Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gaming update

So Casey convinced my to buy the Orange Box, so I tried out Team Fortress 2 for the first time. I was reminded why I don't play multiplayer games: everyone's better than me. But this one was pretty fun, the art style is awesome, and there were enough different classes that I might stick to it long enough to actually get GOOD. It was a little buggy, with lots of graphic and sound glitches (it might also have been due to a slow Internet connection), so hopefully that will get ironed out once it's out of beta. We're headed up to College Station today for a couple of days, but maybe I'll get a chance to do some more gaming this weekend.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Know thyself

As Chilon of Sparta said: "Know thyself." And I've come to a horrible, gut-wrenching conclusion about myself. It's something that is undeniable and unchangeable, something that I will probably spend the rest of my life having to come to terms with.

I am completely and totally uninterested in sports.

I really am. Couldn't care less. And it's not because I haven't tried. I've actually read Football for Dummies. I attended Texas A&M University, where during the fall semester you can't walk ten feet without being told that you WILL love Aggie football. I've gone to baseball games. I've even watched ESPN and gone to Super Bowl parties. I've really, really tried.

But I just don't care.

Sports don't do anything for me. I have zero desire to sit on my couch with a bowl of potato chips and watch football on Sunday afternoon. I can think of nothing more boring than sitting through a nine-inning baseball game. I'll watch the Olympics, but only the far-out weird stuff, like the luge or fencing. And once the match is over, it deletes itself from my mind immediately.

And I'm not saying I'm uninterested in sports like some guys are. Even if you're not a big fan, you usually follow your local baseball team or cheer on the Americans during World Cup soccer. But I really don't care whether the Astros win. I don't lose a wink of sleep over whether or not the Texans win (which is good, since they suck). And I certainly don't care about the stats, abilities, or paycheck of individual players. And I really do just watch the Super Bowl for the commercials.

So I am forced to the dark halls of geekdom. I'll wear the facade at work, and gripe about how Donovan McNabb can't throw a ball, or argue whether Nolan Ryan was the best pitcher of the '90s. But deep down, I'm thinking about the next computer game I'm going to play (SimCity Societies) or what sci-fi movie I'm most looking forward to (I Am Legend). So forgive me if I show up at your football party and seem more interested in the french-onion dip than the game. Because I really do love french-onion dip.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It can happen so fast...

We were at a party today and the Monkey was playing in the pool. He's become much more adventurous in the water lately - unfortunately his swimming skills don't necessarily match that adventurousness. I could tell he was trying to swim over to look into the filter by holding on to the edge. I turned around to talk to Ann for a moment, and when I looked back the Monkey was in the middle of the water, kicking his legs as hard as he could, his head going under.

Looking back, I realized that the first thing that went through my mind was a realization that I hadn't been looking away long enough for him to be in serious trouble. Then, embarassingly enough, I recall doing a quick analysis of what was in my pockets that would be lost by jumping into the water (my cell phone and two key fobs). At that point I realized I was gonna have to get a little wet. I ended up jumping down onto a step up to my knees and pulling him out. He coughed up a little water but overall was fine. Scared the poop out of Ann and me.

Two lessons from tonight. Don't even look away for a minute - at this age they can get themselves into serious trouble VERY quickly. And second, make sure you've checked in with your spouse on who's responsible for watching the kid. These are the moments you hear about on the news when the dad says, "I thought SHE was watching them!" In this case, I knew I was the one watching him, but if I'd stepped inside for a bit or been distracted for any length of time, it could've been too late.

I cuddled up with him a little longer during bedtime tonight. And apologized profusely to Ann.

The yin and the yang

How can raising children be simultaneously so much fun and so frustrating. The Monkey can do the funniest, craziest, most interesting stuff one minute and then push absolutely every button I have the next. I've lost count - I think he's up to five spankings today already, and there's plenty of time left. But then he'll do or say something that makes me throw back my head and laugh.

I can't wait until they're teenagers and get so much easier. Right? Right?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Disappearing languages

I read a fascinating article in the New York Times today written by John Noble Wilford titled "Languages Die, But Not Their Last Words." He was reporting on a study performed by National Geographic and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages to document disappearing languages. There were several cool things in this article.

First, let me point out that, despite what most people probably think, English is not the most spoken language in the world. Not by a long shot. Mandarin Chinese is spoken by something like 950 million people - roughly one-sixth of the entire Earth's population. Coming in at close ties for second and third are Spanish and English, with roughly 332 million and 322 million speakers, respectively.

That being said, I'm amazed by this idea that languages are literally disappearing. It's interesting to think of the extinction of something as intangible as a language, but there are literally languages in the world that only one person speaks. And once that person dies, that's it.

Another interesting finding by the study is what areas of the world are seeing the fastest disappearance of languages:
  • Northern Australia
  • Central South America
  • North America's upper Pacific coastal zone
  • Eastern Siberia
  • Oklahoma and the Southwestern US (seriously, Oklahoma??)

Australia has 231 spoken languages - and it's the least populated continent in the world! (No, I'm not counting Antarctica). There are 113 languages in central South America alone. And when you consider how many years it takes a language to form and develop, it seems weird that they would literally come down to one speaker left.

So what does this mean? Is this just a necessary artifact of the small world that we now live in? What will these numbers look like in a hundred years? Are we converging to a world where most everyone speaks a handful of languages? Based on a very rough calculation, I'd say a little less than half the planet's population speaks one of ten or eleven languages. So in a century, will it be 90%, or more? Will everyone be speaking English, the language of international commerce and the Internet? Or will it be some international hybrid of Chinese, English, some Romantic languages? I hope the cursing's in German - German's great for cursing.

