People nervous-about-people-in-movies-driving-without-looking-at-road

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Sep 202014

Despite a cursory understanding of bluescreen technology, I still worry…

12 parenting tips from a lazy parent

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Apr 052014

Disclaimer: I don’t know yet how my kid will eventually turn out (this has worked up through age 4). Follow tips at your own risk. Results may vary.

1. Forget button-down shirts and corduroy pants. Your (male) kid needs nothing more than sweatpants and T-shirts. Chances are they are not fashion-conscious, and the main thing is that they are comfortable while doing their main thing, which is running around. Without zippers and buttons in the way, they can dress themselves earlier (it will still take unfathomable amounts of time though). The other great thing about sweats and t-shirts is that they are comfortable enough to sleep in, which brings us to:

2. You don’t need to change your kid into pajamas. If you do change your kid into pajamas, they’ll just get yogurt or jam or whatever on them the following morning, at which point you’ll need to throw both the pajamas and whatever clothes they were wearing the day before into the wash. Instead, have them sleep in their sweats/shorts and t-shirt. This also expedites the getting-ready-for-bed process. “But my kid takes a bath every night! So we put on pajamas anyway” you say. Indeed, that brings us to:

3. Your kid does not need to bathe every day. You might take a shower every day, and no doubt people close to you appreciate that. But grown ups are stinky. We are. Young kids are not. There are really just the input/output areas to take care of. Wet wipes are a wonderful invention; keep a box by the potty. Also, when your child has ear-to-ear peanut butter because of their creative way of eating toast, a wet wipe is a good solution.

4. You can cut your kid’s hair yourself. Some parents enjoy herding their kid into the car to run little errands. If that’s not you, there is one thing you can do right at home. No matter how bad your hair-cutting skills, chances are your kid will still look better than other kids with months’-worth of grown out hair. Order a hair clipper. It might come with a DVD. This DVD will have the following instructions. Step 1: seat child in front of laptop playing a movie Step 2: cut child’s hair because child will be very still.  “Really?” you ask. Yes, and the reason is that you can:

5. Have super-simple screen-time rules. Do you look forward to arguing with your kid about whether they can watch a movie or play with their tablet? No? Simply implement (very, very early on) a strict rule: they can watch a movie, but after dinner. Make a few, consistent exceptions in order to achieve other goals. If any desired behavior (sitting for a haircut, potty training) permits screen time, this behavior will be more readily adopted.

6. You can avoid watching kid cartoons— even avoid watching the same things over and over again. Admit it: Thomas the Train has some deep psychological issues, and Curious George needs constant adult supervision. If you emphasize watching things together, but then steer toward things you can tolerate, chances are you’ll end up having  a good time. ‘How It’s Made’ is pretty much perfect — interesting for kids and adults alike, but only ~20 minutes long. One family has even made it to Season 15.

7. Listen to Pandora exclusively. Why Pandora? You can’t pick what song is going to be played next! You can easily explain this to the kid. This takes some commitment (i.e. no playing your own playlists in the house). The ‘children’s folk music’ station is fun (once you customize it), but you’re likely to find that your child enjoys classical, classic rock, heavy metal, blues, etc. And voilà, you are not having to listen to the same kids song over and over again.

8. Tell Stories. You can tell stories in the car (in case you forgot to bring a book or a toy, which in the case of the lazy parent is likely), when your child is not cooperating (“Did I tell you story about the little boy who wanted to keep drawing and didn’t come to dinner? No? Well [abridged version] he got so hungry that without even realizing it he ate crayon after crayon until he had none left!”), or when they are really upset (your child will stop their protest because curiosity will overtake them). For lazy-parent extra bonus points, take turns with your kid telling the story, why should you do all the work?

9. Give up on trying to get your kid to eat what they don’t want to eat. Books/pediatricians’ leaflets will tell you that it can take 14-17 times for a food to be served to a child before the child starts to eat it. That statistic is probably made up and is repeated because it sounds good.  More realistically, your child might be a teenager before they eat new foods. In the meantime, do something for your sanity. Look up the nutritional info on things your child *does* eat. Did you know that chocolate is a good source of iron? Tofu alone takes care of all the amino acids and many  minerals. Marinara sauce (hello pizza and pasta!)  and miso have Vitamin K (take that green veggies!).

11. Institute chocolate time, separate from meal time. Dinner should be something your kid contemplates on its own merits, not as an obstacle to getting dessert. At chocolate time, they can pick among whatever kinds of desserts are in the house (usually chocolate).

12. Your kid isn’t behind; other kids’ parents are too forward. Do your friends’ 3 year olds count to 1000, speak 3 languages, and read Shakespeare? If your friends are too in your face about this, you could stress yourself and your kid out by working toward the same level of achievement. Instead, spend less time with these friends and more time lazing around and doing fun things with your kid.

