This year for Lent: electronic distractions

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28 days ago

I think I skipped last year’s Lent, and maybe the year before, too. (You can read about prior years, if you like.) But this year it was clear a few months ago what I needed to give up: my phone.

And then Lent snuck up on me. (It starts tomorrow!) I’m not ready! I can’t let go, not yet, not now! Nooooooo!!!!

So I’ve made some hasty plans. Here they are:

  1. I’m not giving up the phone entirely. I depend on it to manage most of my life, and I don’t really think I’d be better off with e.g. a paper calendar or paper lists of reminders or communicating via telegraph. Specifically, I’m keeping access to:
    1. Calling (you know, the “phone”)
    2. Text messages
    3. Email (but no notifications)
    4. Weather
    5. Music
    6. Pictures (but no notifications)
    7. Reminders
    8. Calendar
    9. All the various utilities that serve a single purpose that I don’t usually use as a distraction (e.g. Notes, Amazon, Dashlane) (but no notifications)
  2. I am giving up all the things on my phone that I use to distract myself from boredom. That means hiding the apps, disabling their notifications, and not looking at them at all between now and April 12th. These include:
    1. Twitter & Google+ (I don’t have Facebook)
    2. Safari & Chrome
    3. Newsify / Feedly
    4. Kindle (I have a Paperwhite; I’ll allow it as a substitute for a physical book)
    5. Youtube & Air Video HD & Podcasts & Audible
    6. Games
  3. Also, to keep myself from just bingeing at a regular computer, I’ll be giving up most of those services entirely (until April 12th):
    1. Twitter & Google+
    2. Feedly
    3. Youtube
    4. Watching movies and TV shows by myself
    5. Games on the computer (ha ha! I haven’t done this in years)
  4. Finally, to get the phone away from my face as much as possible, I’ll be putting it down as soon as I get home, and only picking it up if there’s some specific reason to do so.
    1. Oh, and I’ll apply a similar rule in the morning – no picking it up until after I’m showered.

Here goes!

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Speaking up

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57 days ago

Note: I thought long and hard about what to do about Trump, and decided that personally reaching out to my family, many of whom are Trump supporters, was the best thing I could do. I wrote the email below and sent it. I thought it might be important or useful for other people, too, so I’m sharing it here. Feel free to do with it as you like.


This email is about Trump. I know email isn’t the best way to publish political thought, but I’m trying to do what I can about a terrible situation, and this is the most valuable thing I can figure out to do (that I’m not otherwise already doing). I’m writing this to save myself, my family, and all of you – so I’m willing to break a norm.

Please read this. Do it as a personal favor to me, even if you think I’m being dramatic, or wasting your time. I’ll owe you. Do it as a personal favor to yourself, so that when you look back on this moment, you don’t feel ashamed.

Trump is headed for a coup. Either an explicit, overt one, or a fumbling, oh-we-didn’t-really-notice-until-it-was-too-late-that-he’s-unstoppable one. He’s moving very, very fast – it will be over within a few weeks. It doesn’t matter if you agree with his stated goals and plans; converting our country into an autocracy will not be good for any of us. Think about what it would mean to have a president who was accountable to nobody, and nothing – not to his prior statements, not to his political party, not to any court.

If this idea is at all surprising to you, that’s why I’m writing this email. It’s going to be over before you’re even ready for it.

If you’re angry at the “idiots” who created this situation, that’s why I’m writing this email. You’re part of the problem. I’ve been part of the problem, too. I’m trying to dig my way out from under that mistake.

Even if you totally disagree with all of this, I’m desperately asking you to pause now for a minute and think about what things would be “over the line” for you – what things could Trump (or any president) do, that would be clearly wrong and irreparable? What things are so far out of “normal” that they’d clearly indicate that something is very broken, and that he’s uncontrollable? Write those things down. If he hasn’t already crossed that line for you, look back at that list periodically. It will help you realize when “the next little thing” or “the next thing that’s too heavy to face” is actually across that line.

Now ask yourself – is banning a group of people, based purely (and overtly) on their religion, or country of origin, over the line? What if that group of people has exactly zero history of ever killing us in terrorist attacks? What if none of the countries-of-origin of the 9/11 attackers were on the list? What if all these immigrants already have to go through an 18-to-24-month vetting process across multiple federal agencies before they are allowed in, so all the statements about needing “more vetting” or “they’ll sneak in” are just outright lies? Would those things be over the line? Would causing all this pain and suffering, just for personal political gain, be over the line? What about all these other worse things, that are going to happen?

Please realize that at some point in the near future, any rights you have – yes you, a middle-class white person – will cease to become “rights” and will only be “by Trump’s benevolence”. As interpreted by his cronies. And driven by their personal motivations. Without consequences for their terrible actions.

Whatever he can do to any marginalized group (e.g. Muslims, Mexicans, blacks, gays, etc.), he can do to any group (i.e. you). He will be able to grab any one of you/us and make us homeless, helpless, powerless – without recourse.

His regime is doing exactly that with Muslims, right now, via DHS and the 100-mile border. (The 100-mile border was the thing that was over the line for me, years ago – well before Trump.) And DHS is clearly supporting him. But for middle-class white Americans in general, he doesn’t quite yet have the political foundations yet to get away with it en-masse. But that’s coming.

