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11 for ’12 update

23 Dec

In 2011, I did a dozen for 2011 list. In 2012, I pulled some of those things I had on that list, and re-tacked them on to my 12 for ’12 list. In a tough loss right out of the gate, I only really had 11 for 12, even with the repeats. Still, let’s assess:



Log Line


Sweet Vanilla

Crafts, Food

Make homemade vanilla, with labels, made them gift-worthy.

Done! But not great! I’ll post some photos of the vanilla, but the original ‘bourbon’, ‘rum’ and ‘sweet’ vanillas all basically smell and taste like booze, and look pretty wan. The bottle labels are…meh. Still, worth the effort. Ish.

Booky booky

Education, Personal Development

Read a dozen books for 2012, 12 books in 12 months.

Sort of succeeded. Or at least, read 11, with one still in progress (which I may finish in the next week or so). If you are interested, you can see a complete list of them. This probably deserves a separate post as well.

Dashboard – Data Mashup


Data Garden/Visualization of life or work

Mostly failed again. I really want to do this, though, and I think the coming year will see something spectacular in this category. I’m serious this time, really!

Sunday Supper


Quarterly Sunday Suppers. Have people over for a dinner, 4 times during the year. A relaxing, big, family-style dinner.

One of four, so a qualified success! But honestly, not totally worth the effort. You can read about the results of our one and only supper that we held this year. The food was good, the company was lovely, but our apartment is too small, we invited like 12 people, of whom 2+2kids actually came, just not worth the effort of doing. We want(ed) to invite all of our friends on a rolling basis, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Game Night!


Quarterly Game Nights, with friends and kids.

Did not accomplish this at all. The closest we came is that I spent some time this year playing Dark Souls. I’m not even going to pretend that counts. Which sucks, because we have some games just sitting and waiting for us to get to them!

Pull it together, man! Still!


Quit doing labor on behalf of other companies, who use my personal information, eyeballs, attention, and content to make money for themselves.

Ok, so I am off of Instagram, but still on Facebook and the Twitters, and even this humble blog is hosted at wordpress instead of being hosted at my own website. My new policy at FB seems to be working – whereby I delete all of my activity occasionally. So I’m relatively active, but also sparse. I’m not naive to believe that protects my data from being kept by FB, etc., but it’s something. Obviously, this deserves a more expansive post.

Sell, baby Sell!


One of my main year-goals this year is to sell something on Etsy. If I can list it, I suspect I can strongarm a friend or two into purchases. So it’s a little more like get something listed on Etsy.

Failed, two years in a row. This is getting depressing folks.

Father Kung-fu

Personal Development, Fathering

Not fffffuuuuuuu, but, you know, skill achieved through hard work and practice.

This is where I think I kind of shined in 2012. I’m not saying that I have learned all there is to know about fathering, but I do feel much more confident about doing fun stuff, necessary-but-not-fun stuff, and exercising patience to a degree I didn’t think possible in 2011.

Educate thyself

Technology, Personal Development

Take a couple of Coursera courses courses.

Ok, so mostly failure. I took two courses, and lasted 3 weeks through them, but didn’t end up finishing either of them. The homework, the tests, the projects. It turns out that my suspicions as a professor have been pretty spot-on. I refused auditors on the principle that if you are not required to commit to a course, it is very challenging to do so. I’ll try again, mostly on coding, statistics, analysis, other fun stuff.

Run, Fat Boy, Run

Personal Development

I’m working on an appropriate amount of distance, and a way to mark it. Ideally a self-updating map of the US, with me running across it, one mile at a time, measured by my fitbit.

My fitbit broke from last year, and I’ve mostly failed miserably at this goal. There is always 2013 though!!

New Job

Personal Development, Career

Get a new job, and a new career.

Working. On. It. This is what is occupying my mind most, and ratcheting up the stress levels of my life more than anything. It’s last on the list, but first in my heart.


