retina is inside out. The nerve fibers that carry the signals from the eye's rods and cones (which sense light and color) lie on top of them, and have to plunge through a large hole in the retina to get to the brain, creating the blind spot. No intelligent designer would put such a clumsy arrangement in a camcorder, and this is just one of hundreds of accidents frozen in evolutionary history that confirm the mindlessness of the historical process.

Intelligent design advocates have not actually put forward any theory at all, much less one that actually contradicts evolution:
The focus on intelligent design has, paradoxically, obscured something else: genuine scientific controversies about evolution that abound. In just about every field there are challenges to one established theory or another. The legitimate way to stir up such a storm is to come up with an alternative theory that makes a prediction that is crisply denied by the reigning theory - but that turns out to be true, or that explains something that has been baffling defenders of the status quo, or that unifies two distant theories at the cost of some element of the currently accepted view.

To date, the proponents of intelligent design have not produced anything like that. No experiments with results that challenge any mainstream biological understanding. No observations from the fossil record or genomics or biogeography or comparative anatomy that undermine standard evolutionary thinking.

Instead, the proponents of intelligent design use a ploy that works something like this. First you misuse or misdescribe some scientist's work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a "controversy" to teach.

Note that the trick is content-free. You can use it on any topic. "Smith's work in geology supports my argument that the earth is flat," you say, misrepresenting Smith's work. When Smith responds with a denunciation of your misuse of her work, you respond, saying something like: "See what a controversy we have here? Professor Smith and I are locked in a titanic scientific debate. We should teach the controversy in the classrooms." And here is the delicious part: you can often exploit the very technicality of the issues to your own advantage, counting on most of us to miss the point in all the difficult details.

Very tricky. Dennett concludes:
For now, though, the theory they are promoting is exactly what George Gilder, a long-time affiliate of the Discovery Institute, has said it is: "Intelligent design itself does not have any content."

Since there is no content, there is no "controversy" to teach about in biology class. But here is a good topic for a high school course on current events and politics: Is intelligent design a hoax? And if so, how was it perpetrated?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 11:37 PM | Comments (2)

August 25, 2005

Cracking the Whip

Now that Dorothy is walking and talking, Elizabeth and I have decided that it's time for Dorothy to pull her weight around the house. Starting last week, we've started giving Dorothy chores to do. You know, easy things like fetching pails of water, milking the cows, etc.

Actually, we're starting with one simple chore, with which she receives lots of help. Dorothy is now feeding the cats. Every evening before bathtime, we all go into the bathroom where their bowls & food are kept. Dorothy helps get out the bucket of cat food, and we get down the food bowls. We usually have to help Dorothy scoop out the food because she can't really reach all the way into the current bucket (we're going to get a smaller one). She then takes the scoop and dumps the food mostly into the bowl (which one of us usually holds for her, since her aim is better when the bowl is up off the ground). Kibbles that fall onto the floor are usually picked up and put into the bowl by hand.

Once we get a smaller food bucket, I think Dorothy might be able to handle feeding the cats mostly by herself within a couple of months, perhaps sooner. Then we'll add another chore, like mowing the lawn. ;-)

So, are Elizabeth and I monsters for making such a young child do a "chore," or are we late to the chore party?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:22 PM | Comments (4)

August 23, 2005

To the Moon, Baby!

Dorothy's language skills have been developing at a pretty brisk pace, yet I'd be willing to bet that most people who don't spend lots of time around wouldn't be able to figure out most of what she means. "Owl," for example, comes out as "owh." "Bear" sounds like "beyah" (which would sound right at home in Boston), "cheese" is "chssss," etc. Even Mommy and Daddy are not always certain what she's saying, although we can usually figure it out eventually.

For some time now, Dorothy has pointed at the moon wherever it appeared in various books, and in the last week or so she's also said "mooh" (it sounds closer to "moah" than to "moo") as she pointed to the images of the moon in her books.

Tonight, as we were getting her out of the bathtub, Dorothy was pointing at my chest and saying "mooh." I was wearing a t-shirt from my days at the Illini Space Development Society (before it switched from being an NSS chapter to a SEDS chapter). The t-shirt had a modified version of the astronaut performing an EVA image, with a crescent moon added in the upper left corner.

We were stunned. We of course told her encouragingly that yes, that was the moon on Daddy's shirt. But we were surprised that she'd identified a moon with only 1/8 of it visible and in a context she hadn't seen before. Pretty neat!

Of course, we then told her that Daddy was working to make sure she could go to the moon someday. Even if I can't ride on the space elevator, I hope she can!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

Weekend Photos

We took so many photos (plus that video snippet) this weekend, that I had to empty the card early. Which means there's a new photo album up!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:48 PM | Comments (0)

Scienctists & Religion

The New York Times continues their series on evolution, science, and religion today with an article discussing religious belief amongst scientists ("Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science" by Cornelia Dean).

My beef with creationists and many in the intelligent design crowd is not that they believe in a supernatural being, it's that they're trying to force their religious (and therefore non-scientific) beliefs into science. Luckily, there are many scientists who understand the differences between science & religion:

Although they embrace religious faith, these scientists also embrace science as it has been defined for centuries. That is, they look to the natural world for explanations of what happens in the natural world and they recognize that scientific ideas must be provisional - capable of being overturned by evidence from experimentation and observation. This belief in science sets them apart from those who endorse creationism or its doctrinal cousin, intelligent design, both of which depend on the existence of a supernatural force.

Their belief in God challenges scientists who regard religious belief as little more than magical thinking, as some do. Their faith also challenges believers who denounce science as a godless enterprise and scientists as secular elitists contemptuous of God-fearing people.

Some scientists say simply that science and religion are two separate realms, "nonoverlapping magisteria," as the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould put it in his book "Rocks of Ages" (Ballantine, 1999). In Dr. Gould's view, science speaks with authority in the realm of "what the universe is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory)" and religion holds sway over "questions of ultimate meaning and moral value."

