Saturday, May 24, 2008

I love living in the 21st century


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Originally uploaded by three beans
Little by little, my parents are divesting their house of my junk. Each time they come to visit, they bring a box (or several) of my Hess trucks, baseball cards, books, Matchbox cars, or old school papers. The last time they were here, they brought an overstuffed folder of my schoolwork from kindergarten. I couldn't believe it. These papers were 32 years old! Why hadn't they thrown them away long ago?

Here's how it works, from the parental point-of-view. Your precious little snowflake brings home a piece of paper with something that resembles a colorized Rorschach test.

You: "Oh, that's a beautiful, um, dinosaur? Playground? Baseball player?"
Snowflake: "Daddy, that's our family. This is me, that's you, and there's mommy."
You (who didn't know until just now that you had self-tanning-spray-gone-awry-orange skin, lime green eyes, and jet black hair that sticks straight up): "Well, we will certainly keep this."

And you do keep it. But then, maybe the next day, maybe a few days later, a new picture comes home. Well, because this one's even nicer than that old one, you have to keep the new picture, too. That's the logic that gets us into these messes. Eventually, though, it doesn't matter if any progress is displayed. All the papers go into the Kindergarten File. It has to be that way. The kids work on their projects and present them to you as if they were handing over Lord Stanley's Cup, and what sort of glacial parent could toss them into the recycle bin? That Kindergarten File, though, eventually finds its way to the basement and is forgotten for twenty or thirty years, until you have the opportunity to return it to your now-grown up, but still precious, snowflake with a mortgage and his own basement to store all this crap.

I have some prolific little artists, so we have started our own Kindergarten Files. We also have Pre-school Files, Random Things They Made At Home Files, and Stuff Aaron Made At Our Neighbor's House Files. But this problem of long-term storage is, I am happy to say, a thing of the past. It's a 20th century problem, and we are parents of 21st century children. It's time to become friends with digital storage. I scan the kids' artwork to the computer (mom, that's the link you want to click on) so that if the originals somehow wind up in the Residential Mixed Paper bin, we still have records of their glorious achievements. That picture at the top of this post is one of Aaron's fingerpaint creations. I used it as my computer desktop background image for a long time.

Someday I will hand over CDs or thumbdrives containing all this stuff to my kids and make them deal with it. By then, I imagine the preferred format for data storage might be a three-dimensional holographic data cube, but I'll give them antiquated formats just to be a curmudgeonly old man.

Are you wondering about my own 32 year old Kindergarten File? I haven't thrown it out yet, but that is simply due to laziness. I'll take a look through it, and if the colors have faded from the pictures I drew, then the kids can re-color them. We'll call it a Ted Turner party. After that, everything gets recycled.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mmmm... dopamine

Dear readers, as I sit here typing this post, good things are happening in my brain. Happy chemicals are fluttering around, and neurons in activity centers deep inside my brain are tingling. At this point, you may be thinking (and honestly, I wouldn't blame you for it because it doesn't sound like a half-bad idea), "Oh here he goes, with his pitcher of sangria on one side and keyboard on the other, trying to be a modern-day Hunter S. Thompson." The truth of the matter is that blogging is good for you. Imagine that. Seriously, go ahead and imagine it, because then maybe your brain will release some dopamine, too. Take a moment; I'll be right here. Do you feel better? I knew you would.

According to one author of the study, expressive writing is linked to improved sleep. It seems perfectly clear to me, then, that babies and toddlers should be blogging. Babies could be sleeping twelve or thirteen hours straight at nighttime, and their parents wouldn't look or feel like zombies. One might find the content tedious,
"They kept giving me the purple duck. I wanted the green duck. I threw the purple duck. They thought it was cute and gave it back to me. I wanted the green duck. They kept giving me the purple duck, so I spit up my milk on them."
but that's not really any worse than what I typically post.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Testudines in the Outfield

No, it's not what you're thinking (unless perhaps you're an environmental biologist). Testudines have nothing to do with Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, 500 foot home runs, or shriveled things. Opening day for our baseball team was supposed to be Sunday. Sunday was clear and sunny, but not too hot --- a perfect day for baseball. I was getting dressed for the game when the manager called: the game is postponed because there were turtles on the field. It had rained the previous night, and evidently a gaggle, a school, a flock, a herd, a colony, a swarm, a bale of turtles thought the standing water on the field would be a great place to play.

A few hours later, Zoe and Talia got the idea into their heads that the turtles were having their own baseball game. One of them said that the game was probably only in the second inning, turtles being very slow creatures and all.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Quick! Appease the readers!

Although nobody has pointed this out to me yet, the past two posts contain no pictures of the wee beasts. This sort of reckless posting puts me dangerously close to alienating my base readership (mom, et cetera). Without delay, I present the basement! Not long ago, we almost-kinda-sorta finished part of the basement ("A bucket of bleach, some cans of paint, and I'll have this place ship-shape in no time" -- Jacqueline Ogburn from a beloved book). Many of the kids' toys have taken permanent residence in the basement, but the world-beating toy down there is the inflatable house.
Well, it used to be a house. The green and yellow parts that now resemble flaps used to attach to form a roof-like structure. These days it's more like a box, but for simplicity's sake, we'll continue to refer to it as a house. One way to use it is to sit in the house and play (like maybe "playing house," for example), but that mode of operation lacks in both amusement and parental anxiety.

