Monday, October 31, 2005

Oh, Per

The great Swedish cross-country racer Per Elofsson announced his long-pending retirement this week. Only 28, Eloffson leaves elite XC racing with 2 overall World Cup titles, 10 individual World Cup wins, 3 World Championship medals (all gold), and a bronze Olympic medal from the 2002 Salt Lake City games, so it's a sad day for the sport.

Making it all the sadder is why Elofsson has hung up his skis: as a side effect of unchecked technological innovation in the form of blood doping. Elofsson trained himself to exhaustion after being beaten badly by the German/Spaniard racer Johann Muhlegg at the Salt Lake games - where it turned out Muhlegg was doping. Muhlegg was eventually stripped of his three Olympic golds, but as the story goes, in trying to keep up Elofsson trained so hard - three times a day, including race days when the race itself was just another workout - that he took his body beyond the point of recovery. The 30km race in 2002 Games was particularly destructive of Elofsson's abilities: heavily doped with a blood agent that enabled him to race at the high altitude, Muhlegg destroyed the field, winning by more than two minutes. Elofsson simply dropped out of the race, and never really competed at a high level again. (Muhlegg bizarrely claims that he was helped in his victories by extraterrestrial beings and that he had nothing to do with Elofsson's retirement.)

This angle throws harsh light on international endurance sport. While it's true that dopers like Muhlegg or, in cycling, Richard Virenque, do often get caught, in the meantime the clean competitors can only intensify their training and risk permanently ruining their bodies. As the technological flip side of better equipment (lighter, more aerodynamic bikes or skis with unusual flexes and bases), doping is a hazard and a horror that illustrates as well as RIAA zealotry or nuclear proliferation the difficult necessity of managing technological change.

Guarding Churchill

The long-lost memoirs of Winston Churchill's bodyguard, Walter Thompson, have been rediscovered and publicized. This summary from the Guardian is fascinating for its picture of Churchill as statesman, person, and, sometimes, jerk.

(Link via

Sunday, October 30, 2005


This is an etymology (via Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day service):

When Renaissance Italians began exploring the ancient Roman ruins around them, they discovered fantastic mural paintings that they called "pitture grottesche" (which means "cave paintings," from the fact that they were found in caves, or "grotte"). Because they were so old, the murals were also called "antichi," or "ancient things." English speakers began to use "antics," both for depictions that are incongruous, caricatured, and ludicrous (such as gargoyles, which we now might refer to as "grotesques") and for ludicrous or outlandish behavior. Within 20 years of its earliest recorded uses as a noun, "antic" appeared as an English adjective. Originally, it meant "grotesque" or "bizarre" (a sense now considered archaic), but today it means "playful, funny, or absurd" and the noun means "a wildly playful or funny act."

Five Recent Julian Milestones:

1. Learning to say "Ree! Ree!" when she wants you do read a book. If there's any doubt which book, look for the one she's hoisted over her head and it about to drop onto your lap like a few ounces of bricks.

2. Learning to say "Bee!" for "please." This is a major event in socialization, and - funny smells from the diaper notwithstanding - her first step toward becoming a full participant in etiquette. So far, saying "bee" is mostly done at the dinner table.

3. Using "bee" as part of a more-or-less real sentence. She often says, "Mo, bee!" ("More, please!") And this afternoon, she even said, "Mo, bee, bas," - "More, please, pasta!" This means she's now more verbally adept than the average wingnut talk-radio caller.

4. Using and abusing "bee." A final element of the "bee" phenomenon is that she's already using it in several ways: sincerely (when she's just finished one handful of food and is ready for "mo"), desperately (when she's asked a couple times already), proudly (when she says is automatically, without even really thinking of it), and - my favorite - sarcastically (Julia: "Mo!" Mom or Dad: "More what, honey?" Julia: "Mo, beeeeeeeeeeeeee!" [smiling maniacally])

5. Taking a digger. On the way out the back door on Saturday, my hand slipped and she fell head-first off the top step onto the second step. I caught her by one ankle before she went any further, but she has a bruise on her forehead and a really bad scrape on the bridge of her nose. She only cried for a few minutes, though her abject wailing was punctuated by saying, "Unny!" - "Honey!" - to us, over and over. It must not hurt too much now, because she only notices it on those (frequent) occasions when she's admiring herself in the mirror.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Dinosaurs in my Lunch