Note that I don’t care whose fault this is, and I don’t think “Democrats” are somehow better, and I’m not at all concerned about what we should have done before now. I don’t care about Trump’s stated goals for the country and whether they are good or bad. I don’t care whether each individual executive order is a good or bad idea. I care about what they all mean, collectively. I care about the complete destruction of our democracy, our safety, and our freedom.

The whole system is fucked, and it has been for a long time, and this is just the consequences playing out. But now that we’re here, we have to survive it, and ideally we do so with some semblance of honor and dignity.

If you want my advice on what to do about it, here it is: think of every “enemy” you can think of – Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, rich people, poor people, “terrorists,” whoever – and just… let go. Stop imagining them as enemies. Remember that they are people, and they have jobs and kids and backyards and games… and the only reason they have different values and viewpoints than you is that they have different experiences and history than you. Neither side is right. There aren’t even sides. There are just people, and all people are just trying to get through life. Take some time and try to understand why they would think the way they do. Assume that they all started as good actors, and imagine the circumstances that would have had to exist to make them the way they are. Imagine if you’d have turned out differently, in those same circumstances.

(Note that this viewpoint isn’t incompatible with needing to kill people, sometimes. But it is incompatible with doing it out of hatred.)

Imagine what your life would be like if you suddenly found yourself in a group that most people saw as “the enemy”. Imagine if you had to live through that. The only reason that isn’t your life, is the luck of your particular circumstances.

Go back up and read that article I linked above under ‘You’re part of the problem’. It’s advice from someone who has been through this before, and failed. He says that we need to make more bridges, not fight more enemies. Making enemies is what Trump wants us to do.

That article says we have to work together to limit this president to only those powers that we want every president – even ones we vehemently disagree with – to have. We don’t have to stop them (Trump and all future presidents) from doing all the stupid things they’re going to do. We just have to work together to ensure that no president – now or in the future – has more power than it is safe to let him (or her) have. Even if you agree with Trump’s current goals and actions, ask yourself – do you want a future president, that you disagree with, to have this much power? This is the foundation of our democracy – that we limit the power we grant to our government – and we’ve been failing to do so.

Then do the most important thing you can do: reach out to the people around you – especially the people you usually think of as “enemies” – and get them to see that we’re all in danger. We’ve all been played for fools. We’re all being tricked. We’re all in this together.

Maybe getting more of us onto the same page, will be enough.

With love and concern,
Nathan

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A bicycle test

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296 days ago

(I know, it’s been years since I posted here. I’m going to pretend like that doesn’t matter. You should too. Thanks!)

Benjamin initially resisted the removal of his training wheels. When he was finally willing to try it (at the end of last summer), I told him he couldn’t have them back on – he just had to learn to ride. He eventually started to learn to ride without them, but then winter hit.

This summer (as a 6-year-old), he figured it out, and he started to enjoy riding… but then he plateaued and wasn’t really all that interested in getting better. (He still wasn’t good enough to really love it.)

So I devised a riding test, and told him that once he passed it, he’d be allowed to go around the block on his own. It turns out that was a great idea, for a bunch of reasons – so I’m sharing the test here. Maybe it will be useful to you.

Reasons why it was a great idea:

  1. He was motivated to work on it, because of the goal
  2. He was motivated to work on it, because it was a discrete list and he could measure his own progress
  3. He was motivated to work on it, because he got 1-on-1 attention from me
  4. He got better at riding, because of it
  5. He learned that even the things that seemed hard/scary could be learned/overcome with practice and determination
  6. He came out of it loving to ride his bicycle
  7. He came out of it more proud of the work he had done, than of the new privileges he earned

(Note that it took about 6 weeks, start to finish.)

So here’s the test. I don’t remember the order in which he did the individual parts, but it certainly wasn’t in the order presented here. (It was certainly important that some were easy.) The order here is the order I thought of them :) I’ve added comments where particular tests were notable for some reason.

For each item on the list, he had to do it twice, back-to-back, without putting a foot down (or without falling, if the test involved stopping). If he did it once and then failed the next time, he had to start over and do it twice more. (To prove mastery, not just luck.) If the test involved e.g. a turn, then the first time he had to turn one way, and the second time he had to turn the other way.

  1. Start from standing without falling over
  2. Ride the length of the driveway (about 50’)
  3. Ride and stop with the front wheel on a line (within about a foot of it)
  4. Ride and stop without putting a foot down until all the way stopped
  5. Ride down the sidewalk and turn around in a neighbors (wide) driveway, without putting a foot down
    • This one he avoided until near the very end. The driveway was slightly inclined, and the turn radius was fairly small, so it was tricky. (Remember that he had to do it both ways, too.) He was scared of it – but once he had developed the skills from the rest of the test, and once he got up the courage to try it, he passed it quite easily.
  6. Pedal while standing up
  7. Slalom of 5 cones, 4-5’ apart
  8. Avoid a surprise obstacle
    • His brother ended up providing the surprise obstacle, twice! (Not in a row, but I counted it anyway).
  9. Ride down the driveway (a mild hill) and turn onto the sidewalk without using brakes or riding over the grass
    • He surprised me by doing this one fairly early.
  10. Ride down the sidewalk and turn up the driveway and make it up the hill without stopping
  11. Start and stop while riding on grass
  12. Start from a standing stop on an upward-facing hill (the driveway)
  13. Use his kickstand (which was very stiff)
  14. Cross the street (on his bicycle) between two driveways, safely
  15. Cross the street (on his bicycle) at a corner (4-way stop)
    • This one provided a great example of why you have to pay close attention to traffic in all four directions!
  16. Ride at a walking pace for 50’
  17. Go all the way around the block (i.e. not crossing the street) with someone following him (on a bicycle)
    • This one and the next were off-limits until the rest were completed.
  18. Go all the way around the block by himself
    • This one he did once without a problem, but then got scared of falling or hurting himself with nobody around. After a week or so he got up the courage to do it (and was fine) – and passed his test!

