Category Archives: cj

Road trip to totality

My kids both wanted to see the eclipse and I said “that sounds fun but it’s too far” and I kept thinking about it and thinking about it and finally, Saturday night, I looked inward and asked myself is there really a reason we can’t do this? And the answer was no.  Or rather the answer was “it might be the case that it’s totally impossible to find a place to sleep in the totality zone within 24 hours for a non-insane amount of money, and that would be a reason” so I said, if I can get a room, we’re going.  Hotel Tonight did the rest.  (Not the first time this last-minute hotel app has saved my bacon, by the way.  I don’t use it a lot, but when I need it, it gets the job done.)

Notes on the trip:

  • We got to St. Louis Sunday night; the only sight still open was my favorite one, the Gateway Arch.  The arch is one of those things whose size and physical strangeness a photo really doesn’t capture, like Mt. Rushmore.  It works for me in the same way a Richard Serra sculpture works; it cuts the sky up in a way that doesn’t quite make sense.
  • I thought I was doing this to be a good dad, but in fact the total eclipse was more spectacular than I’d imagined, worth it in its own right.  From the photos I imagined the whole sky going nighttime dark.  But no, it’s more like twilight. That makes it better.  A dark blue sky with a flaming hole in it.
  • Underrated aspect:  the communality of it all.  An experience now rare in everyday life.  You’re in a field with thousands of other people there for the same reason as you, watching the same thing you’re watching.  Like a baseball game!  No radio call can compare with the feeling of jumping up with the crowd for a home run.  You’re just one in an array of sensors, all focused on a sphere briefly suspended in the sky.
  • People thought it was going to be cloudy.  I never read so many weather blogs as I did Monday morning.  Our Hotel Tonight room was in O’Fallon, MO, right at the edge of the totality.  Our original plan was to meet Patrick LaVictoire in Hermann, west of where we were.  But the weather blogs said south, go south, as far as you can.  That was a problem, because at the end of the day we had to drive back north.  We got as far as Festus.  There were still three hours to totality and we thought it might be smart to drive further, maybe even all the way to southern Illinois.  But a guy outside the Comfort Inn with a telescope, who seemed to know what he was doing, told us not to bother, it was a crapshoot either way and we weren’t any better off there than here.  I always trust a man with a telescope.
  • Google Maps (or the Waze buried within Google Maps) not really adequate to handle the surge of traffic after a one-time event.  Its estimates for how long it would take us to traverse I-55 through southern Illinois were … unduly optimistic.  Google sent us off the highway onto back roads, but here’s the thing — it sent the same suggestion to everyone else, which meant that instead of being in a traffic jam on the interstate we were in a traffic jam on a gravel road in the middle of a cornfield.  When Google says “switch to this road, it’ll save you ten minutes,” does it take into account the effect of its own suggestion, broadcast to thousands of cars in the same jam?  My optimization friends tell me this kind of secondary prediction is really hard.  It would have been much better, in retrospect, for us to have chosen a back road at random; if everybody injected stochasticity that way, the traffic would have been better-distributed, you have to figure.  Should Google build that stochasticity into its route suggestions?
  • It became clear around Springfield we weren’t going to get home until well after midnight, so we stopped for the night in David Foster Wallace’s hometown, Normal, IL, fitting, considering we did a supposedly fun thing that turned out to be an actual fun thing which we will hardly ever have the chance to, and thus may never, do again.

 

 

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Driftless Father’s Day

This Father’s Day I found that, by some kind of unanticipated-gap-in-the-Red-Sea-level miracle, neither of my children had any events scheduled, so I gave myself a present and did something I’d been meaning to do for a year; take them to Dubuque.

It’s not far from Madison.  You drive southwest through the Driftless Zone, where the glaciers somehow looped around and missed a spot while they were grinding the rest of the Midwest flat.

At the exit to Platteville there was a sign for a “Mining Museum.”  We had about six seconds to decide whether we all wanted to go to a mining museum but that was plenty of time because obviously we all totally wanted to go to a mining museum.  And it was great!  Almost the platonic ideal of a small-town museum.  Our guide took us down into the old lead mine from the 1850s, now with electric lights and a lot of mannequins caught in the act of blasting holes in the rock.  (One of the mannequins was black; our guide told us that there were African-American miners in southwestern Wisconsin, but not that some of them were enslaved.)

This museum did a great job of conveying the working conditions of those miners; ankle-deep in water, darkness broken only by the candle wired to the front of their hat, the hammers on the rock so loud you couldn’t talk, and had to communicate by hand signals.  Riding up and down to the surface with one leg in the bucket and one leg out so more men could fit in one load, just hoping the bucket didn’t swing wrong and crush your leg against the rock wall.  There’s nothing like an industrial museum to remind you that everything you buy in a store has hours of difficult, dangerous labor built into it.  But it was also labor people traveled miles to get the chance to do!

Only twenty miles further to the Mississippi, my daughter’s first time seeing the river, and across it Dubuque.  Which has a pretty great Op-Art flag:

 

 

Our main goal was the National Mississippi River Museum; slick where the Platteville museum was homespun, up-to-date where the Plateville Museum was old-fashioned.  The kids really liked both.  I wanted fewer interactive screens, more actual weird river creatures.