I just attended a catered lunchtime meeting. The finished meal was strikingly petroleum-intensive: the sandwich, carrots, and potato chips were all separately wrapped in plastic; the condiments came in little plastic packets; the water was in a plastic bottle; and the napkins and utensils were in a plastic bag. Even the apple had one of those plastic sticker-labels on it. (And probably all of the food was grown with petroleum-based fertilizers and, of course, carried around in trucks and trains and airplanes.) No wonder.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Random Weirdness

Last week, apropos of nothing I could see, a small rectangular mirror was taped to the outside of the frosted-glass window in the door to the men's room in my building. It was just above waist height, and tilted so that the only thing a person could see when walking up was one's crotchular region. It was up for a week, then apparently fell off and sat on the lid of the nearby recycling bin for a few days. Now it's gone altogether. WTF?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Brand Extensions

Violating a cardinal rule of modern consumer life, I went to the grocery store while hungry this afternoon. The first thing I noticed, on a big, prominent end cap, was a small metal package labeled "Saltines." I thought, 'Saltines in a can? Weird! Why?' and looked more closely at the label, which turned out to read, "Saltines in oil."

'Even weirder, and that sounds delicious,' I thought. Just before I reached for a couple cans, I reread the label and saw what it really said: "Sardines in oil."

Friday, October 21, 2005

Ski Tunnels

Every day, I drive past Buck Hill, a downhill ski slope in Burnsville, Minnesota, that's so tiny it could easily be put under a dome. Doing so would actually be following on what the Europeans, not satisfied with year-round snow on their stupid mountains and glaciers, have been doing for a while. Vuokatti, Finland, built the world's first ski tunnel, an underground structure which offers a 2.4 kilometer track. (See inside.) Cooled below freezing, the tunnel uses snow cannons to make snow year round, and it is popular for off-season training with both elite athletes like the Chinese nordic ski team and other good racers like Vermont juniors. There are other ski tunnels in Finland, including one above ground in Jami, and both Sweden and Germany have ski tunnels in the works. (There's even a covered downhill slope in Germany.) All this indoor skiing comes to its logical culmination at the 2007 World Championships, when the sprint races will be held inside the Sapporo Dome. No word on whether anyone's willing to counteract global warming with, say, a domed 30km course.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Lairding It On, Thick

So this is what I see every day when I leave my office building, Laird Hall, down at Carleton, and head to my car. Not too shabby. Puts a spring in your step.

Next Stop: Vet School

When I got home today, Julia revealed that she had learned to say, "Ditty," a breakthrough we've been awaiting for weeks. No more (or at least less) shrieking, "Reee!" when asked what a cat is. (Our cat never meows; she prefers a high-pitched waul.) I've never seen Julia so happy with herself: ear-to-ear grinning was punctuated with repeating, "Ditty, ditty, ditty" like she was Irving Berlin with Tourette's.

After the baby's bath, Shannon tried to go 2 for 2: "Julia, say 'puppy.'" Julia tried silently a couple times and then, sure enough, "Buppy!" Repeat fifty times. I figure this is a big deal, cognitively, betcause now she can both say the thing and the sound the thing makes - at least in these two cases.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

An Ocean of Pizza

Dooce is an indispensable bog for so many reasons, one of which is great photo titles like this one.

Big Plans, Small Planet contributor Patrick Doherty ties together separate speeches by two American officials - Secretary John Snow on reducing the U.S. trade deficit with China, and Gen. James Jones on NATO's near-future role providing "industrial security" - to show how both men only weakly grasp the implications of the inexorable and excruciating resource crunch which is occuring as more inhabitants of this planet - many of whom are Chinese - start to consume at Western or even American levels:
At the current rate of consumption, we would need at least 2.66 earths to provide all the world's population the level of consumption those 1.5 billion currently enjoy (that rises to five earths if we want to let everyone enjoy an American lifestyle). Even if we limit ourselves to Chinese consumption, if the Chinese consumed as much gasoline as an American, per capita, China alone would account for 118 percent of oil production.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sweet Sixteen Months

Trois vignettes from Toddlerdom:

1. While working to master the ability to run, Julia is passing through an intermediate stage which doesn't show up in any What to Expect books: goosestepping. She marches down the hallway, stiff-legged, lifting her dinner-roll feet as high towards her head as possible. Between that gait and her uber-Aryan looks...

