My son Max (now 3.5 years old) *loves* Ferry Halim's game 'Cats'. It just cracks the kid up.
Microplaces

I am a connoisseur of delightful spots. Not in the graphic sense, like spots on a dog; rather, “microplaces”. Precise locations whose characteristics can be enjoyed in the same manner as fine food, wine, art, music, performance. This type of experience goes beyond a simple appreciation for architecture or urban design. This is the full intellectual-sensory act of sitting-standing-lying in a specific place that is delightful (or horrible, if you prefer) in every capacity and drinking it in--sight, sound, material-tactile, smell, microclimate, human proximity and activity. A few meters variance can change everything. It is the type of experience that cannot be photographed; the written word comes closest, but any description still leaves much lacking.

Ask my wife; she knows that I must find the perfect spot in a restaurant, park, room, etc., and then place myself there (or, inflict my specificities on my whole family if they are accompanying me). Am I difficult to live with? Yes, sometimes. But it’s just another one of the ways that I enjoy life.

For a few minutes, where you place yourself within a place can make all the difference in the world.
Living in a city that ranks within the bottom quartile for “average sunny days per year”, one of my favorite experiences is breaking through the cloud barrier on a rainy morning only to see the sun shining brightly above the layers. I cannot help but think that if one's hometown gets less than 100 days of sun annually, one's outlook will be somewhat more optimistic if that cloud barrier is broken on a regular basis (ceteris paribus).

(Did you know that Miami, Florida is also in the bottom quartile of the “average sunny days” ranking?)

Esmé and Max.

Big brother, little sister.

If you like Boards of Canada and music similar, you'll like my Pandora station, St. Vodka.
The Dragon-Riding Boy

A few weeks ago at the county fair, among the many other things that caught Max’s eye (including his new interest in the midway carny games) was a kid-sized roller coaster that he referred to as “the dragon train”. It was apparently designed to look like the Loch Ness monster.

After standing there watching it operate for about ten minutes, Max developed what appeared to be an excruciating desire to go on this ride. Rose and I of course said no, but he kept insisting. So against our (really Rose’s) better judgment, we decided to let him do it. The rest of the riders were, by appearance, five- to seven-year olds. Since he was too short to ride by himself, I shoehorned myself into the car with him. He kept telling me to get in the car behind him--he was a big boy and didn’t want me in the same car. In what seemed to be a preview of junior-high-esq behavior, he was really bothered that I was riding with him.

When the half-paying-attention high-school-kid-operator hit the “start” button, the train lurched forward violently and then picked up even more speed as it connected with the spinning drive-tire mounted between the tracks at the first curve. This ride was definitely not for 3-year olds. Max had a minor freak-out.

Rose jumped up onto the platform and yelled at the operator to stop the train, which he did. (Later, someone commented that Rose looked as if she were going to throw herself across the tracks to stop that train...) All the older kids started grumbling because their ride was interrupted, and I quickly started to unlatch the restraints to exit the train.

Max’s eyes were open as far as physically possible, he had a few tears on his red cheeks, his hair was blown back, and he was smiling the uncertain smile-frown of someone who had just, say, bungee-jumped for the first time. “No, Daddy, I don’t want to get off.”

“Are you sure, Max?” I asked as I was holding him close. Rose wasn’t going to have any of this. However, after about twenty-five seconds of silent visual debate between Rose and me, and a couple more queries to Max, we decided to stay on.

As we whipped around that short oval track about ten more times, Max mimicked the older kids, squealing as we went up and down and around the curves. Because of his age (and consequent size), he was buffeted about much more than the older kids. I watched his face as we rode, full of terror, excitement, curiosity, and a few other things I can’t quite identify, other that to say that most of what he was feeling was probably good for him. For the duration of the ride I held him as carefully as he’d let me, sweating, making sure that he didn’t get jolted too hard. The whole thing lasted about one minute, but Max and I felt like we were flying for hours.

He talked about that ride all night, and over the next several days, and I think there’s a chance he’ll always remember it. He would tell us, “That guy stopped the ride, and they asked me if I wanted to get off, and I said, ‘No, I don’t want to get off, because I’m a big boy.’” He was so proud of himself.

Max very is highly responsive to loud noise, sometimes gets scared easily, and tends to be quite cautious. He’s a very sensitive boy, but here’s what else I’ve learned: He’s also very brave. He seems to have a natural inclination to face things that scare him. This, among many other things, makes me very proud of him.

