Naito Gas

I drive to work down Naito. It’s quick to get downtown – down highway 30, over to Naito, into downtown along the river. Driving this morning, someone flashed his lights at me a few times Puzzled, I checked my lights, then my speed. Nothing out of the ordinary. No flashing lights from police ahead. So when I saw something in the road, I was prepared. It was a propane tank! I figured it had dropped off a truck or something. I don’t like big things on the road, especially after the VW died, so I checked for traffic, put on my hazards and got out of the car. I pulled it off the road, it was light, it was probably empty.

A guy yelled down at me from the roof above me to thank me, apparently he had dropped it from the roof (three or so stories, it’s a warehouse) and was worried that someone would run into it. He was pretty relieved that it was moved. And then his assistant came running around the corner to take over.

It didn’t occur to me until I got back into the car … it didn’t have to have been empty, that could have been scary. Natural gas all over the highway? Or the gas shooting out and decompressing and dropping the temperature. Or just a fire or explosion? Now that I’m safely at work, I’m free to worry. Although I would probably have noticed “explosive decompression” (plumes of condensation around escaping gas)

The Thespinator

Miss B is enjoying the Pirates of Penzance. That is to say, with her foray into High School, she’s taken the stage with their production team and she’s playing in the theater.

I’m beside myself with glee, and pride. But mostly, happy she’s doing something she enjoys. I figure that the more extracurricular activities she gets, the more involved she gets, the more she’ll get out of High School. Also, the more she does stuff “outside her head,” maybe the more she’ll feel like doing that when she’s an adult too.

It’s hard though, not seeing so much of her. She’s gone in the mornings to go to school, and now that we’re in the final week before performances, she’s at school until 9pm. When she comes home and does her homework and goes to bed (because she’s just a little worn out.) So, happy and also sad.

Just like the theater masks!

A Lone Extrovert

Being a good parent for Miss K is challenging. She likes to talk to people, she likes to play with people. She loves being outside and playing. She does not like being left alone, entertaining herself, or solo pursuits like coloring in her room.

I, on the other hand, as well as Ms B, want to be left alone when we come home from work. We’re “all peopled out.” And while Miss B is fine with that and happy to entertain herself, and fly under our radar, Miss K comes into the kitchen to talk to me, or runs around with the puppy in the house, yelling at the top of her lungs. She plays soccer in the living room, hoping someone will play with her. She wants to go to the store with me, or wherever I happen to be going.

When I come home I need to shift my focus and give her some company. She’s like the puppy – if I leave her alone, I’m sure she’ll turn to destructive behavior and chew something up. And then I need to keep in mind that she’ll go to bed at about 9 when she gets tired, and I can have some quiet time then. But without that shift and that reframing, I get pretty grumpy when I have to talk to people. Even a delightfully engaged (and engaging) seven year old.

Helping Your Kid Escape Boxes

Miss K had a tough question this morning for me. As we’re getting ready for school, she came into the bedroom with the hairbrush. “Dad,” she asked, “am I a geek, or a nerd, or what?”

Wow. My first thought was kind of flippant; “tell her she’s seven, and that’s all she needs to be right now.” But she was obviously serious about this, and deserved a straight answer.

“Well, kid, that’s a pretty serious question first thing in the morning. I think when a person says they’re a nerd, they mean a whole bunch of things about themselves, and I don’t like just plunking all those onto you. You’re good with computers, you like to read, sure. But on the other hand, you like to run and play soccer, you enjoy talking to people. There’s a bunch of things that people think a “nerd” is that you are and you aren’t. I’m not a fan of saying a person is this thing or this other thing like they can’t share interests. I think you should leave this open.”

We’re a family of nerds. I’m a big nerd, Ms B is a smaller nerd, Miss B is a smaller nerd. Miss K was looking for some kind of context. I’m not sure, however, that this didn’t come from someone at school.

She’s seven, so we’re getting a bunch of clarifing “find yourself” kinds of questions. How do you work this out?

Grades are Coming

Miss B’s first high school quarter is coming to a close, and I can say – EdBox is great, but it’d be greater if the teachers would update it more regularly. It’s a whole lot better than just guessing as to whether her work is done or not, though. Overall, I’m pleased with her grades. She has a couple of weak spots that EdBox is helping us track down, and one of those is the reason I’m sitting in Starbucks far from my normal haunts while she spends her Saturday morning at the school doing biology labs.