One final note – we ended up including “crossing the street unsupervised” as a new privilege. (Both privileges require getting permission to go, first.)

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Liam Eldon Arthur

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1879 days ago

Per my previous post, our new baby has arrived. His name is Liam Eldon Arthur, and he was born 7lbs 14oz and 21” long. He’s perfect :)

It took me a little longer than last time to get a post up; you can take that as a sign of how much busier we are with a 2-year-old in the house with the newborn. But we’re much calmer about this one, I think probably because we know we can make it through this period. Our exhaustion level is about the same, though; see: 2-year-old.

The delivery was much easier this time, and Liam is totally healthy and has been fantastic since day one – eating well, sleeping well, and not fussing except when something is wrong. (Many parents report a very different experience; I suggest swaddling as the likely remedy, or having our genes as the second. Either way, we are very lucky.)

I didn’t announce this one as publicly as last time; I’m still stubbornly shunning Facebook in favor of Google+, even though it seems likely that Google+ will fail, and it just didn’t seem necessary to go out of my way to post it to Twitter. It was nice this time to be able to limit the scope of the Google+ post, so it isn’t actually public. On the other hand, pictures are here :)

On the name: this one, like the last one, came after the delivery. Neither “Liam” nor “Eldon” was on our list before the delivery, although Liam was on the original list for Benjamin. We ended up abandoning the idea of having a hungarian middle name because we couldn’t find one that we liked and that was spellable and that was pronounceable. So Liam was the name that best seemed to fit the new baby, and Eldon came from a good friend of Kristina’s who told us about it as an oft-used name in her family, derived from her grandfather, who was a very special person. We liked the name, and the source, and it went really well with Liam and Arthur, so that was that.

My feelings are very similar to last time: the delivery was intense, and the after-effects (pretty much all positive!) have been strong, and I feel really good about my life right now. The feelings have been much less momentarily-intense… I think just because I’m a lot less scared (of the unknowns) this time around. But they are no less deep – I totally understand now how parents can say that they don’t love any of their children more than any others. It’s also nice to know that Heinlein was right:

The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just. — Robert A. Heinlein, in Time Enough for Love

Also, as hard as this time is, I’m really enjoying having the quiet time at home with my wife and two boys. (I love that I have two boys… I didn’t expect that.) We have no distractions, no competing priorities, no work – just a simple life, focused on each other. I’ll be sorry to see it go (when I go back to work) in a few days.

As with last time, we owe huge thanks to all the people who have helped us, especially the huge investments of time and/or resources from grandparents on both sides – THANK YOU! I can’t imagine doing this without all that help.

Welcome to the world, little Liam. We love you already, more than you’ll even be able to understand… until you have children of your own.

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Huge news - we're having (another) baby!

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2087 days ago

(You may recall that I said something like this before.)

As the title says, our second baby is incubating =D We just had the first ultrasound, and the baby is exactly as it should be – tiny, funny-looking, all the limbs are there, and the heartbeat is just what it should be. (It’s too early to tell the sex, although Kristina has been having a rougher pregnancy this time, which has led some to speculate that this one’s a girl… or twins.) The due date is February 1st, 2012. (Yep – just 4 days off Benjamin’s due date…)

I knew, the first time around, that if I posted something deep and heavy then, that I’d have a very hard time matching it the second time around. That, of course, has turned out to be true. A second child simply has a less-“heavy” impact on me, because I’m much more prepared for it, via my experiences with the first. That seems like an obvious consequence… but it also has the potential to be disappointing for child #2 when they see this post for the first time. So, little one, when you read this years from now, please don’t take my less-passionate commentary here as a reflection on you, but instead as a reflection on how much your father has changed since the first baby came along. We’re also not quite as far along in the pregnancy (now) as we were with Benjamin – just 10 weeks now, and we don’t know your sex yet. I expect that will still have a huge impact on me :) I will post again once that happens.

I will say that having a second baby has had its own set of new (scary!) thoughts associated with it:

  • Hurray, it’s not twins!
  • When will we sleep, with two babies on different (disruptive!) sleep schedules?!?
  • Are we crazy for trying to keep the OB/GYN (and hospital) that we loved so much the last time around, even though she’s 2.5 hours away?
  • What stuff do we need this time around, that we don’t already have?
  • Oh no! We’re going to need a bigger car!
  • I learned my lesson and didn’t wait (past the first ultrasound) to announce the good news :)

So, a big hello, new baby :) I’ll have more to say to you soon, I’m sure.