2. Running comes in handy so far a) as a physical complement to a loud and sudden shriek of joy and b) as a fun way to get closer to Dad. So far, she can only take five or ten running steps toward me before vaulting into my arms and chest, so it's pretty easy and fun to catch her. With greater velocity will come greater force, though - I may need to start putting pillows behind me.

3. Her obsession with "mwah"-ing everything interesting (much less lovable) reached an early peak in late August, when she wanted to kiss Lake Superior, but it may have reached a trough tonight. We went outside to look at the neighbors' Halloween decoration: two hands, two feet, and a monster head which can be arranged so it appears some sort of ghoul is clawing his way out of the ground. All five pieces light up, which is frankly disturbing to see out the bedroom window at 3:32 a.m. Anyhow, Julia stared hard at the ghoul head and then decided, well, yeah, of course: "Mwah." I wouldn't actually let her climb into the flowerbed to lay one on the undead.

A Brave New, Tall World

Big Pharma has recently begun a major push to encourage more use of growth hormones to spur growth in children with "idiopathic short stature" - i.e., naturally short kids. Use of such hormones on such children is economically, medically, and morally questionable, as Stephen S. Hall describes in this New York Times Magazine piece, which raises all kinds of questions about what you would be willing to do for (or to) your children.

Most of the problems with the treament, Hall shows, stem from the fact that the drive to increase children's stature is grounded on the assumption that short kids suffer more teasing and bullying, have more self-esteem issues, and are generally less happy. Not only is there no serious evidence of this, however, there is good evidence that short kids are no less happy than kids of normal height. And on top of that, using growth hormone to treat naturally short children will have a strange and unsettling sociological side effect:
Increasing the height of children at the first percentile, of course, merely creates a new population of children falling into the bottom percentile and thus a new population potentially eligible for treatment. As one medical journal noted in an editorial, "This may be the only circumstance in which treatment of one group of children creates illness in another previously healthy group."

Day 11

With two weeks at New Job now under my belt, it's clear (already? finally?) that Old Job was not exactly conducive to clear thinking. The frenetic pace, the unceasing interruptions, the "multiple competing priorities," the cubicle-based office plan, the incessant unpleasant noises, and especially the corporate ethos which made virtues of all those vices – it was hard to think at all there, much less to think straight. The most welcome consequence of the literal peace and quiet has been a return of my ability to hold something in my head for longer than a second, a lifting of the buzzing fog that seemed like, but happily was not, a permanent mental presence. This ability and freedom to focus comes in handy when dialing phone numbers, getting back on task after an interruption, quickly finishing a small task, efficiently starting a big one, leave for home on time, et cetera.

Matching this new psychological state is the striking, and nearly as welcome, decline in the number and intensity of received emails. I don’t think I’ve had a single email yet that demanded a response within an hour, much less within minutes. At Old Job, I got several of those a day – often, two or three in the hour after lunch. This morning, by way of comparison, I had four new emails. Two duplicated each other – delete one! – and then two of the remaining three were irrelevant – delete! delete!

Having “long, luxurious stretches” to work more or less continuously on a single task – or to choose when I interrupt myself – is a wonderful thing, and it nicely complements my newfound privacy. I hated feeling like I was constantly under observation, if not on exhibit, but in my new desk it’s the diametric and near-euphoric opposite: I cannot see anyone (unless they cross in front of my door) and no one can see me (ditto). And on top of this boon is the last I’ll mention now: my big LCD monitor. It seems almost as large as my south-facing window (itself a hard-to-underestimate feature of the job), but it’s also set up such that no one can it and it’s big and clear enough to allow me to arrange almost my work as I see fit. I started doing this by reflex, inspired by a half-remembered statement of Edward Tufte to the effect that one should use the biggest and best possible monitor so that the maximum amount of data was visible at once. My futzing was reinforced over the weekend by a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine on “interruption science” – the study of how and why office work is disturbed and disrupted, and how to make office work better. One researcher – at Microsoft! – found that
Computer users were as restless as hummingbirds. On average, they juggled eight different windows at the same time - a few e-mail messages, maybe a Web page or two and a PowerPoint document. More astonishing, they would spend barely 20 seconds looking at one window before flipping to another.

Why the constant shifting? In part it was because of the basic way that today's computers are laid out. A computer screen offers very little visual real estate. It is like working at a desk so small that you can look at only a single sheet of paper at a time. A Microsoft Word document can cover almost an entire screen. Once you begin multitasking, a computer desktop very quickly becomes buried in detritus.