The other issue brought up by religion is that of morality. But many people believe that moral behavior is not dependent upon belief in a god.

Another crucial piece about the religious beliefs of many scientists is the extent to which they think any god interacts with the universe:

He rejects the idea that scientists who reject religion are arrogant. "We know how many mistakes we've made," Dr. Weinberg said. And he is angered by assertions that people without religious faith are without a moral compass.

In any event, he added, "the experience of being a scientist makes religion seem fairly irrelevant," he said. "Most scientists I know simply don't think about it very much. They don't think about religion enough to qualify as practicing atheists."

Most scientists he knows who do believe in God, he added, believe in "a God who is behind the laws of nature but who is not intervening."

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:40 PM | Comments (3)

Is It "Bass Ackwards?"

There was a great line in today's Dilbert:

With all due respect, that sort of decision should be made by someone who knows his mass from a black hole.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2005

Today on Kitty TV

This is what we saw outside our bedroom (and bathroom) window around 7:30am this morning:
(The views out some of these windows are referred to as "kitty TV" because of the views of the birds etc. in the yard. Not to be confused with the "kitty widescreen TV" - the floor-to-ceiling living room windows.)

The back yard is now completely empty, as is the area near the driveway. Pictures of the devastation will follow sometime in the next few days.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:04 PM | Comments (1)

The Hat Movie

This weekend we got a video snippet (on the camera, not the camcorder) of Dorothy playing with her hat and a bowl. I've uploaded two versions. One uses an encoding version I've used before. The other uses the new H.264 encoding but you need to have Quicktime 7 (available for free) to see it. H.264 should allow me to put up larger, longer movies with less disk space, so I'd like to start using it. Please let me know if upgrading to Quicktime 7 present a problem for you!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:01 PM | Comments (3)

Another Day, Another NYT Piece on Evolution

It appears that the New York Times has decided to be the "all evolution 'debate' all the time" newspaper. Just one day after its last article about the so-called "debate" over evolution, they have another article today (looking deeper, it looks like they're having a special series on the topic. Yesterday's article was about the politicization of research. Today's article ("In Explaining Life's Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash" by Kenneth Chang) discusses what I could you would call the philosophy behind the debate.

At the heart of the debate over intelligent design is this question: Can a scientific explanation of the history of life include the actions of an unseen higher being?
The heart of the argument is whether or not I.D. is scientific. It is not:
But mainstream scientists say that the claims of intelligent design run counter to a century of research supporting the explanatory and predictive power of Darwinian evolution, and that the design approach suffers from fundamental problems that place it outside the realm of science. For one thing, these scientists say, invoking a higher being as an explanation is unscientific.

"One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed," said Douglas H. Erwin, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution. "That's a fundamental presumption of what we do."

That does not mean that scientists do not believe in God. Many do. But they see science as an effort to find out how the material world works, with nothing to say about why we are here or how we should live.

And in that quest, they say, there is no need to resort to otherworldly explanations. So much evidence has been provided by evolutionary studies that biologists are able to explain even the most complex natural phenomena and to fill in whatever blanks remain with solid theories.

While intelligent design advocates claim they're doing science, scientists disagree:
Nonetheless, many scientists regard intelligent design as little more than creationism dressed up in pseudoscientific clothing. Despite its use of scientific language and the fact that some design advocates are scientists, they say, the design approach has so far offered only philosophical objections to evolution, not any positive evidence for the intervention of a designer.

Some arguments put forth by I.D. advocates don't seem to understand the difference between an open and a closed system:
"Imagine you're an archaeologist and you're looking at an inscription, and you say, 'Well, sorry, that looks like it's intelligent but we can't invoke an intelligent cause because, as a matter of method, we have to limit ourselves to materialistic processes,' " Dr. Meyer said. "That would be nuts."

He added, "Call it miracle, call it some other pejorative term, but the fact remains that the materialistic view is a truncated view of reality."

William Paley, an Anglican priest, made a similar argument in the early 19th century. Someone who finds a rock can easily imagine how wind and rain shaped it, he reasoned. But someone who finds a pocket watch lying on the ground instantly knows that it was not formed by natural processes.

They're basically trying to say that "materialistic view" means "no intelligent actors," but they're wrong. "Materialism" refers to the idea that there are no supernatural causes to explain anything. Evolution (along with broader scientific models of the universe) posits that human intelligence arose from a long series of causal events (starting with the beginning of the universe). Human intelligence is contained within the scientific description of the universe (i.e., in my way of describing it, it is a "closed" system), and (as long as you understand that complexity can arise from simpler systems and simple rules) does not require anything external to explain it. Once you have human intelligence, then you can get watches. I.D., on the other hand, is not self-contained; it does nothing to explain the so-called designer. As stated in Wikipedia's article on the Teleological argument, the "intelligent designer" must have its own, higher-complexity, intelligent designer. And so on and so on.

I'm curious to see if the NYT has another article tomorrow. They seem to be staying about as impartial as it's possible to be when discussing the topic.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:26 AM | Comments (1)

August 21, 2005

Controversy of Their Own Making

There's another article in today's New York Times about the debate over the teaching of evolution ("Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive" registration required to access NYT articles). The article focuses on the Discovery Institute, a (Seattle-based) foundation which is, depending on your point of view, either trying to undermine the notion of sicence (and evolution in particular), or to promote so-called "intelligent design." As usual, reading about what these people are doing got my blood pressure up.

The intelligent design (I.D.) crew claims that there is an honest debate (a controversy, even) over evolution and other ideas about mankind's origins. The "controversy" over evolution is a cultural (and religious) one, not a scientific one, yet the I.D. crowd tries to portray their concerns as science. Intelligent design is untestable, therefore it is not science. Evolution is about as widely accepted in the scientific community as any theory can be; there is no scientific debate over its verity.

