Friday, December 24, 2010

Nathan is here!

World, meet Nathan! He was born on 12/10/10, at 7:28am. December 10 also happens to be his grandpa's birthday, so I guess he really wanted to be the main gift. This gift will be hard to beat next year. (Coincidentally, the due date was on grandma's birthday).

After much deliberation, we named him Nathan Gabriel. Iggy looked at him and decided that he sort of looked like a Nathan. We really like the meaning of the name - "a gift from God". And this way both kids have Hebrew names, a matching set. (Iggy pointed out that it would be historically ironic to have one kid bear a Hebrew name, and another be a Roman. Ha.)

Nathan was born with blue eyes, chestnut hair (lots of it) and light skin. At 7 lbs 13 oz, he's about a pound bigger than Wombat at birth. So far, brothers are getting on ok. Elijah is very good with the new addition and is very concerned for baby's well being. He is also concerned with the baby taking any of his toys, but so far that's not in the cards.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Some thoughts from Richard Branson

  1. "Ridiculous yachts and private planes and big limousines won't make people enjoy life more."
  2. "I enjoy every single minute of my life."
  3. "But the majority of things that one could get stressed about, they’re not worth getting stressed about."
  4. "You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them."
  5. "There is no one to follow, there is nothing to copy."
  6. "I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to makemoney. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing."
  7. "I never had any intention of being an entrepreneur."
  8. "I made and learned from lots of mistakes."
  9. "If you can indulge in your passion, life will be far more interesting than if you're just working."
  10. "Right now I'm just delighted to be alive and to have had a nice long bath.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And here we are, again.

My due date was November 27.

In surprise to.... no one, the baby has no intention of coming out on that date.  Or any date around that date.  Therefore, just like with Wombat, the midwives have launched their "WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU'RE POST-DUE" offensive.  As part of that exercise, I sat through a no-stress-test yesterday.

I'd like to mention that the no-stress part refers strictly to the baby.  The mother can get pretty stressed out by the test, and that's ok.  Like, for example yesterday, when Wallaby decided that the test is a great time to take a nap after some vigorous kicking exercises.  For the uninitiated, the no-stress-test is when they strap a monitor to your belly to check how often the baby is kicking (and how his heart rate does when he kicks).  If the baby does not kick enough (whatever enough is, I'm not sure), then you have failed the test.  I know. It's just like high school Presidential Fitness Test, but in utero.

Wombat was nice enough to kick like mad during the entire 20 minutes.  Granted, he spot-kicked the monitor, but still, he was nice enough to kick.  Wallaby, as I said, decided to ignore the test altogether and took a nap, which prompted the midwife to make a concerned face and send me to the hospital for a "semi-emergency" biophysical profile on the baby, just in case.  Of course, as soon as I sat down in the car, Wallaby started moving like a tape of aerobics exercises was playing in my womb in front of him.  Nice.

Anyway, a biophysical means an ultrasound, so I wasn't too against the whole thing.  I really liked getting a picture of Wombat's face when he was 41 weeks, and was kind of looking forward to getting a picture of Wallaby too.  I called husband to join me for this treat, and off we went.  In the hospital, they ran another no-stress-test (which they said worked out fine, even though I swear Wallaby wasn't moving more than at the midwives), and then shipped us off to the ultrasound.

And, as soon as the ultrasound was on, Wallaby did not move.  He was very still.  We had to zoom in on him, and when we zoomed on one of his hands, we saw.... him staring at his fist, folding and unfolding his fingers in a very contemplative manner.  Staring off into the distance.  Very poetic.  The poetic atmosphere was interrupted by the technician, who told me "Can you make him move, because if he doesn't, they'll keep you in the hospital".

I assumed "they'll keep you in the hospital" meant "they'll C-section this baby out of you", rather than, say, "They'll keep you and feed you lunch", so I became very motivated and sat up.  I've noticed that sitting up squishes Wallaby and he begins to squirm.  It worked, until he settled down again and (I assume) stared at his other hand unfolding.  Or something.  Finally, we got enough movement out of him to declare the biophysical a success, got our report and left.  Whew.