This is part of the reason that, when someone is interrupted, it takes 25 minutes to cycle back to the original task. Once their work becomes buried beneath a screenful of interruptions, office workers appear to literally forget what task they were originally pursuing. We do not like to think we are this flighty: we might expect that if we are, say, busily filling out some forms and are suddenly distracted by a phone call, we would quickly return to finish the job. But we don't. Researchers find that 40 percent of the time, workers wander off in a new direction when an interruption ends, distracted by the technological equivalent of shiny objects. The central danger of interruptions… is not really the interruption at all. It is the havoc they wreak with our short-term memory: What the heck was I just doing?
Almost all of the solutions, it turns out, are technical, not social: new software, better hardware, etc. Nobody's talking too much in this piece about creating office environments where human interaction takes place differently, except insofar as that interaction can be controlled by technologies. This emphasis on Stuff, not People, is, in itself, an interesting story, but a predictable one given that Microsoft is behind the research. At any rate, part of the solution was giant monitors.
Researchers took 15 volunteers, sat each one in front of a regular-size 15-inch monitor and had them complete a variety of tasks designed to challenge their powers of concentration - like a Web search, some cutting and pasting and memorizing a seven-digit phone number. Then the volunteers repeated these same tasks, this time using a computer with a massive 42-inch screen, as big as a plasma TV.

The results? On the bigger screen, people completed the tasks at least 10 percent more quickly - and some as much as 44 percent more quickly. They were also more likely to remember the seven-digit number, which showed that the multitasking was clearly less taxing on their brains... In two decades of research, [the researcher] had never seen a single tweak to a computer system so significantly improve a user's productivity. The clearer your screen, she found, the calmer your mind.
I’m not quite to the point of requesting a high-res movie screen for my office, but then again, my new setup is nice enough that I don’t think I need one to do my job and enjoy it. And that, by itself, is a good arrangement.

Booting Up

Driving to work this morning, and perhaps impelled by the need to get myself booted up for the day, I spontaneously wondered about the etymology of the phrase, "to boot up." I guessed, rounding the corners on Highway 19 into Northfield, that it derived somehow from "pulling oneself up by the bootstraps," and it turns out that's right. From the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, the etymology of "boot":
To load and initialise the operating system on a computer. Normally abbreviated to "boot". From the curious expression "to pull oneself up by one's bootstraps", one of the legendary feats of Baron von Munchhausen.
Here's another, more musing take on the etymology.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Admit It - You've Got Problems

I've been fascinated by college admissions since I had a long conversation with my admissions counselor at Macalester College about the then-recent invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's army. What on earth, I wondered, having just wandered down from the woods, did that have to do with getting into college?

Turned out, quite a lot. That conversation - that interview - was probably instrumental in my getting a ton of financial aid from Mac, which in turn enabled me to go to a school that thinks of itself as elite and that certainly instilled in me a sense of being privileged and capable, if not exactly elite.

Getting into grad school at Northwestern and getting an even better package of aid gave me another good personal experience with being the admitted. Not long after that, I gathered Case #3 by serving as a de-facto admissions officer at an online university where admissions standards were constantly eroding under the wave action of moneymaking. Unlike Cases #1 and #2, this one sucked, and I'm thankful to be forgetting big chunks of it.

This New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell brought everything back, from Mac to Northwestern to that online school. As a historian might, Gladwell uses Harvard to show how higher-ed admissions - the world of SATs, entrance essays, interviews, AP classes, and so forth - has developed over more than a century into a system which, at least at the elite level, values character as much or more than intelligence. It's a fascinating and disturbing tale which made me feel much better about not even having tried to get into the Ivies. Mac worked out just fine...

Three Milestones

1. Yesterday, I couldn't remember the five schools of study operated by my former employer. It's so good to forget...
2. Today, I realized that it's been a least two weeks since I had to write anything in bullet points.
3. I haven't seen or used PowerPoint in at least that long.

Ahh, the new job is good...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

16 Months and a Barrel of Laughs

Five anecdotes of the weekend with the toddler:

1. She ended her long Sunday with a trip to the grocery store, where she greeted literally everyone we passed or who passed us by with the shrieked, shouted, whispered, announced word "Hi." A good number of our fellow shoppers returned the favor, and I hope she brightened their evenings.

