Monday, June 30, 2008

Last night was the first night since Chipmunk came that we didn't have guests in the house. Our first night as just the three of us. And it went pretty well.

Mary got us through the first week or so, taking the baby so Christie and I could sleep, making sure we ate, cleaning up after us, and just generally helping us keep body and soul together, not too mention the emotional support and good information. And my parents, who were here this weekend, helped us knock a few items off the to-do list (the lawn, for one), while stocking the freezer with easy meals.

Having our parents here has not just given us support and help, though, it's made us feel like part of continuum, which has given Christie and I both a big boost in confidence for the years ahead. All in all, it's been a joy having them all here.

But it's also nice to have the house to ourselves again for a little while so we can find our own rhythm as a family.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sharing Practical Knowledge

I've benefited a ton so far from the practical knowledge other people have given me about newborns, so I'm going to pass on a few of the things that have worked for us so far. I'm not claiming any particular expertise or wisdom, nor claiming these are universal solutions. I'm just publishing what has worked for us in the hopes that someone, somewhere, sometime, finds it useful.

1. Things sporadically recommended you to take to the hospital that I totally agree with, the Dad edition: A really, really long book (may I suggest Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon?) so you don't get bored during the many interminable waits, and after the birth, when everyone else is sleeping. Lots of snacks. A bottle for water. Cell phone charger. Plenty of change for the vending machines. Clean socks, clean underwear. Deodorant. The hospital will be very focused on taking care of mom, but you're largely on your own.

2. Thing nobody tells you to take to the hospital: A brightly colored plastic three pocket portfolio to put important papers in. Your hospital room will be a total mess, and every available surface will get drinks set down on them at some point. The hospital will give you a folder filled with dozens of sheets of papers you don't care about and three or four that you absolutely don't want to lose or get coffee stains on, and it's nice to have a separate place for the important ones.

3. You will need a calendar. Christie and I haven't had a paper calendar in the house in years. We do everything with Google Calendars, since we're both at a desk all day. But she's going to be away from the laptop a lot in the future, and we've got a shitload of appointments these days. I was lucky to find a month by month organizer on a clearance shelf at Target, because no one else had calendars that included June, 2008 (or even July). Think ahead on this one.

4. TV trays. They're not expensive, and you never know which chair the baby's going to like to sleep in, or which one will be closest when you collapse into it from exhaustion. So it's nice to have a set of portable side tables that you can put anywhere.

5. Baby mittens. You can't cut her nails for a while, but they will be long enough for her to scratch herself (or you). Socks won't stay on her hands (or her feet, for that matter), so pick up a pack of baby mittens.

6. Swaddling cloths. Chipmunk loves to be swaddled, but most blankets are 36x36, which just isn't big enough, plus they're too warm for July. Gerber makes some 40x40 swaddling cloths that are just about right.

7. Caffeine. This is another tip for dads. In the last couple of months, you'll be tempted to double down on caffeine use as your partner's pregnancy makes it impossible for her to sleep and difficult for you. Don't. Things are only going to get worse, and you don't want your tolerance built up. I cut back to a single cup of green tea per day back in the sixth month, and didn't break that rule until Christie went into labor, at which point, I could get a really good boost out of comparatively little caffeine.

8. Help. People will offer to bring food, or to come help with the baby. Some of these people will not actually be helpful, as they will spend their entire visit complaining about their husband, or bring along a toddler that will set fire to your sofa, or second guess all your decisions and tell you how they never worried about such things, and their kids turned out just fine (while said kids are setting fire to your sofa). But a few of your friends and family will be rocks, and don't be too proud to accept their help.

9. Be patient with yourself. If you're a mom, you just pushed out a person, and you're not going to be in your right mind for a while. If you're partnered to a mom, you're running on low to no sleep and you're probably got some hormone issues yourself. Myself, I've noticed some mood swings that can only be explained by baby hormones. Christie calls these "papa bear moments" and they're not pretty.

