Parental enlightenment

"... if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?" (Matthew 7:9, NLT)

Since I became a parent, I've had this verse floating in my head as something like "If your child asked for food, would you refuse him?" I took that a bit as a challenge, and tried to be accommodating. When my son asks for food, I try to get it for him.

However, this has its limits. For a while, at bedtime, he would ask for food. I could ask if he was hungry and wanted food, then ten minutes later say it was time for bed, and he'd ask for food. As this game became more obvious, more limits were defined, usually in the form of a timer.

So, having been a parent for almost four years, I would answer Jesus's rhetorical question now with, "Of course not. I might not always give him the food he's asking for, but it would be very cruel to give him a stone. Sometimes he gets bread, and sometimes he gets nothing."

"Biotechnology" == evil

Now that he's not at Microsoft, I generally find myself more tolerant of Bill Gates. I think it's awesome that he's throwing himself (and his fortune) into solving some big problems. I might not totally agree with it all, but it's certainly more noble than his previous occupation.

That said, I really really wish I could convince him that biotechnology (specifically, genetically engineered food) is not the answer to modern or future food supply issues. It's not his main deal, but I was reminded of his views by his article about a new farming book.

My thoughts on this subject have gone from almost complete ignorance a couple years ago, to vague malaise a couple months ago, to downright disgust with biotechnology in farming (read: GE crops). Granted, much of my education has been from biased sources, but I think I still have some fairly reasonable reasoning. And I'm not ragging on other kinds of biotech -- there is clearly a lot of good that it can do. But I am very opposed to GE food, for two basic reasons. The first is the way it is treated from an intellectual property perspective. The second is its lack of benefit when compared to its known and unknown risks.

The problem with GE intellectual property is this: when you put an unnatural gene into an organism, you can patent it. Not just the process, but the actual seed, the organism. This means that every plant with that gene belongs to the patent-holder. Farmers are criminals if they save seed. Compare this to conventional breeding: when I make a better variety of some plant, you can keep the seed. This change in options for the farmer results in a change in the formula for pricing the seed. If the farmer has the option of saving seed, the breeder has to keep the price low enough that it makes more sense to buy seed than to save it. If the farmer doesn't have the option to save seed, the breeder just has to keep the price low enough that the farmer still farms. This exact thing has happened: seed corn is somewhere around 400% of its price 20 years ago. Compare that to the CPI, currently about 200% of its value 25 years ago. So, if I make a GE seed, I can gouge you. And if I make the best conventionally-bred variety and then stick in a gene that you don't really care about, then I can gouge you some more.

The other problem with GE crops is the lack of benefits when compared to problems. The promise is this: higher yields, drought-resistance, pest-resistance, herbicide-tolerance. Compared to conventional breeding, GE fails to produce higher yields. GE has not produced a drought-resistant crop. GE achieved pest-resistance by making plants produce a toxin. Granted it's a "safe for humans" toxin. At least, it is when used in moderation and given a certain amount of time to wash off. However, the toxin is produced by plants at a rate 2-40 times higher than the toxin would have been applied by farmers, according to one estimate I heard. And every cell of the plant is producing the toxin: there is no "wash it off". Herbicide tolerance encourages the use of more herbicides. And that's the mostly-known effects of planting GE crops. GE seed is notoriously closed to scientific scrutiny.

So, that's my rant. I could go on and on, but that's enough for now.

Bear Suit

This year, O dressed up as a bear for Halloween. It's the same costume he wore last year. It still fit (despite his 50% increase in age since then; though it doesn't fit very well with the hood up), and he really likes wearing it. Even though it's been hanging in the back of the closet for almost a year, he said "Bear suit!" as soon as he saw it.

While wearing said bear suit, he was very obliging and growled every time I asked him to. In some settings, he growled very quietly.

When he growled, invariably an adult would say, "What a scary bear!" O would reply, "I'm not a scary bear." The adult would then say, "I'm sure you must be a friendly bear." O disagreed, "I'm not a friendly bear. I'm not a bear. I'm just wearing a bear suit."

