Cub Scout popcorn

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2372 days ago

Picture this…

It’s 6am on a Saturday in September, somewhere in Kansas. The sun is coming up, and it promises to be a 90-degree day. Thousands of boys (6-12 years old) from across the country are arriving – by truck, by bicycle, by parachute, by hitchhiking – and gathering together in a warehouse on a giant corn farm. They’re all in Cub Scout uniforms – perfectly pressed and starched – and carrying water bottles and giant backpacks.

A thousand or so of the boys – the ones who are tall enough – go out into the corn fields, and start picking corn. They carry baskets of it back to the warehouse, and shuck it. They cut off the kernels, and put them in giant ovens to dry.

A few hundred or so boys start boiling giant kettles of sugar, reducing it down to caramel. They stir and stir and test and taste, until it is just right.

The smaller boys, the ones with artistic talent, get out sheets of cardboard and start cutting it and coloring it, to make boxes.

A dozen older boys – trusted, reliable, experienced – take a bunch of cash from last year’s sale into town. There they invite the local OSHA inspectors and politicians out to a lavish lunch… so they don’t notice the child labor right down the road.

They spend their day this way, toiling in the hot sun, and over hot ovens, until finally the sun goes down. Then they all come back to the warehouse, and start putting it all together.

They bag the kernels, for microwaves. They pop literal tons of corn, and dip it in caramel, and bag it up. They pour butter, and cheddar, and nuts, and make some of the tastiest popcorn anyone has ever known.

The spend the rest of the night packaging it up.

In the morning, they all walk away, carrying giant backpacks full of fresh popcorn, in all sorts of flavors and styles. They make their way home, across the United States, and begin the process of selling the popcorn to raise money for their Packs.

And now that popcorn is available to you… and when you see the prices on the popcorn, and you question whether any sane person would really spend that much – just remember that it’s American made, with American values, with American labor – and it’s worth it!*

*This popcorn was not actually made this way

Oh hi! Thanks for reading this far! By the way, my 7-year-old is selling popcorn for Cub Scouts this year. If you’d like some, you can order popcorn from his web store and it will ship straight to you, via Amazon.

(And thank you!)

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A bicycle test

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2879 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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Technology and Lent

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4046 days ago

This website

The plugin that provided the email notification feature for this website broke with a recent update to my blog software, and it’s not going to be easy to fix. So I’m not going to fix it.

Of course, that means that the affected people aren’t going to hear that they’re affected. Sorry about that! (I’ll tell personally the few I know.)

In fact, I’m likely to switch to ikiwiki …eventually. Textpattern seems to have lost its mojo, and there have been some long-standing issues with it (like no native tagging support!) that seem unlikely to ever get fixed. And I’m hip to the cool technologies now, so a more infrastructure-like framework (i.e. ikiwiki, with git) for my blog feels like a better answer. And schmonz volunteered to do most of the work :)

That also means I’ll probably abandon tru_tags …more than I already have. There hasn’t been anything to do with it in a long while, at least not that I felt was worthwhile to be done. Most of the features that remain to be implemented require a major refactoring of the core Textpattern code, and that just seems very unlikely to happen (by me or anybody else) any time soon. So hopefully it will remain useful to the people who still use it.

This year’s Lent

I have utterly failed at this year’s Lent give-up. I have been better at going to bed at a reasonable hour, sometimes for days at a time. But I simply can’t do everything I need/want to do in my life with the few hours that leaves me between work, kids, and chores. So sleep will continue to lose to projects – although less-so than it used to. There are some nice perks to getting more sleep – I’m much more on-the-ball and willing to take on mental tasks that otherwise seem hard. But that extra value doesn’t offset the lost value from just not being able to do all the things I need to do.


Speaking of Lent, I also broke a 5-year streak of vegetarianism a week or so ago. Benjamin, Liam, and I had some extremely delicious tilapia, also breaking both boys’ life-long vegetarian streaks. Kristina chose not to participate.

We had a bunch of reasons for deciding to do it. And a bunch of reasons to not do it (i.e. to stay vegetarian). I may blog about all the tradeoffs some day soon, but for now, suffice it to say that it was a very close decision, and I’m not sure what’s next.

