Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What it should be called

Q received this tutu/fairy wings/wand getup for her last birthday. She's been disappearing into her room and emerging with it on more and more these days, especially when we're all listening to music (which, thanks to my lovely wife, happens much more often these days).

Recently when she was dancing and spinning with the rest of us, my wife asked her if she was a ballerina. "No," Q replied. "I'm a spinnerina. This is my spinnerina outfit."

I couldn't think of a better name for it and for her.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Now eponymous

In case you haven't noticed (and you might not have had to), the blog now resides on its own domain--namely The old address,, will send you here as well. Feel free to update your bookmarks and/or your blog-surfing habits anyway.

Who knows? I might even get around to changing the look of the place, too.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Happy Anniversary to Us

Eight years today. We celebrated after work with a criminally rich chocolate cake from a local patisserie, and champagne. (I'm sipping some now in between sentences, as a matter of fact.) And with our kids who are wonderfully ubiquitous.

The photograph of my beautiful wife above was taken before digital cameras were mainstream; I had to take a picture of the picture to put it up. For this reason and for a few others, it seems a long time ago, and then it doesn't.

Okay, enough writing for today. I want to get back to simply loving my wife.

Here's to eight years, and to many, many more.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wave function

The Boy is the definition of body in motion. He sprints to the incoming water, then at its edge spins back like the gulls overhead calling for snacks. He races and beats the wave up to the dry sand; the retreating ocean takes his footprints with it as a consolation. He celebrates briefly with a yelp and is off again. Repeat pretty much ad infinitium.

Q stands and waits for the ocean to come to her until it disappears the beach up to her ankles, and then, gripping my fingers at first, she sits and lets go to clap a splash up over her smile. The pull back is strong — dragging earth and shells and thoughts out to somewhere down and black — but Q won't go. She enjoys leaving the memory of her resistance in the saturated sand. I stand a little ways behind her all set to snatch her up if a wave comes in high and fast, which, since I'm in Active Parent Mode, seems always about to happen. Since Q is, well, Q — viz., small and tenacious and mighty — I only have to come between her and the ocean a few times.

The day itself is faultless. After weeks of city heat, the air feels cool and light, the ocean and the sky competing for bluest abyss, with the sky barely winning because it has no bottom. There are no clouds to suggest anything. The sand heats up our feet but not too much, and the water proves warm and easy to be in.

We’ve come to this beach, a gorgeous hem of sand on the Jersey shore, in a rented car. We don’t have one of our own, haven’t had one for thirteen years now, and the trip itself (even in a Ford Focus) therefore almost suffices as the event for Q and The Boy. Almost. They love the beach, and our destination is what really keeps them from rioting in the back seats as we crawl in traffic down the Garden State Parkway and through a small town that from the inside looks nowhere near a coast.

This trip has them even more excited because we're meeting close friends there, friends my wife and I knew before weddings and kids came about. Their oldest (will call him 'D') is nearly six now, and our son can't get enough of him. It's understandable — The Boy, like D, is into soccer and bikes and instantiates the irrepressible physics of boy bodies. Watching D out in the waves makes The Boy brave, and as the day grows he leaps into taller and taller water, and when knocked down he pops back up and rubs his face laughing.

Our friends' two daughters always catch Q's attention, too. When she can't see them, she asks after them, and J (the older daughter) watches over her like a big sister, holding hands, just being close. She loves it. G, the other sister, talks now and then to all manner of characters on a pink toy phone — "Hello? Cinderella? I'll get back to you" — and let's Q place some important calls as well, likewise princess related.

When we leave, no one denies it's time to go. Our friends have parked in the opposite direction, so after all the kids have been ushered through the concrete bathrooms, we kiss and hug and shake on the busy boardwalk. The Boy doesn't get too sad so I know he's really tired, and he confirms my suspicion in the car not long after we drive off to New York. Q falls asleep even before that. My wife and I wonder to each other in the quiet why we don't do this more often.

The beach stows away home with us, in our hair and our clothes and our heads. (And all over and in the rented Ford, but they can worry about that.) Later that night and many times since, The Boy asserts that he wants a kid surfboard.