The uncertainty of parenting

10 Oct

One of the most difficult and ongoing challenges I feel as a father (and which I know baby mama feels as a mother) is the uncertainty over how to teach and manage baby. This is something of a modern problem and, I would suggest, something of a class-specific problem. Or at least a problem most closely associated with intensive parenting.

In another world, with stronger extended family ties, stronger religious beliefs and instruction, less deliberation over every single thing, you just, well, parent.

Not us. Baby, for instance, likes to put his feet up on the table while eating dinner. There are a wide range of responses to this behavior, from not caring, to punishment, to incentivizing behaviors, verbal scolding. Fwapping his little feet feet with a metal ruler, the way my 5th grade teacher used to do to our fingers when you would stop paying attention in class.

What we want is a rule-book, preferably an evidence-based set of best practices. This was, historically, um, the bible/Torah/Koran, etc. at least for many. Or tacit knowledge passed from generation to generation. Now, we have anecdata from friends, Facebook groups, and expert literatures. But the expert literature overstates its effectiveness while way too often way way understating culture, class, or individual differences (though these are actually very different problems. Baby books and parenting tiger mother French mother whatever mothers nevertheless hit them all).

So we just kind of do stuff, hope it’s reasonable, and move on. The scientist in me wishes we were at least learning inductively from our adventures, but sometimes I’m not even certain of that!

An for what it’s worth, we now pug him back from the table when he puts his feet up, and he complains: closer? Closer? Closer! Yep. Top shelf parenting for you.

Here’s what I’d like for the boy

31 May

I’d like him to be one of the cheering kids here. There are many things I am agnostic about – what he does for a living, where he lives, whom he loves. I want him to be a good person, who stands up for what’s right even when what’s right is not what’s easy. Who stands up for people who can not stand up for themselves. Who cheers on another kid with spastic cerebral palsy. I honestly don’t know how much I was that person, or how much I am that person now (I certainly am more now than I was then). But I so much want that for our boy.

Oh, yeah, this is probably going to make you cry. Get some tissue.

Regression discontinuity analysis, or Why I Don’t Care What School My Baby Goes To

15 Mar

Last summer a paper by Abdulkadiroglu, Angrist, and Pathak (yes, now that’s a mouthful) demonstrated the effects of exam schools on test score outcomes. In NYC, exam schools are like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science; they are public, but students need to test into them. In Boston, Boston Latin in the oldest and most well-known exam school. They are all wildly competitive to get into.

What they wanted to know is, are higher scores at exam schools due to the schools being awesome, or are the higher scores due to the schools’ selectivity in admitting students. Are they awesome because they shepherd through already-awesome students, or are they awesome because they are awesome-making factories of awesome?

The authors used a regression-discontinuity method to investigate the effects of schools on test scores. That is, they looked at students who were just above the minimum score required for admission to an exam school, and compared them to students who were just below that score requirement. Since this is a continuous variable, we expect that people on just either side of that line should be quite similar. But since there is a large difference in outcomes for those tests (admission to, or rejection from, exam school), there is a discontinuity of ‘treatment.’

The upshot is that there is virtually no difference between those two groups of students. And if the awesome school had an effect on scores, we should see students who went to the exam schools doing better than those who did not.

So, this means a few things; and it suggests some other things. It demonstrates that for those who are marginally good enough to qualify for an exam school, you would do no better at an exam school than you would at a public school, measured by test scores as a proxy for educational achievement. The authors suggest that other data points to not giant differences between ‘marginal’ exam school students and the rest of the exam school students, but they don’t show this directly. And, the best students at exam schools test higher than the best students at public schools. We just don’t have any evidence that the school is responsible for those scores.

The work, in combination with other anecdotal data suggests that exam schools cater to their best students – to allow the best students to do great at things like the Intel Science and Engineering Fair and other competitions that matter for small numbers at the high end.

I would also strongly suggest that the ‘best’ schools, how do I say this delicately, allow your little one to mix with other type-A elite-seeky students and their families. I’m going to call this a mixed bag at the moment, since I know that in the back of their minds, people are thinking ‘networking!’ But there’s a healthy dose of fuck you in my assessment of the worth of that.