Instead of going to sleep

toddler slowly and deliberately One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Fourteen, Fifteen, Nineteen, Sixteen, Nineteen, Nineteen, Twentyteen, TwentyOne, TwentyTwo, TwentyThree, TwentyFour, TwentyFive, TwentySix, TwentySeven, TwentyEight, TwentyNine, TwentyNine, TwentySeven, TwentyThree, TwentyNine --

mommy Thirty

dramatic pause

toddler TwentyThirty. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Fourteen, Fifteen, Nineteen,

mommy OneTwoThreeFourFive Ohsssssssssss!

toddler OneTwoThreeFourFive Ohsssssssssss!

daddy OneTwoThreeFourFive Ohsssssssssssss!

toddler OneTwoThreeFourFive Ohsssssssssss!

mommy OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTen Ohssssssssss!

toddler OneTwoThreeFourFiveTen Ohsssssssssssssssss!

Benford's Law

A few years ago, I read about natural distribution of leading digits in a set of natural numbers. The normal use of this rule is to differentiate between data sets with fabricated numbers and those with real numbers.

Today, I ended up with two sets of sixteen numbers, and was curious how the leading digits were spread out.

The first data set had values between 561 and 8224. The second had values between 39 and 576. The second set was a function of the first. The leading digit frequencies were as follows:

First DigitFrequencyBenford's Law
Set 1Set 2Total

I was impressed with how front-loaded that table is, and how closely it tracked with Benford's law. There doesn't seem to be any reason for "1" or "2" to be more common than, say, "4" as a leading digit in either set, but in both cases "1" and "2" (22% of the leading digits) accounted for more than half of the leading digits (34% and 28% respectively).


Deprecation warning

This identity has been deprecated, and will be removed in a future release of the internet. My new internetsname is longer but more self-explanatory.

Update: I still would like to migrate away from this identity, but after sleeping on it, I'm not sure that I want to use the one I started using last night. I like it as an email address, but it doesn't really work in general:
  • it's too long
  • It has punctuation, which means I have to use different punctuation on different sites (e.g. dots for email, dashes for domain names, and underscores for twitter)
  • It's too much like my real name

So, with that said, I am trying to come up with something short and relevant but not directly derived from my name. I'd also like something easy to spell and something without punctuation. Like "squeezefarm" or "befasq". Something punny would be double-extra excellent.

Why I am in favor of the current health care reform proposal in Congress

I prefer not to get too into politics here (I'd really rather not increase the amount of vitriol on the internet), but I'd like to toss out my two cents on why I'm in favor of health care reform, and some of the most significant things in the current proposal.

By far, I see the most significant part of (what I've heard about) the current legislation is that it defines as policy that people in the United States will be able to acquire, afford, and keep health insurance. There are two approaches taken in the bill: (a) set minimum benefits and maximum prices for a basic insurance plan that insurers must offer, and outlawing the denial of legitimate claims; and (b) offer a public competitor. (a) says, basically, insurers must behave as decent members of society and not as money grubbing whatevers. (b) says that the government will set the bar. As a concession to insurers, every individual will be required to carry insurance (or pay a fine); theoretically, this will provide a broader population to spread out costs, so not just the sickest people are insured.

I'm in favor of this for two reasons: (1) I think it's the right thing to do. Like Jacob, I'm skeptical that the government will be the ideal guardian of anything. But, at this point in history, if I have to choose between the government and the private insurance industry, I'm picking the government. I'm a bit uneasy about the constitutionality of it, but I'm all for the practicality of it. (2) I think it will remove hurdles for aspiring/potential entrepreneurs. Imagine that you or your family have had expensive and/or chronic medical conditions in your past, and you have kids or your condition might come back at any time. Would you step out from under the (somewhat) sturdy and wide umbrella of group coverage, without at least some confidence that your own little umbrella for your family isn't made of paper mache?

This is obviously a huge issue, and three paragraphs probably won't sway anyone else's opinion. I just thought I'd try to voice my sane (at least to me) opinion on the matter, since there's so much ... unhelpful information flying around about it. (Let's just say I should forget the cows and just take a radio out to the pasture... then it'll be really fertile for next year's veggies.)


