Saturday, February 26, 2011

Month 2

Some things have changed and some have not: we still love you, and the story is still more about us than about you, although the "us" is undoubtedly revolving around you these days.

 You have grown, adding pounds and inches that are hard to see as they accrue, but when I look back over the last few weeks, both in my mind and at the scores of pictures we have taken, the change is amazing.  It's too early for you to have a real personality, and your interactions with us are still mostly reactions to physical stimuli, but I occasionally see something in your face that makes me exciting for the little dude you are going to be soon.

You and your hairy older brother mostly move in separate social circles; he's generally out clubbing or something when you sleep, and when you are awake and crying, he tries to find somewhere quiet to curl up for a snooze.  Frodo is getting older, and I'm a little concerned that he might move along the spiritual gradient before you are able to secure firm memories of him, but in recent days I have definitely noticed and new sense of protectiveness your big brother brings to the house.  He may not like hanging out with you, but he certainly notices when you act upset.  And boy, sometimes do you ever act upset.
 We all eventually have to face down the bottle, but in the case of my relationship with you, my knew little boy, the bottle in question is not full of beer or booze, but full of [symbolic] tears and frustration.  Your mom and I love to sleep - we're good at it, with a lifetime of practice that has refined our appreciation of the art of the snooze - but evolution has left us with a circumstance that makes regular sleep unobtainable.  And it's harder on Mom than on me; one thing that I'm supposed to be able to do to help her out is give you a bottle during one of the many times during the night you need to nosh.  But so far, this seemingly simple thing, this giving you THE SAME MILK you enjoy every 2 - 3 hours day in and day out, turns into a heart wrenching exercise in futility that leaves me feeling like a failure-as-dad and ends up providing no benefit to Mom.  It's hard to fully express the utter frustration this experience has held for me...I love you so much, both by choice and by biology, but those moments make me want to take you back to the baby store.  I know it will get better, but I was in no way prepared for how the universe could seem to stop in time with my son screaming for food and me not being able to give it to him.

 And then there are ridiculously sweet moments like LOVE being in a carrier.  We have a Bjorn AND an Infantino, and a week or so ago we got out of the house without either of them and so bought a Moby wrap in impulse.  It doesn't matter which brand I (or your mom) have on - you totally zonk out in a way tidal wave of adorableness.  I can't keep you on me for too long, because I give off heat like a potbellied stove (go figure, right?), and a nice layer of damp mushiness builds up between us quickly, but I thoroughly enjoy this time with you.  This pic was taken in the middle of my work day, and gives just a little peak at how important and valuable it is to me to be able to work from home.  This is also the closest I will probably get to the experience Mom has just after feeding you when you are in a milk coma and totally conked out on her chest...she loves those moments and spends long minutes just looking down at your smooshed up little satiated face.
Speaking of, there are times (mostly in the morning - not sure how that happens with your parent's genes), that you get so wide eyed and happy, that I just cannot get enough of that face.  These are your most expressive moments that do not involve screaming, and it's in these moments that I see glimpses of our future.  I do not want to rush these days, because they are special and precious in their own way, but I am also so very excited to see you becoming more you.  I know there will come a day when your talking wears me out, but for now I can't wait to hear what you have to say, just as I cannot wait for the day that when I come into the room you see me and you recognize me, and that you smile because I'm there.  It's the anticipation of that day that is getting me through the trials by bottle and mid-night awakenings.

2 months in, and more good than bad - I wouldn't change it.  Love you, Buddy.


I had the opportunity to run 3.35 miles with my sister today, and I decided to go full on barefoot.  It was nice, though my feet need their summer coat of callus. 

10 minute pace!

Friday, February 25, 2011


My wife now has THE hottest smartphone on the know, because checking Facebook requires screaming dual core processors and 1gig of RAM and a front facing camera...

No, seriously, I'm happy for her!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

in the short run

I got out for a quick run in the neighborhood today, the first such in a long time.  The weather was nice, and there was an unallocated half-hour...I really need to get back into a running routine.  My mind has been a little troubled in recent days, and the road under my (mostly)bare feet really helps.