With the no stress test and the ultrasound (biophysical) behind us, now we wait.  Just like before.  Except hopefully not as long as before.  Next Monday is another no stress test, and 9th is the induction (with the 10th being the expected latest date of birth).  I don't know if we'll make it that long though; unlike Wombat, I think I am getting some contractions with this one already and the baby is riding lower.  I think he is going to head for the exit once he has finished doing long division using his fingers or whatever it is he is working on in there.

This experience makes me a little bit concerned about this kid's personality, I must say.  Wombat is cooperative.  Very.  Other than forgetting what his due date was (or possibly just being too busy with his personal womb beautification projects), he has cooperated the entire time and continues to do so.  Not Wallaby, it appears.  I think this will be the child that will have me going to the principal's office, explaining his latest shenanigans while he stands there angel-faced wearing an expression of deepest piety.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hostee Manifesto

Download the PDF from Holstee here.

More fall inspiration

See images in their original context here and here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Women with no makeup (oh the horror)

This image has been making the rounds in the blogosphere (not to mention getting comments on Reddit, which Jezebel then picked up).  If you  have a daughter, show her these pictures.  These are famous, gorgeous models, with Laetitia Casta leading off the line up on top left.

The geeks on Reddit, of course, abused every single one  of  these pictures, calling the girls unattractive or worse.  Jezebel declared every single one of these pictures beautiful and every single one of the Reddit commenters a shauvinist. 

But the reality is just that these women are not ugly and not beautiful, they are just real un-airbrushed women with no makeup, taking a mugshot.  These are your driver license photos.  Your snapshots in a dimly lit room taken with a bad camera by a person who doesn't care.  We have all taken pictures like this.

When I was younger, I had professional photographs done for my birthday or some other occasion.  I can't remember the occasion, but it was an eye-opening experience.  The amount of makeup, lighting, setup, hair prep and direction was astounding.  (I got to the set wearing what I thought was a lot of makeup, only to have it taken off, be told that I should have worn some makeup, and then have about 5 pounds of it piled on).  Those pictures of me were gorgeous. The girl in them was stunning.  Except that I have never looked like that girl in real life, and I never will.  The girl in those pictures does not really exist.

Neither do the girls in photos you see in Vicky's Secret, or makeup and perfume ads.  Models are not very beautiful women.  Models are women who have bodies like hangers (tall and slim), making the clothes hang well, and who have faces that serve as good blanks for makeup (your features can't be too prominent; the face must be somewhat plain because then you can easily change it by changing the shadowing).  Really, that's all.  With the right makeup, the right lighting and the right angle, you can draw anything you want on that face.  You can make it look amazingly gorgeous.  You can then retouch that picture to make the beauty otherwordly.  And, published in every magazine across the land, it will tell every girl that she is ugly because she will never look like that.  Believe me, the model who took that very picture will never look like that either.

If you have kids, please talk to them.  Take your daughter to a modeling shoot when she is old enough, and watch her initial excitement draw down after hours and hours of hair, makeup and prep.  Have her see the drastic difference between the final product and her own reflection.  Explain to her that pictures lie.  Have your children play with Photoshop.  Get your son to know that girls in glossy pictures are no more real than Lara Croft.  It's ok to stare at those pictures for their beauty - as long as you keep in mind that they are nothing more than a Photoshop file.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nurture Shock lecture this Thursday

If you are in Bethesda area this Thursday night, go to this lecture!  The Nurture Shock book is very insightful and reviews many recent studies to suggest that you should not tell kids they are smart, or that self-esteem is overrated.  Po should be great to listen to in person.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Colors of Fall

I love these pictures, from this Creature Comforts post.  In some very subtle way, they really capture the magic of fall and its mood. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Well Dressed Boys

Common wisdom dictates that boy clothes are just not as cute as girl clothes.  But I think that most boy clothes have way more personality than most girl clothes do.  To me many girls look like easter eggs, with over-the-top dresses and pink colors and ruffles and bows.  It seems impossible to find a girl outfit that has any edginess or personality or coolness to it.