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On abortion

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2096 days ago

Hello, internets. I’ve come to offer myself as a sacrifice at the alter of people-who-can-never-be-politicians-because-of-things-they-said-on-the-internet.

Why? A friend of mine recently created a tumblr account as an alternative to his regular blog. He’s posted on a few topics, but most of his posts have been about abortion.

It turns out that he and I disagree, and none of my normal avenues of replying are available to me. Tumblr doesn’t have a comment feature, so I can’t just add a comment to his post. And Tumblr isn’t Twitter, so I can’t just tweet back. And his Tumblr account isn’t feeding his Facebook account, so I can’t reply there (not that I would have, anyway). Tumblr wants me to open an account with them, to reply, but “truist.tumblr.com” is taken (but not used) by the new owners of truist.com, so I’d have to choose a new moniker, and I’m not really up to doing that just yet.

So I’m left with finally getting around to codifying my opinions on my own blog. (Or staying silent, but I find that I can’t, on this topic.) In a way, that’s long overdue, so thanks for the motivation to do it!

Here goes:

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Baby gear for the first-time parent: the definitive list for 2010

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2200 days ago

(Yes, I know, it’s 2011. Read on and the title will make sense.)

Before Benjamin was born, I did a lot of research into all the “stuff” we’d need for him. A lot. A LOT. (You’ll see… keep reading.) I read books, reviews, and websites. I made spreadsheets and budgets. I comparison-shopped.

And in the end, I think we actually did a really good job with the stuff we bought. Only rarely did we get something that we didn’t end up needing and/or loving, and usually those ‘mistakes’ were because we rushed into a purchase.

My family knew about all this research, so when Benjamin’s aunt was pregnant, she asked me to pass my information along. I did so, with some advice about things we’d learned in hindsight. And then a co-worker was having a baby and asked for the information. And just today, an extended family member heard about this info and asked for it, and another family member suggested I just publish it, so…

The information below is an amalgam of lists, emails, and spreadsheets that weren’t written with publication in mind, and that have only been somewhat cleaned up. And I gathered most of this information in 2009, in preparation for an early-2010 baby, so it’s rapidly becoming out of date. But I’m guessing that it will still be useful to some, so here it is:

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Benjamin Zoltan Arthur

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2598 days ago

In case you didn’t hear from my email, twitter posts, or corresponding facebook posts, my amazing wife gave birth to my amazing son last Wednesday. His name is Benjamin Zoltan Arthur, he weighed 7lbs 15oz, and was 20.25” long. He is perfect!

I’m writing this post in a very exhausted state of mind, so please forgive my ramblings. I wanted to just get an announcement (plus a few thoughts) out before too much time passed.

I have a temporary photo gallery set up, but I put a password on it because I plan to move it later and don’t want it showing up on the broader internet until I figure out what pictures are really going to be ‘public’. (The picture in this article is from that gallery.) If you know me, please feel free to request the link and password from me or anyone in my family.

Some notes on his name: we’ve known for a long time that we wanted his middle name to be Zoltan, because he is half Hungarian (from Kristina) and he has a great-grandfather named Zoltan, and another great-grandfather with Zoltan as his middle name. We couldn’t decide on a first name, though; we had a list of about 10 candidates, with “Alexander” at the top, but were never quite sure about any of them. As soon as he was born, I declared “he is not an Alexander” and Kristina agreed (once she had a chance to really look at him). The problem was, he also wasn’t any of the other names we had on the list. So we grudgingly started looking for new name ideas. A good friend suggested “Benjamin” and as soon as I heard it, I knew it was a good fit. Within minutes I was certain it was his name. Kristina took a little longer to come around, but also agreed that it was a good name for him. So we finally settled on it, just a few hours before we left the hospital. I knew at the time that he had a relative named Benjamin, but I wasn’t sure exactly who; it turns out that Levi Benjamin Valley (commonly known as “Ben”) was my great-grandfather, and a father-figure for my own father. So this little boy is named after great-(great-)grandparents on both sides of the family!

We call him a bunch of things – Benjamin, Z, Big Z, Little Z, and Mister Z. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have “Z” as a nickname for him for a long time to come, and that his proper name will be “Benjamin”. I can’t get myself to call him “Ben” so I think we’re going to try to keep that nickname out of common use, but I have learned (from my wife) not to try to force these things, so I won’t.

So far, he’s been a very happy, healthy baby. He eats well and on a regular schedule (every three hours), he sleeps most of the rest of the time, and he has fairly simple cues for when he is hungry, needs burped, or needs his diaper changed. He is as cute as I’ve ever seen a baby be :) (Of course, all parents say that, but so far everybody else who sees him also has said that.) He has one minor medical problem that he inherited from his father, but it’s not a big deal, and easy to fix.