At the end of the day, as Felix Salmon notes, you would be better off spending the money you’d spend in school fees for more books, more trips to museums and interesting places. You could buy a Solar Stirling Engine! Or a high-grade chemistry set! Or a year’s membership to the MoMA!

But I am sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to get worked up about what school baby goes to. Maybe he’ll go to fancy school. Maybe he’ll go to schlumpy public school. But the dirty little truth is that for us, with our resources and educations and emphasis on education, it just doesn’t matter.

A dozen for 2011 – an update

15 Dec

A while back (say, February), I posted a dozen for 2011, 12 projects I was hoping to accomplish during the year. It’s time to see how I made out.

1. Happy Birth Day – make birthday announcements. Status: DONE!

2. Baby B Board Books – make homemade board books for Baby, with Illustrator. Status: Bought the blank books, story-boarded out a couple of stories, made three illustrations, haven’t picked it up since.

3. Dashboard – make a personal development dashboard. Status: Bought a Fitbit and used it intermittently throughout the year. Kept no data on baby. Began to code a page which would mash-up a Google Maps and my fitbit data, to show a constantly-updated map of my walking mileage running between NYC and LA (like this, but with a person instead of car, and the route automatically updated). Got maybe 5-10% of the way done.

4. Sound Check – Archive the baby’s voice. Status: Did this pretty well, to about 6 months. Have video, but no systematic archive of sounds for the last 6 months or so. Enjoyed walking around with giant headphones and a big high-quality recorder for a while though.

5. Resource Party – Have a party, inviting various friends to share expertise. Status: Total fail. Untried at all.

6. 40th Birthday Walkback – Do a memory-lane, manual-typewriter-typed birthday present for my two closest friends. Status: 1/2, hit on one, missed on the other.

7. Sell, Baby, Sell! – Sell something on Etsy. Status: Originally planned to sell mandel bread or chocolate chip cookies, but selling food is actually something that needs to be licensed (though some don’t). Made a shitload of baked goods to test out recipe and brainstorm about marketing. Ultimately failed to post/sell a damn thing. Anyone wanna buy a dozen chocolate chip cookies? I’ll do it for $30/dozen. I’ll even throw in an extra.

8. POTD – Picture of the Day, a photo a day of the baby. Status: With help from my spouse, this project is just about complete. We need to backfill a bunch of photos from the end of November/beginning of December, but we’re pretty close to done. Going to call it a win. Let me know if you need the URL to access this.

9. Pull it Together, Man – Pull IDs from various social media. Status: I think I’m pretty far along here, surprisingly. I’ve mostly given up on Twitter, I have a kinda working FB strategy (I post, but almost always delete stuff from my own wall). Have domain names reserved for a switch down the road, feeling not complete but pretty accomplished about this.

10. They Write Letters – write 100 letters. Status: Probably wrote 25 letters all year. 3/4 fail.

11. Artsy Wall – hang a photo wall in the house. Status: It’s not pretty, it’s not professional, but it’s there. With some luck and a good eye from my partner, this should continue to grow. There is also a little wedge frame with baby’s cast on it, which makes it even better. Win.

12. Run, Fat Boy, Run – Get in shape. Status: Gained 10-15 pounds since baby was born. Wife lost like 30 pounds during the same interval. Screw you.

And there you have it. I’m thinking about themes for 2012. Ideas are welcome.

Honesty, honestly

14 Nov

Our downstairs neighbor told us that her 4-year-old daughter has been asking questions about her vagina, which is freaking her husband out. His solution is kind of brilliant, really. He’s decided it’s all going to be the tushie – that the butt is the back tushie, and the vagina is the front tushie. Now they’re trying to figure out how to talk to her about her body parts. As the mom works for a global non-profit dealing with public health and contraception, it’s pretty clear that Papa Smurf is going to lose this particular battle. As she says, body parts have names, and she is going to teach her what those names are.