It makes me think, maybe I’m brave too.
Warning--fatherly bragging ahead: Last night, Max counted to 100 with almost no help! Not bad for 3.17-year old!

Two nights ago, Max started to tell me something about his trains. He began by saying, "You know daddy, the funny thing about these trains is..."

It's hilarious to hear such adult-sounding things coming out of such a little person.
On ask.metafilter.com, a user asks: "In the U.S., why does a family need two incomes to live at a standard that was previously attainable by one?" Here is my answer.

Big brother, little sister.

Esmé and Max.

Comment on LH: Disorganization.
Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3, KING CLAUDIUS:

"My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. ..."

For some reason this has stayed with me since the first time I read Hamlet in high school. It's taken out of context here, but on it's own this quote has always reminded me to avoid the trap of worrying so much about stuff that I just sit there and worry more (and do nothing about my situation). In other words: take action.

(Original Lifehacker post here.)
On Lifehacker, a question: "What's easier when you're young?"

My answer: Seems like this question is more about "life committments" than age. Other than the limitations of our physical bodies that seem to increase with age, life's primary constraint becomes available time. Someone who's 20, 30 or 40 with no kids, spouse, mortgage, etc. is likely to have an equivalent ability to do anything they want--in fact the older individual in this example would be better able to do "anything" due to their assumed superior financial situation, ceteris paribus.

There seems to be a strong correlation between getting older and committments to things other than the self (kids, spouse, jobs, etc.). And so we create our own framework that becomes difficult to break from without careful planning.

As for me, at 33, everything in life seems easier, not harder, than when I was 13, 18, 23, even 28. I feel more confident that I've ever been, more sure about "the way the world works", etc. The only challenge is finding the time to do all the great things there are to do out there, because I have a wife and two kids. However, as I've learned, many of the best, sweetest things in life involve those very people that "take" so much of my time. So, yes, it's more difficult to do the 2-month road trip around the country (which I did with a buddy when I was 23), but I don't really care because I'm enjoying everything else so much.

The old cliche is, "If I only knew then what I know now..." Funny how true it is. A 23-year old who's wise enough to truly listen to the advice of a 33, 43, 53, 63, 73, 83, 93-year old will certainly get a jump on getting the most out of this rich life.
I ate a Zero Bar today and it made me miss my Grandpa. He used to buy them for me on road trips to West Virginia when I was little.
Esmé Rose Carroll came into the world Wednesday, June 21 at 8:54 AM, 28 minutes after the 2006 summer solstice, which occurred at 8:26 AM the same morning.

What a look!

She is beautiful, in perfect health (as is mom), weighs 7 lbs 3 oz, is 20.5" in length, has dark brown (nearly black) hair, and dark blue-grey eyes. Her big brother Max loves her very much.
Comments at Lifehacker: Resume tips and doing dishes.
I thoroughly enjoyed Jaron Lanier’s essay at Edge.org critiquing the notion of a collective or new consciousness arising on the earth via the internet. While I personally believe that over time information technology will connect humanity in such a way that a new or collective consciousness could be possible, Lanier’s essay provides an important intellectual pause. Let’s not get too infatuated with these ideas before the time is right. From the introduction:

The hive mind is for the most part stupid and boring. Why pay attention to it?

The problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it's now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn't make it any less dangerous.


DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism, by Jaron Lanier (via BoingBoing). The responses to the essay are also very much worth reading.
While putting cream into my before-work coffee one morning several weeks ago, I noticed an old woman next to me. She was well into her late eighties by my estimation, hunchbacked, moving pretty slowly. I thought to myself, “Enjoy that coffee; who knows how many you have left?” And that thought had no negativity whatsoever--it was simply a recongntion of a given state of being.

Indeed, observing the woman, she certainly did seem to be enjoying the moment, as much as any human could possibly enjoy anything. She was fully into that coffee like nothing else existed, sipping slowly, smelling it as she drank.

Much to learn from this.
Wow, this guy is trying to do the same thing as me. Except he's given himself 20 years to do it (I'm shooting for 10). And he's way ahead of me. And he's a couple years younger than me. And he's single with no kids. Sheesh...guess I have my work cut out for me.