Monday, February 21, 2011

the "good enough" culture

There have definitely been times in my life when I felt like a perfectionist; in some respects even now I care to an annoying extent how things are done.  My parents were adherents to the school of "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right", and they passed along that belief to me.  But, even as I was learning that lesson, there was an internal tension.  When given a chore, I would often spend 10 minutes or so prior to beginning trying to figure out the easiest way to get from A to B, or alternatively, how to get 90% of the desired effect while cutting out the 10% that represents the greatest cost (to labor, materials - whatever).  My parents (probably correctly) saw this as laziness, an obvious character flaw per their world view.
 I have found that the modern version of Me has carried this tension between wanting something "right" and something "good enough, and quick" forward in time, and that in a household with a new baby and a full time job, "good enough, and quick" may provide even more value than it did when I was a teenager.  The first picture is of a laundry room project, in medias res.  We are very fortunate to have a laundry room in our Tennessee home (our Chicago condo has a laundry closet; this was a minimum requirement for my pre-spouse when we were scouting living options there), but such good fortune is tempered by the size and layout of the clothes cleaning space.  My solution was to create a shelf that bridged the two machines, providing a clean and spacious expanse for folding, stacking, sorting, and treating our clothes pre- or post wash.
 I had recalled seeing some similar installations in Chicago open houses (have I mentioned that we were hardcore into house-porn before the pregnancy?  Whole Saturdays vanished into a chasm of House Hunters and House Hunters: International when were not out exploring the open houses of various Chi-Town neighborhoods).  One laundry room (or closet...I sincerely cannot remember) had a marble shelf spanning the laundry machines, and I thought "hmm...that's classy and handy!".

Well, back to my culture of good enough: after sketching out what I thought might work in our space, I spent 45 minutes in the Home Depot just standing there.  I'm sure other shoppers were concerned that I had suffered a DIY-induced stroke, but I was trying to reconcile the image I had in my head with the reality I faced in the store's supplies and the content of my bank account.

I ended up banging out the shelf as shown in a couple of hours, assembled from pine stock and some 1/2 inch plywood, and covered with some glossy contact paper.  The paper was actually the chief flaw (in my estimation) of the whole project; after applying the paper with care to the shelf itself, ensuring even alignment and no significant bubbling, I screwed the pooch on that "back splash*" piece, leaving some unsightly bubbling along both surfaces (couldn't flip the mistakes to the back).  An herein lies the "good enough" in my character: this dingus is in the laundry room.  Who cares if it doesn't look perfect**?  And yes, while marble would have been classier, pine wood, plywood, sheet rock screws, and contact paper are good enough.

Continuing the theme, this picture is the current incarnation of my work space.  I prefer a "standing desk" arrangement, driven both by considerable readings about the deleterious effects of a "sedentary" lifestyle and having found that incidental back pain disappears when I stand all day (barefoot, for sure!).  This set-up is similar to what I used in Chicago, but I had been trying to figure out a way to incorporate the (newly acquired) desk I inherited from my deceased grandfather.  His desk was of the classic design, and I had considered elevating it on platforms to get the working surface to standing height.  I also considered a number of other options, including a shelf system that wrapped around the antique desk, providing both an elevated platform for my monitors as well as a standing option for my keyboard, with the flexibility to flip that down to the desktop as necessary.

After contemplating on it for months, I finally decided on two separate work spaces: the antique desk is set in front of the room's windows, and I see myself using that space when I want to draw, or study (CFA, maybe...), or just take a break from standing all day.  And the ugly industrial wire shelves will serve as my primary work-a-day space.  Good enough.
The keyboard desk actually struck me in a eureka moment during a trip to the wine store; the same 1/2 plywood leftover from the laundry project. and some scraps left over from a kitchen shelf project were just too easy an option to ignore.  The Metro shelving girders provided regularly spaced slots for receiving the shelf supports; the real half-assed step here was using 1.75 inch self-tapping screws to attach the wood parts...I had those screws on hand, but the half inch pieces of wood would not take that size, so I added those additional two blanks of wood for depth.  One could argue that they provide torsional stability, but one would be an ass to do so.  And who cares if it doesn't look perfect**?

*credit to AdanA for explaining to me that this "vertical cross piece across the back intended to keep stuff from falling behind the machines" could be more succinctly described as a "back splash"

**who cares if it doesn't look perfect?  My mother, my wife, my engineering friend, my architect friend, my sister, my dog...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

an internet insight?

did the internet free engineers to be better marketers?

When I was a kid, the Commodore computer company released the Amiga line:

© Bill Bertram 2006, CC-BY-2.5 — Attribution

My recollection (I was young and relatively unsophisticated about these things then) was that the Amiga was well conceived and well built, with a user interface that anticipated a lot of the positives from the Windows version that would soon become widespread.  The graphics processing and gaming on the Amiga was best-in-class at the time, and the system handled productivity software well too...but in the end, the Amiga failed commercially in the US market.  The theory back then as to why Amiga didn't fare so well was that it was a company run by engineers: they knew how to make a product, but their skills did not extend to marketing.

In stark contrast, consider the new heroes of innovation and "product" design: Google, Facebook, Twitter...these are all massively successful companies selling "products" created and effectively marketed by engineers.  I keep "quoting" the word "product" because the distinction between a plastic and glass box filled with electronics that must be manufactured and shipped in the real world to consumers and a web based bit of interactive software is important to this discussion, but is not the most important consideration.