But lots of cool clothes are available for boys in colors other than baby blue.  I just found Little Boy Chic, and am totally in love with the shop.  It carries many things that would look great on any guy - little or big.  As there is probably no chance to convince your husband to put on a jacket like this, let's try to get your son to appreciate it.  Start them early. :)

Appaman Moto Jacket

 Fire Truck Half Zip Pullover by Dogwood

Union Jack Wrinkled Denim Jeans by Smash

Electric Guitar Del Sol 2fer Tee by Mini Shatsu

There is so much more in the shop; you have to go and check it out.  No girls allowed, ruffle-free zone. :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Let's be Reasonable

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New York versus Paris

I love this illustrated guide to differences between two spectacular cities.  All the illustrations are from the new Paris versus New York blog, run by Vahram Muratyan — cofounder of ViiiZ art direction + graphic design studio.  It's really cool how the pictures highlight how similar the two cities are, as well as how different.  When we were in Paris, I remember feeling strangely at home there until I realized it's a lot like New York.  I felt like I knew the people, understood the city, and it fit a familiar old glove.

Where did the phone go?

If, like me, you end up losing your precious cellphone every 5 minutes and end up having to turn the entire house upside down to dig it up again, you will appreciate this.  This website allows you to punch in your phone number, and they will call your phone so you can use echolocution to get to it instead of random search.  Very cool!

Now just remember to not leave the phone on vibrate. Dang. The idea is brilliant though!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Picky Eater Taxonomy

I love this post from Dinner: A Love Story.  I think we are currently raising something between a Lil' Gourmand, the Compartmentalizer and a Ketchup Junkie.  Overall, on track.

From the link above, as written by Jennifer Livingston.

The L’il Gourmand
Ideal meal: Nobu’s miso-glazed black cod in the summer; Mario Batali’s beef-cheek ravioli in the winter.
Overheard in bed, at story time:
“Dad, that pumpkin risotto was amazing. Was there sage in that?”
Defining beliefs:
That iodized salt is not salt at all; that chocolate should always be at least 68% cacao; and that honey mustard is well and good, if you’re the kind of person — no offense — for whom “well and good” is enough.
Party trick:
Telling nonplussed friends of her parents the difference between a bernaise and a hollandaise.
Favorite after-school activity
: Listening to podcast of The Splendid Table while snacking on marcona almonds; playing darts with her Rachael Ray dart board.
In ten years, will be:
Majoring in feminist food theory at Brown.

The Compartmentalizer
Modus operandi
: Will not even sit down at the table if the potatoes are touching the broccoli.
Last question before bed:
“Dad, is the DustBuster charging?”
Thing that keeps him up at night: Sauce.
In twenty years, will be: Licking lightbulbs, making and remaking bed, touching doorknobs six times before entering the room, running the world.

The Ketchup Junkie
Ideal meal:
French fries with ketchup, chicken with ketchup, flounder with ketchup, pasta with ketchup, steak with ketchup, ketchup with ketchup. Ketchup.
Last thought before bed:
First thought upon waking:
“Only four more hours till ketchup.”
Overheard at TumbleBugs party
: “Come on, it’s ketchup time somewhere in the world.”
In twenty years, will be:
A normal, healthy eater. Just like the rest of these characters.

The physics of parenting

Newtonian physics explained (as experienced by parents) by Christoph Niemann on his awesome NYT Blog, Abstract City.

You can't eat these vegetables

Too cute - these creations are by Carl Kleiner.

Names: The Final Showdown

In case you are just joining us, I'm very pregnant.  Like, a month away from the due date today.  Now, we have been through this once before and we know that most baby stuff is overrated. There is very little that babies (newborn) actually need, except for Mom and a blankie and a binkie.  Seriously.  (Mom, on another hand, needs quite a few things, of which a case of wine is the most important).

But there is one thing all babies need.  A name.

We don't have one of those.  Still.  This is officially an emergency.

Here is our final list of names, with all we think of them.  Both first and middle names are probably going to come from this list, but.... which ones?!


We really love this name.  However, it has issues.  Or may be it's just us who have issues and the name is really fine.  We feel that it's too soft.  Too effeminate.   We like soft names for boys (Elijah, for example :), but we also like to give the boy a way to masculinize it.  Elijah can be easily shortened to the macho "Eli".  Gabriel has no such options.  The only nickname is Gabe, which is hardly masculine and (we think) doesn't sound very nice.  In online forums, many Gabriels say that often people expect to see a woman when they see their name written because... apparently Americans can't distinguish between Gabriel as masculine and Gabrielle as feminine?    And, as a final insult, the default tease for Gabriel is, of course, "Gay Gabe" which can't be fun whether you are gay or straight.  Actually, it's probably worse if you ARE gay.  Sigh.