Our lives have changed heavily, of course. Everybody says birth is a life-changing experience. It is certainly an emotionally overwhelming one! I can’t remember another time in my life when I was so flooded with raw feeling in a single moment; it’s impossible to even catalog what the feelings were, simply because they were too big to be identified. One feeling was and is very identifiable – pride and love for my wife, who was simply amazing throughout the delivery, and through these first five days of his life. (Benjamin was posterior in the womb and sideways when he finally delivered, but she did it with only 6.5 total hours of labor, and only 1.5 hours of pushing. And now she’s totally on top of everything he needs, every single time he needs something.) And now I can’t help but feel completely attached to this little child; I get a little energy boost every time I see him; I can’t leave him alone for too long without needing to check on him; I have a really hard time leaving him, once I am with him.

In contrast, I find myself almost totally calm, all the time. I feel totally confident about how I handle him, about the choices I make for him, and about the things that will make him calm or upset. I don’t have any hesitation or doubt about him, at all. I think it’s some combination of a vastly simplified priority list (if you need a hint: it only has two items on it), general exhaustion, and general euphoria. It’s an interesting experience, living such a simple life (for the moment, anyway).

And of course, I have to thank all the wonderful people who helped, offered well-wishes, sent gifts, or gave their advice. And Kristina and I both owe a huge debt to my mother-in-law who came and spent the weekend with us. I think she made this weekend about 80% easier than it would have been on our own, and gave us a chance to adjust to this new lifestyle. We’ve spent today on our own, and largely we’ve been OK, and that’s because we had a few days to prepare because of her help. In any case – THANK YOU ALL!!!

And welcome to the world, my son. I’m writing this in one room, while your mother cuddles you in another room, and just in the time it’s taken me to write this post, I miss you :)

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The nature of a fetus

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2608 days ago

Today, I had a startling realization about the nature of a fetus. It’s an interesting topic, but also a very delicate one, and it seems somewhat risky to post this so close to our delivery. But this realization is a consequence of all the events during this pregnancy, so I think it is natural that I had the realization now, and appropriate that I share it now, also.

But before I get to that, I have to explain another startling realization I had a few months ago, when I started learning more about pregnancy: that the placenta actually belongs to the baby, not to the mother. Specifically, the placenta has the baby’s genes (i.e. from both the father and the mother), and is formed from one half of the blastocyst (the other half becomes the embryo itself). I had never really thought about the issue before, but my basic assumption was that the placenta was a part of the mother, and that the umbilical cord was actually the place where the mother merged into the baby. But that’s not what happens – the mother has the uterus, and the baby has the placenta. The placenta attaches to the uterus, secretes hormones that make the uterus (and the rest of the mother’s body!) do what the placenta needs in order to allow the embryo/fetus to grow, and exchanges oxygen, nutrients, and waste products to support the embryo/fetus. The placenta is actually an agent of the embryo/fetus!

Now that I think about it, my confusion probably stems from the idea of cutting the cord, which I had always thought of as “separating the baby from its mother” but in fact is actually separating the baby from its own placenta!

So somehow I’d missed figuring that out before now, and it was a bit of a shock. In some sense, the mother is just a container for the developing fetus, and the placenta actually ‘tricks’ the mother into letting it stay in the uterus, and providing a good environment for it. So from the very moment of conception, there are three parties – the father, the mother, and the embryo/fetus. In no way is the baby a “part of” the mother. The baby is “inside” the mother, is “attached to” the mother, and is “dependent on” the mother, but biologically, the baby is not just an extension of the mother.

And that’s the source of today’s realization: I no longer give any weight to the argument that the woman’s reproductive rights are the only issue that matters. Yes, the woman’s body and the woman’s life will be affected, but per the realization above, the woman is not the only party involved in the decision. Any argument for abortion, in my newly-formed opinion, must take into consideration the impact on the embryo/fetus (i.e death), and weigh that against the benefit to the mother.

And here’s where it gets tricky – removing that argument from my list of “arguments to which I will give consideration” isn’t really a huge deal for me, because it isn’t a part of the basis for my own opinion about abortion. That argument always seemed a bit dumb (because it seems very petty). But this new logic still represents a fairly hefty shift in my thinking, so I wanted to share it.

And to the obvious question: I am not going to share my stance on abortion in this post, because I don’t have time to carry out the whole argument with the whole internet right now. I have a well-formed opinion, and if you know me personally, you may already know it. I’m also very willing to discuss that opinion, in person, with just about anyone. But I’m not quite ready to subject myself to the commentary of the internet (any more than I just did, anyway), so internet, you’ll just have to wait for another day :)

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Huge news - we're having a baby!

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2751 days ago

Well, the title covers the major fact. But there’s a lot more to say… too much, in fact. It’s hard to know where to start, how much to cover, how much to say online…

To set the stage, I’m sitting in an airport (BWI), after an essentially pointless (but expensive!) single-day trip that finished early, and I suddenly find myself with a few unexpected hours on my hands. Probably enough to write something appropriate online about my new baby boy. (Yep, it’s a boy!) But there is so much tied up in my head and my heart, it’s really hard to just get started.