I made a web app!

If you recall, I started using SmugMug for my online gallery a few years ago. But when I made the switch, I left behind an old gallery site (on Menalto Gallery 1) that I’ve been meaning to clean up for a long time. It broke a while ago, motivating me to finally migrate off that old software – to ZenPhoto, which had been my long-standing plan. It took a few days getting ZenPhoto to work (when it should have been easy!), but I got it there, and I shut off the old site.

I also started this exchange with the ZenPhoto dev in which I start by being too grumpy and then he finished by insisting that his software simply must be unsupportable for him to support it. Net effect: I had to get off ZenPhoto.

But I had no alternate destination for self-hosting my images. My long-term goal is to migrate the images to SmugMug, but I want to filter them down from “every picture I took during that time period” to “just the best ones, tagged and rated” (like all the other pictures I post to SmugMug). And it will take Nathan-weeks of work to get that done, so it keeps getting put off. So in the short term I just needed a new self-hosting product, and there just aren’t any good alternatives. They’re all either old or ugly or badly designed or some combination of those three.

So I made one myself. I’ve never made a web app from scratch before, but I am quite comfortable in perl, had used Catalyst from a prior job, and I’d heard then that Mojolicious is better. So I tried it.

And wow, was it easy. Probably 8 hours total from “install mojolicious” to “the gallery is up and running on the new software”. That’s only just a little more than I spent trying to get ZenPhoto to work. Many kudos to Mojolicious, perl, and pkgsrc.

Now… ZenPhoto does way more stuff. (TONS more… too much, actually.) And this new software isn’t really ready for someone else to use it. And it has no tests. And it only does one extremely simple thing (i.e. serve nested directories of images, in name-sorted order, with no metadata).

But the code is small, easy to read, and easy to modify. (Roughly 300 lines of code, 115 lines of CSS, and 80 lines of HTML template.) The site looks really good (in my opinion). And it doesn’t require a database – just a directory full of images. And with some app-level caching and the help of Mojolicious’s preforking web server and great documentation for setting it up under apache mod_proxy, it’s about as fast is it could possibly be on my old host and slow network connection.

So ZenPhoto is out and my home-grown software is in. Here’s hoping it doesn’t need maintenance!

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Liam Eldon Arthur

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4462 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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For Immediate Release: A. Muck Corporation names Benjamin Arthur as new CEO

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4543 days ago

Cleveland, Ohio, November 16, 2011 – A. Muck Corporation, a pioneer and global leader in disruptive innovation and chaos theory, today announced that it has named Benjamin Arthur as its new CEO. Arthur, well known in Ohio for his expertise in disruption, innovation, and chaos, will be the first official CEO of A. Muck, which previously relied on a “distributed leadership” approach.

Mr. Arthur brings 21 months of experience in areas strongly aligned with A. Muck’s corporate goals, such as increasing entropy and distributing goods as widely and randomly as possible. A. Muck currently has millions of dedicated employees around the world, and hires thousands of new employees each day.

Prior to becoming CEO of A. Muck, Mr. Arthur was a distinguished employee of the Cleveland division, focusing on areas of covert distribution of previously-stable goods. He expressed a strong desire for “more” disruption, especially as it relates to items at or below about 4 feet, and to anything reachable by standing on furniture.

“We feel that Mr. Arthur’s age will help him connect with the majority of our employees, who are in the 12-48 month category,” said Kristina Arthur, the local representative for the A. Muck division in Cleveland, Ohio. “Now that Benjamin is running A. Muck, we expect to see unprecedented levels of chaos and disruption.”

Shareholders have expressed some concerns about appointing such a young CEO, “but that’s probably just because they’re so old,” says an inside source who did not wish to be named.

A. Muck’s stock price rose 10% on the announcement, presumably because investors feel that Mr. Arthur will set a very good example as A. Muck’s new CEO.

Mr. Arthur would not comment on the possible purchase of of the B. Roken supply company, which has been rumored to be seeking a buyout by A. Muck. Mr. Arthur said that A. Muck’s law firm, Fall, Down, and Hurt, would have a press release shortly.

