Monthly Archives: March 2007

art is in the eye of the buyer

I had a bit of excitement the week before last.  Six of my photos were auctioned off for the benefit of the kids’ school.  Together they raised nearly $800.  That blew me away, and made me feel very nice.

In the back of my mind, I’d worried that the pictures would end up not being bid upon, or going for significantly less than market value (about $100).  It’s always difficult to tell whether art will sell or not, because it’s so subjectively appealing.  A couple of them did go for under market, but somehow it didn’t matter as much because I liked them a lot anyway.  Most of the money was raised by a group of three pictures I took on a trip to Sydney in 2004.

My favorite of the group was of the opera house, with the Harbour Bridge in the background with a group of climbers ascending.  I took it from Macquarie Point, a good distance away.

I took the second from the base of the opera house, hours after landing, while out sightseeing with my work colleagues.  The opera house is a great subject, owing to its interesting textures.

The third in the group was taken about the same time as the second, and explores the contours of the opera house roof.

Our friends Heidi and Bruce purchased one of my favorites of the Sydney pictures, a shot taken from a water taxi of Luna Park, an amusement park at foot of the northern end of the Harbour Bridge.  I love the dynamic range, which really comes out in the duotone print.

The other two were shots that I took much closer to home.  First was a study of some petrified wood taken at the interpretive center of the Ginko Petrified Forest in the amusingly named George, Washington.

The final picture holds a special place in my heart.  I took it in front of our pond house, with my old 3 MPixel coolpix 990.  It was a cold spring day, and the crocuses had just come up.  It was nice picture in color, that really came alive in tritone (with the colors gone, you can really see the detail of the raindrops on the petals).

I’d originally framed these pictures to hang in an exhibition at Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church (believe it or not, that’s a story in its own right). 

Since we’d moved into our new (old) place last year, they’d been sitting wrapped in paper, unhung.  It’s great to see them find good homes, and gratifying that they brought in money for the school!


busy week in politics

The prosecutors scandal, Edwards continues his run, and Tom Delay is promoting his book!  But something I didn’t know is that Andrew Cockburn has a new book out about Donald Rumsfeld.  Check out this review in today’s NY Times, and check out the first chapter as well.

In the first chapter there’s a lengthy account of the former Secretary’s actions on 9/11 – an assertion that he "deserted his post" to grandstand amongst the wreckage and the wounded (it’s a bit shrill), and then a telling account of a discussion between Vice President Cheney and the Secretary.  Cheney brags that he’s given orders for the military to "take out" suspicious aircraft, including United 93 (hijacked, but by then crashed in a Pennsylvanis field).  Apparently the military commanders chose not to pass the orders along, because they were simply too vague (an easy mistake for someone without military experience to make).

Rumsfeld finally settled into the command center, and got to work on specifying rules of engagement for the fighter pilots now patrolling the skies.  He completed them hours after the last hijacked died.  And then :

"Later, when asked why he had taken no part in military operations that morning, Rumsfeld blithely insisted that it was not his job. "The Department of Defense," he told the 9/11 Commission in 2004, "did not have responsibility for the borders. It did not have responsibility for the airports … a civilian aircraft was a law enforcement matter to be handled by law enforcement authorities and aviation authorities." Expanding on this theme, he explained that the Defense Department’s only responsibility when a civilian plane was hijacked was to "send up an aircraft and monitor the flight, but certainly in a hijack situation [the military] did not have authority to shoot down a plane that was being hijacked." This statement was flat out untrue, but none of the commissioners dared call him to account. "

So great – now we have confirmation that Rumsfeld was far more successful as a politician and operator, than as a Defense Secretary.  Anyone else find stuff like this depressing?

The Delay book tour has been entertaining.  According to "The Hammer", the Bush administration has "shown their weakness in dismissing Don Rumsfeld".

The prosecutor’s scandal continues to unravel the career of one Alberto Gonzales.  Consensus is shaping up that the AG is probably already cleaning out his office for a departure by the end of the week.  Judging by the length of time it took for the President to secure Rumsfeld’s resignation, this means we only have about 13 months before Gonzales will be asked to resign.

The prosecutor’s scandal has pretty strong legs though.  Not only have people already mentally fired the AG, but the Republicans are beginning to talk about presidential impeachment.  Granted, this is related to Bush’s monumental failure in Iraq, but it never would have happened without he evolving train wreck that we have in office now.

Fellow voters, this is what you get when you confuse things like "charisma" "personal appeal" and "electability" with competence.

where would he rather be?


I’d guess anywhere but in front of the press and/or congress.

Failed foreign policy and a collapse of your willful political maneuvering will kind of take the wind out of your sails, won’t it?


Today was the first day of practice for the Orioles, the little league baseball team I’m helping to coach.  It was a perfect spring day in Seattle.  For staying inside with a nice cup of tea and a crossword puzzle.  But that wasn’t on the agenda, because 12 7 year old boys were ready to play baseball!

Because it was raining, we spent about twenty minutes warming up under a small shelter, throwing balls around.  Have you ever gathered a bunch of seven year olds, armed them with hard objects, and asked them to hurl said objects at each other?  Wow!

Things got a lot safer when we had them start out about ten feet apart from one another.  Then we had them back up a step, if they were able to throw the ball back and forth three times without dropping it.  After about five minutes, it was just like a real spring training session.  On a concrete platform, ducking balls cruelly heaved at your "teammate", that is.

We got bumped out of the shelter when two other teams showed up.  Since it was so wet, we decided to start out by dividing into two teams and playing a game.  Some of the kids could hit the ball pretty well.  Almost no one could catch the ball or throw accurately.  We livened things up by looking the other way when they ran out of the basepaths, sometimes avoiding the bases entirely.  We drew the line at fielders tackling runners however.  It was just about chaos, no one got hurt, and we got a glimpse of what the kids know how to do, and what they don’t know how to do.