One thing that sets Google and Twitter (to a lesser degree applied to Facebook) is the spareness of the design aesthetic.  Google's original search page was fairly minimalist, and became more so; this spareness may have been the result of a carefully considered aesthetic, but I suspect it proceeded from some archetypical engineer's idea of how things should look.  At any rate, the engineering behind the scenes was what really marketed Google's search engine: fast and accurate and helpful results that were just better than those found with Alta-Vista, MSN, Yahoo!, etc...

Twitter, too, (even though I don't really care for the negative community effects I see in the service (all the while giving big props to the service for Twitter's contribution to the democracy movements in the middle east)) strikes me as another success story for the engineers.  Well crafted code that does this one, targeted thing very well...

It does make me wonder if Amiga would suffer a different fate today, especially when you consider the huge (free to the manufacturer) marketing channels available now; if Gizmodo existed in the 1980s to run constantly updated profiles of the newest and bestest gadgets and electronics, the superior engineering of the Amiga might have won a larger following.  Maybe.

the unadvertised

I was fixing breakfast this morning and thinking about how many things I buy (or could buy) that are heavily advertised, marketed to me in multiple ways more or less non-stop...but then I noticed the things that I choose to buy that are not really advertised at all.

Thinking specifically about food for the moment: is there a word for products whose entire marketing effort is effected by association with a heavily marketed brand?

Taking for example Whole Foods grocery store: the store is marketed heavily, is positioned as the source for high quality foodstuffs in a supermarket styled outfit.  But the actual brands of eggs, cheeses, deli meats, milk, bread, sauces, etc are often companies with little to no advertising exposure.  I am likely to view all of the eggs in the Whole Foods refrigerated case as "quality" by virtue of their presence in Whole Foods, and my selection among them may then be driven by preference for egg size, color, and price...contrast that with the same purchase decision at the local mainline grocery store.  At Kroger's (or what have you), am I more likely to buy the egg brand that does have an advertising campaign, or perhaps be more heavily influenced by the in-store marketing (packaging imagery and slogans, etc)?

Creole Mustard

In a similar way of thinking, consider the decision process that brings a person to buy a "gourmet" mustard at the store; this shopper has likely seen ads for French's Yellow, or Heinz brand sauces, or Grey Poupon, and has come to the Kroger knowing those brands will be available -  but upon arrival in the mustard aisle, sees a few unknown brands on the shelf alongside the market leaders.  Those unknowns may try to distinguish themselves with interesting packaging, perhaps a name that carries a hint of the exotic (maybe a foreign sounding name written in a foreign looking script...), but I would suggest that one of the chief means of marketing the non-advertised brands in this circumstance is pricing: the German mustard with a German sounding name is likely to be priced ~ 10% or more over the well advertised national spicy mustard brand...

Of course, both situations will only "work" with a certain type of consumer, but for marketing to be successful, it only needs to "work" for a decent slice of the buyers out there.

Maybe I've been watching too much Mad Men lately, but I have found myself thinking a lot about more about advertising.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

now here is a parent having fun:

Babies are highly evolved agents of torture

They have these exquisitely refined biochemical weapons, and they leverage the programmed responses of adult sensory organs to inflict their damage in highly concentrated doses.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dad as proxyMom

We have begun introducing bottled breast milk to the feeding routine for our baby boy. He's seven weeks old now, and his mom finally felt comfortable that the bottle would not introduce too much "nipple confusion".
This transition to sharing the feeding duties is striking me as both good and bad.

The "good" may be obvious...I have wanted, for some time now, to free his Mom from having to be constantly caught up in the cycle of feeding; she has more or less been "on the hook" for feedings every 2-3 hours for 7 weeks now, and I know that has been exhausting.

Still - I have tried for two mornings in a row to feed my son a bottle (Mom has been disciplined about pumping a little every few hours to produce the "extra" feeding without dramatically changing her production volume, which is too complicated a topic to discuss in this post), and both mornings so far have bee tough.

In the pic above, you can see him being adorable, but this shot was captured in a quiet moment between scenes of "pissed off baby" see, that space between his face and my chest is supposed to be occupied by sweet Momma-Boob, at least in his world view.

Two times does not make a trend (I hope), but so far each "feeding" of a single four oz bottle took more than 2 hours, multiple diaper changes, and a fair amount of tears (his, not mine...yet).

I'm just looking forward to the supposed feelings of intimate connection I will get from looking down on my sweet child while he takes the food I offer.  I'm not there yet.

Friday, February 11, 2011


So this sexy series in the NYMag from a week or so ago caught my attention at the time, and I had a bunch of thoughts while reading it, and planned a reaction blog post, but I have stalled out on this and others...although we have an existential and epistemological crisis brewing over here in the comments that is generating a ton of content.

