Monday, October 26, 2009

Vinny and the Potty

Vinny is pretty close to being potty trained. This makes both Jeff and me immensely happy. Jeff has worked with him really hard to get to this point.

We're now at the point that he can go to the bathroom on his own, removing his own pants, although he still needs some help putting them back on. And of course wiping, when applicable. He likes to stand and pee in the potty, and is remarkably good at it.

He also sometimes needs reminders to try the potty, but more often than not does go on his own. We have an incentive system: one star for peeing, two stars for pooping, and for every ten stars he gets a prize. After he realized that he could get two stars for pooping, he started trying to do it several times a day, which is ... a little different from his natural tendencies, let's say. But as of yet he hasn't strained anything so I guess it's okay.

Anyhow, I am really excited that we seem to be near the end of the diaper era and I'm looking forward to him being completely potty trained.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Drawings by Vincent

For the first time, we are starting to be able to understand what Vinny is drawing. Today, he drew the following masterpieces:

(a stoplight)
(a lightbulb, complete with beams of light coming off it)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tours... po russkii!!!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to give a tour to some Russian guests. It was a group of Russians visiting my workplace, and they had a professional translator with them. I took that opportunity to try some Russian on the visitors.

I took four semesters of Russian in college. I really loved learning the language -- it's sufficiently different from English so as to be challenging, but not completely alien. I had to learn a new way of writing, for example, but it was simply a different alphabet and you could still sound out words.

The thing that totally blew my mind about Russian was the way that verb tenses and meanings were formed. You could just add this "particle" (sounds weird, but that's the linguistics terminology) and it would change the meaning of the verb. Like you'd have a verb, let's say "to speak" -- and then you'd add one particle and it would mean "to have a conversation." Or you'd add a different particle and then it would mean "to be talking." It was just such a cool way of slightly altering the meaning of verbs, without having to learn additional words like if you were learning English.

Anyhow, I never really got a chance to use Russian outside the classroom. But yesterday, I decided to dust off the cobwebs from that part of my brain, and speak some Russian. I figured I could use the help of the translator if I came across something I didn't know how to say.

When I started speaking Russian to the visitors, I could see their faces light up with smiles. I welcomed them and told them a little about my background. I told them I was going to try to speak some Russian and some English. I was able to explain some basic stuff in Russian, but I did get a little hung up on the more technical terms -- we never learned "floating point operation" in class, for example. Listening to the translator, I'm not sure that he knew that term either, but when I explained what it was he was able to give them an explanation in Russian.

As it turned out, I'd say the tour was probably one-third my crude Russian, two-thirds English translated into Russian. But I know the visitors appreciated my valiant effort to speak their language -- I got a lot of spasibo's as they filed out.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Blonde Walked into an HPC Article...

I like to keep up on the latest news in high-performance computing (HPC) as much as any other computational scientist, but there are some websites that evidently don't want me as a reader. I don't fit their model of what it means to be a scientist, you see. I read this particularly problematic article and had to check my computer's date function to confirm that it is 2009, despite troubling statements like
Each Opteron core gets its own Cell chip to do its math for it, like the blonde who isn't dating the nerd but the nerd thinks is...
What Jaguar needs is some powerful nerds so its blondes can run code, and it looks like the next generation of machines at the supercomputer center are going to be using the Fermi GPUs.

Really, Turd Biscuit? Is it necessary to insult 50% of the population (because blonde jokes are not about people with light hair, they're about women), and impugn the abilities of accomplished women?

It is so depressing that these types of "jokes" are still an acceptable type of "humor." When I complained about the blonde "jokes" contained in this article on another forum, I was soon accused of being too uptight and having no sense of humor.

I knew when I did it that I was opening myself up to criticism, and I was counting down the minutes before somebody called me a humorless feminist. I did not need to wait long. I gave a short reply to that man, but here's a more in-depth explanation of why I object to these so-called jokes.

First, the stereotype that women use men to do their homework for them is so tired, untrue, and insulting to everyone involved. It's insulting to me and women like me, because it places doubt in people's minds about our abilities -- maybe I manipulated a man to do my work for me, and am actually incompetent! It also provides space in men's minds to think it's actually appropriate to ask whether I got my job because of my husband, upon meeting me for the first time.*

It's insulting to men, too, suggesting that they are so desperate to get women's affections that they will compromise their academic integrity, or so socially inept, that they don't know when they're being taken advantage of. Either way, it's an insulting insinuation.

Second, these types of jokes in a professional setting (and I would classify reporting about a new supercomputer on "one of the world's biggest online tech publications" as a professional setting) serve to remind the targets of the joke that they don't belong in this field. Thanks a lot for letting me know I'm not one of the nerds, for reminding me how different I am from everyone else in HPC, and for reminding me that some people think I'm too stupid to do my own work. That helps bolster my confidence and builds trust between me and my male colleagues.

Finally, humor legitimizes prejudices. Sexist humor acts as a 'releaser' of prejudices, according to a study by Professor Thomas E. Ford of Western Carolina University et al. The presence of sexist humor in a social environment creates an environment where men with sexist beliefs feel free to act upon those beliefs, because they believe that within that environment, sexist behavior is acceptable.

