Monday, December 31, 2007

In Pajamas

The kids have been out of school for about two weeks. Today, the last two weeks were evident. BB didn't get out of his pajamas until after lunch. I didn't take a shower until right before noon. The family room looks like an abandoned beach filled with the detritus of consumer castoffs. We could start a cargo cult. It's hard when the weather is so uncooperative. It's cold and grey most of the time, and a real chore to leave the house.

BB has been busy with his sculpture-like set ups. After being introduced to MythBusters this week, he's taken to setting up anti-gravity machines and personal flight devices. The key ingredient is tape, lots of tape. There are strange surprises. The flight machine has a piece from a space shuttle toy, a small plastic fuel tank, sticking out like a phallus - fearlessly facing the future. These creations really are beautiful. They are totally nonfunctional and created simply to recreate the look of things.

LB has started talking even more, although one gets the sense from him that he doesn't have much need to talk to us. He's surrounded by five years of BB's toys and feels completely secure with his environment. I really see the differences in birth order right now. LB's world is just a lot more settled and natural.

For the new year, here's some German hippie music from Can.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Old reels

AO recently had some old 8 mm film transfered to DVD. There were reels from both sides of her family, going all the way back to the late thirties and ending sometime in the seventies. It cost an incredible amount of money for about 3 GB of film. Making it even worse, the local company doing the job mastered the DVD with some corrupt files and an insanely backward and confusing menu structure. I actually think they expected that customers would go to them to get additional DVD copies, for a charge. In any case, first I couldn't get the TS_Folders to copy to additional DVDs, so I ripped the original and went through conversions to AVI DiVX and then to MOV format using ffmpegX. We had a playable and burnable movie. The only trouble is that when we actually watched it about a third of the material was missing. I went back to the original files. In addition to about 30 chapters, the DVD was also split into three sections. Very confusing. I had neglected to get the last two sections. In any case, I used a different approach next, cracking the VOB files open with bbDEMUX. This is apparently a lot more difficult when you are dealing with audio. Since these had all been silent 8 mm audio wasn't an issue. I then authored a DVD of the cracked VOB files (now MPEG-2 files) with Toast. We now have complete copies with a much more sane menu structure. To edit this material in iMovie I'm sure we'll have to convert the mv2 files again, but at least we are able to send the in-laws off with watchable copies.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Moon shot

We have a new (the real thing) telescope, thanks to my in-laws. It's very cool. Now, if we could only have more than one clear night a week. Here's a shot of the moon taken through the telescope.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bad weather

I drove through a snowstorm and then slushy rain to get home today. The big event on the way: a pickup truck with a ball sac -testicles - hanging from underneath. I almost made a profane gesture at the fool. What kind of moron goes to the trouble to attach something like this to their pickup?

The job interviews went as well as expected. Big name university committee was rather grim. Sub regional university was defensive. Other than interviews, it was nice to be in a big city for a change - alone. It was like I had a room of my own.

I'm looking forward to teaching again. Only four months until I'm scheduled to defend the dissertation. I'll be happy to be able to talk about teaching with some real examples, rather than the hypotheticals I've started to spout.

My oldest son spent two days watching Youtube starwars lego videos with his uncle. My youngest likes to hit his cousin, while complaining over sharing toys and territory. They are a month apart and so jealous of each other. The sound of 18 month-old discontent is like cats wailing at each other in the night.

Friday robot blogging

Monday, December 24, 2007

Jolly times

I'm getting ready to travel to a conference the day after christmas. I'm not thrilled about leaving the warmth of holiday family life for a hotel room in a major U.S. city, but work is work. I'll only be gone two nights and hopefully survive the couple of job interviews that I have.

AO's sister is visiting with her husband and son and we had friends in from another smallish midwestern city for christmas eve, so there were three 6/7 year olds and two one year olds storming through the house. It felt like a real holiday. I hope the years of BB being the only kid for christmas are past us.

The people visiting are Jewish, so they choose not to do christmas. I'm jealous that our tradition is so mainstream, but since I support AO's desire to create a good vibe rather than perfection for the day I count myself as one of the lucky ones. She's not running around in a holly leaf sweater pressing chex mix on her guests. We'll have no football games on christmas day, nor masses to attend. We will have lots of presents. My brother-in-law has also promised good star gazing tomorrow night and he'll set up the telescope he dragged on the plane with him.

BB chose to go straight to bed tonight. He believes in Santa.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I'll admit that our house is barely functional at this point. I've had close deadlines and now job interviews coming up. I've stopped cleaning, stopped doing dishes, and stopped making dinner. My current situation is not unlike my son's. He's lost three sets of mittens and gloves over the last week. Today he went to school with what we had left, a mitten and glove, and those didn't make it home with him either! The local red spot is out of mittens, so we stocked up on three sets of gloves tonight. BB also lost all of his Pokemon cards today. I'm afraid to even think about the scenario, but he took a bunch of cards loose in his backpack to school and they are not there now. Kudos to momma for trying to keep us all sane.