And what should I teach my children? Should I focus on languages that are useful here, like Spanish and French? Or should I teach them to live truly internationally, by learning Chinese, Bengali, Hindi and Arabic?

Or maybe it's just time to go to bed...

The greatest of holidays...

For those who don't keep up with the important stuff, today is official Talk Like a Pirate Day! It's endorsed by Dave Barry, so it must be real. So I would encourage you to draw your cutlass, powder your flintlock, and prepare to shiver me timbers!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

City Life

I ordered another city simulator off eBay, this one called City Life. It's interesting, although it has a distinctly different feel from most city simulators I've played. Usually, this type of game is about establishing an economy and product flow: you build a wood-cutting camp, which delivers the wood to the timber mill, which takes it to the furniture factory, which sells the furniture at the market. Ditto for grain-to-bread, honey-to-candy, whales-to-lamp-oil, whatever. City Life has a different take on the genre. The primary goal is to balance six different cultural classes, ensuring that each has the jobs, residences, and leisure activities best suited to its own desires. At the top of the run are the "elites," represented by gray areas, and at the bottom are the "have-nots," represented (interestingly) by black squares. Now how's THAT for a social commentary.

Graphics are pretty bad though. Look like something from 2003, not 2006.

Here's a screenshot of my city so far:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The moments we cherish the most.

As the years with the kids come and go, I'm sure I'll remember the classics: going to school for the first time, learning to drive, weddings (hopefully in that order). But here are two stories about the Monkey that I think will also stay in my memory.

We're trying to teach him good table manners: not to spit at the table (seriously), to speak in a soft voice, to try some of all your food, that sort of thing. The other evening he took a grape, shoved it between his glasses and his eye, and waved his head around saying, "I can't see! I can't see!" As a guy, my first response was to laugh uncontrollably. But, of course, I had to respond as a parent and reprimand his bad manners. Unfortunately, those two responses were in direct conflict with each other. Ann had the presence of mind and self-control to suppress her laugh instinct enough to ask him to remove the grape from his glasses. The best I could do was cover my face with my hand and not snort milk out of my nose.

The second story took place while I was putting the Monkey down for bed the other night. He has a book with pictures of everyday objects and the associated word in French. We usually read it by him pointing at the picture and me pronouncing it in French. He pointed at a doll house and I read the title as "maison de poupée." He immediately giggled and said, "Hee hee... poopie."

That's MY boy.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I'm not ready for these questions!

At breakfast on Sunday, the Monkey asked what happens to old people when they die. He asked if they all go to Heaven. Ann told him that if they aren't God's friend, they go to a place where God isn't. The Monkey responded, "Like our house?" Ann responded that God does live in our house, but that He's invisible. I was starting to get confused myself at this point, but fortunately he dropped that line of questioning.

So is it normal for a three-year old to be asking questions like that? Man, I thought potty-training was tough...

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Not the best of news

We found out yesterday that Vanilla Bean has something called "hip dysplasia." Basically, the joints of her hip don't fit together correctly and the ball is not seating properly in the socket.

It's hard to know at this point how serious the condition is. The doctor didn't tell us much in the way of a prognosis, either because he didn't want to overburden us or because he doesn't know. For now, she's wearing a harness that keeps her legs in a position that might force the joints together. We go back in two weeks to see if she's made any improvements and talk about what the next step is. Best case scenario: she wears the little harness for a few months, the joints slide back together, and everyone's okay (that's the scenario to pray for). Worst case: she has to have surgery and wear a cast for several months, and her crawling/walking development could be delayed.

So far, Vanilla Bean is taking the news much better than Mom or Dad. But, like every other problem that's come up so far, we'll figure this one out too. Once we get used to it...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Psychology of numeracy

There's a recent article on written by Clive Thompson regarding something called the psychology of numeracy. Basically, it boils down to the idea that humans are very empathic towards small groups of people who are in need, but not proportionally empathic to large groups of people with the same need. To quote directly from the article: "we'll break the bank to save Baby Jessica, but when half of Africa is dying, we're buying iPhones." I suspect this is why all those "save the starving children" commercials always showed individual kids - it's harder to ignore one face than to ignore many.

This idea extrapolates out to things like disease research as well. We're ready to spend bajillions of dollars to prevent things like SARS, which is (at least so far) VERY harmless in the grand scheme of things. And yet, every year, millions of people die because they don't have access to something as simple as clean water.

So I pose the question: why would God build us this way? Why would God make us so able to relate to individuals, but be unable to extrapolate out that feeling to large groups of people? If we see a news bit of one person being persecuted in a foreign country, why don't we feel millions of times worse for the ongoing genocide in Dharfur? If we feel sympathy for a single disfigured child in Iraq, why don't we feel many, many times worse for all the child victims of war violence?

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that support and help for the Baby Jessicas or Youssifs of the world are misplaced. I'm simply wondering why it is that people like to focus those feelings on individuals, instead of "spreading the love", so to speak.

Monday, September 3, 2007

With the faith of a child...

Tonight, the Monkey asked me what happens to us when we die. Not really wanting to get into a discussion about the need for redemption with a three-year old at 7:45 at night, I said, "Well, if we ask Jesus to be our friend, we go live with Him." He thought about this for a second and said, "I want to ask Jesus to be my friend." So we prayed together, him repeating after me: "Dear Jesus. Thank you for loving us. Please be our friend. Amen." This was immediately followed by a serious conversation about why Creamy Dog (his favorite stuffed animal) is stuffed with beans.

I don't care how many theology degrees you have, how many C.S. Lewis books you've read, or how many years you've been a missionary: your faith can never be as full and complete as that of a three-year old kid who just wants Jesus to be his friend. How often do we bog ourselves down in needless complexity when it really, really can be that easy?