First: to our baby: whoever you are, whoever you end up being, when you read this someday, you should know that your mother and I already love you very much. We’re a little nervous about what the future holds, but we feel so good about you, and about us, and about how this is going to work out. People say that you’re never really ready to have a baby, and we followed that model – we weren’t quite ready, but we knew it was time, and so we decided to try. And suddenly (quickly!) it happened, and you are on your way. Our life isn’t perfect… but I (we) find that it doesn’t really matter… we know that it’s going to be great. We’re in the 20th week of the pregnancy, halfway there. You have been perfectly healthy so far, and your mom has had an easy pregnancy, and you have little bones, and fingers, and a heartbeat, and a face, and it’s so scary wondering who you are going to be, and if we’re going to be good parents, and what you’re going to need from us, and what we’re going to have to give up, and what we’re going to gain, and where you’re going to take us. And yet we aren’t often actually scared; somehow, we are both generally calm, and feel ready for all these things to come, one day at a time. I think a lot of that is because your mother and I have such a strong relationship. And some of it probably already comes from you. And some of it is probably just because we’re underestimating everything to come :)

And I have to let you know – just yesterday, when I found out you are a boy, was the first time it really hit me that you’re going to grow up someday, and be an adult person, with your own decisions, hopes, failures, loves, stories… and suddenly you were a person, not just a creature growing in my wife’s belly. (!!!) It’s a very, very heady thing. Welcome to the universe, little one. In about 20 more weeks, I’ll get to welcome you to the world. Oh boy, here you come :)

Second: everyone else: Kristina and I are having a baby. (Just in case you missed that part.) And it’s a boy (we found out yesterday!). And we’re already mid-way through the pregnancy, with a due date of February 5th… or 8th. The official date with the doctor is the 5th. But the real date is the 8th, based on my own calculations (using a variety of official methods) plus what the ultrasound estimated. But someone had calculated the 5th using the simple method, and the doctor said the date from the ultrasound (the 8th) was “close enough” that she just called it the 5th. So really he’s due on the 8th :)

You might also have noticed that it took me a long time (about 15 weeks!) to make the announcement online. Well, there’s a reason for that. Which is that work wants me to move to Phoenix, and this baby has made us rethink whether that is a good idea, and I have been hiding the fact that we’re pregnant from work, so they don’t wonder if I really will move… because if they find out I’m not moving, I might lose my job. That’s been a lot of stress. A lot. So two weeks ago I finally got fed up with it, and told them that I’m not moving, and here I am, still with a job… at least, for now.

The important part, though, is that when I told them, I also felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders – and suddenly I was free to be excited about this little baby, and I started engaging in all sorts of ways (budgeting, shopping, reading, announcing, blogging, etc.!) that made it clear to me that keeping my baby secret was really having an impact on my life. So let that be a lesson to you, readers, family, and child: secrets aren’t worth it. I regret that period when I wasn’t free to tell the world about my son – that shouldn’t ever be necessary. I wish I had told work right away, no matter what the consequences might have been.

And lastly, no, we don’t have name ideas yet. Other than “Arthur” or “Gunther” or “Edgar.” And we do have ultrasound pictures, but my wife has a shy uterus, so we’re sharing those off-line :)

So, good morning, everyone! I probably won’t be blogging a lot in the coming months… but that’s because I’ll be so damn busy living!

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Baby Bridgid is here!

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2803 days ago

My second niece, Bridgid Belle Box (yes, soon to be called “B.B.”) was born last Tuesday (July 21, 2009), at 10:38am. She was 8 pounds, 3 ounces. She’s just as cute as her sister :-)

Welcome to the world Bridgid! We are all really excited to meet you!

P.S. – Another great picture is on Facebook

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The long-overdue "I know what I did last summer" post

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3033 days ago

Wow, according to my last post, it’s been 144 days since I blogged. Too long, but it’s a sign of how busy life has been. I’m going to use this post just to catch up quickly, then future posts will hopefully be more insightful:

  • I’m still a vegetarian
  • The new job is good (and I was promoted!), but time-intensive
  • The dogs are awesome
  • Buying the Honda Element was very much the right decision – it is perfect for the dogs and for Kristina’s plant (and dirt!) hauling
  • The new house is great
  • I did buy that motorcycle I had my eye on (and I love it!)
  • I sold my domain (truist.com) and replaced it with the one you see before you (rainskit.com). (And truist.com now has some very interesting content. But it’s a dumb name for a company.)
  • We all finally hired the right president

But of course, all of that put a ton of stress on my life and my wife, and we are still trying to recover from it. Speaking of which, she (my wife) also:

  • Turned 30, and got through a party that I think she would have preferred to delay
  • Took care of the dogs while I was traveling
  • Worked an internship
  • Took over as president of Pi Alpha Xi at OSU, and has had a stellar experience
  • Took a full load of classes this fall

Regular life things also happened. I’m sure I’ve forgotten many of them, but notable items include:

  • Discovered Pistacia Vera, an absolutely life-changing “dessert botique” (in Columbus!), that we now go to every weekend
  • Found DropBox and Carbonite, which are similar services that finally make file sharing and backup (respectively) just work the way they should have all along
  • Found Woot and its associated sites and got addicted; we’ve probably ordered 10 things from them so far
  • Amitai visited and during that visit, I bought a first-gen iPhone and hacked it to work with T-Mobile. (I love it!)
  • Had a very good Thanksgiving at my dad’s house, at which we learned some great news (that isn’t quite yet public)
  • Released two new versions of tru_tags, and used one of those releases to make this site’s archive page

So anyhow, it’s been really busy, and many parts of our life have fallen behind where we’d like them to be. The busyness hasn’t really been a problem… it’s just prevented us from doing other things we might want to be doing. I think our priorities are in the right place, though – I’m doing what I love, and Kristina is working toward a new life where she gets to do what she loves. I think that’s how things are supposed to be.