We’ll need to work on some fundamentals.  These include not turning your back to the batter to chat with your friend in left field, not absentmindedly walking into the batter’s box when someone else is just about to swing at a pitch, and not humming the ball to your teammate at an impossible-to-catch speed or trajectory.

Once these things are well in hand, we can work on fielding ground balls, catching a fly ball, and throwing to the correct base to get a runner out.

I noticed a couple of other things too.  These kids react about the same to being told what to do as my kids.  They’re already wise to me.

my face is not my own

From time to time, I’ll grow a beard.  It’s not a fabulous beard, because it’s sort of sparse and slow-growing.  Given a couple of months to come in, it begins to look okay.  Before that, I tend to look unkempt, and perhaps also unclean.  I was moved by interia and malaise to let my face go to beard back in January sometime. 

My daughters liked the burgeoning beard.  They told me I was handsome with a beard.  I liked that.  On the other hand, my wife was more measured with her praise of the new growth.  I think the way she said it was "well, it’s your face … <wistful sigh>".

Outside of the household, reviews were also mixed.  I was told I looked "distinguished", intellectual, and also unkempt.  My response to the "intellectual" comment was "thanks – I needed a boost in that department, and thought that a beard would be just the thing".  Otherwise I didn’t much care.  After all, it’s my face, and I will fill its canvas as I please.

Or so I thought.

Each week, out of curiosity, I would take a poll at home to see whether the beard’s approval rate trended up or down.  It more or less peaked early, and remained static.  The usual poll was 2 in favor, 1 against, 1 abstention (that was me).  My daughters continued to like it.  My wife continued her quiet, but palpable disapproval.

Eventually, I grew impatient with the beard.  I didn’t care for it as much, and was also taken aback by the fresh crop of grey at the low end of my muzzle.  A salt-and-pepper quality to the beard was not my intended image.  That meant I was getting old, and trending to even less cool than usual status (if that’s even possible).

Finally one evening I was ready to shave.  I called my youngest daughter to enlist her help, as she seemed to be the biggest of the "beard-boosting" crowd.  It would be important to get her on board with any beard plans I had.  She balked initially (and loudly), but relented when I agreed to shave off half and surprise the rest of the family with that.  Ha ha.  Having seen that before, the other two were not terribly interested, but the young one was amused.

Having had her fun with it, young daughter returned to her usual five-year old pursuits.  When I called her in to help me shave the other half, no response registered.  I commenced shaving the remainder off. 

When finished I kissed my wife with my newly-unfurry face and (beaming) – went to show the girls.  The older daughter was nonplussed, and she is with many things (being nine).  On the other hand, the younger was very angry with me.  She had apparently thought it appropriate for me to go around for several days with my half-shaved-face look.  There was much disappointment that this was not to be.  She went to bed seething, and refused to allow me to read a bedtime story to her.

She was still mad the next morning too, expressing the opinion that my face looked "stupid" and that she didn’t want to speak with me.

It was then that I realized my biggest mistake.  No – it was not inspiring more of a healthy fear into my kids with threat of corporal punishment for critical feedback of my face.  It was allowing her to think that she gets to decide how my face looks.  For example, imagine her disappointment with me as I become increasingly grey and puckered via the normal aging process.

In any case, the youngest one and I are again on good terms.  Time, patience, and hot chocolate apparently heal wounds like this.

the effort effect


I ran across an interesting article in my wife’s Stanford Alumni magazine this month – it’s called The Effort Effect.  It centers on the work, and the recent book written by psychology professor Carol Dweck.

She claims that the key to unlocking full potential in people is to praise and reinforce their best efforts, rather than their innate skills or intelligence.  Her theory (with strong support in her three decades of research) is that without effort, innately gifted people will never approach their potential.  Naturally less gifted people will never overcome limitations as well.

All of this sounds like common sense so far, right?  It relates to the meta-question concerning whether intelligence is taught or inherited, and gets more interesting when she relates the reward cycle into subject "mind sets" that result.

Dweck says that one key difference is whether people like to show off their ability, or whether they want to increase that ability.  “If you want to demonstrate something over and over, it feels like something static that lives inside of you—whereas if you want to increase your ability, it feels dynamic and malleable,” she says. 

The former tendency leads to a fixed mindset, while the latter lends itself to a growth mindset.

Lots of crossover into developmental and organizational psychology.  Lots to think about.  Discuss among yourselves.

the little league adventure begins

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Landy asked me whether my dad and/or I might be interested in helping to coach a little league team.  It sounded like fun, so we said yes, just before finding out what kind of commitment is required.

Turns out that there’s a lot to this little league stuff.  Each manager needs to rally volunteers for things like trips to see the Seattle Mariners play, to staff the concession stand, prepare the field and umpire their home games.  It’s two practices a week, plus one game and runs from mid-April until about the time school lets out.  It’s a bit intimidating, especially after seeing how other coaches are balancing jobs, multiple kids in the program, and the rest of their lives at the same time.  It’s a lot to think about.

I don’t really know how to coach kids, nor am I necessarily any good at baseball anymore.  I think the last time I swung a bat was in a softball league game about fifteen years ago.  I suspect these smart seven year olds will notice I’m a bit rusty (incompetent).

I kind of feel like I should be spending this time in ‘spring training’ to make sure I won’t embarrass myself completely.

The girls and I spent this morning helping to prepare the fields for practices.  Rachel spent the time finding slugs with some friends, and Kayla helped clear weeds.  It was very muddy work, but a lot of fun too. 

Afterwards we went up to a sporting goods place and ordered my team shirt and got a cap.  It was a big hit, mostly because there’s a big orange bird on it.