Good luck!

The mattress

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Dec 102013

Parenting is fraught with uncertainty about the goodness of one’s choices, but this one so far has panned out:

It’s a mattress, a full-sized one. I first spotted one of these in a toddler bedroom of a friend. When we left all our stuff behind to rent a furnished house, we didn’t bring our son’s crib (that converted to a toddler bed, etc.) Instead, we went to IKEA and got a mattress and put it directly on the floor. We were a bit concerned about our 22-month old sleeping on a big bed, but although it was big, it wasn’t very high. So at worst, this could happen:

And if it ever did, our toddler never said. 2+ years later, bedtime stories are still comfy for all involved:

And not a play date goes by without some jumping on the bed:

The only one out of a spot is the monster under the bed:

Phone home

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Oct 292013

As years go by it seems more and more magical that I can phone “home”.

Now serving: tasty food with a dash of guilt

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Sep 182013

The only thing standing between me and my enjoyment of all-you-can-eat-every-day-deliciousness are people with a food conscience.


I would still be happily mirroring unawares if I had never read an article such as this one. Now I’m often self-conscious about it.

When my mind starts to wander to other people’s heads

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May 072013


Sometimes while listening to talks (usually attended by computer scientists and physicists), my mind starts to wander, and… [snip, snip, snip]:

Of course I totally respect individuals’ hairstyle preferences and trust that they are better than mine and don’t mean to imply anyone should do anything with their hair (except that if your fro measures more than 2′ in diameter you probably shouldn’t sit in the front row unless it’s amphitheater seating).
But the reason I bring this up is that recently at the most excellent German-American Frontiers of Engineering meeting:

There was simply nothing to be done.


The story about the boy who did not want an owie

There once was a boy who tripped and fell. Just as he was about to get an owie on his knee he said

– I don’t want an owie on my knee.

– What? – said the owie – if you put your hand out, I can go on your hand instead.

– But how will I ride my bike if I can’t hold the handlebar? –  said the boy.

– Then I’ll land on your behind – said the owie.

– But I need it to sit on! – said the boy.

– Hmmm, how about your nose? Tip forward and I’ll land on your nose.

– My nose is too small, you won’t fit.

– Then how about your shoe?

– OK – said the boy.

The owie jumped on the boy’s shoe and the boy didn’t feel a thing. The owie stayed on the shoe, and eventually was given away with the shoes once the boy’s feet outgrew them.

The story about the girl who loved chocolate milk

There once was a girl who loved to drink chocolate milk.  She asked for it at breakfast, snack time, lunch, dinner, and of course at chocolate time.  She drank so much chocolate milk, that pretty soon you could hear a ‘slosh-slosh’ from her tummy whenever she moved. The neighborhood kids made fun of her for it, and she was sad.

Then one day as she was slosh-sloshing down the street to the laughter of the other kids, a music talent scout noticed her.

That, my dear girl – said the talent scout –  is music to my ears! With a little practice you could be a great performer.

The girl became a renowned musician with a unique (slosh-sloshing) sound and traveled across the country to give concerts. And instead of a tour bus, she rode on a milk truck, a chocolate milk truck.

The story about the boy who wanted to go poop but the poop would not come out

There once was a boy who wanted to go poop. He sat and sat on the potty but the poop would not come out.  Finally he pleaded with the poop:

– Poop, won’t you come out?

– No way – answered the poop – it’s nice and warm and cozy in here.

The boy thought for a moment, then he said:

– Listen. Whenever I go poop, I get 5 M&Ms. If you come out, I’ll give you two M&Ms.

PLOP! went the poop and then demanded:

– Now I want my two M&Ms.

The boy quickly flushed the poop down the toilet, washed his hands, and ate all 5 M&Ms by himself.

The story about the boy who did not want an owie and went flying instead

There once was a boy who visited his great grandfather’s grave at Punchbowl cemetery in Hawaii. As he was leaving he tripped and found himself flying through the air. He knew that if he landed he would get a big owie on his knee. So he decided to keep flying. He flew higher and higher, and pretty soon he could see the entire Punchbowl crater below him, and then he flew even higher, and he saw the ocean and the mountains.  He then turned and flew toward Waikiki’s highrises. There he saw a little old lady on one of the lanais (balconies). It was his grandma. He flew right into her arms and she set him down carefully. The boy never got the owie.

The story about the girl who loved lollipops

There once was a girl who loved lollipops. As soon as she entered the Great America amusement park, she made a beeline for the sweets shop and bought the biggest lollipop they had. Her friends ran to the different amusement rides and asked her to go with them, but she was too busy licking the lollipop: slurp, slllurp. Then they asked her to come to the water park.