The holiday is coming and we'll have a full house for christmas eve. No grandparents, just siblings and friends. Bring it on.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Waiting for Fedex

LB has passed his cold on to me, so I feel slightly feverish and very, very tired. LB's daycare also shut down for the week. We have someone coming in to look after him while I try to finish up my work and get ready for interviews, but today I wish I had the house to myself. I'd crawl into bed and not look up.

I'm proud of my imaginative older boy. For his class' christmas party, many of his friends were doing songs on their chosen instruments. My boy, not to be outdone, invented a song called "Rise of the Cobra," which he plinked out (improvised, mind you) on a keyboard. We need to figure out if he wants to be doing some kind of music.

I've got a refurbished iMac on the way, so we can give our poor, overworked MacMini a rest. We do too much music and photos to get by anymore with the Mini. Fedex's tracking is being less than helpful, however. Will it arrive today? Will someone be here to receive it? I've taken to reading "Fedex sucks" comments online. Pitiful, I know. But what's the use of having a tracking number if it isn't being tracked?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kitchen sixties

This always seemed like the right anthem for the sixties: "I'm wasted, and I can't find my way home." There is no video of Blind Faith (Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood) doing the song. Here's a kitchen cover.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hey Joe

Version of Hey Joe by what seems to me a most improbable mix of musicians: Nick Cave, Toots Theilemans, and David Sanborn. Weirdly satisfying.

Amy Winehouse

A very twitchy Amy Winehouse. I'm more into the R & B from her than the jazz-cabaret stuff, but it's hard not admire her talent. There's a tortured quality to this version that really hits me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Good jobs?

I have a couple of interviews for academic jobs in the next two weeks. It's good news. I know many people who didn't get anything their first time on the job market. It's also supposed to be harder before the dissertation is defended. One problem is that the places, while probably good jobs, are from the perspective of my wife in difficult areas to live. Either they are too expensive for a family or too remote. I need a job, but we'll have to think long and hard about moving. At least I know now that I can get an interview.

I did send off a revised essay to an editor today. Two years ago the plan was to get one of my chapters into a reputable journal, and I'm happy to say that the day is almost here.

AO is busy with christmas. People joke about how early the christmas season starts and about how hard it is to get shopping done, but these complaints never made much sense to me. I could usually get all my shopping done in a day. But there are more and more people to shop for, potlucks to cook for, and parties to attend. AO loves it. I guess the benefit for me is that I like to go shopping with her.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Breathing forgetfulness

Mom and dad and sister and her husband are off to Italy for the holidays. I can't resist posting what George Eliot writes about Rome in Middlemarch:

"The weight of unintelligible Rome might lie easily on bright nymphs to whom it formed a background for the brilliant picnic of Anglo-foreign society; but Dorothea had no such defence against deep impressions. Ruins and basilicas, palaces and colossi, set in the midst of a sordid present, where all that was living and warm-blooded seemed sunk in the deep degeneracy of a superstition divorced from reverence; the dimmer but yet eager Titanic life gazing and struggling on walls and ceilings; the long vistas of white forms whose marble eyes seemed to hold the monotonous light of an alien world: all this vast wreck of ambitious ideals, sensuous and spiritual, mixed confusedly with the signs of breathing forgetfulness and degradation, at first jarred her as with an electric shock, and then urged themselves on her with that ache belonging to a glut of confused ideas which check the flow of emotion. Forms both pale and glowing took possession of her young sense, and fixed themselves in her memory even when she was not thinking of them, preparing strange associations which remained through her after-years."

Perhaps Dorothea's honeymoon wasn't going so well.

Repulsor fields

After soccer last night, BB said he used the trick of the invisible ball to gain an advantage. I said, in order to play you can't add invisible balls. What would be the point? But I'm a wizard, he responded. The class he's in IS challenging. I think he's on the younger end of the cohort.

It doesn't help matters that we have an encyclopedic book from the library that purports to present the science and technology of Star Wars, as though all that stuff really works - in real life. Did you know that light sabers are generated by natural crystals and that each saber must be hand made? Or that a "speeder bike" uses "forward-reaching repulsor fields"? BB absolutely adores the book. Made up science!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Wet leaves

Spent a few hours Saturday morning at the library, which was surprisingly quiet the weekend before finals. Raked the backyard in the afternoon. BB spent some time with me, first lazily raking, then playing something called "attack." It's been raining (no snow, I'm afraid), so the leaves are heavy. My fingers and wrists are still jerking in unpleasant ways.

