September 28, 2007

An unpleasant moment

This week has been full of unpleasant moments (but some very pleasant ones, too) but if I had to pick one unpleasant moment above all others, it would be this one:

So, there I am, lying on a weight bench, 8 reps into my third set of chest presses. I am pushing a 75 pound dumbbell in each hand and at this point, I have pushed them for a total of 35 times. Five more reps and I hit 40, at which point I will stop. Or, and now we get to the unpleasant part, I could just stop at 8 when I feel something in my left shoulder painfully pop in the middle of the rep, causing great pain and resulting in my arm collapsing so I kind of bounce the 75 pound weight off of my chest.

The trainer took me through a series of exercises with both arms afterwards and determined that I did not have any muscle problem or any rotator cuff problem. I am not sure what failed but I know that I am a bit sore, still, and quite hugely pissed off.

Yes, a most unpleasant moment, indeed, when I realized that my arm was going to collapse on me.

I trust, for my friends out there, your day is going better than mine.

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September 26, 2007

An interesting remark

I was idly casting my gaze over today's NY Times restaurant review when a remark in said review kind of jumped off the page and slapped me on the chin. Here's the remark:

[T]hey know that many diners sprinting to the newest hot spot don’t really want to find anything new. They want reassurance that they’ve mastered what’s worth knowing.

Half of being cool in New York is making it look like you are in the know. I assume that applies just about everywhere, of course, but the fact is that the pace of change in New York can feel so rapid, with so many people full of tremendous energy packed in like rats on a sinking ship, so many of them feverishly working away at redefining what's cool and what's now and what, by contrast, is so pathetically two weeks ago, that it takes on an extra edge in New York. Or, at least, we'd like to think so. Those of us in the know. You know.

But it does seriously point out one thing: at some point you just get tired of trying to absorb new facts and new information so that it looks like you are in the know. At some point, the brain overloads. That's when pizza comes in. Pizza is your cure for the overworked mind.

Or chocolate. That's good, too.

I seem to have gone way off from where I wanted to go and, now that I am lost in the strange byways of my own mind, cannot figure out how to get back.

Ah, well. Interesting quote, though, right?

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September 24, 2007

Wisdom from the Girl Child

The Girl Child is about six and three quarters at this point. Keep that in mind as you read the following. What is clear to me is that I really need to spend more time listenting to her.

We were returning to the house Friday night after Kol Nidre services. I brought the Girl Child and the Boy Child with me. Kol Nidre is an interesting service, if you were wondering. It is the point in the repentance cycle in which you ask G-d to release you from all the promises and bargains you struck with him during the year and which you were unable to fulfill. It is a nifty little concept. Anyway, we were driving home, me, the kids, and my parents and we got to talking about repentance and the Girl Child asked what that was:

My Father: To repent is tell G-d that you are really, really sorry and to ask him to forgive you.

My Mother: And you also tell G-d that you will never do it again.

Me: Or at least, that you will try to never do it again.

GC: Right, that makes more sense. I mean, nobody’s perfect and people do make mistakes.


The second lesson I learned from my daughter this weekend came during the football game late Sunday afternoon. We don’t watch a lot of television in our house but I do like the occasional game, especially early in the season when, in theory, everyone is tied for first place. The Girl Child was sitting to watch a little with me when a commercial came on and I promptly muted it. The problem is, you see, that the Girl Child can read and this is what happened next:

GC: “Life takes Visa”? No, it doesn’t. That’s so wrong.

Me: Oh? What does life take?

GC: Life takes love.

I was a little humbled by that. Such a simple answer but such a significant truth. I cannot help but think that if that is her view of things, my wife and I cannot be doing as bad a job with her as I feared.

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September 21, 2007


If you visited my site yesterday between, say, 5:00 and 10:00 last night, you would have seen not the lovely banners my friend Margi created for me out of my pictures of Antigua Guatemala, but some odd Islamic midget wrapped in that ever so attractive burka along with a scrawl that I believe represented a form of communication in Arabic. In other words, I was hacked by someone from the Arabic speaking (or at least, typing) world. I was unhappy about it, certainly, although I have no idea what message the writing was intended to convey. Perhaps a simple, "Kilroy was here" kind of thing.

Either way, huge thanks to the Pixy Master himself for restoring peace, order and tranquility to my little home.

And so, ceaselessly beating against the currents, we blog on.

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September 20, 2007

Last lectures?

I had not heard of this thing before, the last lecture. Have you? It is thought provoking and more than a little searing. The idea is that you have one chance to speak, one chance to give your last words, your last thoughts, your last reflections, your final synthesis of your years of concentrated musing, your parting words.

I don't know (and indeed, shy away from thinking about it too deeply) what I would say at my last lecture.