The preferred game for the house is something that the children have named "Shipwreck." Shipwreck is straightforward: the people inside the house stand by its walls and rock it back and forth until it comes to its inevitable concussion conclusion.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A mathematician walks into a bar

Dear readers (and by "readers" I mean "mom"), it's not that I mean to talk about mathematics all the time, it's just that when Aaron takes a handful of pennies, puts them on his Magnadoodle, and draws this, the first thing I think of is graph theory. I'll be the first to point out that this isn't a simple graph because two pennies have more than one line connecting them, but the boy is only three, so let's cut him a bit of slack. Aaron himself, though, claimed it was a constellation. Is he too young for me to tell him about Hedy Lamarr?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Introducing Nevaeh Kryslyn and Kolt Brody, or whatever...

Whence came the baby name obsession? (I don't get to use words like "whence" that often, so just play along and nobody will get hurt.) Seriously: 13.2 million hits for "baby names" on Google? Even the Social Security Administration is getting in on the action. I'm pleased to know that part of my payroll taxes (though I prefer the term "the money I'll never ever see again") goes toward helping people track the popularity of the name Wilhelmina over the decades. It turns out, in 1884 Wilhelmina peaked at the 215th most popular name for female babies born in the United States and issued Social Security numbers (is that enough caveats for you?). Sadly, the name has not been in the top 1000 for little baby girls since 1954.

What does this mean to you, pregnant reader? Well, it means that if you're looking for that rare, perfect name for your baby daughter, that name that you can shout from the mountain-tops: "This is my exceptional child who is unique among the cosmos, and as such, she requires a name that will speak to the rarity of her existence. Therefore I shall call her ... Wilhelmina." Forget about Brandilynne and Amairetta and Tierramisu. Wilhelmina is what you're looking for -- the name of Kaisers and queens and witches.

Perhaps you really are enchanted by names like Daysha Kiandra, Dansan Jericho, or Dalek Master. If that's the case, then please read this article before you put it on the birth certificate and make it permanent. By "permanent" I mean, of course, the 21st century definition of the word: what you write on the birth certificate is the baby's name forever except until it isn't.

If you're like me, though, you are on the other end of the spectrum: the people who make fun of people who name their kids things I wouldn't call my dog. I'll assume that's the case, because the Ambrosyanna Heighleymyrie crowd probably quit reading two paragraphs ago. I wish to draw your attention to this absolute gem: fifteen glorious pages devoted to snarky derision of parental stupidity. Spend a few hours there. Forward the link to your friends. Just, you know, come back to my blog when you're done, and I'll put up some new pictures of my own little buckets of sunshine. Hey, maybe that's a good baby name: Sunshyne Buckett...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Other kids' stuff

I guess when you're a kid, maybe the best thing about going to visit other kids is the opportunity to play with an entirely new set of toys. On Sunday we went to a party hosted by some new friends who have three young children of their own. Aaron enjoyed the workbench and, as you can see, followed all OSHA regulations and guidelines.

However, the big winner of the day, the one toy that the kids were talking about for days and days before the party, was the trampoline. In fact, I think that was the most desired play object for all the kids there. At one point, I counted no fewer than seven children and one adult on the trampoline. (Full disclosure: I was that adult.)

Before the kids asked me to hop with them, I managed to get a few pictures. This one is interesting. Like any almost-safe trampoline, there's a safety net. The picture is kind of nice, but all the little hexagons from the netting mess things up. Warning: \begin{geek} I want to try to get rid of them by taking a 2D FFT of the image and finding and removing the spatial frequency that corresponds to the hexagons' period. The inverse FFT should give me an image back where the hexagons are not so much in the way. I think I know how to do this with LabView. Once I find some time to play around with this, I'll post the results of my little image processing experiment. \end{geek}


But on to more important things, like marvelling at how much air Talia is catching in this jump.


I learned how difficult it is to take a picture while in mid-jump. This one was so close to turning out great.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Roy Galahad Biv III, Hosiery Expert

Zoe and Talia have a thing for socks. I suppose it's our fault. When they were babies, we'd put little socks on their little feet with no regard for matching one sock to the other. But hey, you try being a graduate student who's just become a parent to twins and see how high socks are on your list of priorities. Even to this day, we neither match nor fold together any of the kids' socks. Once they're out of the dryer (the socks, not the kids), they all go into a drawer in the kids' bathroom. As a consequence, when they're getting dressed for school, the girls will typically wear mismatched socks. (Yes, fascinating, isn't it? But there's a point --- well, not really, but there is at least a picture.) They are also a sufficiently impressive influence on Aaron that he has developed the same tendencies --- even to the point of wearing one purple and one pink when his sisters do.

On Thursday, though, they quite outdid themselves. The girls decided that they and Aaron should have rainbow feet, and managed to get everyone's socks on in the proper order, Roy G. Biv and all that, with no help from Chris or me. Having only six feet among themselves, and not really understanding the continuous nature of the solar spectrum, they had to let one color go (poor neglected indigo, as it happened).

As they say in mathematics, the result follows:
It remains to teach them the difference between normal and anomalous dispersion.