2. Her love of magazine covers reached a new peak on Saturday morning when she walked up to the current Atlantic Monthly, put her index finger on the picture of A.Q. Khan (the mastermind of Pakistan's nuclear bombs and a baaad man), and then leaned it to give him a big kiss. This may shed some light on her continuing use of the word/sound "Oppy."

3. She suddenly and mystifyingly started touching a drawing of a big bat and a little bat (the nocturnal, flying kind) in one of her books and then saying confidently, "Mama." We had no idea why she was doing this until we found, in another book, a picture of a a mama bat and a baby bat, hanging upside down and smiling.

4. A few times each day, she would jump up, say, "Niiii!" and then rush to her room, where she'd demand either her favorite bear - Pinky Bear - or her blanket. On receiving the right item into her arms, she'd sigh again, "Niiiii" - "Nice."

5. Friday, she marched into the guest room, reached up to touch our boombox stereo (recently exiled from a prominent spot in the living room to an unobtrusive shelf in the guest room), and went, "Ya ya ya ya," her word for singing. This meant, as any toddler's mother should know, that she wanted to hear some music and dance. After Shannon complied on Friday, Julia asked again on Sunday. We put the boombox on a chair in the living room, plugged it in, and cued up some Laurie Berkner. Julia then spent nearly half an hour standing there, pressing different buttons, and joggling her legs in a toddler dance of joy.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Future's So Bright...

Tonight, Julia insisted on putting on her sunglasses before we started reading her bedtime books. She wore them right up to the moment I put her in her crib, at which point I had to take them away. It was an odd experience to read "Everywhere Babies" to a baby wearing pink-striped Hello Kitty shades. I can't wait to see what sort of sartorial chaos ensues when she's allowed even a modicum of agency in choosing her clothes.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Whitest, Malest White Male in All Creation

A milestone of dubious value was reached today when my stay-at-home wife called and left a message for me with my female assistant. It was actually written down on a telephone-message pad, which I will save forever as proof of my white-male-ness.

Though neither the call nor the message concerned either a cup of coffee or a Martini, this event did lead me to conclude that I'm definitely voting for Ike in '52. Us white guys have to stick together.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

One More Point/Counterpoint

Leaving each day at OJ meant standing at the same spot in quadrilinear downtown Minneapolis (3rd Avenue & S. 6th Street), hanging out with the same fellow commuters while waiting for the same buses. Leaving each day at NJ means seeing just what the undergrads are up to on the Bald Spot. Today, that meant
  • to my right, a group of bundled-up kids (ironically?) playing croquet on one patch of grass,
  • to my left, three women, one of whom was wearing a sari, playing 2-on-1 badminton on another patch of grass, and
  • straight ahead, a woman riding a unicycle to the geology building, the aptly-named Mudd Hall.
Now, that's good people-watching.

(If the Carleton Coverage is getting tiresome, sorry - read another blog!)

The New Job: Prose and Khans

As an undergrad essay might begin, "My New Job so far has both advantages versus disadvantages to my Old Job."
NJ - Campus chapel's bells ring at noon
OJ - Satan scrapes his trident over cubicle walls at noon

NJ: Nearest snacks located three buildings away, over currently-windswept sidewalks
OJ: Nearest snacks located downstairs via elevators

NJ: Students wear college gear, communally affirming their relationship to the institution
OJ: Employees wore university gear, doing free advertising for company

NJ - See cows and horses on commute down
OJ - Dealt with manure during workday

NJ: Lots of good office swag, including a Palm Pilot
OJ: Lots of good office swag, including an aluminum clipboard

NJ - Driving into town takes me past the Malt o' Meal Plant
OJ - Riding downtown took me past malt liquor bottles and people who haven't had a square meal in days

NJ - Desk chair not out of place on the bridge of the starship
OJ - Desk chair not out of place in the interrogation chamber of one of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" jets

NJ: Box elder and scarlet oak trees right outside my window
OJ: Nearest trees nine stories down in a terrorist-proofed public park

NJ: My own laser printer, sitting right there on my desk for me to use, refill with paper, etc.
OJ: Common laser printer, sitting a cubicle away for me to use, refill with paper, etc.