Great website, though!
On Lifehacker: Understanding camera basics: '...one has not experienced the 'true joy' of photography until one has adjusted the aperture dial based on depth of field desired and light available, gently twisted the focus ring, then clicked the shutter release to hear that beautiful, hollow, mechanical sound of the mirror and shutter moving out of the way so light can reach the exposure plate at the back of the camera. It's kinda like that first drink of coffee in the morning, or clearing all the dots on a level of Pac-Man, or when the lawnmower starts perfectly on the first pull, or when you land the bat right smack in line with the centroid of the ball...you get the point.'
One year ago today, my Grandfather died.
Comments at Lifehacker: Airport security tips; The pitfalls of nagging / Dealing with delicate situations.
I love Pandora. Listen to my station, LemonHooverKraft. It's built on Lemon Jelly, Kraftwerk, Hooverphonic and Portishead, with a lot of custom selection of songs.
Comment at Lifehacker: Pickle jar time management.
The Future Is Free (haven't we heard that before?) A few months ago my hard drive crashed and I was forced to do a clean install of Windows XP. Thankfully I was able to save all my data. I used the crash as an opportunity to revisit my software choices. The result of this is that, excluding the operating system and a few games, I now have only three “non-free” applications installed on my computer: Outlook (personal information management & email; I'd probably use a different program if I didn't sync with a PocketPC smartphone), Quicken (personal finance), and Pinnacle Studio (video editing). These are the only three applications for which I could find no suitable free/open-source replacement. Here are a few of the notable programs installed on my system:
  • Firefox - replaces Internet Explorer
  • OpenOffice.org - replaces Microsoft Office
  • GIMP - replaces Photoshop
  • Ad-Aware, Spybot S&D, ZoneAlarm - security, cleaning & firewall
  • Computer Associates EZAntiVirus - anti-virus
  • iTunes - music player (syncs with iPod; if I didn't have an iPod I'd likely use WinAmp)
  • Others worth mentioning: WS FTP LE; CCleaner; TMPGEnc; Trillian; uTorrent; MultiMon Taskbar; ObjectDock; Yahoo! Go for TV; Google Desktop; MAME...
It feels good not to pay for anything.
Comment at Lifehacker: Cooking at Home.
I recently finished reading "Flow", and for the most part greatly enjoyed it. As I neared the end of the book, I found Csiksczentmihalyi's reconciliation between "being fully in the present" and "creating ambitious long-term goals" a bit tenuous, but I believe he did just barely pull off his point of view. However, some of the author's discussion of "flow experiences" makes me wary, and reminds me of me one of my least favorite passages in the "Tao Te Ching":

"Not praising the worthy prevents contention,
Not esteeming the valuable prevents theft,
Not displaying the beautiful prevents desire.

"In this manner the sage governs people:
Emptying their minds,
Filling their bellies,
Weakening their ambitions,
And strengthening their bones.

"If people lack knowledge and desire
Then they can not act;
If no action is taken
Harmony remains."

This passage recalls the author's contention that we are happiest when we have challenges appropriately suited to our abilities--the underlying thread throughout the book. This is the danger of "flow"--that we engage in experience that is challenging and enjoyable, but never push our striving to the next level, since this inevitably involves some pain or unpleasant (as opposed to flow-like) hard work.

To his credit, however, the author does make clear that it is important to strive for "ever increasing complexity" in our life-challenges, implying that this will lead to more fully developed selves.

If you're interested in other non-trite, fairly well researched books on the topic of "how to live in the world", I can heartily recommend "The Hero With A Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell.

(Original post at Lifehacker here.)
Posts at Lifehacker: On negotiating salary; on conserving gas.
Pushing Books

One of my favorite rooms in our house is the den. It's one of those intimate little rooms that is just the right size. Perfect for reading, working on the laptop, napping. It has a small fireplace, and quite a few books on the shelf. One time, our friend Jileen came over and suggested that we rearrange our books by color--they would look better that way. A true graphic designer she is. I was against the idea--arrange books by color!? It was against every grain of my being--however my wife liked it and so it was.

Over the course of the next couple months, I noticed that I didn't like how the bookshelves looked. The color-coordination just hadn't worked its magic--what was wrong? As time went by, I realized that the color wasn't the problem (that hadn't changed)--it was the fact that the book spines were all uneven. They undulated in and out and in and out and looked terrible. So of course I complained to Rose (complaining is one of the things I do best), I would adjust the books, she would adjust the books, but they just kept up their mysterious entropic behavior. What the hell? We didn't re-read that much...