One of the fundamental misunderstandings in this debate concerns what people mean by the word "theory," as evidenced in many religionists' pleas to teach or discuss both "theories." Wikipedia has an excellent description of the different ways people understand the word (from Science):

The word theory is misunderstood particularly often by laymen. The common usage of the word "theory" refers to ideas that have no firm proof or support; in contrast, scientists usually use this word to refer to bodies of ideas that make specific predictions.

In terms of science, intelligent design is not a theory because it does not make predictions and is not falsifiable.

The New York Times article continues:

As much philosophical worldview as scientific hypothesis, intelligent design challenges Darwin's theory of natural selection by arguing that some organisms are too complex to be explained by evolution alone, pointing to the possibility of supernatural influences. While mutual acceptance of evolution and the existence of God appeals instinctively to a faithful public, intelligent design is shunned as heresy in mainstream universities and science societies as untestable in laboratories.

Intelligent design basically says "gee, things like eyeballs are so complicated that there must be a supernatural entity (i.e., God) who made them." Luckily, just because these people's minds are too narrow to consider complicated paths of cause and effect does not mean that such complicated arguments don't exist. Go read the Wikipedia articles on intelligent design and the teleological argument ("intelligent design" is a part of it) for excellent summaries of the debates.

Here's another example of how the I.D. people over-extend:

"We are in the very initial stages of a scientific revolution," said the center's director, Stephen C. Meyer, 47, a historian and philosopher of science recruited by Discovery after he protested a professor's being punished for criticizing Darwin in class.

I.D. is not science. What they are trying to create is an end to rational thought. Hello, Dark Ages! "What?" you say, "these people aren't promoting we return to the Dark Ages!" Well, guess again:
These successes follow a path laid in a 1999 Discovery manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which sought "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies" in favor of a "broadly theistic understanding of nature."

By definition, a "broadly theistic understanding of nature" is not a scientific one. It is the basis for theocracies such as exist in Iran. Or, for that matter, in much of medieval Europe. I believe that persecution by a dominant theocracy is what drove many people to leave Europe for the Americas hundreds of years ago. Ironic, isn't it, that people today are trying to recreate the conditions from which our nation's founders fled?

The money aspect of I.D. has some annoyances:

A closer look shows a multidimensional organization, financed by missionary and mainstream groups - the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides $1 million a year, including $50,000 of Mr. Chapman's $141,000 annual salary - and asserting itself on questions on issues as varied as local transportation and foreign affairs.

I'm assuming that Bill Gates does not personally oversee every single donation made by his foundation. But he is still responsible for this type of donation, and therefore here is a new reason (totally unrelated to the Microsoft & Windows atrocities) to despise his actions. Later, the article says 'Greg Shaw, a grant maker at the Gates Foundation, said the money was "exclusive to the Cascadia project" on regional transportation.' But even if they donate money towards a transportation project, funding one-third of the director's salary takes a broader focus.

"We give for religious purposes," said Thomas H. McCallie III, its executive director. "This is not about science, and Darwin wasn't about science. Darwin was about a metaphysical view of the world."
Huh? Darwin was about describing a naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) explanation for complexity in nature.

Intelligent design is a sort of successor idea to the simple creationism that was propounded in earlier decades.

"They have packaged their message much more cleverly than the creation science people have," said Eugenie C. Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, the leading defender of evolution. "They present themselves as being more mainstream. I prefer to think of that as creationism light."

That's I.D. it in a nutshell - "creationism light." Trying to call it science, and trying to suggest that there is serious scientific doubt about evolution is the first step in their dishonest attempt to overthrow rational thought and form a new theocracy.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:53 PM | Comments (0)


A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an online puzzle game called Planarity. The relatively straight-forward game was written by John Tantalo, an undergrad at CWRU. The premise is simple: untangle the nodes on a planar graph (i.e., move the nodes so that none of the lines connecting them overlap).

The nodes are initially laid out randomly in a circle. You move nodes one at a time, trying to untangle the lines. As you move up in levels, it gets harder because the number of nodes increases.

I'm not one to play computer games very much. I may occasionally dabble, but I don't keep going back to a game for very long. The same may some day be true with Planarity, but for now I'm addicted. The scary part is that I keep seeing nodes and lines even when I'm not playing. :-O

When I first started, I got the impression that this might actually be a computer game I'd be good at (I suck at most games, and am not great at many puzzles). The FAQ states, when talking about the levels, that "if you get past 10 or so then consider yourself in select company." I was able to get to level 21 before starting fresh at an earlier level (easier to do now that the game has the ability to skip levels).

The author has now provided stats on the high, low, and average amount of time it's taken people to complete each level. So I started keeping track of the time it took me to complete levels. (Before trying to go for time, I'd wound up taking WAY too long for each level.) I can finish level 7 in well under 3 minutes, I've done level 14 in roughly 7 minutes, and I finished level 20 in less than 19 minutes. I compared these times to the online stats. The chart is a bit hard to read, but as far as I can tell, my time on level 20 is slightly better than the reported lowest time. :-O So maybe I really am good at it? People (such as Tom E.) who know my computer gaming history can now be scared.

I've also been playing around with the planar graphs. Things I've noticed (which may be obvious to graph theory mathematicians) are that you can turn a graph inside out (i.e., take the outer-most points, bring them into the middle, then re-arrange everything so that the inner-most points are now on the outside). Also, the number of nodes with only two lines from them might scale with the level (i.e., total number of nodes). There seem to be 6 "two-line" nodes at some middle levels (levels 7 & 9), but only 3 such nodes at lower levels (1-3). There are probably other interesting properties of these planar graphs that I may notice over time.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2005

Got Lumber?