NJ: Personal laser printer makes scary "ka-chunk!" sound after printing
OJ: Common laser printer always clogged with hard copies of other people's emails

NJ: No easy access to a coffee shop; bad headaches and unspent twenties
OJ: Easy access to a coffee shop; caffeine addiction and excessive discretionary spending

NJ - College colors are blue and maize, and have been since 1889
OJ - University colors are brick and off-white, and have been since some consultant said they were cool, back last year or so

NJ: Can see the campus quad, "the Bald Spot," from my office
OJ: Could see bald spot on top of female boss's head from first cubicle

NJ: Structures around my building: astronomical observatory, library, math building
OJ: Structures around my building: office tower, office tower, office tower, office tower

NJ - Everyone may have have to deal with getting some snow this winter
OJ - Everyone always getting snowed

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

From the Fingers of Babes

As we read for the zillionth time Julia's favorite book, Everywhere Babies, she paused on a page showing various parental combinations (white mom and white dad, black dad and white mom, two dads, et cetera), carefully put her finger down on the rather butch-looking half of a two-mom couple, and said triumphantly, "Dada!"

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

New Job, Day 2

The day began by driving in the pouring rain to Northfield, which fair city smelled deliciously of cereal in the morning and of sandwiches in the afternoon, thanks to the Malt-o-Meal plant at the edge of town.

The day, being hours 9 through 16 of the new job, felt less impressionistic and list-able than the day before. It hung together very well, and again, bizarrely, the high point of the day was a meeting. Actually, a talk by a physics prof and a math prof about their experience swapping classes with each other. It was very illuminating of the Carleton experience, both for undergrads - who seem to be U of Chicago-type overachievers - and for faculty - who seem to be uniformly well spoken and humor-enabled. On the ego-tripping front, it's also been nice to have many people come up to me and say, "Oh, you must be Christopher! We're glad you're here."

Today's little glimpse into undergrad life was provided by three women who were carrying a giant box, at least three feet by six feet, out of the student center. One explained, as I held the door open, "My dad mailed me a bike." Of course he did!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Oil Spill Katrina

Clarifying hyperbolic descriptions of Katrina as the worst natural disaster in America's history, this article makes it clear that the hurricane probably caused oil spills that have done more extensive and intensive damage than any other spills in American history, even Exxon Valdez. Simply horrifying stuff.

Ten Thoughts on the New Job

10. My office building, Laird Hall, is pretty.
9. It's possible that the janitors are playing some kind of weird joke by making the men's room smell like coconuts. (On the plus side, the men's room is in the basement, the only acceptable location for men's rooms in old academic buildings.)
8. Carleton takes its frisbee very seriously: as I was leaving for the day, two guys were casually but sharply tossing a disc back and forth on the quad. One was wearing wide receiver's gloves.
7. It's easy to follow the blue signs reading "Keys" to find the woman who hands out the keys.
6. The prospect of a college-supplied Palm Pilot and an expense-account credit card is so freaking adult I practically want to regress to a pacifier, just to compensate.
5. College food is a lot better now than it was when I was in school.
4. The skyways haven't been finished yet - they are all at sidewalk level and none have roofs or walls, much less Caribous, ATMs, Girl Scouts, or homeless people.
3. You know you're in the right place when someone uses the word, "de-silo-ize," but doses it with more irony than McSweeney's.
2. Two-hour meetings don't seem so long when people are talking about interesting things.
1. I think this job's going to be F.I.N.E.

Burn my Wallet

"The Lego Group, based in Denmark, recently opened an online Lego Factory (, where Lego enthusiasts can design projects with free 3-D software and then order a kit to build the model."

More here, but surely this is a sign that all is right with the world?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Toys, or What?

The resident 16-month old seems to be at a funny spot with her toys, so I bought her two new items today. I hope the jack-in-the-box will be physically challenging (turning that crank) and thrilling, not terrifying, when the jack pops up. And I'm pretty confident she'll like the good ol' Fisher-Price "See 'n Say," farm animal edition. The current version not quite the same thing I remember: there's a lever, not a pull-string (strangling hazard?); the sounds are clearly digital, not analog; and, worst of all, there's a "New Quiz Mode!" It's too late now to see what that is all about (don't wake the baby!), but come the hell on: a quiz for toddlers? What the hizzell...

20 Days to the Nordic Season

October 22-23 will see the opening of the 2005-2006 cross-country World Cup, four sprint races in Dusseldorf, Germany. The events - men's and women's individual sprints on the 22nd and men's and women's team sprints on the 23rd - are actually prologue to the regular season, which starts in earnest on November 19-20 with distance events in Beitostolen, Norway.

