One-Year-Old Creepy Kid

25 January 2010

Yesterday we met my parents at Great Lakes Crossing for a slightly belated celebration of my son’s first birthday.  (I had to teach last Tuesday evening, when his true birthday was, but I’m told he was taken out to dinner and given some cheesecake that he did not like at all.)  My daughter’s idea was to take my son out onto the play area (that giant fake food) for the first time.  This actually turned out to be a better plan than we could have hoped for.  In the past week and a half, he’s become an all-terrain crawler and climber.

At first he just went to the nearest fake ice cube and climbed up and down and around, in short making himself the king of the ice cube.  Eventually he explored and climbed more and more of the area, evidently having an amazing time.  What impressed me most was the little guy’s bravery.  I was concerned because there were so many much bigger kids running, jumping, and falling all over the place, but he seemed totally unfazed.  He’d crawl, pause until the stampede passed, and then keep going.  I guess when your big sister’s primary form of interaction with you is to run up to you screaming, pick you up, whirl you around, set you somewhere else, and vanish, you toughen up fast.

It really bothered me that I wasn’t going to be able to get home from Ann Arbor on Tuesday before everyone was asleep, so I took a nonstandard approach.  I decided to take him out to the Cafe Aroma (aka my Fenton office, aka my northern command center) for an hour of father-son time before running him to day care and going to work.

When I announced this plan to my wife, and again when I announced it to my sister some time later, each said something like “He’s too young for coffee!”  Give me a little credit here, I never intended to get him coffee.  He had steamed milk, with a smidgeon of vanilla.  He tried to steal my coffee until he finally actually tried his own drink and realized, apparently, that it was the drink of the gods.

He was actually a very good coffee buddy.  He sat still on my lap, drank his steamed milk, took little bites of the bagel we were sharing.  He set the mouth most full of bagel, cheeks chipmunked out and everything.  I was warned by the other patrons that I’d end up wearing that bagel, but in fact he got it all down.  He seemed to understand from the other groups of people that when people go out to coffee together, they converse, and whenever I wasn’t talking to him he’d babble at me.

The comic high point of the visit?  The oldest of the resident coffeeshop geezerettes told me that, “Well, he sure looks like a creepy kid!”  I didn’t know how to respond.  A creepy kid?  Really?  Usually he gets called “adorable” or “handsome” or (yesterday at the mall, in line at Wetzel’s Pretzels) “dangerously attractive”.  So I looked back at her, hoping for a cue for how to proceed?  Was this some form of old lady humor?  She seemed kind and smiling, not looking at me at all in the way of someone who had just insulted my firstborn son.

Then a slightly less old geezerette came to the rescue and explained that “creepy” was slang from a long time ago, that she meant “He sure looks like he loves to crawl.”

Like any parent, I think, I can’t believe that it’s been a whole year of having him already.  It’s gone by so fast.  But more than that, I’m noticing how fast he’s growing up right now, every day.  In the five days I was gone for the Joint Meetings, his development kicked into overdrive.  His first haircut’s around the corner.  His speech is coming along every day.  He plays with toys and interacts with objects in much more complicated ways.  As of the night before his birthday, he suddenly, without obvious reason, sleeps peacefully through the night after a year of keeping Susie up all night!  He has six teeth now, four on top and two below.  Yesterday around lunchtime he discovered that he likes carrots.  Around dinnertime, macaroni and cheese.

Just think how much bigger, in relative terms, his world gets every day!  There is nothing comparable in my present or future.  I can’t even imagine what he’s going through.  And going through it smiling!

As his Uncle Scott so aptly says, “he smiles relentlessly”.


The Road Not Taken

25 January 2010

On Saturday, as I was driving to Saginaw Valley State University, I happened to hear the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.  It was actually more interesting than average for that particular program, beginning with a discussion of <i>Roots</i>, and some interesting facts about its transition from print to film. If you’ve ever heard Writer’s Almanac, you know that Keillor always closes by reading a poem.  Usually the poem is one I’ve never read, by someone I’ve never heard of (but then, I’m really not very knowledgeable about poetry), but on Saturday it was “The Road Not Taken”.  Which could not be more familiar.

I imagine that almost everyone reading this has heard this poem; it’s the one that starts “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood / and sorry I could not travel both…” and ends “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all of the difference.”

Everyone’s heard this one, it’s part of the canon, and it is to my knowledge invariably taught to schoolchildren as a voice in favor of doing the nonstandard thing, of finding your own way, of notn being afraid to be different, of taking chances, etc.

