july 2010

"e" is apparently going to be this century's "s". You can stick an "s" on the end of just about any word, and now, it seems, you can stick an "e" on the beginning of just about anything.

I finished watching the first season of Mad Men, and while it engaged me more by the end, I'm still not certain why this show has garnered such consistently positive critical reaction. There aren't really any characters I identify with, and the main protagonist is such a cad—and so purposefully portrayed as one—that you can't even use the late 50s/early 60s setting as an excuse for him being such an ass.

I'm also irritated by the series' tic of showing the characters all constantly doing things that we now consider dumb, dangerous, or unhealthy like smoking and drinking (they make a special point to show pregnant mothers doing this, as well as moms doing this around their kids), riding in cars with no seatbelts, and, in one case, bringing a rifle to the office and mock-aiming it at coworkers. It's primary purpose, to establish that this was a time with different mores and norms, is easily established in other ways, and it seems to have an ugly secondary purpose of reinforcing the series' base misogyny.

Maybe this severe dislike and debasement of women is something that they'll start to get past a little in later seasons as we move into the 60s and start exploring the various social and political movements that made our country more egalitarian with regard to both woman and minorities, but I never really saw much of a point to it, and the misogyny doesn't really feel like the writers expressing the male viewpoint of the Mad Men of the title, it feels genuine.

If I decide to keep watching it, I'm hoping to finish the existing three seasons in time to start DVRing season four, which starts later this month on AMC. At this point I'm entertained by it more as a cultural phenomenon than as actual engrossing entertainment, but now that they've worked out the first season kinks, I'm curious to see how they move forward in season two.

Julie's official due date is tomorrow, and she's off for another doctor's visit this morning to see how things are progressing. They won't let her go any longer than a week past her due date before they induce, so barring the unexpected, by the end of next week we should be parents.

We finally put the finishing touches on the nursery over the holiday weekend. It has been mostly ready for a while—all of the really necessary stuff like the crib, the rocker, the dresser, etc., have all been in place for weeks, and we put up the extra little bookshelf and framed prints a week or two ago—so this weekend was just closet doors (the previous owner didn't have doors on any of his children's closets for some reason) and a shelf to hold stuffed animals. I'm really happy with the way it turned out—I think it's going to be a great room to spend time in with him, and hopefully a great place for him to spend the first few years of his life.

Now he just needs to get here...

For Independence Day, we had a few people over—my coworker Scott and his friend, and another coworker Jeff, his wife and son, and his parents, who were in town to see his new house. Typically I grill corn, hamburgers, and sausages (with onions, peppers, and sauerkraut in a beer bath), and we also take care of all the side dishes, only asking our guests to bring some alcohol or a dessert. This time, however, because of the larger group and because we wanted to keep it less stressful for us because of the impending baby, I only made hamburgers, Julie made her buffalo chicken dip, and we asked everyone to bring a side dish or two.

This reduced our prep time significantly, but we still had plenty of food for everyone and a good variety of food (guests contributed potato salad, a cheese platter, macaroni salad, and chocolate cookies), so that might be our default in the future.

As soon as it started to get dark, we started getting all of the fireworks ready that I bought in Pennsylvania last month, including setting up a plywood plank to light them on and having a fire extinguisher on standby (and luckily, one of our guests used to work at a facility that dealt with explosives, so he was actually trained in safety techniques).

We laid the fireworks out from smallest to largest, starting with the smallest. As we were setting off the first one (the fireworks weren't very big, but there were a ton of them), we noticed a police car driving by shining his spotlight into the backyard, but I didn't think anything of it because tons of people in the neighborhood set off fireworks every year, including a few folks who have displays way more elaborate than the biggest ones I had purchased.

I checked to make sure he was no longer on the street when I set off the second display, but by the time we set off the third one, he was back again, and this time he came into the backyard and asked to see my ID, etc. He was a little huffy at first, but I was very calm and cooperative, and explained that I saw lots of people setting them off every year, so I thought it was something they just looked the other way on. He calmed down a little bit and explained that I could either dump water on them in front of him, or he could confiscate them and the fire marshal would destroy them.

I told him he could confiscate them if he wished, and while he was thinking about that, he heard Jeff's four year old son asking if we were in trouble, so he very kindly called the boy over and explained that we weren't in trouble, but that he had to get people to stop setting the fireworks off so that things didn't catch on fire. He then told me I could take the rest of the fireworks inside without destroying them, but that if he caught us doing it again that night, he'd write me a citation.

So I took them inside, and then we proceeded to watch all of my neighbors set off fireworks for the next hour or so. There was one guy who might have gotten reprimanded, too—there's one house that typically has the best display each year, and although we saw him start up, it only lasted a few minutes, and he didn't do the big grand finale that he usually does. But there were still at least five or six other people who had pretty impressive displays, including a few single shots from the guy a few houses up the street.