This article from the Wall Street Journal, which I excerpt below, blew me away:

At Carnegie Mellon, however, Dr. Pausch's speech was more than just an academic exercise. The 46-year-old father of three has pancreatic cancer and expects to live for just a few months. His lecture, using images on a giant screen, turned out to be a rollicking and riveting journey through the lessons of his life.

He began by showing his CT scans, revealing 10 tumors on his liver. But after that, he talked about living. If anyone expected him to be morose, he said, "I'm sorry to disappoint you." He then dropped to the floor and did one-handed pushups.

Clicking through photos of himself as a boy, he talked about his childhood dreams: to win giant stuffed animals at carnivals, to walk in zero gravity, to design Disney rides, to write a World Book entry. By adulthood, he had achieved each goal. As proof, he had students carry out all the huge stuffed animals he'd won in his life, which he gave to audience members. After all, he doesn't need them anymore.

He paid tribute to his techie background. "I've experienced a deathbed conversion," he said, smiling. "I just bought a Macintosh." Flashing his rejection letters on the screen, he talked about setbacks in his career, repeating: "Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things." He encouraged us to be patient with others. "Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you." After showing photos of his childhood bedroom, decorated with mathematical notations he'd drawn on the walls, he said: "If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let 'em do it."

While displaying photos of his bosses and students over the years, he said that helping others fulfill their dreams is even more fun than achieving your own. He talked of requiring his students to create videogames without sex and violence. "You'd be surprised how many 19-year-old boys run out of ideas when you take those possibilities away," he said, but they all rose to the challenge.

He also saluted his parents, who let him make his childhood bedroom his domain, even if his wall etchings hurt the home's resale value. He knew his mom was proud of him when he got his Ph.D, he said, despite how she'd introduce him: "This is my son. He's a doctor, but not the kind who helps people."

He then spoke about his legacy. Considered one of the nation's foremost teachers of videogame and virtual-reality technology, he helped develop "Alice," a Carnegie Mellon software project that allows people to easily create 3-D animations. It had one million downloads in the past year, and usage is expected to soar.

"Like Moses, I get to see the Promised Land, but I don't get to step foot in it," Dr. Pausch said. "That's OK. I will live on in Alice."

Many people have given last speeches without realizing it. The day before he was killed, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke prophetically: "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place." He talked of how he had seen the Promised Land, even though "I may not get there with you."

Dr. Pausch's lecture, in the same way, became a call to his colleagues and students to go on without him and do great things. But he was also addressing those closer to his heart.

Near the end of his talk, he had a cake brought out for his wife, whose birthday was the day before. As she cried and they embraced on stage, the audience sang "Happy Birthday," many wiping away their own tears.

Dr. Pausch's speech was taped so his children, ages 5, 2 and 1, can watch it when they're older. His last words in his last lecture were simple: "This was for my kids." Then those of us in the audience rose for one last standing ovation.

If you'd like to see the full video report (some 4 minutes), here it is:

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September 18, 2007

Food Safety Concerns and a Risk Mitigation Strategy

Our news outlets have been full of stories lately about unsafe products coming in to the United States. There are unsafe toys and unsafe pet food. There have been unsafe fruits and vegetables contaminated with all kinds of icky things which lead, I gather, to hospital stays and other unhappy experiences. Other times, you hear about and may have even witnessed people choking in restaurants on fish bones or a piece of gristle from a steak. Happens even in the best of dining establishments.

Well, I have a solution to this problem. A solution so obvious I am shocked to be the first one to propose it.

Only eat dessert.

That's right. The people are right who advocate: "Life is short, eat dessert first". There are no food safety issues with dessert. When did you hear last about contaminated chocolate? Never, that's when.

When did you see someone choking on ice cream? Never.

You want to be safe and careful and sane when you eat?

Eat dessert. Leave the meat and vegetables to the dare devils.

Me, I'm advocating a pure risk averse life style here: eat only dessert.

Be safe, people.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:17 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 17, 2007

A busy, busy Sunday

Sunday was a terribly busy day and I worry a mere foreshadowing of things to come. The weather, unlike Saturday, was glorious. It was cool and crisp with that achingly beautiful and terribly acute sunshine that feels as if it is struggling, after all its summer time work, to warm the earth.

We had everyone out the door by 8:50 to head off to Winslow Park where the Viking Bride had arranged a sitting with a photographer for a family portrait, courtesy of a PTA fundraiser. The boys were dressed in matching pants and both in seersucker jackets while the Girl Child picked out a skirt. The baby was not terribly cooperative but I will note that we appeared to be the only family there not in tears so even if we don’t get a good portrait out of it I will still count it as a moral victory. Then, back to the car.

Off we went home to get the Girl Child changed for riding and the Viking Bride changed for her dance class. She took the GC off and I played with the boys. The Boy Child and I played balloon tennis (hitting a balloon back and forth to each other with our hands) for a half an hour and the baby played with cars. Then, I loaded the boys into the car and we toddled off to watch the end of the GC’s riding lesson.