I want them — and us — to sleep this well each night.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Now hear this: WNYC's Radiolab

Our local public radio station, WNYC, generates quite a few excellent shows, including Radio Lab. Although Radio Lab "is heard around the country on over 150 stations" as they put it, their episodes can be accessed anytime via the web or as a podcast, if you're like me and into that sort of thing.

On my way to work today I listened to a show of theirs from 2005 entitled "Emergence" in which the two hosts try to unpack, in a remarkably sophisticated and subtle way, how larger-scale order arises out of smaller-scale randomness and chaos, how a whole bunch of dumb things (like individual neurons or ants) can somehow coalesce or cooperate into a smart thing (a conscious thought or an effecient ant colony).*

This is a great episode of a great show. It goes a long way to communicating the wonder and difficulty of problems in consciousness and brain research, how even the simplest examples of the mind at work quickly leave us unsure exactly how to ask the right questions.

*Disclaimer: Though I don't know Christof Koch personally, I've been rather involved in an organization he's helped to create and to maintain, namely the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Not trying to shill or to promote, though. And the section of the show where he's interviewed is really quite touching.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


So I tried to put this photo of Q waiting to cross the street on her trike—taken by my lovely wife, of course—up for the blog header, but it didn't sit well up top. Still, I like it so much that I'm posting it on its own. To appreciate it properly, give it a click to see it full scale. Then have a look at (among other things) what my wife chose to bring in to focus and what she left soft.

We're lucky to have someone so good to make a record of our lives. She can even make me look good, which is doing something.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Here we are Simpsonized, courtesy of my lovely wife.  (Notice how hot she's made herself, by the way; she assures me that it's "accurate.")  It's great fun, especially if you're a fan, which I am.

(Note:  Picture not necessarily to scale.  While I'd like to think that I have a juicy, chess-club brain, I don't think my head normally affects the tides.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Job lag

It's August in New York, which means that every time you step outside, the air is such that you feel like a large, well-paid man has put a pillow over your face. And it smells. Someone somewhere described the smell of the City in August as reminiscent of a thawing refrigerator. Though our neighborhood is a little better in this regard than, say, our old Greenwich Village street, the analogy is nevertheless a good one. So there's that.

My apologies for the largeish gap between posts. I've started my new job, which is straight up M-F 9-5 with commute, and I'm still recovering from job lag. I knew, of course, that the change from a "pure academic" to an administrator would be radical, primarily because I would go from seeing my kids several hours each day (and at least one entire day per week) to seeing them for roughly two hours before their beds get them for the night. Instead of making dinner for them every weekday evening, I ask what and whether they ate.

Q and The Boy have adjusted fairly well to the change, it seems. They've noticed--The Boy did ask why I was coming home so late from work now--but if my being gone more has shattered their earth, they've disguised it quite well. As a good friend of mine advised me, you will be affected much more than the kids (and affected by them not being that affected, alas). And, of course, she's right.

Things are rather different. Traditional academics (those who teach and research for publication in professional journals) are essentially idea entrepreneurs. They manage businesses of one, developing and promoting concepts and arguments on their own wherever and whenever they can. Like other entrepeneurs in business and whatnot, they make their own hours (more or less), and work when and as hard as they want. And like other entrepreneurs, the work never really goes away. Non-academics often sigh heavily with deep longing or jealousy when they think of professorial Summer Vacation once classes have ended in May. (As the old saw goes, the best three reasons to teach are June, July, and August.) But Summer Vacation is just a myth really. June through August was (and is) a harrowing time for me and many young academics especially. Many professors at all levels take up summer teaching to supplement anemic salaries. More importantly, it's a time shot through with dread over finishing and sending out papers so that they can begin to crawl through the criminally slow mill of peer review. Invariably I never get enough done.

This pressure still haunts me now despite my commiting, in body and mind, to clock out at 5:00 p.m. each day, leaving my work on my desk in a dark office. I guess the lag will be a little longer than I thought.

More on idea entrepreneurship later.