So it was a pretty good night despite the police putting a stop to the fun—the three displays we did set off were better than anything we set off last year. And although it's unlikely that I'll be able to set off the remaining displays here, I'm hoping maybe we can find a friend or family member with a more remote property that we can take them to, maybe for New Year's or something.

Saying that the new Eclipse movie is the best Twilight movie so far is like saying that the most recent time you were stabbed in the eye with an icepick was the least painful eye-stabbing you've yet endured.

A few weeks ago, our office had a retreat where we spent the day at a bayside club drinking, eating, and playing games. Unlike our previous retreats, this was purely recreational, not focused on team building exercises and the like, and I thorougly enjoyed it. My drink of the day, mostly because it is my default drink when the weather/situation isn't right for a Bloody Mary, was a gin and tonic with lime, which was perfect for the weather.

So when we decided to host an Independence Day cookout, I decided to get some gin and make my own gin and tonics, because it really seems like a great cold drink for the summertime. I know nothing about alcohol brands, so I did a little research and settled on three or so brands that would be good if I could find them at my local liquor store. I was really curious to try Magellan, which is a blue gin that also rated consistently highly on multiple different rating sites, but they didn't have that or a French gin that was also given good marks, so I ended up with Hendrick's, an Irish gin that comes in a plain black bottle.

After buying a bottle and reading up on how to actually make a gin and tonic, I found the perfect glass (light blue, relatively thick and handblown) and made a practice drink the night before, and it was delicious. I had two during the cookout the next day, and also made a couple for a guest; an extra fresh lime really brightened it up, and I have a feeling this is going to become a staple for me anytime we grill out.

One thing that surprised me: tonic is not just water with quinine. There's a ton of sugar in it, too, almost as much as a sugared soft drink. Luckily, I've started reading the labels on everything and I caught this before I bought any, but I was surprised (but happy) to see that there is such a think as diet tonic water, which is indistiguishable from the sugared kind with all the alcohol, quinine, and lime. I also did some research and found that there is a specialty brand of tonic water that uses more quinine and also uses blue agave syrup, which is a sweetener that doesn't spike your blood sugar the way regular sugar does. It's not sold in my local store, but there are resellers within 15 miles if I ever decide to give it a try.

William Thomas (we're going to call him Will) was born on Saturday, July 10, at 7:59 a.m. He weighed 8 pounds, 15.7 ounces and was 21 inches long.

As the first son, and the only grandchild so far among my siblings, his name is laden with meaning. His first name, William, is shared by both my maternal grandfather, who has been an enormous influence on me, and Julie's father, who passed away in April. It also took a lot of effort and patience and perseverance on our parts to bring him into this world, and Will is a name that references our determination. Thomas was the first name of my paternal grandfather, and it's also a family name for my stepmother Rachel, who is just as much his grandmother as my mom and Julie's mom.

So I guess I'm a dad now...

Julie's labor was long, but not nearly as bad/painful as it could have been (so she tells me). I got a call around 12:30 on Friday, July 9, while I was at work: her water had broken and she was on her way to the hospital. We hadn't driven together that day as we normally do because I had a meeting on campus I couldn't miss and she had a doctor's appointment at the same time, and it was during her appointment that the doctor discovered that labor had started. Since his office is right across from the hospital and about 30 minutes from our house, the doctor told her to go straight to the hospital and get herself checked in.

I quickly rushed home to get the "go" bag with all the stuff we were supposed to take to the hospital, took care of the cats' food and water needs for a couple of days, and hurried to join Julie at the hospital, arriving around 2:30. We got very lucky in that the doctor we've been seeing throughout the pregnancy happened to be the doctor on first call for his group that evening, so we didn't have to go through this with a stranger. Around 5:00 p.m. he suggested that Julie start Pitocin, a drug that helps induce labor, because Julie wasn't any more dilated than she had been at 11:30 that morning. She was a little reluctant to do this because she wanted to have as natural a birth as possible, but she also wasn't locked into a birth plan and insistent that everything had to happen a certain way; she was willing to be flexible depending on what the baby was doing.

Friends had told us that if she had to be induced, she should go ahead and order an epidural because the induction would bring on stronger and more frequent contractions, and by the time she realized she needed an epidural she might have to wait longer than she wanted for the doctor to be available. The Pitocin drip started around 7, and although Julie didn't ask for the epidural then, by 10:15 or so she did, and that was taken care of by 11.