A. Muck corporation is a public, nonprofit organization dedicated to finding new ways to invest in chaos theory and innovative disruption. Since its founding in the days of Cain and Abel, A. Muck has charted relentless growth around the world, and continues to grow at an astonishing pace. A. Muck is an equal opportunity employer, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or disability.

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Boon, Inc.

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4664 days ago

Just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to Boon Inc.. (They make baby gear.) We have their highchair (the “Flair”), and we really, really like it. It’s easy to clean, easy to move around, easy to load Benjamin into (and out of)… it just does what it should, with no irritations.

And I’ve had to call Boon about it, twice. Both times, I called late in the evening and left a voice message. Both times, a real human called me back and just talked to me about my issues. For the first call, I was concerned that something wasn’t working correctly, and they explained that it was actually working as designed, and that if it worked the way I thought it should, it would actually be dangerous. (Imagine that – a customer service person who can reason about product design!) The second time, the brake on the bottom had worn out and was coming off. The chair was out of warranty, but they offered (without me asking or mentioning the warranty) to send me a new one if I’d just send pictures of the old one, showing the problem. I did, and they did.

So the point is, not only do they have great products, but they also have great customer service. Pretty darn rare :)

And looking around, I realize we have a bunch of their products, and we like them all: Flo, Grass, Snack Ball, Squirt, and Fluid.

So, thanks, Boon, for being awesome!

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

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4783 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:


One downside to huge dogs...

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4909 days ago

…they can eat food right out of your baby’s hand, while he’s in his high chair:

Benjamin and Kodiak

This actually happened a few days ago. (The picture was somewhat staged, for demonstration purposes.) Benjamin had a pizza crust that he’d been gnawing on, and he held it out to the side, and Kodiak just came over and took what was offered. Benjamin didn’t seem to mind :-)

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Still here, really! With pictures to prove it!

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4931 days ago

Hello all, sorry for the 229 days between blog posts. I fear this blog is destined to become one of those 85% of blogs that are never read by anybody :) As always, the busier my life is, the less of it ends up online, and the past year has been no exception. Babies are hard work!

So this post isn’t about anything in particular; just an announcement that I uploaded a ton of pictures to the new gallery. Specifically, about 200 pictures from as far back as last Thanksgiving. See them all at!

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New photo (and video) gallery

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5163 days ago

Per my previous post, I have been struggling to get my current gallery converted over to SmugMug, and that struggle was getting in the way of getting Benjamin pictures online. Well, I’m happy to report that the new gallery is online at, and that all the previously-passworded Benjamin pictures are now publicly available there. (I chose the first solution, by the way.) In fact, there are some new pictures also :)

I haven’t converted any of the old gallery over to the new site yet, so for the moment I have two public galleries online. For now, I’m only going to link to the old one in my sidebar; once all the old images are converted, I’ll switch the link. So you should bookmark the new site (or this article) if you want to remember where all the Benjamin pictures will be :)

For those of you who are named in photos in the new gallery – don’t worry, Google won’t search beyond the home page of the new gallery, so pictures of you aren’t suddenly going to pop up all over the internet. If you are concerned about any photos, though, please feel free to let me know and I’ll hide them immediately.

I don’t plan to announce future photo uploads via this blog; please subscribe to one of the available RSS or Atom feeds if you want to hear about new photos. (Scroll to the bottom and click “Available Feeds” to see them.) I suggest either the site-wide recent galleries feed or the site-wide Benjamin keyword feed.

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Perfectionism, pragmatism, and progress

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5169 days ago

As I mentioned in the announcement, I have a temporary photo gallery set up with some early pictures of Benjamin in it. But I password protected that gallery, not because of any particular security or privacy concerns, but simply because the gallery is not in its final home, and I don’t want to publish the gallery to the wider internet until it has reached said destination. Recently, a friend asked about the delay in posting more pictures, and offered to help resolve any problems that might be impeding progress. I wrote a very long reply, which I have quoted (mostly) below.