Anyway, I do want to talk about the following articles:
but for now maybe I can just offer, in brief, the following bullet points:

  • the ease of accessing an enormous variety of porn via the internet dramatically changes the path of adolescent sexual education and awareness
  • the evolution of young people's behaviors regarding sex, in response to the porn-enhanced education, has a lot of obvious disturbing implications, as well as a few potentially positive ones
  • the suggestion that a porn/masturbation combo is progressively displacing "real world" sexual relationships is probably overstated as a trend, but could also be seen as an obvious parallel development to the socially isolating/atomizing environment sponsored by Twitter/Facebook/IM/SMS*
*My thoughts on "social" networking webservices and communications (Twitter, etc) are complicated and unpopular in my own social circles right now.  Maybe I'll write about it in depth soon

Also, I know I use too many colons and semi-colons in my writing; I can't help it and I'm not sure I want to stop anyway.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Is it a regional vocal tic, this thing when someone is ending a phone call, that they make a little "em" sound just before the "B" in Bye or ByeBye?

I hear it a lot when talking to people in NY...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

other people's faith

OK, so the article in the New Yorker about Scientology was fascinating (but long, very very long).

Framed as a long form profile of Paul Haggis, a prolific and award winning screenwriter/director, the article uses Paul's longtime association with Scientology to segue into a bit of an expose` of the church.

Haggis had been an adherent for much of his life, and had attained a high level of status in the church (in Scientology, believers progress through a highly organized system classes and grades).  He had also been a very vocal and financial supporter of the church until a family issue brought him into conflict with church and he began a very public and at times vitriolic separation from Scientology.

Not only is the mini-bio of Haggis interesting (in my experience, I generally assume that people who enjoy a high degree of artistic success do not simply burst onto the scene one day and crank out a hit, but it is always revealing to see how long it takes for some people to see success), but the story of his relationship with his chosen religion provides a crash (ha!) course in cognitive bias and the intersection of faith and human nature.

“I had such a lack of curiosity when I was inside,” Haggis said. “It’s stunning to me, because I’m such a curious person.” He said that he had been “somewhere between uninterested in looking and afraid of looking.” 

“I was in a cult for thirty-four years. Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t.”

There are more and better quotes in the piece that speak to my ideas, but I'm typing one handed, holding my little sleeping son in the other arm right now, so my internet navigating skills are compromised.  Suffice it to say that I see that there is always an emic/etic consideration with religion - by definition, really - and that consideration, or the tensions that arise from the emic/etic disconnects, have to be addressed in the quest for understanding.

And here's some Bible for you:
Test everything. Hold on to the good.

Monday, February 7, 2011

have we lost the ability to anticipate?

to enjoy waiting for something?

Are we no longer able to immerse in an experience?

I can't read any entire article (that I'm enjoying!) on the web without alt-tabbing (ctrl-tabbing in Chrome) to check my email(s), blog updates,  the artist/song info in Pandora...

How fractured has my attention span become?  And, for the record, I do manage to consume enormous amounts of content whole in the course of the day, just not necessarily in one long gulp...

Of course, it would be an unfair ASSumption for me to apply this criticism broadly to all of you, but I suspect that my experience is more common than not.

Can you watch 30 minutes (22 on Netflix instant or DVD) of a sitcom without checking your texts or emails?


Friday, February 4, 2011

Freaking Hurray!

I use an Android phone; I use Google's Blogger software for this blog, and as of today, the two came together in an efficiency boosting synergy: Google finally released an official Blogger App.

So you know what that means, right?!  More posts from me, and from more places, and probably with more thumb-typed misspellings.  Hurray!

not the only tech-angry blogger...

Kottke apparently shares some of my vitriol, although his is primarily directed at a "city walking" crowd:

I imagine that there is a doctoral thesis out there on how all of our technological advances in "connectedness" also create the possibility of greater isolation and loneliness.  And on a completely unrelated point, I seem to recall from my Greek classes that the word "idiot" comes from the Greek, with an original meaning approximate to "a private person; one living "in his own little world"'

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Live today, see what comes tomorrow

This post from Meg matches up well with my life philosophy.  She says:
For a long time I've been trying to use the good stuff, trying to enjoy the nice things I have rather than save them for some far off "better" time...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

quick hits

Turns out I'm losing weight again...more detailed updates to come. is running a series on money and marriage; I have ideas on the topic, and may cover them here.  Any fears that the topic is too contentious to weigh in?

And speaking of contentious (or ill-advised blog topics), the NY Mag ran a series this week about sex, the internet, porn, youth, and relationships...I have some ideas about these themes as well.

The "ObamaCare" reform is under fire, and may very well be rolled back or compromised down.  Look forward to a diatribe about the US, entitlement programs, "systems", etc

I'm also trying to feel my way forward about posting more about finance related topics without running afoul of my employer...