The museum is on the Riverwalk; Dubuque, like just about every city on a body of water, is reinventing its shoreline as a tourist hub.  Every harbor a Harborplace.  OK, I snark, but it was a lovely walk; lots of handsome bridges in view, all different, an old-timey band playing in the gazebo, Illinois and Wisconsin and Iowa invisibly meeting across the water….

Only disappointment of the afternoon; the famous funicular railway was closed.  Maybe they could have posted that on their website or something.  But in a way it’s good they didn’t; if I’d known it was closed, I probably would have decided to put off the trip, and who knows if we’d ever have gone?

On the way back we stopped in Dickeyville to get gas but missed the Dickeyville Grotto; would have stopped there for sure if I’d known about it.  Dinner in Dodgeville at Culver’s, the Midwest’s superior version of In-N-Out, where I got my free Father’s Day turtle.   I like cheese curds and brats as much as the next guy, but I gotta say, I think the turtle is my favorite of the many foods I’d never heard of before I moved to Wisconsin.

 

 

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A boy’s first casserole

CJ had a vision for dinner. I don’t know where he came up with this. But he said he wanted mashed potatoes with green beans and chopped up hardboiled eggs. OK I said but you know what it needs, some Penzey’s toasted onions and we can put some chunks of gruyere in there and it’ll melt. In the end I was suspicious of the hardboiled eggs so we had them on the side. The final product was something I think could easily be sold in the grocery store hot case at $8.99 a pound. I know this looks kind of like barf, but it works. (See also: the Israeli electoral system.)

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Trader Joe’s is the Disney World of grocery stores

We’re back in Madison after three days at Walt Disney World.  CJ and I went to Trader Joe’s to pick up stuff for dinner and realized:  Trader Joe’s is Disney World.

Reasons:

  • Part of what you’re paying for is a sense of, well, “fun.”  WDW employees — who are called “cast members” — wear costumes.  Trader Joe’s employees — who are called “crew members” — wear Hawaiian shirts.  It is part of their job, not just to be pleasant to customers, but to appear actively happy to be talking to customers.  And maybe they are!  You can imagine that if you were the kind of person who likes chatting with strangers you’d be drawn to working at WDW or TJ.
  • Iron-clad branding.  Just about every single thing you can buy, see, or eat at Disney is Disney-branded.  Same for Trader Joe’s (even if the product is surplus Sabra hummus repackaged in Trader Joe’s tubs.)
  • Limited selection.  Disney World restaurants have short menus; they need to get thousands of people in and out fast.  There aren’t twelve roller coasters like at Six Flags, there are two.  At Trader Joe’s there aren’t a hundred different kinds of Cheerios.  Just the Trader Joe’s kind.  The problems of choice are taken away from you and this release is itself a kind of fun.

Unfinished thought:  both Disney and Trader Joe’s are trying to project a spirit of California.

 

 

 

 

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Show your work

Here’s another comment on that New York Times piece:

“mystery number game …. ‘I’m thinking of a mystery number, and when I multiply it by 2 and add 7, I get 29; what’s the mystery number?’ ”

See, that’s what I mean, the ubiquitous Common Core approach to math teaching these days wouldn’t allow for either “games” or “mystery”: they would insist that your son provide a descriptive narrative of his thought process that explains how he got his answer, they would insist on him drawing some matrix or diagram to show who that process is represented pictorially.

And your son would be graded on his ability to provide this narrative and draw this diagram of his thought process, not on his ability to get the right answer (which in child prodigies and genius, by definition, is out of the ordinary, probably indescribable).

Actually, I do often ask CJ to talk out his process after we do a mystery number.  I share with the commenter the worry of slipping into a classroom regime where students are graded on their ability to recite the “correct” process.  But in general, I think asking about process is great.  For one thing, I learn a lot about how arithmetic facility develops in the mind.  I asked CJ the other night how many candies he could buy if each one cost 7 cents and he had a dollar.  He got the right answer, 14, not instantly but after a little thought.  I asked him how he got 14 and he said, “Three 7s is 21, and five 21s is a dollar and five cents, so 15 candies is a little too much, so it must be 14.”

How would you have done it?