As I've mentioned before, the developers who own the house we're in are clearing out most of the trees around us in order to build 21 new houses. Well, they started this week. In fact, all week long we've had a new alarm clock. No, it wasn't the sound of workmen singing "I'm a Lumberjack and I'm OK." It's been the sound of chainsaws starting just after 7am.

The visual change around the house is drastic. For comparison's sake, here is what the backyard area used to look like:

There were two posts for a volleyball net, and a rotting picnic table in the back section:

From roughly the same vantage point as the last picture, but looking 90 degrees to your left, you can see the back of the house.

And from inside that part of the house (the master bathroom), you could see into some of the backyard.

Those were the "before" pictures. Now for the "after."

First off, I was surprised at how quickly they were able to take down so many trees. As far as I could tell, there were usually only 3 guys here - two running chainsaws (one of whom sometimes was just a spotter), and one running an excavator (backhoe). They made tremendous progress every day, and in fact had most of the trees around here cut down within three days.

Day 1: Looking back from the bathroom area, you can see that things are already looking much thinner.

Day 2: Here's a comparison shot looking towards the house. The stuff in the way is really just small branches and stuff - the big trees have already been moved elsewhere in the field.

And here's another comparison shot looking out from the bathroom. You can't see to the right quite as much, but it's already thinner than it was the previous day.

Day 3: Looking towards where the picnic table is, you can see some of the fallen trees, and how open the area to the right is.

And looking to the side of the house, you can see that what used to be a wall of trees is now very wide open.

Separately, I'll probably post pictures of the flattened area, and more of the construction as it progresses. For now, anyone who's been to our house won't recognize the back yard if they see it again.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2005

Photos for August 19

Yes, I'm having a hard time being original in my photo gallery post titles. Whatever you think of the title, though, the pictures of Dorothy are always cute!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:23 PM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2005

Development of Playgrounds

Elizabeth sent me an interesting article from a June, 1996 edition if Illinois Issues about the changes in playgrounds ("BEYOND PLAYGROUNDS"). The subtitle just about says it all: "The best advice you can give a kid may be: Go play in the street."

Playgrounds used to be found in backyards or in parks and schools; today a mall. fast-food emporium, day care center, hospital or airport terminal would not dare open without its own tot lot. In spite of the competition from the private playground, usage of public playgrounds is going up too. Public playgrounds are still free to use, as in the '50s; unlike the '50s they are brighter, safer, more interesting, and (thanks mainly to federal regulations) easier for more kids to use, especially toddlers and those with disabilities.

Will these playgrounds be remembered more fondly by today's kids than those of my youth? If so, will it be because the new generation of play spaces better meets their needs? Or will it be because formal playgrounds are the only play spaces that today's kids have? Do even the best of today's playgrounds provide more than a pale imitation of the real world that was the venue for children's play for the thousands of years before humans invented monkey bars? Better as playgrounds have become, are they enough?

The author make some interesting points. For example, children try to push their limits, and to explore the boundaries of what's safe, often with unintended consequences:
To make playgrounds interesting, kids often will deliberately use them in contrived or extreme ways. Wheaton's rubberized playground is known among local daredevils as the "Power Rangers" playground because there they can do belly-flops on it they would never dare do on mulch or pea gravel because it would hurt. Thus the Catch-22: The safer you make a playground (past a certain point), the more likely it is that kids will get hurt on it.

Safe play apparatus does not necessarily mean boring apparatus. Experienced child care people know that older kids do not push themselves beyond what they feel they have the skill to do. Well-designed equipment abets this natural sensibleness; it does not take danger out of play, but makes the danger apprehensible, so a child can choose whether to proceed safely. "Kids play in abandoned buildings and don't get hurt," notes Kutska, in large part because abandoned buildings do not bear an adult imprimatur as "safe."

There are significant differences in playground design between the US and other countries (the "Guide" refers to the Illinois Department of Conservation's 1995 "A Guide to Playground Planning"):
According to the Guide, ponds, streams or drainage ditches "attract children and can be hazardous." Which, of course, is why they attract children. Trees? It's hard to imagine a piece of play equipment more perfectly designed to satisfy children of all ages and abilities than a good climbing tree. But the Guide warns that tree climbing "can become a problem if not controlled" and urges that low-hanging tree branches be removed.

The British and Scandanavians urge the planting of shrubs in "waste" areas near playgrounds because kids love to hide in them; in this country, shrubs are a no-no because branches might poke kids in the eyes or offer hiding places for the pederasts, child snatchers and drug pushers who are assumed to lurk everywhere. The Europeans helpfully note that prickly plants make useful screens because kids won't try to tear them up; the Guide warns that "hazardous" species such as hawthorne or thorny locust should not be located near playgrounds because they might tear up kids.

Modern playgrounds also do not offer enough variability to keep kids interested. As the author says in the beginning of his essay:
When my gang and I were growing up in Springfield in the 1950s, no public playground was closer than the schoolyard that stood six blocks and a busy street away. But we were hardly deprived, for what a playground existed within two blocks of my house! A propane tank, which we boys transformed variously into a submarine, a fighter aircraft or a bucking bull. A cinderblock back wall of a gas station, which made a perfect backstop for ball games. A culvert that drained a nearby cornfield and collected all manner of curious debris for convenient examination. Not one but two climbing trees, and assorted dirt piles from excavations for houses being built in the next block. A railroad track. And the smoothest, curviest sidewalks that our parents' FHA mortgages would pay for a perfect Grand Prix circuit for 20-inch bikes.

When it comes to playgrounds, nothing beats the real world. The play equipment so expensively provided by the forward-thinking parents of the postwar years proved to be as big a waste of money as bomb shelters, and for the same reason they were invented to serve a need that didn't exist.