At present, my main non-home activities are work, church, small group, farmers market, soccer, and charles_hanon's band concerts. Half of those activities are scheduled to geographically converge in 2011.

Status quo

Status quo

Here's a rough map of work, band concerts, and the farmers market. The farmers market is about 1.5 miles northwest of where I work. Concerts have been happening all over the metro area, but most of them are about 6 miles west of where I work. About half of the summer concerts are on the other side of a building from where the farmers markets happen.

This is all in two suburbs on the north side of the city. It's relatively close together. I know this area pretty well.


My Uninformed Idea

The city I work in is building a fancy performing arts center, and I think charles_hanon's band wants to call it home. I'm not sure if that's going to happen, but it would be pretty awesome if it did. It looks like it will be a very nice venue (politics aside). Assuming this happens, some of the summer concerts would be in the same spot, and the normal season concerts would likely be in the PAC, which is less than 0.5 miles northwest of the farmers market.

I've heard rumors that my company might be moving offices sometime, and one of the possible locations is in the same development that contains the PAC. So that puts my rumored office less than 0.25 miles from the PAC, and less than 1/2 mile from the farmers market.

This is quite a convergence.


Village Green with annotations

At today's all-company meeting, a tentative announcement about where we're moving was made. It wasn't quite where I had imagined... it's about 0.25 miles northwest of the farmers market, and just south of a park that's just south of the PAC.

As if that weren't enough, the development is claiming that the farmers market and summer concerts will be moving to the park that sits between the PAC and my new office.

(In the photo at the left, the green box highlights the south edge of the PAC, and the orangish box highlights where my company is planning to move.)

If I didn't have to grow vegetables for the farmers market, it would be awfully convenient to pitch a tent and live on the green (while it's warm, at least).

I guess this way, when Oliver gets bored at the market, I can bring him upstairs and we can play video games... er, I mean, do our homeschool programming classes.


Visiting La Crosse

The second half of last week was spent in La Crosse, visiting my brother ("Uncle Mick") and his wife ("Aunt Whoah"). We planned our trip around a professional conference that charles_hanon ("Mommy") attended. The visit was very nice.

For the first two days, Uncle Mick had some work to do from home while Aunt Whoah went to work. So the little guy ("You") and I played with his toys, tested the two-year-old-readiness of my brother's house (e.g. "You" pulled out some glasses from the bottom shelf of the living room TV cabinet), and went with Uncle Mick to a park and the store. (I was amazed how often Uncle Mick goes to the store. I think, in the three days we were visiting, he must have gone 7 or 8 times. This is unthinkable here, where the nearest store is 15 minutes away. For him, a trip to one of 5 or 6 stores and back only took 15 minutes.)

On Friday evening, we went bowling. I had one of my worst games in a long time (89) and Uncle Mick had his best game ever (199). On Saturday, we went to the Children's Museum. It took a while for "You" to get in the groove, but he did, especially once he found the Mississippi River exhibit/splash area and the wooden model trains. He likes playing with water, and he really likes pushing things with wheels around. When he gets tired, it's not uncommon for him to lie down on the floor and stare at the wheels of a toy car while he drives it back and forth.

I was a little envious of my brother's toys for his new job: a new MBP and an iPhone. While I was there, Aunt Whoah discovered a whack-a-mole game, and we spent a lot of free time whacking over 1000 critters on it. Quite entertaining. Fortunately, there were no serious fights about whose turn it was to use the iPhone (read "play whack-a-mole").

"You" also learned a new name for my brother's dog, Malibu. Aunt Whoah at one point called the dog "Mally Pally", and "You" immediately picked up on it. It was extremely cute. We spent almost as much time trying to get "You" to say "Mally Pally" as we did playing whack-a-mole.

It also sounded like the conference was good. Mommy took lots of notes, and came home with a giant stack of paper with Good Information on it. Since the conference was in Wisconsin, there were a fair number of dairy farmers there, but small organic farming is still small organic farming.