I don’t know whether or not we are going to be parents who lie to their kids. I’m not such an upstanding moral person that I’m unwilling on principle to lie to my children (what would that principle be, really? The truth is always better? Really?). I was reading Michael Chabon’s (uneven, but excellent in spots) book Manhood for Amateurs about what he did when his kids asked him about drug use. How many times, daddy, did you smoke pot? He actually responded well, with the underlying desire to not lie to his children. Something like, I don’t really know how to talk to you about this stuff, but I want to try to be honest. Well-played, soul-searching Berkeley man.

When I was in middle school, my Best Friend Forever used to get free milks from the milk kid during lunch. I don’t know if he really leaned on the kid, or was just friends with him, or it was a kind of mutually tacit “who fucking cares” kind of situation. But in spring, the assistant principal caught him at it, and dragged him into his office:

We know, he tells my BFF, that you’ve been stealing milk.
(oh, shit)
How many milks did you steal?
(um, ok, it’s April, two milks a day, carry the two)…”like, 300?

The pure shock on the assistant principal’s face let BFF know that he’d been expecting an answer like more like 6. Truth-telling can be over-rated, I tell you. Over-rated.

My own feelings about lying to Brooklyn Baby are that the legitimate justification for lying is to preserve magic, but not to preserve innocence. This is why it is ok to lie about the Tooth Fairy, but not to lie about death or sex or drug use. I’m happy for kid to believe that there are dragons in the world, for example. Or fairies. Or, I mean, when it comes down to it, Elijah for that matter.

But I’m not really in the game when it comes to lying to BB about whether it’s ok or not to do drugs. Some drugs are legal and some are illegal, some have bad effects on people and their relationships, while also having really interesting effects on perception and your personality. That society deems methadone controlled but legal, but heroin illegal, is an arbitrary thing, managed by pharma and political stakeholders as much as medical decision-makers. Alcohol versus marijuana? Really?

Ditto sex. I’m not really looking forward to uncomfortable conversations, but I’m also not going to pretend that he doesn’t have a penis. There’s no front tushie for this one, sorry. This may be a finer line between innocence and magic, and that sounds about right, actually.

Of course, we’ll see. The whole thing is much more practically a combination of who we are as parents, who he becomes as a person, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But the innocence/magic distinction is an early attempt to place a marker in the sand.

What NYC could be

6 Jun

A few revelations from the weekend, when my best friend and his new lady friend came into town for a visit:

  • I am not making enough of my time on this Earth. In two and a half days, they went to a Broadway play, rented bikes to ride around Central Park, walked from midtown up through the Park to the Upper West Side, explored an old renovated Church someplace in who knows where, had a few drinks in SoHo, went to dinner in Gramercy, met his sister to catch up, went to the food trucks down at the soccer field in Red Hook, visited Ground Zero, and won a lottery for tickets to go to the David Letterman show (which they are doing today). My normal day: get a little work done at a coffee shop, pick up milk at the store, try to clean up around the house a little, take care of baby.
  • We should go out more, with the baby. Our nighttime routine is working well enough that we don’t fuck with it. And as a result, we don’t really take the babe out to dinner with us, because he’s…sleeping! But apparently this is a small window of opportunity of which we are not taking full advantage.
  • Energy begets energy. I always try to understand my friends who are so energetic that they seem to get 5-10x the stuff done in a day that I manage. I am beginning to suspect that energy begets energy.
  • Don’t be a hater. My best friend is kind of one, and I don’t want to be that guy. Actually, he is just defensive about his choices, and assumes (rightly, I think, but also exaggeratedly) that others are judging him more than they are. But I want to be more positive about Gaia and her bounteous gifts.

I miss ohana. I mean, not really my family, which is something of a traipse into Crazytown, but you know, some extended family of choice. I really love having my friends around, and right now we are in quasi-virtual community of friends. Our ‘closest’ friends in NYC are not nearby, and despite everyone saying that kids are going to bring us a slew of people who will become our favorite peoples in the whole snicker-loving world, that has not yet happened. I’m adding ‘be closer to friends’ (whether we make more friends closer to where we are, or move closer to where they already exist) to my list. And I’m putting it above ‘get pony.’