Both boys spent time at the local library. LB acted as though we'd thrown him on a pile of gold. It's great to see him getting into books as much as his brother. He can spend evenings bringing books to us, which also involves sitting carefully on our laps each time.

We're spending christmas at home for the first time since I can remember. We're going to try to put a festive face on the house and add some outdoor lights - I'll let you know how it goes. The lights will go on the bushes, not the gutters, thankfully. We're competing with a house down the street with santa's sleigh on the roof and reindeer in the yard; it's all worth it, though, to see a slumped santa in the yard of the same house watching a plastic TV. Midwesterners, I've come to appreciate, tend toward whimsical yard art.

For me it's yet another creeping step toward a full embrace of suburban values. Home sweet home, bros, home sweet home.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Waterloo Sunset

The lyrics are soooo English - "Everyday I look at the world from my window" - and it's a perfect pop song.

A very mature Ray Davies (The Kinks) with Blur's Damon Albarn . . .

Friday, December 7, 2007

Fantasy life

The fantasy life of a six year old is a complicated affair, at least as far as I can tell. Right now the door way to the kitchen is a complicated affair of tape, string, paper, and BATTERIES. That's not the play drawer I want to yell, but the utility drawer. The thing in the door way is a trap of some kind, which I hope is not intended to be lethal.

BB also wanted to call a friend tonight, someone he recently had a play date with. He had a secret planhe wanted to discuss with said friend. It involved some kind of trap, money, and the schadenfreude of telling the teacher of elicit contraband. We're like, "why would you want to tell on a friend." He says, but I have "enemy-friends." These are different from "friends." "Enemy-friends." Christ, let's go back to the batteries.

I'd like to tell BB about copper wire and refer him to the "Electromagnetism and Electricity" book he loves so much, but all I know about batteries is that they have polarity.

BB has already been talking about what will happen for the summer. I wish they had electrical engineer camp for first graders.

"Development of naturally interactive soft-bodied humanoid robot"

aka Friday Robot Blogging


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Take out

Once a week I have the boys on my own during the evening. We usually do evening stuff and bath together, but the boys do love to cling to their momma before bedtime. So, when I have them on my own, I get the full effect of being a parent. LB has gotten more and more used to having only me in the evening. Usually, he gets to nurse two or three times between 7 and 9, so it feels like a sacrifice not to have his mom. Tonight he didn't fuss once, which is real accomplishment. It's partly because he is so interested in his brother now, but it's also because he's learning to talk. Looking at books and learning words (duck was a big one tonight) takes up more of his awake time now. In the end, it was relaxing to hang out with my huggy guys on the couch--LB grabbing books ("more, more"); BB talking nonstop, as he usually does (about his odd hand-drawn diagrams, maps, and patterns, mostly).

Now if I could just get rid of the taste of cheap take out food in my mouth, all would be well for the night.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Jingle smells

Another of BB's irreverent christmas songs. It's like Beavis and Butthead come back in my own kid.

Oh, jingle smells, jingle smells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh what fun it is to smell
that skunk along the way

Jingle smells, jingle smells
Jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to smell
the garbage in the sleigh

It's three a.m.

I'm up for various reasons in the night, in the frame of mind for a sort of free jazz. Here is a small sample of Tortoise, who I got to know when AO lived in Chicago. I think Tortoise is still based there.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Christmas carol, BB style

Hilarity from BB, who makes us laugh every time he sings "Christmas is coming," six year-old style:

Cwistmas is cwoming. The woose is wetting wat. 
Pwease wut a wenny in the old wan's wat. 
If you waven't wot a wenny, 
a ha' wenny will do.  
If you waven't got a ha' wenny, then wod wless you.

Still on strike

I'm not sure why the WGA strike bothers me so much. Perhaps it's because I imagine myself to be something of a writer and pro-union. How could the bean counters do this to us? In any case, week five.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Diagram of a Warm Child

This handout came home with BB last week, from Kindergarten. At first, I found it both hilarious and unsettling. Who wouldn't keep their child warm? But did we have BB fully prepared? Then, I realized what a concerted effort it is every winter to make sure that BB has a good coat, snow boots, and the like for the cold winters here. We've already zipped BB's down liner into his Lands End coat. If it's your first winter, like it is for many of the grad student parents who send their kids to BB's school, it can take longer than you'd expect to adjust. I remember a newly cold winter in my childhood, in the seventies, when my own parents didn't figure things out until about January. Work boots and a spring-like jacket doesn't work in the far north. What is weird is how hard it's been to find LB a warm jacket, as though one year olds aren't supposed to be going outside.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Sugarman 3

Raise your lighters (or cell phones) high. The back up band takes center stage.