– No thanks – said the little girl – my lollipop would dissolve in the water. [Slurp. Slurp].

After the water park, the kids ran to the playground and started playing in the sand pit.

– Will you play with us in the sand? – asked her friends.

– No thanks – said the little girl – I don’t want sand to get on my lollipop [Slurp. Slurp].

Eventually it was time to go home, and as the little girl and her friends piled into the car, her friends felt sorry that she didn’t get to go on any of the rides, or play in the water or in the sand. The girl didn’t mind, she just licked her lollipop: slurp, slurp. The car had driven hardly a mile when it hit a huge traffic jam. The light was out at the intersection and there was no policeman to direct traffic. The girl hopped out of the car, held out her big red lollipop and used it like a stop sign to direct traffic, first letting one direction go through, then the other. Pretty soon the whole traffic jam was cleared up. The girl took a bow with her big lollipop as her friends clapped. Then they all drove home together.

Loving an unloved romance film

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Aug 072012

Tristan and Isolde was director Kevin Reynolds’ last movie to see theatrical release. Screenwriter Dean Georgaris never had another screenplay turned into a feature film. Producer Ridley Scott seemed to have distanced himself from it even as it was being filmed. It was the last film Franchise Pictures distributed before going bankrupt. James Franco, the male lead, regretted it so much, he bothered to write it up as his favorite mistake, 7 years later.

I saw it by chance (chance engineered by I had wanted to re-watch ‘Elizabeth’ in the earlier days of Netflix and Amazon Video, when neither had it. But Amazon resourcefully recommended Tristan and Isolde. I watched it. I thought ‘huh’. But then a few months later I watched it again, and thought it brilliant. Unfortunately, any friends I have managed to get to see it share only my initial reaction of ‘huh’.

After becoming a bit obsessed with T&I, I bought the DVD, not so much because I needed the physical DVD, but because I was hoping to express gratitude and in a miniscule way boost global sales. I was also hoping that the extra features would show that the cast and crew appreciated the brilliance of the movie even if the film critics had failed to do so (it was 32% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). But all the interviews contained were repeated complaints about an extremely tight budget, frigid water, and gnats.

My last hope was Georgaris, the screenwriter. After all, even though to my untrained eyes and ears the film looked and sounded great, it was the intricately woven plot and the sparing and intriguing dialogue that surely made the movie. Alas, all Georgaris had to say was that he was originally thinking of setting it in space, and that an earlier draft was deemed too cheesy by a friend.

It’s not my favorite realistic romance (that goes to Before Sunrise + Before Sunset), but it’s my favorite unrealistic romance. Not that I know all that much about the genre (for example, I’ve never seen Titanic and can count on 1 hand the number of romance novels — all horrible — I’ve attempted to read). The weird early-teen magic-potion suicide mix-up of Romeo and Juliet never much made sense to me, and neither did Wuthering Heights (even the house-remodel in the Notebook seemed a bit strange).

I won’t spoil the movie by giving away to much, just in case you are looking for that ‘huh’ experience. What separates this movie from others (besides the awesome screenplay) is having a male romantic lead who is brawny, brainy, and loyal to a cause/person (and gets to show this off during the movie). But unlike other hero-focused movies where the romance subplot is intended as another opportunity for the hero to overcome a challenge (e.g. by rescuing the girl), Tristan doesn’t rescue Isolde (at least not intentionally), but instead she saves his life. Maybe I read too much Prince Valiant as a kid, but what other movie has a valiant knight in an interesting romantic entanglement? You’d think there would be scores of these, but… And so I join scores of Amazon and imdb users in adoring a movie that is unloved by its makers and critics.


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Jun 242012

Everyone’s read the Anne-Marie Slaughter piece in the Atlantic on why there are so few women on the upper rungs of government and corporate ladders. Most of the discussion of the piece I’ve seen is about work/life balance, etc., but what resonated with me is Prof. Slaughter’s insight that the women we aspire to be (Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, etc.), and who advise us that we can have it all, are superwomen. I agree, except that I think we don’t have to look at the upper rungs to find them. I run into them all the time. And here are my observations from the field:

While the rest of the world sleeps soundly, the superwoman steadily advances science.

Late into the night:

It's 11pm, do you know where your stack of work is?

or the wee hours of the morning.

When even the squirrels are still sleeping.

If she has volunteered for an especially critical task, the superwoman does what must be done:

If she is deprived of sleep for another reason, well, that’s just another opportunity for the superwoman to advance science:

Unlike the rest of us, the superwoman does not need to catch up on sleep. The superwoman never naps…  well, almost never.

And when duty calls for her to save another part of the world, the superwoman flies back on the weekends to take care of her responsibilities back home.

To the superwomen out there: you’re all my heroes. And to the supermen, you have my admiration as well!

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