I’m trying hard to be the “awesome uncle” but my sister in law upped the ante. I’m sending my nephews and niece holiday cards, and sent out Halloween cards. Imagine my surprise when the girls got cards from their new nephew Dylan. Imagine my further surprise when each girl found a five dollar bill inside their card. I was shocked! And soon, I’ll be broke. 😀 Thanksgiving is coming. I bet I could fit a whole turkey into the card this time.

Miss K had a good time at her school’s literacy fair. She went to the book fair, ate Round Table pizza, made some comic strips, met a librarian from Multnomah County Library, and won a (scary) book. She spent her “Halloween money” on a Pokemon black/white catalog book. She was unhappy that I wouldn’t let her pack a lunch on the way out the door to school on Friday. Apparently it’s hard to carry both her book and the lunch tray. But I didn’t want to be late to school; we’ll work that out next week. Miss K also won a “respectful” award at her school’s award ceremony. Sometimes the “word of the week” at her school smells slightly of brainwashing, in an Orwellian sense, but some of those kids could use some washing. Last week’s word was “Volunteer” and this week’s was “Character.” She and I trick-r-treated in our neighborhood. She dressed up as a vampire woman, but because she mislaid her teeth, it was just a pretty red and black dress. She got the traditional bucketful of candy.

Miss K has been remarkably clingy this week. I waver between enjoying it and wanting my own space. Usually when I come home, I need my own space. Miss B, not so clingy.

Ms B had a day of Jury Duty this week and was released about lunchtime. I met her for lunch before she went home. It was very nice to sit and eat with her, even if we ate in the mall’s food court. She is angling for me to clean the house today and move the Xbox and PS3 upstairs so they get played with more. The basement is so dark and cold. This is tempting, but the obvious spot for them (at least until after Christmas) is our bedroom, where everyone congregates. I made the tactical error of offering to move our bedroom stuff to the (smaller) living room and then we could use the bedroom as the living room and just come in / go out through the back door. And hey, why don’t we have the Christmas tree back there too. Unsurprisingly, she thought the first idea was silly. Surprisingly, she could get behind the second idea. Whoops.

I’ve run twice this week and plan to either run tonight or tomorrow morning. I’m running 4 ten minute intervals, and my route takes me around a loop on the sidewalk. I’m not running on the (dark) bike paths or down the middle of the street. But it’s cold and wet. Hopefully I’ll keep my motion going through the winter.

And the best news of the week was that Grampa R is out of the hospital and healing at home. So glad he’s ok. I like him a lot.

Camp, Again

It’s the eighth time that Miss B has been sent to summer camp. Well, overnight camp at this particular camp- she had a few years of Zoo Camp and the like, day camps. And it’s Miss K’s first year sleeping at camp. We’ve gone and made them go the same week.

And in my opinion, the weather’s been unkind. Not hot, that was one extreme; so, no, it hasn’t been 100+ degrees. Miss B played in the water all that week, when it happened. Also the camp is under old growth trees and is pretty shady. It’s been cool, about 70 degrees and damp. It rained yesterday, it looks like rain today. It’s supposed to be mid-70s and only partly cloudy by Friday, and Saturday morning their camp is over.

I’m probably worrying too much. Miss B spent a lot of time building up expectations in Miss K’s mind, and I expect them to be unmet. It’s hard to sleep outside by the river when it’s raining on you. But Miss K is pretty resilient. On the other hand, she can be pretty rigid when she expects something to be a certain way. But no calls or anything yet, and it’s half through already.

The house is quiet without them. Still. :)

Atticus Finch and Huck Finn ?

I’m not happy with the whitewashing of Huckleberry Finn with the removal of the word “nigger.” It’s one of those topics, though, on which I don’t talk much; I don’t want to give the impression that as a white middle aged guy I know everything about how that word in particular and racism in general. I don’t. However, I think it’s an important word when it’s used in context. The word shows up again in another book often read in High School though, it shows up in To Kill A Mockingbird.

“Do you defend niggers Atticus?” I asked him that evening.
“Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common.”
“’s what everybody else at school says.”
“From now on it’ll be everybody less one.”

(shamelessly stolen from Art of Manliniess)

I think that word belongs there too. For two reasons; first, it’s actively discouraging the word. Second, because it actively adds something to the passage.