And later on he goes into more detail on how a lack of ability to change anything in a playground can quickly lead to boredom:
If the safe playground is actually only dangerous in new ways, so the creative contemporary playground is a creative experience mainly for the adults who design them. The purpose of playgrounds, to quote the Guide, is to give kids a physical challenge and a chance to interact socially with other kids on the playground. But decades of child development research has concluded that there is a deeper significance to child's play. Play is an essential part of what a '70s expert called "life-research." Children learn about the world by playing with not just in it. Until they are dragooned into schools, play is the principal medium for learning by children. They learn by doing moving, pretending, building, taking chances, hiding, throwing, playing in dirt and in water, balancing themselves. As playground architect M. Paul Friedberg put it in his influential 1970 book, Play and Interplay, the world is the child's laboratory, and he is its scientist.

The standard prebuilt play set is the outdoor equivalent of the classroom textbook pretty to look at, comprehensive, authoritative in its expression of official doctrine regarding children's needs. The adult need to direct play, to teach, when what kids need is the freedom to learn, is so ingrained in the culture as to seem natural.

Being creative, for example, is not a matter of pretending but of doing. If the play environment is fixed, children can't manipulate the environment and adapt it to their needs. And while contemporary creative playgrounds are more complex than their predecessors, they remain just as fixed in form. Kids can use multipart apparatus in every way but the one that would really engage their need to experiment taking it apart and putting it back together in new ways.

The problem is not that kids don't find conventional play equipment fun, at least at first. The problem is that fun is all they find in it. The Discovery Zone pioneered in the marketing of franchised "fun and fitness" in the form of indoor pay-for-playgrounds featuring slides and "ball bins" and trampolines. When it went public in mid-1993 the company was a hot Wall Street buy, but by February of 1996 the stock was selling for less than one-thirtieth its highest price. Analysts explained that kids failed to demand repeat visits because they got bored with what one analyst derisively called "hamster habitats."

Overall, the article is a good read, and something to consider for parents of youngsters. I want to think more about what types of play equipment to provide for Dorothy and any siblings she may one day acquire. A swingset is nice, but what about junk instead? Would a few old tires be more interesting, but just as safe?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:49 AM | Comments (2)

August 15, 2005

Personal Injury Litigation in Japan

DaddyTypes is visiting Japan, and makes an observation about the safety of child play areas ("How Do You Say "Lawsuit" In Japanese?"). He ends:

It might not be until you have a kid running around, always one misstep away from disaster, that you realize how much personal injury litigation--both the threat and the reality of it--defines the culture and the landscape in America. And how its absence defines most of the rest of the world.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)

The 2005 Harry Potter Post

Of course, Elizabeth and I read "Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince" when it came out. We've talked about it, read some speculation on various forums, and re-read the book. I really really want to read book 7, but I think I've at least worked hard enough at burnincg myself out on Harry Potter that I'll be able to wait without too much stress.

Here, for anyone who cares, are my thoughts on the book and what might come next. They're very rough (and very long), but it's not worth the time to me to clean things up any more than they already are.

*** WARNING: Spoilers ahead! If you don't want book 6 ("Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince") spoiled for you (or if you just don't care about the series in general), then don't read the rest of this post!

I mean it. Lots of spoilers below. Last chance!

OK, first things first: Based on what I've read on MuggleNet, Regulus Black is the front-runner likely person to be R.A.B. His middle name is probably after his Uncle Alphard. But there's a slight nagging question whether it might not be Amelia Bones (perhaps she used her middle name, and had a first name such as Rita). Given some of Rowling's interviews, though, I'm leaning heavily towards Black.

I think Snape is still fighting to defeat Voldemort. Dumbledore trusted him, and he's generally right (but will we find out why Dumbledore trusted Snape?). Dumbledore is not one to beg for his life, especially since he presumably knew that Snape had taken the Unbreakable Vow, so his pleas to Severus were presumably either 1) asking Snape to actually kill him and avoid risking his own life and his cover, and/or 2) asking Snape to keep Harry safe, since Snape presumably guessed that Harry was on the rooftop under his Invisibility Cloak.

There is some confusing accounting when it comes to Voldemort's soul fragments. One major question is whether or not soul fragments die/disappear when their container is destroyed/killed, or if they go back and merge with other survining fragments? The list of possible locations of soul fragments is (Note: 'd' means 'destroyed' and 'm' means 'maybe' and refers to uncertainty about identification of the object):

  1. pre-death Voldemort (d??)

  2. current reincarnated Voldemort

  3. Nagini

  4. Slytherin's locket (d?)

  5. Marvolo's ring (d)

  6. Riddle's diary (d)

  7. Hufflepuff's cup (m)

  8. Ravenclaw/Gryffindor object (m)

As you can see, this adds up to eight possible soul fragment repositories. Dumbledore was pretty convinced Voldemort would try to make seven, including the one in his body, so we might as well assume that's what happened (for lack of any better idea). Before he died, Voldemort presumably had six framents (five Horcruxes plus his body; I'm using this number given Dumbledore's guess that the Potters were going to be the case for making the sixth horcrux). One fragment might have been needed to possess Quirrell in book 1. But was that fragment lost when Voldemort left Quirrell's body? I'm guessing the answer is no. Voldemort put a new fragment into Nagini sometime after being reincarnated around book 4. But, going back to when he died, did that soul fragment die too? Was the soul fragment in a horcrux "used up" when he was reincarnated? If both answers are "yes," then that leaves only four total fragments (including the one in his current body; three if one was required and then destroyed with Quirrell), not five.

I'm a bit frustrated at some elements receiving short shrift in the book. Most notably, the students' learning to Apparate was lame. It sounded like Harry really wasn't making much progress, then suddenly he can Apparate AND bring Dumbledore with him?

Snape repeatedly gets upset at being called a coward. I'm assuming this is because he's mad at what he has to do (which, in fact, requires a lot of bravery - e.g., being a double agent against Voldemort) and can't tell anyone about it.

General Questions:

  • If Regulus is RAB, did he bring Kreacher to help him with the locket horcrux?