Orioles 7, Brewers 6

CJ, AB and I spent Memorial Day at Miller Park, watching the Orioles outlast the Brewers 7-6 in an exciting 10-inning contest; it was Baltimore’s first visit to Milwaukee since 2008, which CJ and I also attended. Some details (CJ is helping me write this):

  • Lots of production from the bottom of the Brewers order, including back-to-back homers by Khris Davis and Lyle Overbay.  At that point Chris Tillman looked so overmatched that Kyle Lohse, in his last AB of the day, was apparently given permission to swing for the fences and hope for the best.  (He struck out.)
  • There’s nothing like watching AL pitchers try to bat.  Tillman made three tries at making contact on a bunt attempt, missed all three, and walked back to the dugout looking glum.
  • As an Oriole, Mark Reynolds was the worst third baseman I’ve ever seen, but somebody on Milwaukee’s staff has turned him around; he’s been notably good in both games we’ve seen this year, today making a diving stop and then firing a perfect throw to first from his knees.
  • Play of the game:  bottom of the ninth, Brewers with runners on second and third with one out, Reynolds up.  Ron Roenicke calls the “contact play” — pinch runner Elian Herrera takes off from third on contact, the idea being that he can probably score even on a soft groundout.  Unfortunately for Milwaukee, Reynolds hit a hard line shot directly to J.J. Hardy, who caught it and nonchalantly flipped to Manny Machado for the double play before Herrera even realized he wasn’t about to score the game-winning run.
  • Barbecue brisket sandwich from the Smokehouse unexpectedly good.  CJ ate four pieces of pizza.  Correction, CJ wishes me to say he “devoured” four pieces of pizza.  AB ate a hotdog.
  • Surprisingly high density of O’s fans in the seats behind the visiting dugout — I’d say 10-20%.
  • Former Brewer Hardy gets big cheers here when when announced.
  • I never get tired of watching Darren O’Day and his weirdo delivery.  He’s now been an extremely good pitcher for two full years and 2014 so far, and I don’t think people outside Baltimore have heard of him yet.

Here’s my Brewer-loving friend Laura Hemming, right before Roenicke called the contact play:

Sorry, Laura!

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True love and baseball

Happy World Series Day, my favorite secular yontif!  In the spirit of the season I have a piece in Slate about CJ’s love for baseball, and mine.  I was extremely pleased that Rob Neyer liked it.

Here’s the finish:

I tried to make my son into an Orioles fan, like me. But the day at Miller Park he saw Carlos Gomez steal second, then third, then break for home, scoring on a wild pitch, like he was playing Atari baseball against a team of hapless 8-bit defenders, he became a Brewers fan for life. (To be precise, he describes himself as 70 percent Brewers, 30 percent Orioles.) We get along fine, in our mixed household. The inconsistency of our rooting interests doesn’t bother him. If there is a lesson baseball can offer us, it’s one about our deepest commitments; that they’re arbitrary, and contingent, but we’re no less committed to them for that. If I’d been born in New York, I might have been a Yankees fan, but luckily for me, I was born in Maryland, so I’m not. Jerry Seinfeld once remarked that baseball fandom, in the age of free agency, amounted to rooting for laundry. That’s not an insult to the game, as Seinfeld, a giant Mets fan, surely understood; it’s a testament to its deepest strength. My son’s love for the Brewers, like mine for the Orioles, is a love with no reason and no justification. True love, in other words.

Seriously, non-Wisconsin people, if you haven’t been paying attention to Carlos Gomez you are missing out on some joyous baseball.

Tweendom approaches

Spent 20 minutes today arguing with CJ over which is better, the Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” or Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Good Time” (feat. Owl City.)  CJ favors Jepsen, arguing that songs are made of “music, singing, and words,” and that “I Gotta Feeling” wins on words but loses on music and singing.  His judgment of “I Gotta Feeling” as a piece of music is that “the music doesn’t match the singing and 3/4 of the music is copied and the 1/4 of the music that isn’t copied is boring.”

I asked CJ what “Good Time” is about and he said “it’s about people who overestimate their life and think bad things never happen in it.”

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7 Apr 2013: Twins 4, Orioles 3

I took CJ to this game, his first at OPACY.  Great day out, perfect weather, but a terrible game, which both teams seemed to be trying their best to lose.  Joe Mauer dropped a foul popup.  Alexi Casilla made the last out for the Orioles on a weak grounder — but the pitcher bobbled it, and Casilla probably would have made first on the play if he hadn’t jogged half-heartedly out of the batter’s box.  And of course there was Adam Jones, who pulled up on a fly that was his to catch and let it drop three feet in front of him for a two-run double — yes, it was ruled a double, in an act of generosity so extravagant that the official scorer could have legally taken it off his taxes.  A week later, Jones would drop a fly ball against the Yankees to allow three runs to score in a 5-2 New York victory.  Jones looks like a really good center fielder, but the defensive metrics hate him, and I have to say the defensive metrics have the better of it at the moment.

Jason Hammel, in theory our ace, looked a lot worse than his line suggests; behind in the count all day, never seeming to find much of a rhythm.

So the Orioles, on the strength of this game, didn’t look like a good ballclub — but for the season as a whole, they’re holding their own against the powers of the AL East, and one can’t ask for much more than that.

After the game, CJ and I walked around the Inner Harbor, which has not changed at all since I was a kid, and seems to be just as crowded as popular and kid-pleasing as it ever has been.  OK, one change:  the Power Plant, which used to be a metal-oriented rock club, is now a Barnes and Noble.  Sort of strange, since metal is more popular and than it was when I was a kid, and books less so.  But Baltimore marches to its own beat.

Final note to self:  remember that, even in Baltimore, a crabcake is not the kind of food that’s likely to be good at the ballpark.

Imagery

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