With the season so close, the actual and hopeful elite teams are finalizing their preparations for five months of racing. It's not looking too good for Sweden, which has been trying to return to the upper echelon of international racing now occupied by Norway, Germany, and maybe Russia and Italy. The Swedes' new coach, Norwegian Inge Braaten, recently said that one of his main goals is "to steer the development toward making the Swedes tougher in competitions" and thus more able to figuratively and literally fight for front positions in the increasing number of mass-start races. Braaten, who coached the Norwegian team during their 1990s heyday, thinks that last year's overall cup winner, Axel Teichmann of Germany, is the favorite for the upcoming season. On the other hand, he's got minimal expectations of Per Eloffson and Matthias Fredriksson. Over the past decade, the two Swedes have won quite a few races and a World Cup title or two between them, but both have trained poorly over the summer and can't be thought likely to do terrifically well this winter. Eloffson is still recovering from having overtrained during his runs at the '02 Olympics and '03 World Championships; Fredriksson has just been plain tired. If they were healthy, and Jurgen Brink came back to form, Sweden's men's team would be formidable. As it is, the Swedish men look like an afterthought, and the women's team features a couple of strong sprinters, such as Emelie Ohrstig, but few who can compete over the long-distance races.

The big and supremely talented German team seems to be ready for the season, judging by recent dryland time trials: a running race won by Tobias Angerer (over a 10km course) and Claudia Kunzel-Nystad (5km) and a skate-technique roller-ski race won by Jens Filbrich (over 15km) and Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle (9km). In the running race, Teichmann finished well back of Angerer but the champion finished close behind Filbrich in the roller-ski race. Both Angerer and Filbrich are overdue to step up to the top of the World Cup.

The Norwegians, too, are in good shape. The men, including classic specialists Anders Aukland and Odd-Bjorn Hjelmeset and skating specialist Tore Ruud Hofstad, seem to be focusing on marathon-length races, which may suggest a big push to win March's 90km Vasaloppet. Though Marit Bjorgen, the '04-'05 World Cup champion, bonked badly in a roller-ski time trail, there are certainly enough good female Norwegian skiers, including Hilde Petersen and Kristin Steira Stoermer, that the team continues to aim for the 2006 Olympics at Torino, where they hope to win six medals, half gold.

And while it's unlikely that the American men are going to do that much damage at the Olympics or on the World Cup, we can dare hope for some good results from the men, as they've been training pretty hard, holding three races - an individual sprint, a team sprint, and an an uphill time trial at Lake Placid. America's top racer, Kris Freeman, won the time trial and was half of the winning sprint team.There's not much news out there in English about other near-elite teams (Russia, Italy, even the women from Finland) or individual racers (Kristina Smigun or Andrus Veerpalu of Estonia, Vincent Vittoz of France).

Between Jobs

Here it is, Sunday afternoon, and my weekend of being "between jobs" is almost over already. I have the strange feeling of being excited for Monday, which is something I haven't felt since, er... since going on vacation in August.

I'm somewhat surprised by how rapidly I have acquired a sense of distance from Old Job. I'm very much looking forward to hearing gossip from my friends who are still on the inside (if only to see karmic retributions in action), but I already know I'm going to be surprised and amazed at any changes they tell me about, even if they happen on Monday morning. It's very much my former place of employment.
Sitting around yesterday afternoon, I had occasion to think about what I'll tell people if/when they ask me where I'm working. Apart from working out a short spiel about what New Job seems to be, I realized with a happy start that I won't have to make the uncomfortable choice between using "they" and "we" when referring to my employer. Saying "they" always made me feel like I was being disloyal and disconnected (and I guess I was the latter), while saying "we" always made me feel like an underachiever or cheerleader. No more! I'm happy to assimilate myself to the Carleton mind. A quick rundown from the weekend: Goooo Knights! Booooo Blazers! Booooo Johnnies! Goooo Knights?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Rowf, Rowf

Two pieces of doggerel on my last day, one by Elise and one by me:

There once was a man from Hancock
Whose own job he would constantly mock
He said with a frown as he sat back down
Please fire me or knock my block ock!

There once was a man from Hancock
Whose own job he would constantly mock
But he quickly acquired one he'd always desired
While his colleagues cried out "What a crock!"

Can you tell which one's which?