At dinner every night, Shannon and I try to slow the girls’ plate-hoovering by asking about the “favorite part” of each day. Tuesday night, I asked Vivi first. Mouth jammed with peaches, she looked around the room and then up at the painting of flowers on the wall. “Fowers!” she said. “Your favorite thing was that painting of flowers?” I asked. “Ah-hah,” she said, swallowing one mouthful and going after the next.

Seeing this was a lost cause, I asked Julia. She first gave her usual charming answer – “Everything about today was my favorite!” – but then, when I asked for one thing in particular, pondered for a minute before saying happily, “Mama taking care of me all day.”

That kid has a heart of gold.

It’s 9/11: Where’s Osama?

I don’t know, the military and the intelligence services don’t know, and George W. Bush sure as hell doesn’t know. Chances are, though, he’s near the Korengal Valley, a bloody battleground in Afghanistan which Sebastian Junger has grippingly described in a couple of incredible pieces for Vanity Fair.  On the seventh anniversary of the attacks, I recommend reading them to see what the fight against terrorism really entails.

“Into the Valley of Death,” January 2008

“Return to the Valley of Death,” October 2008


I’ve been using the new Google Chrome browser for the past few days – alas, only at work, since Google hasn’t yet released a version for Mac OS X. So far, I’m impressed. First and foremost for a Google fanboy like me, it’s ridiculously well integrated with the Google apps that I use the most: Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Reader, and of course search. Being able to type any random thing into the main bar at the top of the browser window and automagically have it become a Google search is fantastic. And so far, the browser is much faster than even Firefox – which, admittedly, I usually run with 50 tabs open. And there’s a sick amount of screen real-estate, too. Thanks to the trimmed-back toolbars and just plain wasted space at the top of the window, you can see an awful lot more of the actual site you’re visiting. Not a bad idea at all.

On top of all that good stuff, the edges of the user experience are pretty smooth, too. Check out these two screens from the setup and crash-restore processes.

Google Chrome Setup Window
Google Chrome Setup Window
Google Chrome Crash Window
Google Chrome Crash Window

Granted, this is not world-shattering stuff, but the sense of humor is appreciated.

Start Me Up

Today’s the day the freshmen arrive at Carleton and “New Student Week” begins in earnest. I remember my arrival at college very, very clearly – right down to picking my roommate out of the crowd based on his NY Yankees cap.

What better day to read the first page of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, a brilliant novel which starts with the arrival of students to a liberal-arts college? (Click through for a good annotation of this all-important first page…)

White Noise, p. 1
White Noise, p. 1


Julia is slightly obsessed with her inability to pronounce the word “zero.” She actually can and does say the word correctly, but if she thinks about how to say it, she winds up saying “zewo” instead of “zero.” (I had the same trouble with the word “enemy” when I was about her age.)

To make matters worse (and by “worse” I mean “more entertaining”), she has fallen into the habit of contriving questions to which the only answer is “zero.” A sample from the last week or ten days:

  • How many rain clouds are in the sky?
  • How many cousins came on this walk?
  • How many Mamas came on this walk?
  • How many brothers do I have?
  • How many frogs did we see today?
  • How many dead frogs did we see today?
  • How many cats did we see in the park?
  • How many swings have I been on today?
  • How many times have I been in the bike trailer today?
  • How many desserts will we have at dinner?
  • How many Wise Men did we see at the store?

While Big Sister ponders the nature of absence and nullity, Vivi typically trots along ahead, beside, or behind, singing funny little nonsense songs, investigating things on the sidewalks (good: colorful leaves; bad: goose poop), and occasionally shouting, “Zewo!” to one of Julia’s questions.

Palin in the Ear

I’ve had one or another funny American accent my whole life – Yooper twangs until my twenties, now a pronounced Minnesooooodah thing – so this is pretty much throwing stones from my glass house, but my god, I hate Sarah Palin’s accent. I hope I’d find it just as annoying if she was reading an Obama speech aloud.


Over the weekend, Julia and Genevieve and I went to a small little playground tucked away at the northern end of Sibley Swale Park here in Northfield. It’s a gorgeous setting: ringed by trees but open to the sky, shady but not dark, grassy but not just a field, quiet but not somnolent. The girls love the place. Some days, they like to go up and down the play structure. Other days, like Saturday, they like to swing.
Vivi Swinging
Vivi Swinging
Julia Swinging
Julia Swinging

Legging It Out

I was pleased with my race this morning, even though it didn’t go quite as planned. I finished in 20:12 (just off my goal time of twenty minutes, but 1:56 faster than last year), good for fourteenth place in the 140-man field and first in my 14-man age group. Still, I could have run a smarter, better, and faster race if I had handled a couple errors better.

The first big error was the race organizers’ – they didn’t tell those of us at the 5k starting line (a couple blocks away from the starting line for the 15k race) when to expect the gun, so we were just milling around when there was a bang and a puff of smoke down the block. Here was the second error, mine: I went off way too fast, leading the race for the first 500 meters. The only good that came of this was being in front of all the tweens and teenagers who run like oxen, clogging up the road over the first mile. Anyhow, I led through the first corner, and then started giving up places as the real racers caught up to me and the front of the 5k field hit the back of the 15k field.

From there, I was pretty much in survival mode, with my heart rate averaging about 179 (something like 95% of my maximum – which I nearly reached in the last sprint) and my legs feeling increasingly cooked. One by one, other men passed me, with the last one – an old guy! with gray hair! and colossal thighs! – going by just before the two-mile mark. I tried to latch on to each one, but each time, my legs said, “WTF, dude! No way.” I just couldn’t overcome the lactate built up during my stupid all-out start.