10. Be patient with your partner. I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but the miracle of birth isn't just the new baby, but that you both survived this experience and are able to function even a little bit. Be grateful.

11. One more for dads. Ask a nurse at the hospital to teach you how to change a diaper. She'll know some tricks you can benefit from. And then make changing diapers your thing right from the start. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, you'll get a ton of credit for it. Much more than you actually deserve. For another, while it's not the most glamorous job in the world, it's hugely important. And too many men put it off and put it off, and then the first diaper they ever have to deal with is nasty toxic sludge when mama and baby are both sick and the baby's been eating sweet potatoes. (I was in danger of this myself.) Diapers start with a nastiness level of zero and slowly ramp up. By starting with that very first diaper in the hospital, you're building an immunity.

Besides, men are supposed to be tough, right? So nut up and change that diaper!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I'm not saying Chipmunk's a pill (actually, she's a doll), but The Happiest Baby on the Block has been a huge help in calming her when she's upset. I'm taking a fairly geeky approach to the white noise, though. I'm downloading white noise and womb noise files from freesound, editing them with Audacity, and playing them with a little SanDisk Shaker MP3 player that I picked up for $20 on sale (it's got an external speaker and hangs nicely over the bassinet).

Oh, and so much for radio silence, huh?

Friday, June 20, 2008

On the way to the hospital

Me: I can hear this sound in my head like the clank clank of a roller coaster going up that first hill.

Her: This really isn't going to be fun.

Me: You don't know that. There might be clowns! And balloon animals!

Her: You clearly have no idea what I consider to be fun.

Me: Okay, well, on the bright side, I can pretty much guarantee there will be neither clowns nor balloon animals. And if there are, I will speak very sternly with the nurse.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Radio silence for a little while while we adapt to our new family member. Back soon.

Everybody's healthy. Life is good.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Apparently AP and iCopyright have inked a deal where iCopyright sells "excerpting rights" to bloggers and other internet users, priced by the word. So if the AP publishes a story that I think is important, and I want to encourage people to read it by putting up an excerpt, they want me to pay them for sending readers to their advertising-supported web pages, or to a client who is already paying AP for their stories, even though one of the elements of fair use is the financial impact my quoting my have on the copyright holder, making this a clear case of fair use.

If I do this because I want to comment on their coverage, or criticize them, both of which are indisputably part of fair use, they expect me to pay for the priviledge.

And if I were a teacher wanting to use a short excerpt in my classroom, well, at least AP makes some allowances. They have educational pricing. For instance, if you wanted to put 5-25 words up on the class website, it'd only cost you $7.50. If you're a teacher. For the rest of us, it's $12.50.

The first four words are, presumably free. This could be a real problem for AP, but not really for me. AP does a decent enough job at the basic facts that pretty much anyone can provide, but I can't remember them ever providing analysis that was worth a crap.
Pop, Soda, or Coke?
This is interesting. I grew up in Kansas City, and we referred to any non-alcoholic carbonated beverage as "Coke". As in:

"I'll take a Coke."
"What kind?"

Their map shows Kansas city to be firmly in the "Pop" camp, but Linn County, KS, where my dad grew up, is one little red dot (Coke) in the midst of blue (pop).

In Columbia, though, if you ask for a Coke, you get a Coke, and I just can't bring myself to say "pop". I don't know why. So I've converted to "soda", and I'm coping fairly well with the change. Obviously, some days are harder than others, but I'm doing okay.
It's not exactly a Father's Day present, but I wanted to show off the watch Christie gave me. We exchanged presents to commemorate the Chipmunk's birth, but we jumped the gun a bit partly because we're just like that, but also because I knew I was getting a watch, and I wanted to have it so I could use it to time Christie's contractions.