But!  All of those name reviews are from people named Gabriel who are now adults.  When they were little and named this, Gabriel was not a popular name - but it is now.  It's number 25 in the US and climbing the charts.  There will definitely be multiple Gabriels in school, and may be (just may be) teasing someone with "gay" epithet is finally becoming really socially unacceptable?  Hopefully?  Is it getting to be taboo?  Several of our friends, when we said "Gabriel has an obvious tease option" responded "huh? what would that be?".  Are they right and are we overthinking it, or are they just adults and we still think like playground 3rd graders? Because we are good at that.  Sadly, events of recent weeks seems to suggest that harassing someone because of sexual orientation, or using sex-orientation insults to humiliate is still alive and well.  May be Wallaby's generation can make such bigotry as taboo as insults based on gender or race have become now.  But do we want to bet on that?  I'm not sure.


Hm.  Overall good name, but we are not crazy about the nickname "Tony" that comes with it.   Also, I'm partial to "Antonio" variant of the name, because I think it sounds HOT and is a great way to be introduced to girls in bars (or boys! either way!).  But Antonio Flores does sound (while HOT) like you just crossed the border yesterday.   And it would still have the nickname "Tony" (or "Tony-O"?) that we don't like.  The Russian variant of this name is Anton, so we would be good in that department.  Anthony is currently name number 10 on the charts, and is always popular, so.... is it too bland?  It's also a name that's hard to tease.... there isn't really much you can come up with.


Iggy loves this name.  I hated it at first, and now it's growing on me just a little bit, but I'm still not sure.  It just feels so... nerdy.  In my head, Simon has to be a bookish type for some reason, and online reviews seem to say the same.  I think it might be hard to overcome the image that lots of people associate with this name.  On the bright side, though, there is no nickname (except for Si, i guess) and it's an easy-traveling, easy-to-spell name (except in Spanish, where Simon gets to be Si Mon to the delight of every 3rd grader on the playground).  All the potential teasing would involve nursery rhymes and old TV characters which, again, is not so bad.


We both really like the name, but it's heavily African-American right now, and also (according to sports teams rosters) seems to be heavily jock-inclined.  Our Wallaby is not going to be either.   There is, of course, the original Dante Allegheri, which is a bit more our speed.... but would Wallaby constantly be defying expectations by being a white, not-too-jocky (probably) type of guy?  Would this name fit? 

There is also no Russian (or any other language) equivalent - the name is quintessentially Italian.  Everyone the world over knows about it, thanks to Allegheri, but still.... other names travel better.  As far as teasing goes, this one is not easy to tease and is a pretty cool name overall.  It's not at all popular in the charts right now, so it will definitely stand out, and it should be equally at home at a bar or at a boardroom.  We think. You can definitely be a jock or a poet with it, but you do need a bit of flare to rock this name.  Will Wallaby have what it takes to own it and pull it off?


This was the first name that we sort of liked.  It has everything going for it - no nickname, sort-of-trendy with its '-an' ending, sounds sufficiently masculine and yet can be worn well by an artsy type.... it's all there.  Even has a Russian equivalent - it's exactly the same name in Russian, just place the accent on the last syllable instead of the first.  Not to mention that, when pronounced that way, the name (in French, Russian and loads of other languages) also means "A Novel" (as in a book). Swoon.  How romantic and intellectual.

But.... the latest association with this name is Roman Polanski.  Not so good.  Of course, Wallaby's generation will have no clue who Polanski was, and so it's probably ok.... but still has a bit of a bad taste for right now, no?  Also, Roman begins to sound like an adjective as soon as you add a middle name.  I mean, "Roman Gabriel" sounds like something you should be sprinkling Parmesano cheese on.  We don't know... this name has all the elements we are looking for, but somehow we just can't get very excited about it.

Well, that's the list.  One thing for sure - we will use the first and middle name to counter balance each other.  So, if the first name is a quirky one like Gabriel we are probably going to go with Anthony to give the kid an all-American "out" option.  If the first name is an all-American one like Simon or Anthony, then we will probably make the middle name Gabriel. 

But what should we pick? What do we do? What does everyone think of our concerns? Are we insane? (don't answer that last one).