It is, I think, and interesting way to both reveal why I haven’t opened up the gallery, and to allow my readership to understand more about me. Because in this email, it is clear how my perfectionism and my pragmatism do battle, and how I usually seek to resolve such conflicts.

And if you do take the time to read all the way to the end, please feel free to provide any suggestions!

Let me explain the root problem(s):

I plan to switch my pictures from (which uses Menalto Gallery) over to use SmugMug, and in fact have already paid SmugMug for a year of service which has already elapsed. (I signed up over a year ago.)

I don’t want to start dumping Benjamin pictures into Menalto; I have numerous other albums (like Thanksgiving from last year) that I haven’t uploaded to Menalto because I told myself that I was going to force a hard stop on using Menalto, to encourage me to finish my switch to SmugMug. So I don’t want to break that rule for Benjamin, and I also don’t want to publish one URL for Benjamin pictures and then change it to another URL later.

I don’t expect to be able to use for my SmugMug site, because I have other users of my Menalto gallery who won’t want to have the URL change out from under them. So I’ll have to leave Menalto at the old URL, and come up with a new URL for SmugMug.

When I tried to convert my gallery over to SmugMug, I discovered a (frustrating!) limitation of SmugMug wherein it doesn’t allow infinite nesting of albums. Specifically, it forces me to organize my pictures in a particular hierarchy, either:

Category -> Album -> Image
Category -> Subcategory -> Album -> Image

So some of my Menalto albums are nested 5 or 6 layers deep, which won’t fit into SmugMug’s paradigm. Also, some of my Menalto albums have both images and sub-albums, which won’t fit into SmugMug’s paradigm.

So a long time ago (April of ’09) I started work on Smuganizer, a tool to help me convert my Menalto gallery over to SmugMug. That tool has grown into a fairly awesome product, but it isn’t quite done yet – mostly because it has a few important missing features, and the documentation is out of date (and misleading!). Note, however, that SmugMug has given me a free Pro account for as long as I continue to maintain Smuganizer, so I don’t currently have to pay for my SmugMug account.

And I’ve been using my SmugMug site as the test database for Smuganizer, largely because I don’t have any other available SmugMug account. So my current SmugMug site (which is entirely password-protected) is filled with random test data, and in unsuitable for public consumption.

Concurrently with all of this, I discovered Windows Live Photo Gallery, a free app from Microsoft that (finally!) just works the way photo gallery apps always should have worked. Really. I have always hated photo management apps, up until this now. Now, I tell people that they should use it. (It does have some major flaws/gaps, but they are not sufficient to keep me from loving it anyway.)

One of the major features of WLPG is that you can tag people in pictures (like Facebook) and/or add arbitrary tags to images and/or give ratings (1-5 stars) to images, and then instantly browse your whole library by those elements (plus by date). They also make it really easy to publish selected photos to arbitrary photo sites, like SmugMug. So suddenly I have a really strong desktop app for managing my pictures, and I find myself caring much less about putting my entire photo library online.

So I modified my plan about converting from Menalto to SmugMug, such that I have decided instead to download all my Menalto pictures to my computer, tag and rate them all there, store them there primarily, and only upload the best ones to SmugMug. In other words, use SmugMug much like a normal human would use a photo gallery.

Problem is, that takes a lot of time. I’m only about half way through my existing pictures. And I’ve been working on it for 6 months or more.

Note that this also makes Smuganizer largely irrelevant to my current needs :) (Except that Smuganizer can also be used to upload pictures from my computer, and to manage the pictures once they are on SmugMug, so it does still have value to me.)

Note that this also means I won’t have an off-site backup for my entire gallery any more (like I had when you were hosting my gallery). To solve that problem, I signed up for Carbonite.

Net effect, I have a bunch of things that theoretically need to be resolved before I start posting more Benjamin pictures to SmugMug:

a) Finish tagging my existing photos
b) Finish and publish Smuganizer
c) Delete all the existing stuff out of SmugMug
d) Figure out how to organize my SmugMug gallery
e) Get SmugMug set up on its permanent URL
f) Upload my ‘featured’ pictures to SmugMug
g) Upload the new Benjamin pictures to wherever they fit in that structure

Of course, I recognize that this will take a year or more, and that Benjamin pictures can’t wait that long. So I figure I have a number of options:

1) Abandon Smuganizer, don’t worry about the other pictures, and just clear out SmugMug and upload Benjamin pictures for now. That would only require steps © (d) (e) and (g) and could probably be done in a few hours.