It wasn't terribly expensive, but it is terribly cool, in my opinion. It's Russian-made, purely mechanical, and the hour hand has a 24-hour sweep, which makes it just different enough that it doesn't, at first glance, look like an actual watch.
Bookmarking for future reference: Commercial Baby Toy Alternatives
For everyone who has become a father since the last time I posted this, I present Ian Frazier's Lamentations of the Father
Bite not, lest you be cast into quiet time. Neither drink of your own bath water, nor of bath water of any kind; nor rub your feet on bread, even if it be in the package; nor rub yourself against cars, nor against any building; nor eat sand.

Leave the cat alone, for what has the cat done, that you should so afflict it with tape? And hum not that humming in your nose as I read, nor stand between the light and the book. Indeed, you will drive me to madness. Nor forget what I said about the tape.

Steampunk and Recumbent Bikes

BoingBoing points to this steampunk recumbent bike, and it's something to behold. Some things about the steampunk aesthetic really turn me on, and some kind of leave me cold. The lamps on this bike, for instance, are too crufty for my taste. I guess my taste in steampunk runs more to Deco and less to Neo-Victorian.

What really gets me excited about this bike, though, is the mechanism. It's a "tadpole" tricycle, which means two wheels in front, one in back. I don't know if all tadpoles steer this way (I don't know much about recumbents yet), but this one steers by the simple mechanism of separate braking on the front two wheels. Brake right to turn right, brake left to turn left, etc.

I could see some serious safety issues if the brakes on just one wheel failed, though, so I'd want some kind of emergency brake on the drive wheel.

When I showed this to Christie, she asked me why, in my opinion, steampunk is so popular right now. I think part of it is maker culture. There's a movement against consumer culture, and steampunk, at least right now, screams "I made this!"

The maker movement hearkens back to the craftsman movement in the earlier twentieth century, the cottage movement before that, and, I would imagine, so on and so on. But that's a different post.

There's also the fact that technology has very little embodied history in it. When I look at a chair, even a high-design, mass-market chair at Target or Ikea, there are design elements that hearken back to Windsor chairs and beyond. Steampunk does the same thing with elements of technology, giving them the same aesthetic depth as a fine antique.

Of course, not all steampunk is functional. A lot of it is just art, nothing more. And who can say why a given art movement takes prominence when it does?

I can venture some opinions as to why it's so popular with geeks. First of all, it's deeply intertextual. Steampunk references books, movies, and comic books, as well as actualy historical artifacts, events and persons. Geeks love any subject where there's always more to learn, and where you can lord that knowledge over others (you know it's true!).

Secondly, the Victorian era is an enormously evocative period for geeks. Tremendous strides were made in technology and science, many of them by amateurs motivated largely by a love of knowledge. To your average cubicle dweller, the discovery of a new particle is completely out of reach, but a weekend naturalist in the late 1800s could very well discover a fossil that brought the prevailing taxonomies of the time to their knees.

Finally, geeks are neophiles. But the world is largely populated by people who are mildly, if not wildly, suspicious of change. We geeks love to imagine what sort of wonderful things we might have today if the world wasn't run by neophobic cave-dwellers.

If the neophiles had had their way, the geek is thinking, we'd be riding in fusion-powered flying cars, and steampunk recumbent bicycles and so on are the antiques we would have had if we were living the future we should have gotten.

But there's no disputing that this keyboard is 31 flavors of awesome.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Most excellent first Father's Day

I got good workshop time both yesterday and today.

For my first Father's Day, Christie got me a set of retracting casters for the tablesaw, which I've installed, and they are a huge step up from the discount rack casters on a wooden frame that I was using. I won't go into details, but let's just say that having the saw stay in one place while you're cutting wood is a very good thing. As is being able to move the tablesaw around easily. And now I have both.

Yesterday was spent installing the casters and puttering a bit, and today was spent making a shelf to go on top of the bedroom TV and building a stand for the Levenger lap desk that Lorie gave Christie when the doctors ordered her to put keep her feet up whenever possible.