In their experiment, they asked men to imagine that they were members of a workplace. They then had the men read either sexist jokes, neutral jokes, or sexist statements, and subsequently asked them how much they would donate for a women's organization. Ford and his team found that "men with a high level of sexism were less likely to donate to the women's organization after reading sexist jokes, but not after reading either sexist statements or neutral jokes." Similarly, after viewing sexist skits disparaging women, the men allocated larger funding cuts to women's organizations in the hypothetical workplace. The studies show that "humorous disparagement creates the perception of a shared standard of tolerance of discrimination that may guide behavior when people believe others feel the same way."

I'm sure there are people out there who, even after reading this, would accuse me of political correctness. Sure, you may have the right to free speech, but how about tempering that freedom with respect for your fellow human beings? Treating others with respect is not such a huge constraint. Or, if the only way you know how to talk is by using sexist tropes, then you need psychological help.

Please, people, it's not hard to come up with inoffensive metaphors. I can think of so many better ways that he could have expressed his point, that wouldn't be offensive to anyone! What about Dilbert and the pointy-haired boss? That would have expressed the exact same dynamic, minus the antipathy for women. Or a brain and muscles. The brain tells the muscles what to do, and they have to do all the actual heavy lifting! Those are the first two jokes I thought of, in under 30 seconds, and they disparage no one.

* Yes, this happened to me. I should have either asked if he'd gotten his job because of his wife, or told him that I got my job through the powerful stay-at-home-dad cabal, but I was too stunned to think of those replies at the time.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Label Fail

I guess it's okay that nothing in this package is a book in which one could confide their deepest thoughts and darkest secrets -- kids today share those things on the internet!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Vacation Fun

We spent the second part of our trip in Nebraska. One of the sights I really wanted to see was this great monument of mystery, rising from the Salisbury Plains Great Plains:
Unlike Stonehenge, you can actually go right up to Carhenge:
Vinny found some wheels that still turned, within his reach:

We then went to my grandmother's memorial service, which went quite well (as far as memorial services combined with family dysfunction goes). Actually, though, I got to see a lot of relatives whom I hadn't seen in decades, as well as my oldest sister's gravestone (she died of leukemia when she was four years old, a year before I was born), and spoke plainly and honestly to my mother about the situation between us. This isn't really the place to discuss it, but it's possible that some progress has been made.

Anyhow, we decided to go to every single children's museum in Nebraska. We are now children's museum connoisseurs, folks. It's interesting to see what other children's museums in other states have.

The defining characteristic of Nebraska children's museums is that they all have these pin boards that you can press into, like the picture below:
Jeff pressed first his face and body, and then Vinny's, into this particularly large specimen at the Lincoln Children's Museum, which I would rate as an excellent children's museum.

We also went to the Children's museums in North Platte (a fantastic little museum in its own right), Kearney (where Vinny had a lot of fun with a cloud generating machine), Hastings (where he had a great time with their pizza place), and Omaha, where he got to ride on the carousel
and played for hours in this room full of gears, wheels, and balls:
The "super gravitron," as they call it, consists of all these different ways to move the balls through the Rube Goldberg-esque tubing via different techniques, such as levers, pulleys, and gears, but also pneumatics and hydraulics. Every so often, a siren would go off and the plexiglass bin on the ceiling would open (as it is in the picture) and all the balls would fall out. Vinny enjoyed this room so much that we went back to the museum the next morning. I must admit that I had a blast in that room myself.

We didn't just see children's museums. It's just that those were the only places I had my camera out. But we also saw some interesting museums for grown-ups, including the Nebraska Prairie Museum and Harold Warp Pioneer Village. Did you know that German POWs during World War II were held at Holdredge, Nebraska? They actually were free to work in the area and provided a lot of labor to the local economy.

I spent a summer in Lincoln, Nebraska as an undergraduate, so I had to expose my family to some Nebraska culture. We ate at Valentino's (a fabulous regional pizza chain that originated in Lincoln) and Runza (also emanating from Lincoln, whose eponymous menu item is a unique calzone-like sandwich -- stuffed with ground beef, cabbage, and spices).

After leaving Nebraska, we traveled to my former babysitter's house and had the fabulous windmill cake you saw in the previous post. We had a great time playing games with Alice and Jerome as well. We played one called Labyrinth, another one about zombies, and lastly Settlers of Catan. They were all a lot of fun.

We left their house on Sunday at about noon. The original plan was to stop somewhere for the night, but eventually we just decided to go the whole way. So, we arrived home at about 4:30 am on Monday.

It was good to be back home. Plus, I got to sleep in my own bed for twice as many nights before heading on business travel as I would have otherwise.

It was a really fun and refreshing trip overall. A break from work to spend some fun time with my family was just what I needed. Now, it's back into the grind.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Happy Birthday, Vinny!

Today is Vinny's third birthday! It is hard to believe that it's been three years since he was born. On the one hand, it feels like it was just yesterday that he was an itty-bitty baby. On the other hand, I almost can't remember what my life was like before he came into it.

Since he doesn't really know the difference between one day or another, we're celebrating throughout the month. His first celebration was when we visited Alice, my former babysitter (as in, she used to babysit me when I was a child), and her husband, in northwestern Missouri on Friday and Saturday, and she baked him a cake, complete with his favorite obsession (windmills) on it -- see the following pictures.

Alice got some small fans on clearance and put them on the cake to look like windmills. (She also bought him some bigger hand-held fans on clearance and gave them to him as a birthday present, and he played with them all the way home from Missouri. The buzzing sound was irritating, but much better than whining might have been.)

After I get back from a business trip this week (yup, I'm leaving tomorrow, and coming back on Thursday), we'll have a family celebration. And then we'll hold a birthday party later this month.