Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Beginning readers' books and series

We've been very happy with Austin's kindergarten experience so far. His teacher is very nice and seems to have a good sense of his abilities.

Since he's starting to read, she gave us a list of chapter book series with pictures that he might like. I thought I'd share it here, in part because we are bound to lose the piece of paper she gave us. So, the list, with some comments:

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. We have some of these already. A friend of mine called them masterpieces of potty-humor. Follows two rambunctious boys through space-time and superheroics.

Something Queer... by Elizabeth Levy. Less than 50 pages each. Mystery series with lots of pictures. These look to be out of print but available used from Amazon.

Pinky and Rex by James Howe. Adventures of two good friends, a boy who loves the color pink and a girl named Rex.

Cobble Street Cousins by Cynthia Rylant. We love Rylant's Poppleton series (illustrated by family favorite Mark Teague), and also like Henry and Mudge. This is a series about 3 nine year old cousins who live together with an aunt and have various projects.

Meg Mackintosh by Lucinda Landon. Meg writes down clues in her notebook and readers follow along to solve the mystery. B/W drawings of Meg's notebook.

Dorrie by Patricia Coombs. A young witch may not do things right, but can still manage to help adult witches solve their problems. This one you probably want to go to the library for; Amazon's got some used copies but they look to be priced as collector's items.

As we read these books, I'll write up reviews.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sweet Chile o' Mine

We're going to Chile!

Yes, we bought tickets to visit Amy and John and Lucia in Santiago in December. It'll be our first Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. I look forward to flushing the toilet and watching it spin down counterclockwise.

If anyone has any suggestions of places we should see, books we should read, food we should eat, etc. while or before we're there, please let me know.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Missed opportunity

The thing I wanted Obama to say in last night's debate was this:

"I said that if Osama bin Laden was located in Pakistan, I would send troops in to kill him whether or not we had permission from the Pakistani leaders. Anyone who stops to ask permission before trying to kill or capture bin Laden is not suited to be president."

Bam! Take the high ground! Refocus the war on terror! Make McCain look like a wuss and goad him into saying something outrageous!

Oh well, next time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ricky Jay

Here's a link to a video of Ricky Jay doing... uh... to call this a "card trick" is like calling the Last Supper a "water color."

I'm posting it because I'm going to need to watch it a few more times.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain suspending campaign

If McCain can't campaign and fix the economy, how will he fix the economy, oversee two foreign wars, upgrade American infrastructure and protect our borders as president?

Hey, here's an idea, how about suspend the war in Iraq? Oooh, pwned.

Morning Edition

So this was on NPR's Morning Edition:

James Coobler, a retiree living in central Florida, says he's undecided.

"Obama, I can't read. I think he tells you what you want to hear," Coobler said. "John McCain seems to be much more of a quiet person but is straightforward as far as what he says."

So, let's break this down, Mr Coobler. Obama "tells you what you want to hear," in other words, Obama is saying things you agree with. Whereas "McCain... is straightforward," presumably because he is so blunt about saying how we need to hunker down and win in Iraq; in other words, McCain is telling things you don't agree with.

Here's a hint: vote for the guy who says things you agree with.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Today's pictures

We had a party for Mari's 4th birthday.

It was at a gym (the Little Gym in West Roxbury).

The kids had pizza, lemonade...

...and cake.

Afterward, we took a walk around Jamaica Pond with Alex, Tom, Amelia and Lydia.

Then we came home and Julie found a beautiful tomato in our garden. She insisted I photograph it...

...as she threw it...

...again and again...

..until I got a shot of just tomato and sky.

It was a nice day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Our House

We're on Google Streetview now.

When I checked a few months ago, there was only a shot from the traffic light down the hill, but now there's a picture of our house. Looks like it was taken on a Tuesday evening this summer (some people had not come back from work to pick up their trash cans on our street).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Toronto 2008

The last ten days of August, we made our annual pilgrimage to Toronto. This year, our trip coincided with a visit by my sister Vera, her husband Stephen and their kids Neve and Mason.

Mari spent two weeks prior talking about how much she wanted to play with cousin Mason.

Here's Mason!

And here's Neve!

One of our favorite family tourist sites in Toronto is Ontario Place. Among the attractions is the Atom Blaster, where various pneumatic guns and cannons fire foam balls all over the place, not unlike the basement of that children's department store in Beijing.

Boy, I wanted to smack some kids with some foam balls. Fun!

This is a giant habitrail for children. Austin and Mari went through this thing a dozen times each. Mari even climbed up that bit on the left, went across the tube bridge and down the slide by herself. (We had sort of lost track of her for a while until she came out that slide.)

I think we have about a thousand photos of Mari eating ice cream.

My parents took a pedal boat out; my mother said she had never been on one before.

Another great kids' spot was the Ontario Science Center. Although the day we were there it was so freaking loud with screaming kids that I had a massive headache. Still, the place is great and almost completely different from when I was a kid. There are some of the same exhibits but the halls are all rearranged.

Julie and I had a day downtown while my parents watched the kids. We saw lots of fun design stores, clothing shops and art galleries. This knife holder was one of our favorites.