My other Father's Day present is on its way right now. It wasn't a planned purchase, exactly, but I've been thinking about dust collection every time I sweep up the shop or when I see the fine sheen of sawdust on my windshield on Monday mornings. When I saw that Amazon has the Delta AP400 for $138 with free shipping, this seemed like the time to pull the trigger.

Now if Christie would just go into labor so I don't have to go to work tomorrow...

Squirrel-proof deer feeder

Christie gets credit for the title. Now we know how the birdfeeder keeps getting turned around, and where all the bird seed is going.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Two things about this Cory Doctorow interview really struck me. The first was this quote:
"Garth Nix, whom I saw in Australia at the National Australian Science Fiction Convention in Brisbane, said 'The state of adolescence is the state of jumping off a cliff over and over again, and trusting that you're going to land safely.' Doing all these things where you don't and can't know what the outcome is going to be. One day, you're someone who's never told a lie of consequence, and then you're someone who has. One day, you're someone who's never done something noble for a friend, and then you're someone who has. And it's irrevocable, and it's unknowable when you do it."
And the second was when he complained about a plot point in Iron Man revolving around a mainframe, and how mainframes are so old-tech. Well, yeah. But Stark Industries is a weapons manufacturer that's been around for decades. Of course they have problems with legacy systems. Duh.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Not a good week for Bobby Jindal. First, the State of Louisiana turns down an offer from FEMA for a bunch of emergency supplies, and now someone's unearthed an old essay in which he talks about participating in an exorcism.

I don't want to talk smack about Jindal, but this is the kind of thing that comes with national media attention. The people Obama is looking at can expect the same treatment.

I'm sort of torn. Older pols tend to have more accomplishments to their name, so they stand up better to this kind of scrutiny, but I'd like to see someone as VP who's young enough to be a good president in 8 years. It's a tough balancing act.
Guy outside the library: Sign a petition to get an independent party on the ballot?

Me: Oh, yeah, I heard about that one. Sorry, I'd rather cut my own arm off than do anything to help Ralph Nader screw up this country again.

Him: Well, I'd rather cut off both arms and a leg than vote for either McCain or Obama. I'm scared, man!

Which just goes to prove how totally impractical those Green party types are. How's he going to cut his leg off with no arms?
Early morning laying in bed not sleeping kind of thoughts this morning that the actual birthing process has been kind of a black box in my thoughts. We go into the room pregnant and come out with a baby. I mean, yeah, I've done the reading. And watched the videos. But I've kind of avoided thinking about it, mostly because I know it will involve Christie being in pain, and that's sort of my kryptonite.

I'm wondering, now that it's looming closer, if I should have spent a bit more time thinking about it so it wouldn't be quite so scary, and so I'd have a bit of an easier time staying in the moment while it's going on.

Oh well. Too late now.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hillary gave a good speech. I don't have anything new or interesting to say about it, but I've spilt enough electrons when I thought she did something wrong that I really felt the need to praise what I thought was a graceful and thoughtful exit speech.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Rachel Ray is on the breakroom TV talking to some guy who runs an "ugly model" agency. Am I crazy, or is that a great idea for a reality TV show? I would totally watch "America's Next Ugliest Model".
I never had a problem with Hillary Clinton the person, and rarely had a problem with Hillary Clinton the Senator, but the longer she campaigned, the more frustrated I became with the way she was campaigning, particularly the insistence on spin as a substitute for objective reality. The objective reality was that Obama was ahead in delegates from the beginning. The spin became that Hillary was "really" winning, although the metrics by which she was winning kept changing as the facts on the ground changed. As Cheryl Hofer put it, "seize what appears to be the high ground. Or: make what you've managed to seize appear to be the high ground."

I was worried that such spin, combined with her attacks on Obama, would muddy the waters about how the nominating contest actually works, and might encourage some of her supporters to label Obama's victory as something less than legitimate. A brief look at some pro-Hillary blogs as well as the message boards on is not particularly encouraging on that score, but she's a very skilled politician, and I'm hoping that her concession speech on Saturday will address this issue in a way that will help us all be better off come November.