  • Also, did Regulus remove the soul fragment from the locket horcrux before he died?

  • Why was Dumbledore asleep in the portrait at the end of HBP when McGonagall was there?

  • Will Hogwarts open in book 7?

  • If it does open, will Harry return?

  • Also, who will be the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?

  • Doesn't Harry have to return to Hogwarts, for information if nothing else? Will Dumbledore's portrait be an important source of information for Harry?

  • What happens to Fawkes, the phoenix, in book 7?

  • Will Slughorn play a more important role in book 7, helping advise Harry (since he knows, e.g., about horcruxes)?

  • What could possibly be left at Godric's Hollow for Harry to find and/or use?

  • Now that Dumbledore, Secret Keeper of the Order of the Phoenix, is dead, does that mean that the secret is no longer a secret? Can Snape now tell Voldemort? Is it at all safe for Harry to go back to 12 Grimauld Place?

  • Why did Dumbledore finally turn over the Defense Against the Dark Arts position to Snape this year?

  • There's lots of references to Tarot objects, one of which is wands. It may in fact be that the four founders' objects are each one of the suits (wands, cups, swords, coins). Sword=Gryffindor, Cup=Hufflepuff, Coin->Locket=Slytherin? If so, then wand=Ravenclaw. Did Olivander (the wand maker) disappear because he found out something about Ravenclaw's wand, and it being a horcrux for Voldemort?

  • How did Voldemort get his wand back, if he died the first time using it against Harry? Was someone else there to pick it up??

  • What is the spell Dumbledore cast on Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic duel at the end of book 5?

  • How was Harry found & rescued on the night Voldemort tried to kill him as a baby? The location of the house was a Secret, and the Secret-Keeper (Pettigrew) is still alive. I can see Harry knowing where the house is (maybe), but how could anyone else?

According to interviews w/ JRK, there are some important points:

  • The importance of Harry having his mother's eyes. (Unless this was important in persuading Slughorn, the new Potions master, to give up the memory. But it can't be just that, can it?)

  • What Harry's parents did for a living.

  • That flash of triumph in Dumbledore's eyes at the end of GoF.

  • The mirror Sirius gave Harry.

  • The shape of Snape's patronus and his biggest fear (i.e., what would a boggart appear as?)

  • Why did Voldemort give Lily multiple chances to step aside (rather than protect Harry), and why would he have let her live if she did? Was he doing it because Snape was in love with Lily and suggested Voldemort let her live so he (Snape) could pursue her?

Finally, here are a couple of quotes we came across that were amusing.

A quote from the SDMB:

The other thing is that I think the salient detail of Voldemort's past -- the reason why he's so evil -- is not because of the orphanage, or because he's peeling his soul like an onion, but because he worked at Borgin and Burkes as a clerk for several years. Working customer service will make even the most pleasant people want to kill off most of the human race.

Another SDMB quote:

Oh, and excuse me if I missed this -- I was skimming very quickly -- but I have to say a locket is the lamest evil wizard artefact ever.

Evil wizards are supposed to have the Staff of Eternal Darkness, the Dagger of Poison, the Book of Absolute, Brain-Curdling Evil. They do not carry around lockets.

What else has Slytherin left, besides a ring and a locket, I wonder? Old subscription cars to Teen People? The My Little Pony Collection of Ineffable Damnation?

And whose picture is in it? The Basilisk's? Helga Hufflepuff's? Godric Gryffindor's?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 12:31 AM | Comments (1)

August 14, 2005

I Spy...


"What is it?" you ask? It's part of my retina. I had an eye exam on Friday, and there's a cool new technology that lets them image the back of your eye without having to dilate your pupils. It's called an OptoMap, and it takes just a few seconds. It's not covered by insurance, but it's not too expensive.

Given that I have to worry about glaucoma (and that my only other retinal scan, done with pupil dilation, is still back in Massachusetts), I decided it was worth it to get a baseline image for future reference. And the doctor was kind enough to give me the images (originally almost 4 megapixels) on a CD to take home.

And yes, that bright part in the middle is the optic nerve, heading off to my brain.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 02:38 PM | Comments (4)

August 13, 2005

Baby & Spider

It's been a couple of weeks since photos went up. The latest batch includes a local spider, as well as lots of Dorothy climbing, brushing her teeth, and more.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:40 PM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2005

To the Moon, Alice!

If you have $100 million, you could take a trip to fly by the moon (read details at NYT, CNN). Each trip will have one crew member and two passengers, so you can't fly until there are two people signed up. If they get people signed up soon, the earliest trip could be as soon as 2008.

Hot damn, is all I have to say. $100M is a bit out of my price range, though; must be time for me to go buy a lottery ticket...

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)


This morning, the three of us were in the kitchen/dining room, having breakfast and whatnot. Elizabeth was standing by the sink, glanced outside and exclaimed that Cobalt was outside! The screen on our bedroom's small window was laying on the ground, so he presumably had pushed it out. Our cats are never allowed outside unless they're on a leash, and we weren't sure how he would react.

Elizabeth and I both scrambled, leaving Dorothy strapped in her high chair. I ran outside in my pajamas and stocking feet, and was able to get Cobalt without any trouble. I passed him back in through the window to Elizabeth, and then re-attached the screen. Elizabeth closed the window on the inside, and I called out for Rhodium. I didn't see her anywhere, so I went inside and both of us called for her and tried to find her. No luck. I threw on my shoes and went outside, calling for her and circling the house, worried that she may have darted off into the forest to be eaten by a coyote or cougar. I didn't see her anywhere. As I was just finishing my circuit of the house, Elizabeth called me - she saw Rhodium in the "courtyard" area. We started closing in, but Rhodium darted past. She then strolled halfway around the house, just keeping ahead of me (I did not try to run at her, since that would have scared her into running). Once she got to the front porch, under the trees where the birds all hang out, she paused and eventually consented to come near me to get some scritching. I picked her up and brought her back inside. Dorothy was still in her high chair, watching us, and then resumed eating her bagel.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:15 PM | Comments (2)

August 09, 2005

Anti Social Climber

As previously mentioned, Dorothy has developed a climbing habit. I have to admit that she's pretty careful about it most of the time, and that we haven't really been trying to discourage it much. But she's really working on giving me gray hair.