Julie got a weird shirt. Then we went to the Distillery District where an old distillery (duh!) has been converted into lofts and retail space. The area has a lot of arts organizations including multiple dance troupes and the Soulpepper Theater. We managed to see two farcical one-acts that night: Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer and The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard. Both were ridiculous and funny and we were very impressed with the cast.

We had a nice dinner at the Mill Street Brew Pub and Julie said she had the best coffee ever at Balzac's Coffee:
Here's a shot of the Distillery District. Julie often posts this rhetorical question: Gay or Canadian? You decide:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Veeps meeting Heads of State

Sarah Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson included this exchange:

"Have you ever met a foreign head of state?"

"I have not, and I think if you go back in history and if you ask that question of many vice presidents, they may have the same answer that I just gave you."

It's good of ABCNews to provide an article on the fact that she's wrong, going back as far as Walter Mondale.

I don't know about Gerald Ford, but I suspect that this means the last VP who didn't have this sort of foreign experience was Spiro Agnew, governor of a small state for two years when he was elected. Of course, Agnew was forced to resign the vice presidency while under investigation of criminal charges.

Great company, Sarah!

John McCain thinks you're stupid

Someone needs to take this message to the people: "John McCain thinks you're stupid."

As in:

Barack Obama proposed laws that would teach our kids how to avoid sexual predators. John McCain calls this sex education for kindergarten because McCain thinks you're stupid.

Sarah Palin asked for hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks last year; it's a matter of public record. John McCain says she never asked for earmarks as governor because John McCain thinks you're stupid.

etc. etc.

Obama and Biden don't think you're stupid. That's why they're talking about specific economic plans, that's why they have a plan to get out of Iraq, etc. etc.

He is lying to America and he needs to be called on it in a way that reveals how his lies betray a contempt for ordinary Americans.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sarah Palin info

In case you haven't seen it yet, a resident of Wasilla sent an e-mail around that went viral. The letter is up at the Huffington Post.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Stumbling on Happiness

I just finished reading Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert's book Stumbling On Happiness.

It's descriptive, not prescriptive, and is sort of a survey of psych experiments that deal with perceived happiness, remembered happiness and predicted happiness. What you want to do with this information is up to you.

The book is well written and very colloquial, especially considering the number of footnotes there are. Here are some of my favorite "bits" from the book:
We tend to rationalize misfortune. This only works, though, if our misfortune is bad enough (p. 181). For example, if I stub my toe, I'll be annoyed. If I get in a car accident, I'll be grateful for having survived. Gilbert cites data on people with cancer who can always find people who are in worse situations than themselves and thus tend to rate themselves happier than people who are not sick at all.

No one likes to think of themselves as normal. The most extreme stats he cites are that 90% of motorists consider themselves better-than-average drivers and 94% of college professors consider themselves to be better-than-average teachers (p. 229). At those rates, how bad a teacher do you have to be to think you're worse than average?
Lots of interesting experiments here, and worth reading.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

WSJ on Palin

Here's a Wall Street Journal article on Palin's record as mayor of Wasilla.

Not a lot of good news for people who like due diligence, hate eminent domain and generally prefer competence.

Friday, September 05, 2008


I don't hate John McCain, but boy was that a lousy speech.

The content was terrible, and the performance was worse. He acknowledged the housing crisis by highlighting a couple in Michigan who lost their... "real estate investments." Really? Their investments? That's a shame.

Wait, let me back up a bit. That biographical film was horrible. All those shots of WWII made me think McCain was older than he is. The hammy joke where the punchline is "Mama's boy" was the worst, and fell so flat. The inserted shots of black folks--what's up with that? Are there no photos of John McCain shaking the hands of a black person? Just three random insertions of clips of black people, seemingly culled from stock footage. The music was a weird pastiche of the Theme from Dallas, the editing was choppy (especially the audio and video disconnect). The narration was terrible.

Then we got Fred Thompson's intoned introduction which sounded like he was reading it live for the first time.

The speech was poorly written. Aside from the fact that I disagree with the policies, the rhythms of the speech were choppy. When he got to the litany of differences with Democrats, he cited his own position, and then the Democrats, leading the ExCel Center to grow with "Boos!" Then he ripped into his own party, without really acknowledging his own part in the culture of "Warshington." Take a little responsibility, John.

And then the way McCain gave the speech made me cringe, the way I do whenever I see a public speaker blow the delivery. Doesn't matter if it's in a classroom, a wedding toast or a Powerpoint presentation, it drives me crazy. He swallowed the ends of sentences, and misspoke a number of times, correcting himself after. He let the crowd control him, rather than control the crowd. As the wave of applause built as he said, "Governor Sarah..." he should have shouted her last name "PALIN!" into the crescendo, but instead backed off, let the applause die down and then spoke her full name when he could hear himself again. It was like he was an old person talking on a speaker phone. "I'm ready to fight for... Are you still there? Can you hear me?... Okay, let me start again..."

The backgrounds were ugly and reflected blue and green light on his face. He walked and waved his arms stiffly, like he had just been reanimated last week. And that terrible smile of his kept reminding me of someone and it wasn't until later that I realized who it was.

I thought Palin did a great job for what her speech was and McCain was terrible.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Toronto pictures

Lots to write about Toronto, but I'm too lazy as yet.

Meanwhile, I found this great set of photos on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shyeyes/sets/72157606977050966/

that may be of interest to anyone who cares about Austin and Mari.