And in the interest of reaching out to those in my tiny audience who are not particularly big Obama fans, here's someone we can all excoriate, in a humorously ironic context.

Boring but Important

via Ezra, we see that Obama has a good mass transit plan and McCain sees the abolition of Amtrak as "non-negotiable".

Can you imagine the positive effect a WPA-like program for mass transit could have on this country? Jobs, bolstered infrastructure, lower fuel consumption, and the ability to take the train instead of flying are all very good things.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hillary has announced that Saturday she will suspend her campaign and endorse Obama. I look forward to seeing her tenacity and formidable skill aimed, once again, at the Republicans who have been screwing up our country for the last 8 years.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Riley's first dovetail.
After reading this Washington Post's article on Obama's strategy, I think it's more accurate to say that he won than to say that she lost. And with a race this close, it's easy to look back and say this thing, this one thing was what cost her the race, but it could have been anything. I could have been the war. It could have been sexism. It could have been strategy, or bad advice, or Bill, or it might have been the jacket she wore to that one debate that one time.

Personally, I think part of the problem was that she's never actually run a strongly contested election. She's never had to come from behind, and she's never had to fight for every single damn vote. From the beginning, she apparently thought the campaign was going to be a walk, and when it wasn't, she didn't adapt to the changing circumstances.

Which, coincidentally, is why I've never bought the "I'm the stronger candidate" spin. By definition, the strong candidate is the one who wins the most votes, and that wasn't her.

Yes, if you count elections which everyone said would never count, and you don't count caucuses, which everyone agreed would, and you tweak the numbers a bit here and there, then she won the popular vote. Which isn't how the nomination is decided. But by any objective standard, more people voted for him than for her. And by every standard, objective or subjective, he has the majority of delegates.

I understand how she feels. I've lost a lot of close games in my life (Not when I play Scrabble with Christie. She always kicks my ass decidedly.) but I learned a long time ago that when the other team outplays you, and the game is over, you walk across the field, shake hands, mutter "good game" through clenched teeth, and you save the "we wuz robbed!" speech for the ride home.

If she really wants to take the fight to the convention, she has to convince 66 superdelegates who have already pledged for Obama to switch to her and convince all of the uncommitted superdelegates that they need to override the voters and give the nomination to her. There are a number of reasons that's not going to happen, not the least of which is what it would do to the future of the Democratic party. Obama has brought a ton of new, engaged, hopeful voters to the party, and to disillusion them to harshly would probably sour them for life on politics.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Railing afterthoughts

I'm having an interesting emotional reaction to being done with this. I've got a bad case of "what do I work on now?" for one thing, but Christie has offered to help me with that. But the fact is, I've been planning this railing on and off for a couple of years now, and now it's done. Let the second guessing begin!

The aesthetics of it aren't exactly what I would have chosen if I had carte blanche, but I wanted it to go with the current stairs, which are dark, and it really does. In fact, it looks like it was always there. I would have liked to have done more complicated joinery where the balusters meet the stairs, but that would have added immeasurably to the complexity of the whole thing. As it is, this was the most complicated thing I've ever built, and I'm very glad to see it done.

The honest truth, though, is that it's not quite done. The steps have open risers, and the space between is just wide enough, I think, to be a hazard. I have visions of Chipmunk trying to fit through there and ending up stuck somehow. I could put a single bar across that space and fill it (like these), but I'd have to make it so that it could attach to the wall on one side and the baluster on the other, and the stringers in the middle.

I'm thinking that aluminum strips with a bend at each end to attach to the wall and the baluster would do the job, and the bright aluminum would look good with the dark wood. Or maybe not. And it's entirely possible I'm worrying about nothing, and I should concentrate on building some workshop storage, or get started on that toybox for Chipmunk.

Anybody out there have any thoughts on the matter?