Then one day at work I got a text message from Rose: “Hi! Well I am in the den and I just asked Max what he was doing, and he said 'pushing books' !!!”

Every time we realigned them, Max would sneak in and push each book until it reached the back of the shelf. Ah, the strange addictions of a two-year old.
Truth and/or Consequences

Riding the train this morning, something codified in my mind that (I think) I’ve always believed, but have never articulated to myself: It is not important that people tell you the truth. In contrast, three things are important: That *you* tell the truth, are truthful with yourself, and set up your life in such a way that it is irrelevant whether or not people are honest with you.
On haggling, Part 1: At the right time and the right place, almost everything is negotiable. I'd haggle everything if I had the time, whether the price had six zeros in it or one. The art of negotiation is much too complex to even scratch the surface here, but from my mentors (and a bit of experience) I have learned a couple rules-of-thumb for the simpler situations:

1. If you do not ask, you will most certainly not receive. If you do ask, typically the worst that can happen is "no." I'm amazed at what I've been able to get over the years just by asking, even when it seemed unreasonable or impossible. My wife is even bolder at this than I am...

2. To have any leverage at all, you always need to have one thing in your pocket: The ability to walk away. When negotiating, it is critical to (a) not really care that much about whether or not you are able to get what you're trying to get, and/or (b) have a strong, acceptable alternative already in hand that you can fall back on if you aren't successful in the current negotiation.

In short: Always ask for "it", but make sure you don't want "it" too badly.

On haggling, Part 2: Forgive my verbosity on this topic (one I truly love), but I have a couple more haggling stories to add--these were learning experiences:

In 2000, my wife and I were haggling over a piece of leather baggage near Il Porcellino in Florence. As I recall, $1 US was trading for just over 1,900 Lire at the time. The asking price was L120,000, or a bit more than $60. I negotiated the vendor down to L80,000 ($40-ish). After pulling all the money out of my pocket, I realized--honestly--that all I had was L50,000. I told the vendor in broken Italian that I would go back to the hotel (just a few blocks away) and get the remainder. He was a bit upset--he thought I was negotiating (I wasn't). I *insisted* that I would be right back with the additional money, but he didn't want me to leave. Long story short, I got the luggage for L50,000 (just over $25). Shows the power of walking away--truly walking away, not bluffing, not pretending you're going to walk away.

In 2001, I talked a Best Buy store clerk into accepting my return of a video game that I had opened and played for a month (strictly against store policy). I was persistent to the point of annoying everyone in the store, including the 20 people behind me in line, but I got what I wanted. The logic I used at the time reminded me of the logic Ford Prefect used to convince Prosser to lie down in front of the bulldozer in Arthur Dent's stead while they stepped down to the pub to have a drink. But I suspect it wasn't my logic that convinced him, it was the 20 angry people behind me.

I use the basic negotiation skills I've learned *all the time* at work, for both internal (salary, responsibilities) and external (transactions) applications. The ability to negotiate effectively is one of the most important skills a person can have. Read "Getting Past No" and "Getting To Yes" by William Ury. Also, "Negotiating Rationally" by Bazerman & Neal.

On haggling, Part 3: Ok, just one more, I promise: First "real" job after undergrad; got the call from the managing partner; we want to hire you; what are your expectations for starting salary? Me: Oh, how about $X? Him (with 0.0000001 seconds delay): $X sounds perfect, when can you start?

Arrrrgh! Sold myself short, way short! He pounced as I lowballed myself! Since then I have asked for the moon every time, and sometimes gotten it.
On life-altering experiences: It's easy to start out by quickly saying, "other than marriage and having a baby"... I *cannot* stress enough how much those events--the actual events, the actual second of the sacred moments--changed my life. On stage with my wife, saying those vows, knowing they were true; it's one of the few times I've cried in public. I never cry in public. Seeing that little baby come out, then holding him, was transformational, in the truest and most powerful sense I could ever use that word.

Ok, that said, there were some others: The creative freedom Mrs. Olsen offered in her "independent study" high school art class, quite a contrast to the rest of the curriculum at my strict religious school; first time traveling in Europe, esp. Florence, and esp. a 4-hour dinner in a grotto in the Ticino region of Switzerland (where I learned what a meal really was); Michael Robinson, Jeanine Centuori & Russel Rock's architecture/public art course at Kent in 1996; surviving graduate school with my wife.