It wasn’t until quite recently that I realized that that’s the wrong way to read the poem.  (I’m pretty sure the origin of this idea came to me from one of the radio shows I compulsively listen to, presumably either This American Life or RadioLab, but a cursory search didn’t identify the source.)

The thing to notice is that, in the final stanza, the speaker does not say that he chose the path less travelled.  He says that HE WILL SAY that he chose the path less travelled.  Indeed, when the narrator examines his choice, “Both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.”  There’s nothing to base a choice on.  The only time he actually hazards that there is a discernible difference between the roads, he immediately backpedals. “Though as for that, the passing there // had worn them really about the same.”  They are essentially indistinguishable.  The author is not saying that he chose one path over the other for any great reason.  The point is not that choosing the path less travelled leads to success, indeed he’s not even saying with confidence that he’s choosing the part less travelled.  The narrator is saying that he will look back on this choice as if it were pivotal, that he will tell the story as though it were.

Don’t mistake me, I’m not criticizing the poem or the poet, far from it.  I still cherish this poem now that I understand it better, maybe more.  If anything it seems truer.  More comforting.  We go through our lives, we’re faced with a lot of choices.  Sometimes, often, there’s no good basis for a decision, but we choose.  And we go through life’s journey, and where we end up is based on our achievements and our good decisions, but at least as much on our arbitrary choices and random happenstance.  And when we look back on our lives, we make up a story.  We make up our life story looking back on it.  We decide, by how we tell the story, where the defining moments in our life were.


The importance of precision *or* Why are mathematicians so picky? « Not About Apples

11 January 2010

New post on Not About Apples.

Mathematicians have a highly developed language for precisely dealing with ideas, and we can get awfully insistent that others share our level of nuance for even simple mathematical objects.  Your math teachers probably seemed unreasonably fussy about minor computation errors, or wording your answers in a way that was not, strictly speaking, true.  Why is that?

Permalink: The importance of precision *or* Why are mathematicians so picky?.


100 Games Cupcake Game

11 January 2010

This will be the all-time best thing ever for today.

100 Games Cupcake Game.

Kudos to Joe of Planet 3 for bringing this to my attention.

Personally, I’m partial to Carcassonne, Munchkin, and Zork.


NAA Link: Rubik’s Hypercubes

10 January 2010

(see this post in it’s natural habitat)

Tired of your mundane three-dimensional Rubik’s cube? Want a hands-on activity to help you make sense of the fourth dimension? Download Magic Cube 4D. The interface is really quite intuitive (and that’s saying something considering how un-intuitive the fourth dimension is).

Oh, and if you consider 4-dimensional Rubik’s Cubes too easy to be worth your time, perhaps you’d prefer Magic Cube 5D.


What To Do With 800 Pinball Machines? Play Them!

10 January 2010

From today’s Weekend Edition Sunday on NPR… now this is a man after my own heart!

What To Do With 800 Pinball Machines? Play Them!


NAA Announcement: Happy New Year

9 January 2010

(see the original post on Not About Apples)

It’s 2010, and your friendly neighborhood Cap is back from his holiday hiatus.  Back with a non-default wordpress theme, back with some links in the sidebar, back with a sackful of ideas for making this blog better.

Whether you’ve been here since the beginning or checking things out for the first time, welcome, welcome.  Thanks for looking in on me in the new year.

During my hiatus I’ve received a number of very encouraging emails from well-wishing readers; for those I thank you.  It’s good to learn that so many of you are finding my words meaningful.

If you’re new here, the “About the Blog” link above will give you some idea of what we’re all about here.  And if you’re wondering about the seemingly inexplicable title of this blog, the “What’s in a blog name?” link should help.

The holidays have given me a chance to reflect on Not About Apples so far, and I have plenty of ideas about what I think has worked and what I can make better.  I have high hopes for this year; stay tuned.

In particular, notice that the sidebar has some interesting links now, and more will be added (as I’ve said elsewhere, I have very little patience for the wordpress link manager).  There’s some good stuff over there, so pick one and give it a click!  Have a favorite blog that you think belongs there?  Have a blog of your own that I should know about?  Please let me know; the blogosphere is a big place, getting bigger every day, and I’ll never find everything worth finding without a lot of help.

Expect new articles on Monday mornings and recommended links on Fridays, plus whatever minor posts my whimsy may send you at other times.