I think it’s important in Huck Finn too. It’s not satire; that’s completely different. Some people say it’s local patoise, local flavor, it’s a word they would have used. I say, Mark Twain used this word because he knew that couth mouths like ours would find this word distasteful, and he was trying to make a point about Jim and people’s assumptions they make when you describe someone a certain way.

Don’t forget, Mark Twain said that “word choice was the difference between Lightning and Lightning Bug.”

Self Reflection

We ran into a couple of friends of ours a few weeks ago, and met their kids. That is, Miss B and Miss K met the kids, Ms B and I spent most of the time talking to the grownup parents. And as we were driving back, Miss B said something like “I like them, they’re really nice kids.” I happen to really like these friends and I could see kind of lines in my head between the parents and their kids. So I said something like “Oftentimes, great kids are the results of great parents.”

Sent a shiver down my back.

Our kids are, well, fantastic. Lots of people tell us that our kids are fantastic. It is extremely difficult to do my normal meek and mild thing after blindsiding myself like that.

Two thousand hours or bust

When I was a wee lad, I wanted, no, I needed a calculator. And my dad, in his infinite wisdom, said that he didn’t have a problem with me using a calculator.

If I didn’t need one.

So I memorized multiplication tables, played with numbers, developed a whole brain toolbox around how to play with numbers and get them right. I even developed the pattern of seeing two possible ways to get to an answer and making sure they lead to the same answer. For instance, if “x squared” is 144, I knew the multiplication table and can see 12×12 on one side of my inner vision, and on the other I knew that 12×2 was 24 and 12×10 was 120, so I could add those together and get the same numbers. Or on a multiple choice test, I could use one of those two ways to quickly get into the right range, and the test answers were usually pretty far off from one other, I could quickly narrow down the options.

Eventually I didn’t need that calculator although it was still faster, so I used it. Especially for things like adding up long sequences of numbers. And then I hit algebra and geometry and algebra 2 and even calculus. I spent hours — yes hours on pretty graphs for my solutions, finding the best answer, making hyperbole graphs, drawing sin(x)*tan(x) graphs. I probably used the most colored pencils of anyone in my high school who was not in the Art program.

You remember those days. Well, pretend that you do, ok?

Ms B had to take a statistics course for nursing. And for that, she needed a graphing calculator. You plugged in the numbers and it drew out your graph on its little LCD screen. Fascinating! A ten minute graph now took ten seconds. Well, at least she knew how to do the graphing, right? But her math wasn’t my responsibility and whoa, that little calculator was pretty neat too. She could look at the black on grey output and compare it to her paper and see that she had the right idea.

And now I’m reading The Talent Code and learning about focused practice, repetition, ironing out the errors, and myelin, and how long myelin takes to wrap around a “brain circuit,” and how that wrapping affects what we see as talent. Which is about a 10,000 foot view, sure, but you can see that I did a bunch of math practice, then people claimed I was talented at math. A direct relationship as it were between practice and talent.

I want to share this with my kids. And I considered putting Octave on the computers so they could see the glory of these cool graphs that equations make, but only after they build a few hundred themselves. I want them to have the practice behind the glory that is math. I tried to describe the formula of conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit as a graph line to Miss B the other day but I’m pretty sure she tuned me out. (Yeah yeah, the slope is 5/9 and it’s offset by 32 blah blah blah). (Actually what I was trying to do was show her how to answer the question from her current knowledge… 0C=32F,100C=212F so what is 80F in C?).

But, like my dad, I could filter their tools by their practice level.

And then, because of a silly post on, I stumble across wolfram alpha. Goddamn, wolfram alpha. You want to see the graph for Celsius to Fahrenheit? Here ya go:
actually this is F to C but you see the line?

Oh, and did you want a sine wave?

Neat. How about three dimensions ?

(note: I had a hard time building an ellipse because Wolfram kept changing the X axis so my ellipse would be circular. She’ll have to watch that.)

And here I was worried about the girls searching for porn? Porn is tame compared to the damage they could do with this — why bother to learn something hard if goddamn wolfram alpha (and I think I’m going to add that adjective to it every time I say that) will just jump in and do pretty graphs for the girls.

What do you do to filter this out of their possibilities? Look — you can e’en do this on your iphone!!

(ps: here’s the link I followed to G.W.A. )