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Stirring things up

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3259 days ago

Four weeks ago, life was pretty simple: I was comfortable (but not really happy) in my job, we had a nice apartment, our expenses were low, we had a fairly stable plan for the future, and I was planning on buying a motorcycle. Now, though, everything is different: today was my last day at NetJets, we just bought a car, we’re looking for a new place to live, the future is very uncertain, and it’s not clear if I’ll be getting a motorcycle.

And yet, still, I think today is better than four weeks ago. Crazy, huh?

The story goes something like this: Five weeks ago (to the day), I finally realized (after much prodding from my wife) what I wanted my next career move to be. I wanted to be a Product Manager for a software company, much like I was back before I left Noteworthy Medical Systems, four years ago. I realized how important it is for me to have my hands on real problems that I get to solve myself, and how important it is for me to be on the front lines rather than in an IT department (“in the business, not serving the business”). Nothing against NetJets – they have a truly amazing IT department! – but having tasted life in a software company, I wanted to get back to that. The problem was (five weeks ago) that it’s extremely difficult to get a job as a product manager in a software company, especially in Ohio, so I essentially put that plan on hold for “someday”.

So then four weeks ago (to the day), an old friend/coworker from Noteworthy called me up and basically said “we need you to come back and be a product manager – are you interested?”. Huh, funny how these things happen. I told her I was maybe interested, and spent the next week talking to her, going to Cleveland for interviews, and trying to figure out what had changed since I left. After about a week of this, I was convinced that Noteworthy was in good shape, and that this was a legitimate opportunity, and that I’d really love going back into the product manager job.

So it was easy for me to say yes to the offer – except that Noteworthy is in Cleveland, and we live in Columbus, and Kristina is very happy as a student at OSU. So I was going to have to travel to Cleveland for this job, leaving her in Columbus, and we both know that we don’t do well with full-time travel. So I managed to work out a deal with Noteworthy to travel half-time, working from home the other half, and after much discussion we decided that we could handle that, and I said yes to the offer.

That was two weeks ago (to the day).

So I put in my notice, and we started making plans for how to make this all work. First, obviously, we needed a second car. We’ve never had a second car – our lifestyle just never demanded it, and a car is a huge expense. The question was, which car?

Well, that gets to the next decision, which was to get a dog. As part of agreeing to the travel, Kristina and I made an agreement with each other that we’d get a dog for her, to help keep her company while I’m gone. Well… she wants a big dog. And I think that it’s always better to have two dogs, because they keep each other happy and healthy. And we happen to know of a breeder who has Great Pyrenees puppies for sale, and that happens to be the particular breed of very large dog that we had our eye on… so the plan is to get two huge puppies. Oh, the changes…

So back to the car. Between the two new dogs, and the fact that Kristina is a horticulture student who regularly carries plant stuff around, we decided that we needed a car with lots of space and that’s easy to clean. Minivans were right out, jeeps weren’t big enough, and SUVs are generally a waste of money, so that left the Honda Element – a perfect car for this situation, and one that we really liked. But then that got tough – we were trying to keep the cost low (so we needed a used car), but we like having convenience features (power mirrors) and a nice stereo, and we both like driving stick-shift cars, and we didn’t want one with a ton of miles on it. It is possible to get an Element that meets all these criteria, but we couldn’t find one in Columbus. So we went to Pittsburgh (Monday night) to buy one that we found there, and so far we love it. It took a lot of work to finally settle on that car, and to get the financing sorted out (without having a used car dealer screw us), and get a price negotiated, but it was worth it.

But wait, there’s another consequence to getting these dogs: our current apartment doesn’t let us have pets. (And I wouldn’t put two huge dogs into our place anyway.) So we have to find a new place, preferably a house with a large fenced yard. And we need to rent it because we’ll probably move in two years when Kristina graduates. And our current rent is quite low, and we don’t pay our gas bill, so our housing expenses are about to go way up. And we’re probably not going to find something close to campus with a large fenced yard in a safe neighborhood that’s not too expensive. So that search will continue :)

And finally, all these increased expenses may mean that I can’t get a motorcycle. I have my license (took the class last fall) and a helmet (birthday present, a week ago) and a riding jacket (another birthday present), but no motorcycle. More on this as events unfold.

So, to summarize: new job, new travel lifestyle, new car, new house, new dogs, maybe no motorcycle. Oh, and Kristina’s 30th birthday is in June, so I need to plan that. So yeah, things are a little stirred up around here :) But they’re good.

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Planting Instructions for Hostas

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3614 days ago

…as learned by my wife, in class at OSU, the other day:

  1. Dig a hole (you should have known that)
  2. Point the green part up (ditto)
  3. Cover the stringy part with dirt (ditto again)
  4. Keep it watered (the part people tend to forget)

These instructions are from the Bridgewood Gardens Hosta Catalog, and they have a bit more detail if you follow the link :)

(By the way – Kristina is taking classes at OSU, leading to either a second degree or a master’s degree, in landscape horticulture (probably). It looks like a great program.)