Fall Leaf Art

Wow.  I cannot believe anyone can actually do this.  It's absolutely amazing. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cute downloads for Halloween

In case you still haven't decorated your home for the trick-or-treat-fest, here are cute things to print out and put up:

Martha Stewart Scary Butterflies

Martha Stewart Candy Artifact Display

Printable candy box

Get out and walk around

Do you follow From Me To You on Tumblr? You should.  Jamie Beck takes the most gorgeous photographs (film!) of everyday scenes; her pictures are the way I see things in my head and I can never capture them with my camera. I'm glad she's here.

Recently, she posted this series on Dallas, Texas. It's very interesting how she points out that the feeling of being in a car-oriented city is totally different. It's really true. I've been to Texas (and other parts of the country where walking is not really possible or intended) and it's amazing how much of a barrier the car puts between you and your surroundings. You really don't experience the moment or the place at all - you are there, but not really, kind of teleporting from stop to stop in your vehicle. It's a very fragmented, weird sort of existence that has no flow.

In New York, you walk, a lot, and are constantly surrounded by music and sounds and serendipity and random shops and strangers and unexpected conversations and interaction and it is beautiful.

Take a look at her series of Dallas and compare them to New York.  Or just compare this picture with the picture of Dallas above.  Even those both show a concrete jungle, in black and white, with no people, the latter is somehow much more human.  It's a lonely existence, in a car.

And, just because I love NY and can't stop, this one.  I know, Texas. It's not fair.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Please watch this.

And please show this to your old-enough kids.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Behind the Scenes

I love behind the scenes photographs of movies and TV shows.  It's fascinating to see actors in full costume, but somehow looking nothing like their characters.  It's amazing.  Their facial expressions, their postures, the way they look at the camera - all so different from how they appear on the screen.  Oh, you say that's why they call it "Acting"? Oh, I see.

Well, here are two great slideshows of behind-the-scenes photographs for Mad Men and Star Wars. Ha, have your attention now, do I?

Inside Mad Men

See the full gallery on Rolling Stone website.

Star Wars on Set

See the entire gallery on Vanity Fair website.

Make your own space program

This Dad actually built a small craft to go up into stratosphere and take some pictures of the earth to show his son. I assume NASA has contacted him to see how he was able to reduce costs from their millions of dollars to what appears to be just a few hundred bucks. That is one lucky kid. As as aside, someone please remind me to retire well before this kid enters the workforce - or any others like him. I shudder to think there may be more of them. In the olden days, we didn't launch any spacecraft until well into our college years. :)

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

Things you didn't know you could do on YouTube

Play the Piano!

Tune your Radio!

And my very favorite - Travel the TransSiberian Roadway. Check out the video of Lake Baikal; I think it must be one of the most beautiful sights in the world. I'm only somewhat biased, of course.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This one's for the girls

Both of these are sort of girl-oriented and so have no place in my house.  They are too cute to pass up though, so if you have a little girl, check them out!


A very cute, pull-the-flap, turn-the-wheels book for little girls about (what else?) shopping and dressing up and getting around in a big city.  It looks like it does a great job of introducing fashion as art and what little one wouldn't enjoy a flipbook build-an-outfit section?  This would make a great gift for a little girl into dress-up; check out this video from the author.


Belle & Boo make delightful illustrations of a girl and her bunny rabbit.  Now, in addition to their adorable prints, they also make wall decals!  I am obsessed with vinyl decals currently and am trying to not cover my entire house in them, so if you have not had your first taste of this addiction then Belle & Boo should be a great intro.  Look:

I also really like that a lot of these stickers are not collages: they can be combined into a large collage, like above a crib shown in the picture, but you can also put them up individually.  You could hide a little whimsical bunny, dinosaur-riding kid or a balloon behind the bookshelf, or peeking out from a dresser. It's a great way to make the room more playful for the little one and still tasteful enough for you to love!  Come think of it, some of these may be boy enough for Wombat's room.  May be.  Possibly.  Ok. 

Rain all day

Non stop rain in Maryland today.  Here is a cute list of ideas for things to do on a rainy day from Lox Papers

Or, of course, you could just go to work. :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Owl Calendar

Owl Lover 2011 Calendar

My Owl Barn is giving away free owl calendars for 2011, and the artwork is amazing. Not only do you get a free calendar, you get to pick which artwork to include for each month! There are more than 12 images, so you can really select the ones that you love most. I think this is my favorite one:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The DC Building Museum

I love days that our daycare is closed.  On those days I get to stay home with Wombat.  I usually try to plan a little outing, because the last thing I want to do is be more boring than daycare.  Last time, we went to the National Building Museum in DC.