2) Try to split my SmugMug gallery into a few “Testing” categories and then “everything else” and just password protect the “Testing” categories. Go ahead and upload the Benjamin pictures into their final home, while concurrently working on everything else.

3) Some other option I haven’t thought of yet.

4) Follow the original plan and just wait until it is all done before publishing more Benjamin pictures.

5) Publish the Benjamin pictures on the Menalto gallery.

So I figure you can help in a few possible ways:

i) Talk me out of the tree and just convince me to do (5)
ii) Help me with (d) so I can do option (2)
iii) Come up with an idea for (3)
iv) Talk me into (1) (Note that this is probably impossible)

So you can see my dilemma :)

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Exercise for Lent

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5180 days ago

Isn’t going to happen. Every time I was awake today I thought “can I exercise now?” and every time the answer was “you don’t have time!” (Today was the first pediatrician visit for Benjamin, so it was a very full day. All was well, by the way.) I also feel like it’s somewhat crazy to try to stuff exercise into a schedule that is already insanely full, after I’ve failed so often to stuff exercise into my “normal” schedule. Plus, I figure that I’m getting a lot more exercise that I normally do, carrying a baby, running up and down stairs, doing lots of chores, etc. And raising a newborn seems to be a major exercise in self-discipline, so I think I’m going to just give myself credit for doing that (assuming I do exercise good self-discipline in this endeavor.)

Anyhow, it seemed too easy for me to just not exercise and also not publicly announce that plan, so I wanted to announce it here.

OK, done. Now on to the next item…

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Benjamin Zoltan Arthur

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5182 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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5191 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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A few pre-baby notes

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5192 days ago

Just a few notes that I’ve been collecting, but that aren’t individually worth a blog post. I know it’s been a while since I blogged, but in spite of some prompting, my blogging rate remains inversely proportional to my living rate :)

Kristina found a horoscope for our baby. It will be fun to check it out in a few years and see if it is at all correct.

I found a great blog article about the real causes of terrorism and the mess we are making trying to fight it. Some new information there for me, but I’m hoping that you’ll read it – because the focus isn’t just on “what’s wrong with what we’re doing?” and instead is on “what should we be doing?” As always, people are the source of the problems, and “better people” are the appropriate solution. The politicians, though, seem focused more on how to look good than how to get the job done, so we end up reorganizing all these organizations, without ever kicking out the people at the top of them that are actually the problem. That’s something I have some first-hand experience with, so it rubs me the wrong way.

I also wanted to mention that I’m deeply saddened by the Supreme Court decision that corporations can buy elections. I don’t agree with the idea that corporations have “rights” like people do, and it makes me extremely sad to see how little shame our leaders about letting corporations run the country.

I’ve also been sad lately about Obama and his fiscal policy. I like, very much, that he seems to be taking his time to think through all the issues he faces, but I don’t like his attitude that “profits and bonuses are bad,” even if he was forced into that position. I also don’t like the size of his budget, even if it is very carefully crafted. I knew when I voted for him that I wouldn’t like his economic policies; I just wish that it had turned out that I was wrong :)

Also, my calendar reminded me that Lent is coming up soon. As I mentioned last year, my plan this year is to exercise. (Remember, my focus is self-discipline, not “giving things up.”) Of course, I’m about to have a baby, so this will be rather complicated. But I’ve been putting it off long enough, so I don’t feel like I have any leeway to put it off again. This year: exercise!

Speaking of the baby – it really does seem like it will be any day now. If you haven’t been following my twitter feed, here’s my latest one. Plus our due date is tomorrow.

For those of you wondering what the name will be – please trust us that we aren’t really settled on a name, ourselves. In fact, we got a new recommendation today that we are seriously considering. So, we’ll let everyone know just as soon as we decide – and that may not be until after he comes :)

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Huge news - we're having a baby!

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5335 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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