We've been pushing the high chair up to the dining room table so that Dorothy can eat dinner with us in the evenings. But she usually finishes before we do, and demands to be released. But she doesn't want out of the high chair - oh no. If I take her out, she will climb right back in. And then she will stand on the seat and start shaking the back of the chair. And jumping. This evening, she had a sippy cup of milk, and she was standing with one foot on the seat, one on one of the arms, tipping her head back to drink, and bouncing. If I take her down, she just screams and climbs back up.

I'm trying not to make a big fuss and give her the idea that she can get a rise out of me this way. And I have to admit that she hasn't fallen, and hasn't even really threatened to fall. But my heart is in my throat the whole time. I have to avert my eyes from the scene, while Tom chuckles evilly. The other day, I had to leave the room and let him deal with it. I think this is cosmic retribution for the time my mother came out the back door and found me waaay above the roof in the backyard tree, or maybe for when I climbed two stories on the outside of the railing on the steps outside our apartment building when I was five.

Posted by Elizabeth Nugent at 10:05 PM | Comments (3)

August 08, 2005

What Kind of Potence?

I had just opened a new tube of lip balm, and the old one was still on my nightstand. While changing sheets this evening, Dorothy found both tubes and started toddling around, waving them in the air. At some point I wanted to get the new one away from her, so that it wouldn't suffer too much damage. Dorothy may not yet know the word "mine!" but she certainly understands the concept, as she did not want to let go.

I hid the tube in my hand, but she kept trying to get my hand open to find the tube. When she was briefly distracted, I stretched my arms up and discreetly dropped the tube behind my back. I then offered her two closed fists. As she chose each in turn, I'd open it and show her it was empty.

Elizabeth commented on Daddy messing with Dorothy's sense of cause and effect. I replied that I had to maintain my aura of omnipotence.

Dorothy chose that moment to punch me in the groin.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:03 PM | Comments (4)

Early Baby Emotional Development

Newsweek published an article this week about baby brain development ("Reading Your Baby's Mind" via DaddyTypes). It might be easy to get all paranoid about your child's emotional development after reading the article, but you shouldn't. The main point is that babies develop more advanced brain abilities, especially distinguishing subtle emotional differences, faster than we'd thought. There may be some useful general clues to keep an eye on, to help catch developmental problems early on.

Obviously the article doesn't go into depth on research methodologies. But I'm wondering about this example:

Hart [the researcher] hands Cheryl Bateman a children's book, "Elmo Pops In," and instructs her to engross herself in its pages. "Just have a conversation with me about the book," Hart tells her. "The most important thing is, do not look at [6-month old Victoria.]" As the two women chat, Victoria looks around the room, impassive and a little bored.

After a few minutes, Hart leaves the room and returns cradling a lifelike baby doll. Dramatically, Hart places it in Cheryl Bateman's arms, and tells her to cuddle the doll while continuing to ignore Victoria. "That's OK, little baby," Bateman coos, hugging and rocking the doll. Victoria is not bored anymore. At first, she cracks her best smile, showcasing a lone stubby tooth. When that doesn't work, she begins kicking. But her mom pays her no mind. That's when Victoria loses it. Soon she's beet red and crying so hard it looks like she might spit up. Hart rushes in. "OK, we're done," she says, and takes back the doll. Cheryl Bateman goes to comfort her daughter. "I've never seen her react like that to anything," she says. Over the last 10 months, Hart has repeated the scenario hundreds of times. It's the same in nearly every case: tiny babies, overwhelmed with jealousy. Even Hart was stunned to find that infants could experience an emotion, which, until recently, was thought to be way beyond their grasp.

My question is whether the same thing would have happened if the research had not brought in the baby. In other words, was little Victoria getting upset due to jealousy at the other baby, or was she getting upset due to her mother's ignoring her (which was presumably not normal).

Posted by Tom Nugent at 04:03 PM | Comments (1)

August 07, 2005

Space Economics - Boring or Crucial?

One of my co-workers at LiftPort, Brian Dunbar, posted a link in his blog to an old article by Larry Niven about space economics ("How to save civilization and make a little money").

The great quote from the article highlights why space development is not all about technology development:

A. E. Van Vogt never worried about what a spacecraft cost. I don't think Isaac Asimov did either.

Nobody ever did until, in the 1950s, Robert Heinlein published "The Man Who Sold the Moon". And nobody did again for a long time. Imitating Heinlein used to be normal, but the science fiction writers of the day couldn't imitate this. None of us had trained for it. The excitement of travel to other worlds is in our nerves and bones, but where is the excitement in economics?

Then we watched mankind set twelve human beings on the moon for a few days at a time, come home, and stop.

We saw our space station built in Houston, orbiting too low and too slow, at ten times the cost.

Thirtieth anniversary of the first man on the moon, celebrated by grumbling.

My tee shirt bears an obsolete picture of Freedom space station and the legend, "Nine years, nine billion dollars, and all we got was this lousy shirt," and it's years old and wearing out.

Now is economics interesting?

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2005

The Feline Matrix

Flying Cats (via Bitch Ph.D.)

I think it would be best to watch this with some sort of classical music booming. But the very spare apartment combined with the "frozen in time" cats really reminds me of some of the best fight scenes from The Matrix.

While ours managed some serious hang time as kittens, somehow the UHaul boxes in the background just don't measure up. And now they're relatively lazy, probably because we almost never take time to give them a seriously vigorous play session any more.