We arrived just in time to be told that we missed seeing her jump. Actually, I was kind of disturbed when the instructor told me, with a sort of awed tone of voice, that the GC is totally fearless and that instead of jumping over a piece of pipe laying on the ground, she and her pony went over two pieces of pipe crossed in an X and at much greater speed than she was supposed to be going. “Ah, well”, I was told, “at least she didn’t fall off”. Yes, I was left very reassured indeed. That said, I was really pleased at the progress the GC has made in the short time she has been doing this. She posts along like a pro and her instructor seems to think that she has great potential here since she is without fear. She looks so much more comfortable in the saddle, happy to kick her horse into moving faster, happy to trot along and do her own thing.

Her lesson finished at 11:00. She was loaded into the car, still in riding gear, and given a snack and a drink, and we headed off to Sunday School, arriving just in time. I took her chaps off in the parking lot and brushed her hair from the damage her riding hat had caused. Sunday School started at 11:15.

The boys and I went back to the house for more balloon tennis and to wait for the Vking Bride’s triumphant arrival from dance class. Then we all went off back to the Club to get lunch. Unfortunately, the Club was closed due to hosting a major antique car show. The cars on display were stunning and, in the parking lot, I saw more Porsches and Ferraris in one place than I have ever seen before. We admired the cars and listened to the ceremonial starting of the engines. The race cars made fairly impressive noises.

After lunch at home, the boys were shooed off to bed for naps and I returned to the synagogue to fetch the GC from Sunday School at 1:15. She assured me it went well. She was given a snack at home and packed a bag to be taken by the Vking Bride off to a 2:00 swimming birthday party. I stayed home, breathed a sigh of relief and did what manly men do all over the country – I turned on the football game and did some ironing.

The BC woke up at 2:45, just as I was going up to get him. He put on his tennis whites and had a snack as we waited for the VB to return from dropping the GC off at her party. She came back and the BC and I immediately left to hit the tennis courts at the Club. We were on the courts by 3:00 and we played for an hour and ten minutes.

I could not believe how good the BC was at tennis. We worked on getting his racquet back and watching the ball throughout the stroke and he was soon getting the ball back over the net consistently and with great coordination. Every time he concentrated on watching the ball, he had no problems unconsciously moving his body to the right place to make contact. And every time he hit it back to a place I could not reach it, he was positively gleeful. Whenever I told him how well he was doing, he positively glowed and he buckled down and concentrated even harder. We actually had a four hit rally at one point with him hitting the same ball back to me four times in a row. After one series, he told me happily that I had said “wow” two times! I was also really pleased at how he was able to maintain his concentration for a total of 70 minutes without flagging at all. On our last 10 balls, he dinked the first one into the net and declared that it didn’t count towards our ten because only the ones he hit over could count. He appeared to be delighted with the whole experience. I know I was.

We arrived home just before the GC and her gang at 4:20. The BC and I washed our tennis clothes and got ready for dinner. We went out to a new (for us) restaurant in Fairfield which, while it turned out to be expensive, was quite good and made the VB very happy. The baby was in an exceptionally good mood all dinner, blowing kisses to people, playing hide and seek with his napkin, playing peek-a-boo with the clearly enthralled wait staff, chirping to all the new customers as they came in, all while putting down almost as much food as the BC did.

It was funny but it was during dinner that the GC’s clear competitiveness came through loud and clear. The GC, BC, and I were playing a game that they like to play in which they have to guess what number I am thinking of between 1 and whatever I pick. The BC won three times in a row. The GC was practically beside herself, insisting that we keep playing and would only consent to stop playing after she won a couple of times herself. The girl cannot stand to lose at anything. Period. The BC, while competitive, is clearly a bit more laid back. It was just interesting to watch. She was leaning forward on the edge of her seat and carefully considering all of her options before she was prepared to hazard a guess.

After dinner, we were home in time for another chapter of the mystery we are reading together and then they were all off to bed.

A successful but very busy weekend day.

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September 14, 2007

Pilot Training: Time Suck of the Day

This one is among the most insidious time sucks I have ever seen. My personal best, so far, is 19.95 seconds. I'm sure you all can do better.

I am told that fighter pilots are expected to be able to do it for at least 120 seconds but that 18 seconds for mere mortals is outstanding.

And now, without further ado: THE TIME SUCK OF THE DAY GAME.

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Nope, not dead

I am sorry about all of the silence over here. Things have been crazy busy at work and with the Jewish holidays coming very early this year, well, I have not had a lot of time to write. So, in case you were interested, that's my excuse and I am sticking to it.

I don't have a whole lot else to say right now, or rather, I have so much to say that my thoughts have crowded each other out in the race to get to the front of the line. So, I will be back when I calm down a titch.

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