Monday, March 18, 2013

Adventures in Time Flying

I can hardly believe that last month, my son started first grade; that he now bathes himself completely independently; or that his love of washing machines continues unabated, but there you have it.

Vinny is enjoying school, and doing very well. One thing they have here, similar to the school I attended in England, is the concept of houses (like in Harry Potter, only without the magical hat). For good behavior you can earn a house point for your house. This is something Vinny had really wanted to earn for his house. After a few weeks, he started earning house points (which are awarded at Friday assembly). He was so proud every time he earned another point for his house, which surged into second place last week. Jeff has seen him receive his house point awards at the assemblies. Sometime I will have to attend too.

He can now bathe himself; we start the water for him, and he takes it from there. I am enjoying this new independence, personally!

Vinny continues to love washing machines. In addition to the washing machine videos on youtube, he has watched other videos that are Minecraft tutorials, which helped him figure out how to build a washing machine in Minecraft! And lately at night before he goes to sleep, we have been discussing our "fake day[s] at the laundromat." I don't know what exactly he sees in washing machines that is so fascinating, but my job is to support him even if I don't always understand him completely. And I am enjoying that job immensely!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Adventures with Thrombolites

A few weeks ago, we went to Lake Clifton in Yalgorup National Park, where we saw some thrombolites. I made a slideshow of our trip for your enjoyment!

In case you are having a hard time seeing it, you can try this link to the flickr slideshow. I suggest clicking on "Show Info" so you can see my captions!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Interesting Article

I read a very interesting article recently, about the type of thinking we as a society have about why events happen the way they do, and how to shape them.

The article is very dense and intellectual but I hope you will read it nonetheless. The take-home points I got from it were encapsulated in this quote:
The two deep cultural ideas that we hold to that manifest around guns and gun control alike–and around many other things besides guns–are as follows: 1) that individual action focused by will, determination and clarity of intent can always directly produce specific outcomes and equally that individuals who fail to act when confronted by circumstances (including the actions of other individuals) are culpable for whatever happens next and 2) that there are single-variable abstract social forces that are responsible for seemingly recurrent events and that the proper establishing structure, rule or policy can cancel out the impact of that variable, if only we can figure out which one is the right one.
Basically, every society has some form of magical thinking in it. It is easy to see others' magical thinking, but not as easy to see our own. American magical thinking is that first, by sheer power of will, we can manipulate outcomes (and if the outcome is not in our favor, it is because of a personal failure); and second, there are single causes for certain types of events and if we can find the proper way to control that cause, we can eliminate those types of events.

He is talking about this in the context of gun control, but I can see how it applies to almost everything in our national discourse. Often we have people who believe that there is a single cause to our problems in society, when in fact it is quite nuanced. So for example, people who need welfare are obviously lazy and if they were more industrious or harder working like me, would not be in this situation. And the way to stop people from being on welfare is to punish them for being on welfare. In reality, there are many reasons people may find themselves on welfare, from a lack of socioeconomic opportunity to personal tragedy, and if those multitudinous causes could be addressed, we could reduce the incidence of people needing welfare.

Unfortunately, this magical thinking is embedded in the American identity, and is therefore hard to eradicate. The idea of the rugged individual, depending on nobody, is what it means to be American. But even in elite academic circles, where that idea would be dismissed, there is still a strain of this belief.

When I was in college, the movie Forrest Gump came out. One of my professors hated the movie because the title character made history yet he appeared to have no intellect, no intent, and no agency. I think he felt it was insulting to see this person with no intent making such an impact on history. He believed that a person made history, not that history made a person. This is an intellectual strain of the same belief.

If someone had smothered Adolf Hitler in his crib, would millions of Jews still be alive today? My professor seemed to believe that yes they would -- neglecting the myriad of other factors surrounding the rise of Hitler, such as heightened anti-Semitism, German poverty, and the German nationalistic identity at the time. Hitler rose to power because of those factors, and if he hadn't been there, it seems likely that someone else would have risen in his place.