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Neil Arthur named new DBJ publisher

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3730 days ago

Neil Arthur

From the original article:

Neil Arthur has been named publisher of the Dayton Business Journal. He succeeds Heather Martin, who has been publisher since 2003. ...

Congratulations, dad! I’m really excited for you.

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Emergency hard drive recovery: success!

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3734 days ago

Waaaay back in April of 2006, my cousin Karen (and her husband David) had a hard drive failure, resulting in the loss of all their digital pictures of their baby daughter Ella. They didn’t have backups, and they didn’t have prints. Computer shops weren’t able to help, and clean-room data recovery was too expensive. Eventually, they gave up on it and sent an email to the family asking if we could send them copies of any pictures we had.

I, being a geek, offered to take a look at the drive and see if I could get anything off of it. They, lacking any better options, sent the drive to me so I could give it a shot.

I dropped the drive into my NetBSD machine and sure enough, the BIOS recognized it. That meant that the drive was still physically working, and that I might have a chance at getting whatever data was left off the drive. I was able to mount the drive (read-only) and read data from it, which meant that there was a good chance of finding at least some of the pictures.

I did a bunch of googling and learned a lot about home-brew data recovery. To sum it up, I learned that you need:

  1. A copy of the dd utility that supports the conv=noerror argument. (netbsd’s dd does)
  2. A handy program that knows how to find images on a raw drive image. (See below)

I was able to make a copy of the bad drive (onto a good drive of mine) using dd and the instructions on this page. There were a lot of bad drive sectors encountered during the copy, which was to be expected given the fact that the drive had failed in the first place, but I was hopeful about finding at least some of the images. And having the drive copy was a big win – it meant that I could work with a copy that wouldn’t get worse if the hard drive took a dive.

The hard part was finding a program that could recover the images. For a long time I thought I was going to have to write my own, and that seemed a daunting task, but I finally found this guy who had this exact same problem and already wrote this program. It was exactly what I needed – a program that would find and extract images from a raw drive!

The only problem was that jpg-recover was running at about 15kb/s. At that rate, getting through the 80gb hard drive would have taken about 60 days to finish. I didn’t have 60 days (without interruption!) to wait.

So I dug into the code and discovered that it was horribly innefficient. It was reading data one byte at a time, checking for an image after each byte read, and just generally not being smart about performance. I set about improving it.

I was able to do so. My version takes more memory (a configurable amount) but it runs much faster: at about 12000kb/s. That’s 800x faster :) At that rate, it only took about two hours to finish, finding (after some tuning) 4,422 potential images, of which 187 were uncorrupted pictures of Ella – including this one.

That felt good :)

I’ve published my version of the program as jpg-recover-faster. It’s a perl script, so you’ll need perl. I make no guarantees about the lack of bugs – use this script at your own risk. It may eat your children. ;)

You’ll want to read the comment at the top of the script before using it, and the other pages listed above will help you figure out how to use it. Feel free to post comments here with questions or suggestions.

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The meaning of Christmas

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3762 days ago

I occasionally ask myself why I celebrate Christmas, because I don’t really focus on it as a celebration of the birth of Christ. The general answer that I give myself is “Christmas is about people,” and I’m very happy with that idea. But I’ve never thought it out, or written it down.

My mother, on the other hand, has. She apparently got into an email conversation with someone who isn’t giving gifts for Christmas because they feel that it is too commercial / expected / etc. (I don’t know the details.) Mom replied with a detailed writeup of how she felt about Christmas, and then forwarded bits of it on to me.

It’s quite impressive, so (with her permission) I’m quoting it here, for anyone who needs it. (She’s a teacher, so she mentions the school(s) that she teaches at occasionally.)

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New Gwen pictures!

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3839 days ago

Erica posted some new pictures of Gwen (and grandma, and aunt, and dad, and …) over on Gwen’s site.

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"Niece"

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3856 days ago

I’ve rapidly realized that “niece” is not a word that one often finds oneself writing, until one has one. (A niece, that is.) It’s a strange word.

(But I like it.)

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Baby Gwendolyn is here!

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3857 days ago

My niece was born last Thursday, at 2:31 in the afternoon. She was 8 pounds 14 ounces, and 21 inches long. She is of course, adorable.

Welcome to the world, Gwendolyn! We’re all glad you’re here :)

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Baby Gwendolyn is near!

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3896 days ago

Gwendolyn ultrasound

Did I mention that I’m going to be an uncle soon? If not, I’d like to introduce you to baby Gwendolyn Elizabeth Arthur, weighing in at 5.5 pounds and -3 weeks (or so) old. She’s my youngest sister Erica’s baby (with some help from my best friend from elementary school, Rowan).

(For all of you who read this blog via the email feed, you probably can’t see the picture. Check out the website instead.)

Gwen, welcome to the world! I hope it’s ready for you ;)

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In Loving Memory

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3962 days ago

Anna Torontali

Born
March 4th, 1930
Budapest, Hungary

Passed
May 20th, 2006
Cleveland, Ohio

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