The LEGO architecture exhibit was still going on when we went, and the exhibit was awesome.  Not only was there a large number of buildings constructed from LEGOs, but there was a huge build-your-own-city area with large LEGO block bins for kids to play with.  I think it was mostly targeting school-age kids, but Wombat got right into it anyway.

(It's interesting that the LEGO blocks used to build these creations are nothing like the LEGO blocks in the LEGO toys.  They are much more realistic, and even more modular.  They really are just like bricks).

After a little while of building, we headed to the Play Place at the museum.  It's for kids under 6 years old, and it. is. spectacular.  They have a miniature cottage! Loads of ride-on trucks! Building toys! Dress-up clothes! More trucks! Pillows to stack! Books to read! A large space to run around in! Train set! All for free.

Elijah immediately rounded up every single ride-on truck in the place, naturally.  Other (obviously less organized) children immediately took advantage of his having lined up every single truck and started grabbing them from the line-up to play with, thus greatly upsetting Wombat.

Oh well, he still found his one and only love in this recycling truck. (By Sprig recycled toys, no less.  Not too shabby.  In general, all the toys in the play place were expensive, high quality, very very nice toys)  We didn't check out the book section in depth, but lots of older kids were using it and it looked quite interesting (with all the books very construction-related and therefore boy-friendly.)

 After more playtime, we decided it was time to eat lunch and take a nap.  The museum advertises a Firehouse Bakery on premises, but that really only consists of one drink counter and a fridge with sandwiches - nothing freshly made available.  So to get food, you would have to prowl Chinatown as your closest option.  As for us, after making a few unsuccessful pokes around the neighborhood, I dragged Wombat to Teaism to get our lunch (and a mango lassie).

Getting there: The place is right next to the Judicial Square metro stop.  Like, directly and immediately across from the Metro stop exit - you have to walk about 20 feet across a plaza and just like that, you are at the museum.   But if, like me, you decide that metro-ing seriously interfers with your naptime, then you can also drive in.  A nearby garage can give you daily parking for $11-16.  We found our parking on this website, printed out a coupon for the discount and were good to go.

Cost: Admission to the museum is free.  The play place is free too!  Any special exibits are nominal-fee: the Lego one was $5 for me and free for Wombat.

Food: not too many options at the museum.  There is a small fridge stocked by Fireside Bakery, and not much toddler-friendly fare.  However, loads of restaurants are just a few blocks away, including Teaism (OK, a bit of a hike) and the entire Chinatown.

Bathrooms: quite nice: large, easily accessible and well-equipped with changing tables.

Museum Shop: Not bad, not bad at all.  Loads of building/construction toys, including Melissa and Doug and Bruder trucks.  Also random curiosities for adults and older kids, plus of course adult books.  A large, very large children's toy section. Unfortunately, to great disappointment, the museum shop does not carry any of the toys that are available to play with at their play place.  So if your toddler falls in love with one of the trucks there, you don't have an option to just buy one to take home.  A huge revenue loss for the place, if you ask me.  Elijah liked that garbage truck so much I would have totally bought one for him - even with the museum markup (which, as it was, wasn't too bad).

Overall:   The play place is great, but the rest of the museum is not really very interesting to a toddler (or to someone not into architecture already).  Not really worth a special trip, but if you happen to be at the Smithsonian/Chinatown during bad weather or a bad temper tantrum, the National Building Museum play place will save your day.  Definitely worth it to keep it in mind.

The lazy self

The New Yorker has a good article/book review on procrastination. Turns out it's a highly contested topic in philosophy.

Beyond self-binding, there are other ways to avoid dragging your feet, most of which depend on what psychologists might call reframing the task in front of you. Procrastination is driven, in part, by the gap between effort (which is required now) and reward (which you reap only in the future, if ever). So narrowing that gap, by whatever means necessary, helps. Since open-ended tasks with distant deadlines are much easier to postpone than focussed, short-term projects, dividing projects into smaller, more defined sections helps. That’s why David Allen, the author of the best-selling time-management book “Getting Things Done,” lays great emphasis on classification and definition: the vaguer the task, or the more abstract the thinking it requires, the less likely you are to finish it. One German study suggests that just getting people to think about concrete problems (like how to open a bank account) makes them better at finishing their work—even when it deals with a completely different subject. Another way of making procrastination less likely is to reduce the amount of choice we have: often when people are afraid of making the wrong choice they end up doing nothing. So companies might be better off offering their employees fewer investment choices in their 401(k) plans, and making signing up for the plan the default option.