Thankfully, the course rescued me. The last third is flat and then gradually downhill to the finish line, helping me hold my position to the finishing chute and even look sorta fast there at the end. (Shannon took this shot just about when I heard Julia cheering for me.)

Finishing the Defeat of Jesse James Days 5k
Finishing the Defeat of Jesse James Days 5k

Playing the Race Card

Just about twelve hours from now, I’m going to hit the pavement in the 5k road race that’s part of Northfield’s gigantic annual “Defeat of Jesse James Days Celebration.” I ran last year’s race in 22:08, finishing 16th among 122 men and first of five in my age group. The race was surprisingly fun – my first running race since 1995.

This year, I trained all spring and summer to run the sibling race, a 15k over a pretty hilly course, but my training regimen was blown up by illness last month, so I stepped down to the 5,000 meter race. This is not only hella shorter, but the course includes just one climb worth mentioning (300 meter run, 10 meter rise). Hoping that my distance-oriented training will translate to this shorter event, my race goal is to run under 20 minutes. Depending on the size and quality of the field, this time might get me into the top 10. In keeping with my goal for tomorrow morning, my goal for tonight is to avoid partaking of the chocolate ice cream in the freezer.

Executive Experience

I find the arguments about “executive experience” to be one of the stupidest themes of the presidential campaign so far: Palin supposedly has acquired this mysterious mantle while serving as governor of Alaska and mayor of a small town there and Obama supposedly has no executive experience at all.

I decided to try to quantify this supposed disparity, beginning with the premise that Obama is CEO of a rather large start-up organization, his presidential campaign. Of course, he has a campaign manager and other such staff, but isn’t a good executive one who delegates well? As near as I can tell, Obama’s campaign has a “budget” of roughly $400 million dollars – the amount he’s probably raised in campaign donations by now. On top of that, the campaign has so far enlisted 1.2 million volunteers, with a goal of an even three million – roughly 1 in every 100 Americans. Sure, the effort of these volunteers vary considerably – but how is that different from the average company, or the workforce of a random state in the Union?

Take Alaska. The state has about 15,000 employees, including of course Governor Palin. For comparison’s sake, about 20,000 people have offered their volunteer services to the Obama campaign organizers in Silicon Valley. Obviously, there are huge disparities between the 49th State and Silicon Valley, such as their respective populations: less than 700,000 and 2 million, but come on: twenty thousand people interested in volunteering for Obama? That’s a lot of nerds to herd.

Or look at Alaska’s budget, which is $6.3 billion for fiscal 2009. That’s a big sum of money, but Obama will know his way around big budgets. He’s spending $400 million on his own campaign, of course, but he also has some direct experience with budgets as a legislator in Illinois, where the state budget is now $65 billion. Hell, in Illinois they probably set $6.3 billion aside to bribe one another.

I’m glad to see that Obama is finally starting to fight the charge of inexperience, recently saying, “I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute has been made clear over the last couple of years.” Predictably, McCain is scoffing at this claim. But then again, what kind of executive experience does Captain McCain have? Oh, yeah – more than 30 years ago, he ran a naval aviation squadron, with about a thousand people under his command. By all accounts, he did this pretty well, guiding the unit to its first-ever award for meritorious service. But then again, maybe he could have done better: by his own admission, this is also when he wrecked his first marriage by having several affairs.


My friends, I listened to the radio today. I listened to John McCain’s acceptance speech on the radio today. I listened to it! I listened to it against my will! It was terrible. It was terrible, my friends, because he’s boring. It was terrible because he told the same old stories of his imprisomnent. Of his impisronment. Of his incarcerarceration – of being a guest of the North Vietnamese! <crowd roars>

But he is not just boring, my friends! <crowd roars more> He also delivered a speech, my friends, which sounded as if it were a middle-school civics essay. A bad essay! A very bad essay! <crowd roars again> There were cliches! There were slogans! There was pandering! There were no subordinate clauses. And it was all delivered, my friends, with an affect flatter than the great plains of this great land, the best land in the world!<crowd switches from roaring to chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.”>

And this, my friends, is why we need change. <crowd roars again> We need change at the top! We need change from four more years of the same discredited policies. We need change in our politicians. We need change in Washington. Maybe Martha would have been better. We need to change our clothes! Our hairstyles! And, my friends, we need change for our twenty-dollar bills! Correct change! In ones, fives, and silver! <deafening roar> Thank you and God bless harmonicas!<applauding, cheering, more chanting of <U.S.A., U.S.A.”>


Standing with the girls at a sidewalk intersection yesterday, I asked them which way we go home, and predictably got two different answers (three, if you count my own preference). So I told Julia that we would decide which way to go by playing a round of “rock, paper, scissors.” She instantly held out her right fist. Surprised, I asked, “Do you know how to play this game?” She smiled and said excitedly, “They played this on Dragon Tales! Ord plays rock, paper, scissors sometimes!” And sure enough, she knew all the combinations and even played a few rounds with me. (She was very easy to beat, though, because she only ever played rock.) Damn you, public television.

Cold and Snowy

Bring it!

The Farmers’ Almanac predicts below-average temperatures for most of the United States this winter. According to the publication, “numb’s the word.” The 192-year-old publication has an accuracy rate of 80 percent to 85 percent for its forecasts and is prepared two years in advance.

The almanac’s 2009 edition, which goes on sale Tuesday, says at least two-thirds of the country can expect colder-than-average temperatures this winter, with only the Far West and Southeast in line for near-normal readings. The almanac predicts above-normal snowfall for the Great Lakes and Midwest, especially during January and February.

From the Chicago Tribune.