Posted by Elizabeth Nugent at 10:21 AM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2005

Doing a Functional Workout

My friend & former office-mate Andrew G. sold me a couple of years ago on the idea of functional weight-lifting workouts. He recommended a simple set of five different weight lifts that all used free weights in order to use not only primary muscles, but stabilizing muscles as well.

We now have a set of weights in the basement along with a bench for working out. I recently added the Shovel Glove idea to my set of exercises. All it requires is a sledgehammer, and is definitely functional as well as demanding. The Shovel Glove site linked to a good article on ("The Functional Work Out") about functional workouts.

Now they just need to make a squirming 25 pound bag, and every parent would be set for their exercise routines.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:41 PM | Comments (0)

Mixed Mice Messages

While looking around yesterday for mouse traps, I saw the following gruesome combination of items on the Home Depot website. Maybe others also thihk Mickey should be taken out with extreme prejudice:

Posted by Tom Nugent at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2005

Dorothy's First Potty

This afternoon, I bought Dorothy a "Potty 'N Step Stool." We figure she might as well get used to it before we start trying to get her to actually use it (which I don't expect us to even try to work on for a couple of months at least).

She liked sitting on it (clothed or naked), but only with the lid down. It may take a bit to get used to the feeling of sitting on an open seat. But at least it's fun to sit on in some configuration!

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:59 PM | Comments (0)

The Mouser Poseur

Cobalt, as has already been pointed out before, is a goof (reason #43, #44). An incident this morning simply added to his not-so-hot reputation.

When I got up this morning, both cats were crouched down in the laundry room, facing towards the washing machine. Odd, since we'd moved their litterbox out of there, and they usually don't spend much time in there. I pointed it out to Elizabeth when she got up, and we agreed there was probably a bug they'd been chasing. (Note: Cobalt has a habit of pawing at bugs, but not really squashing them. He's injured moths and still let them get away.)

After Elizabeth went to work, Dorothy and I went back to the master bedroom to fold laundry. We were about 2/3 done when Cobalt and Rhodium strolled in. Cobalt had in his mouth what I took at first to be one of their toy mice. Then I realized it was too big, and just as I started wondering if it was a real mouse, he dropped it. Yes, it was real. Yes, it ran like holy hell for a wall, disappearing under & behind the dirty-laundry bags holder.


The cats got very excited, and were looking around at the dirty-laundry bags area. I made sure Dorothy was on the opposite side of the room, then yanked the bags & holder away from the wall. Yep, there was a big gray mouse crouched against the floorboard in the middle of the wall, frozen. Cobalt lunged in to grab at it, it ran, and I'm not sure what happened next. The mouse disappeared. It looked like he was heading towards the door into the master bathroom, but Cobalt and Rhodium were trying to pounce, then Cobalt was turning around and around trying to find the mouse. I went and put on shoes and gloves (not being sure, in the heat of the moment, if there was any concern about diseases from mice) and put Dorothy into the bathtub (from whence she can't quite escape - yet). Then I hunted all around the bedroom and bathroom trying to find the mouse. No luck.

The cats were focused on a corner under the sinks, but a search (and sticking a screwdriver through the tiny hole there) found nothing, and the hole just connected into the area the pocket door goes into. A search in there turned up nothing.

I spent much of the rest of the morning trying to find pet and child safe mouse traps, while dealing with a 17-month old girl who didn't like not being the complete center of attention.

Through the morning, the cats were really wound up playing with their toy mice. But Cobalt deserves some special title as "Most Ineffective Rodent Hunter" (although I guess he was good enough to have originally got it out from under the washing machine).

When I told Elizabeth about the ordeal later that day, I mentioned that the mouse looked pretty fat. She suggested it might be pregnant.

If Cobalt let a pregnant mouse get away, and the house is then infested with a litter, I might have to shave him bald as punishment.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2005

Can We Trust the Computer?

Over on BoingBoing there's a story about distrubing developments in Apple's transition to Intel chips ("Apple to add Trusted Computing to the new kernel?"):

People working with early versions of the forthcoming Intel-based MacOS X operating system have discovered that Apple's new kernel makes use of Intel's Trusted Computing hardware. ... The point of Trusted Computing is to make it hard -- impossible, if you believe the snake-oil salesmen from the Trusted Computing world -- to open a document in a player other than the one that wrote it in the first place, unless the application vendor authorizes it. It's like a blender that will only chop the food that Cuisinart says you're allowed to chop. It's like a car that will only take the brand of gas that Ford will let you fill it with. It's like a web-site that you can only load in the browser that the author intended it to be seen in.
For those reasons and more, I (and many many other people) are against things like the "Trusted Computing" project. It remains to be seen if it winds up being used in Macs, and to what extent.
Posted by Tom Nugent at 11:54 PM | Comments (0)

25 Reasons to Homeschool

Christopher Smith, a homeschooling parent, writes in the Tennessee Leaf-Chronicle about his top 25 reasons why he homeschools his kids. It's a great list - good reasons combined with good humor.

Their situation:

...we're not just outside the public school norm. We're also outside the homeschool norm. Most homeschoolers around here homeschool for religious reasons they're flat out tired of arguing with government bureaucracies about their faith.

That's not us either. Yeah, we're Christians, but that's not primarily why we homeschool.

Some of my favorite reasons:

1.No one, and I mean no one, has the right to teach my son how to square dance.
4.Waffle Stix, despite their standing on school lunch menus, are not food.
8.I believe spelling, grammar and math have rules.
16.We have religious objections to waking up before dawn.
21.Socialization is overrated. If the socialization you get in public schools is so gosh-awful important, how did modern humanity survive its first 4,850 years without it?
24.It's not necessary to have sheriff's deputies roaming the hallways of my home.

Posted by Tom Nugent at 01:47 PM | Comments (0)