While of course one person's actions can make a difference, and we should by all means continue to do the best we can to make this world a better place, there is not one single factor. You can't save the world by yourself, nor can you ruin it alone. Understanding this fact can be depressing (because you can't make things happen in the way you want them to) but also liberating (because the responsibility for the world is not solely on your shoulders). The world is a complicated system and the best we can do is to manipulate the few variables over which we have control.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Adventures in Laundry

It is not atypical in Australia to have no clothes dryer in your house. Our place doesn't even have room for one! We have a lovely four-line clothesline setup on one side of our tiny back yard.

At first it was overwhelming, and I think the fact that it was winter contributed to that, because I had to really watch the weather forecast and dodge the rainstorms. That plus my inexperience really made things difficult and stressful. But now I have a system and I am able to do up to eight loads of laundry in one day.

The most important thing to consider is your real estate and time constraints. A washer full of jeans will require more drying time, but less hanging space than a washer full of socks. Also, some clothes (particularly bright colors) need to be hung in the shade so they don't fade, while other clothes (e.g., your underwear) benefit from exposure to sunlight (the natural disinfectant).

I've worked out a system now: every week I have to do a load of delicates (the clothes I wear to work), and several loads of regular clothes. I generally do the delicates first, and hang them on one end of the clothesline that is in the shade. Then I do a load of socks and underwear, and hang them in the sunniest part of the clothesline. The clothesline is full and I've used most of the clothespins by this point. Then I wash a load of shirts, and when they are done I take down the delicates and the driest of the socks and underwear, and replace the delicates with the shirts I don't want to fade, and the socks and underwear with lighter colors and/or old shirts. Then, I will do either some towels or some jeans and hang them in the sunny part (taking the jeans down quickly once they are dry so as to minimize fading). If I had not done laundry in a long time and I needed to do two loads worth of socks and underwear, I would do the following: delicates, then socks/underwear, then Jeff's button-down shirts (which hang on hangers on the line, so take up little real estate), then the second batch of socks/underwear, then other clothes as above.

Sheets are like socks and underwear in that they require a lot of real estate but a short drying time. I hang them across two parallel clotheslines, which helps them dry more quickly, but takes up quite a bit of space. So if I had to do some sheets I would probably wash them first, followed by the delicates, followed by the socks and underwear.

I also have a portable indoor/outdoor clothes drying rack, which was helpful in the rainier months, but which I now use for overflow. But in the hot, dry summer air here, I rarely need any kind of overflow, especially now that I have my system down.

Now I really enjoy the challenge of hanging the clothes on the line, and it's gotten a lot easier with experience. As an added bonus, I'm saving a lot of money on my power bill, my clothes will last a lot longer, and they smell so much fresher when they are air-dried.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Adventures in Time Off Work

My employer shuts the place down entirely for the week between Christmas and New Year's, and also gives us a few days beforehand as well. I also got to take January 2 off work, so that means that I had nearly two weeks of paid time off without having to expend a single vacation day!

It was the longest I've taken off work since 2009. (Even between jobs -- I was unemployed for only 10 days.) It was glorious, doing only what I wanted to do for this extended length of time!

Vinny and I made Christmas cookies and decorated a gingerbread house. We also played lots of board games and Uno together. The three of us went on bus and train excursions, to satisfy our curiosity about where some of the routes went.

We had a fun Christmas, despite the (record-setting) heat. Vinny got more legos and games than you can shake a stick at. Jeff gave me some books about places to see in Australia (one about where to go with kids, and one about the national parks in Western Australia) and a journal to record our adventures in, and Vinny and I gave him a GPS that we can use to guide us there. Santa also brought Jeff and me Civilization 5, because Santa apparently does not understand that I should at least occasionally speak to my family or that I need sleep.

We finished up the time off today by going to the Western Australian Museum. It was interesting, not too huge, and had free admission, so I think we will take our guests there in the future! There are other campuses of it in Freemantle (apparently a world-renowned maritime museum) and a few other places in Western Australia, so we will have to see those sometime. After the museum, we went to a place called "Jus Burgers" (where "Jus" is pronounced like "Just" without a "T" instead of like in French) where Jeff and I enjoyed some delicious hamburgers.

Tomorrow I go back to work, hopefully re-energized and ready to work!