Read more

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat Club

Wow! According to the Yahoo News, today is a great day to be a wombat.  A Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, to be specific.  Apparently, there is about 1 million dollars a year coming down the marsupial way:

Australian news outlets have gone wild about the story of an American man who left $8 million to the "non profit organisation specialising in large scale rescue and rehabilitation of the Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat." The donation will come in $1-million-per-year increments, starting next year. His family has asked, perhaps not too surprisingly, for anonymity.....

The organization's mission (which is about to get a lot easier) is, in their words, to promote "conservation and protection of fragmented (wombat) populations, developing new co-existence plans for landowners, lobbying for tougher regulations on culling and undertaking research into public opinion."

We celebrate this Wombastic victory while we are waiting for our 1M/year check! Thanks for the tip, Mikey. :)

Fly like a Falcon


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autism's First Child and False Prophets

The Atlantic has a great article up on the first child ever diagnosed with autism.  He is now 77 years old, and has lived a long, happy life - mostly due to his parents efforts to not only manage his disease but to channel his autistic tendencies in a direction they would be fruitful.  Oh, and also due to their trust fund and money set up basically just to care for him.

Initially, the child was diagnosed with schitzophrenia and institutionalized.  After his parents pursued different doctors, they eventually landed in the New York office of Dr Kanner.
Kanner did not coin the term autistic. It was already in use in psychiatry, not as the name of a syndrome but as an observational term describing the way some patients with schizophrenia withdrew from contact with those around them. Like the word feverish, it described a symptom, not an illness. But now Kanner was using it to pinpoint and label a complex set of behaviors that together constituted a single, never-before-recognized diagnosis: autism.
The article does a very good job of examining how autism affects individuals once they are grown, and what happens to them when their parents are no longer there to care for them.  To no surprise, it turns out that a supportive large social network around them is what helps keep them afloat.  Autistic individuals have to parse our emotional states one wrinkle of our faces at a time, and that is extraordinarily hard.  People around them have to be aware of these difficulties in order for the autistic person to be successful.

He later explained to Gerhardt: “The rules keep changing on me. Every time I think I learn a new rule, you change it on me.”
The answer to this problem, Gerhardt argues, is the right kind of education for the many Tonys out there. At present, he contends, schooling for children with high-functioning levels of autism overemphasizes traditional academic achievement—trying to learn French or the state capitals—at the expense of what someone like Tony really needs, a set of social skills that keep him from making mistakes such as hugging his neighbor the wrong way. These skills—like knowing how to swipe a Visa card—are not generally taught to kids with autism. And once they become adults, the teaching, in all too many cases, stops completely. In general, state-funded education ends the day a person with autism turns 21. Beyond that, there are no legal mandates, and there is very little funding. “It’s like giving someone a wheelchair on a one-month rental,” Gerhardt says, “and at the end of the month, they have to give it back, and walk.”
And, in other news on this disorder, there is a study out to disprove, once-and-for-all, any connection between thimerosal (mercury) and autism.  Don't go eating mercury now, it's still pretty bad for you, but the small amount you are exposed to in daily life (including vaccinations) will not make you autistic, it seems.

...when adding up total thimerosal exposure, the investigators also included any thimerosal exposure that might have come prenatally from maternal receipt of flu vaccines during pregnancy, as well as immunoglobulins, tetanus toxoids, and diphtheria-tetanus. In other words, investigators tried to factor in all the various ideas for how TCVs might contribute to autism when designing this study.
The authors also accounted for regressive symptoms, cumulative thimerosal exposure, and so on and so on.  It is probably the most comprehensive study done up to this point, and just like the Japan autism studies, it looks pretty bad for the anti-vaccination movement.  We just can't find a connection, at all, between these two events, using any sort of statistical analysis.  Unfortunately, that does not abate the flames on the anti-vaccination movement, and now we have a whooping cough outbreak in California..... which boggles my mind.

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