After that the rest of the night was relatively uneventful, save for the occasional beeping machines and checks by the nursing staff. I napped very fitfully on a couch in the birthing room, and Julie, confined to bed because of her IV but relatively pain-free thanks to the epidural, was able to get some rest in her bed. Aside from her not really dilating any further, the only real complication was that whenever she tried to lay on her left side, the baby's heartrate would drop, suggesting that the umbilical cord was on that side and that it was getting compressed between her and the baby when she lay on that side. But it didn't seem to be a major concern; she just stayed on her back or on her right side.

Around 4, the overnight nurse came and saw that Julie had dilated all the way to 10 cm, so she got Julie to sit up and try some pushes during her contractions. After a couple of tries, the baby's heartrate dropped again, so she called the doctor in and they worked for a while examining her and making sure that the baby didn't need to come out via C-section. At 5 or so, a new nurse, Toni, came on shift, and she also got Julie to try and push, with the same results as before: the baby's heartrate would drop, suggesting that the umbilical cord was possibly wrapped around the baby's neck. The doctor was called in again, and while we waited for him to arrive, she called up to the OR to let them know that they might need to do a C-section and she started to prep Julie for surgery.

When our doctor arrived (still the same doctor, the one Julie has been seeing for years), he decided that the baby was low enough that they could get him out with a few good pushes and a giant suction cup attached to his head to help pull him out. Julie pushed hard for about four contractions, and on the last one, the doctor was able to attach the suction cup and help pull the baby out.

My emotions during this process are indescribable; every parent who has been in the room for the birth of a child knows exactly what I mean, and non-parents won't truly get the sense of words like overwhelming, powerful, and life-altering in this context. It's one of those things I think you just have to go through yourself to really understand it. But when you're standing in a room watching your wife in more pain than you've ever seen her endure one minute, and the next there's this new person in the world who didn't exist the minute before, it's pretty overwhelming, powerful, and life-altering.

They got Will cleaned up, weighed, and measured pretty quickly; I stayed with him to take pictures and just take him in while Julie finished up with the post-birth stuff. He was 8 pounds, 15.7 ounces, and was 21 inches long; his first Apgar score was 8 and his second was 9. Once the doctor had finished with Julie and the nurse had finished with Will, they left us alone for an hour or so in the birthing room so we could get to know him a little bit before we moved to the non-birthing part of the maternity ward and Will spent some time in the nursery undergoing other tests.

The next two days in the hospital are a blur. I went home at night to sleep and take care of the house and the cats, and Julie would grab a few hours of sleep in her room by having the nursery take care of Will (she still woke up to feed him every three hours). My parents arrived in town on Saturday night after visiting hours, so we didn't see them until Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon Julie's mom arrived, and Monday we went home to start to try and figure out how to integrate this new person into our lives.

My mom arrived on Monday as well, so for Tuesday and Wednesday Will got lots of attention from his three grandmothers (Julie's mom, my mom, and my stepmother) and his sole remaining grandfather. By Thursday morning, everyone had left, and we started figuring out what it was really going to be like adding a new person to our household and family.

Planning to go into work today for the first time since we had Will. I've been keeping up with my email and making sure our projects for the summer are staying on track, but it's a lot easier to do that in one or two hour spurts throughout the day than it will be to spend an entire day at the office. It's also more difficult for Julie, because she can't hand him off to me for an hour or two to take a nap, and I can't take my turns at diaper changing and feeding.

But we both have to get used to it; I should be able to keep a schedule of only physically showing up for work one day a week for the next couple of weeks, but after that I'll be ramping up, and by September I should be back to a fairly normal work schedule.

The biggest problem (really the only problem) we've had in the first couple of weeks is that, even though Will seemed to be breastfeeding vigorously for the appropriate amount of time each day, he wasn't gaining weight (this led to some side issues like crankiness and not sleeping well at times, but those mostly cleared up once we figured out the feeding stuff). What seems to be happening is that even though Julie is producing milk, she's just not producing enough, so we've gone with a hybrid solution where Julie will breastfeed for a bit and then pump while I bottle feed, either with formula or, when there's enough stored up, pumped breast milk.

While we're hoping that eventually Julie will be able to produce enough to do all breastfeeding, this approach means that she'll still get to have the bonding experience with him and also pass on her antibodies, but we'll make sure that he's getting the calories he needs to continue growing at an appropriate rate.

There are strong opinions about every aspect of having and raising a baby, and although we (especially Julie) have done lots of research around all of these, I think the most important thing we've learned is to be flexible and not go in with a set solution that might not be the best thing for our particular baby. Julie wanted to have a natural birth with no epidural if possible, but in the end, induction and an epidural were what ended up being best for her situation. And while breastfeeding is preferable, what's really important is that Will is getting the nutrition he needs to be healthy, and if some of those calories have to come from formula, then that's okay.

Sorry for the sporadic posting of late. In addition to trying to adjust to my new life as a parent, my Mac also went on the fritz, and it's been living in the Apple repair shop for the last week while they figure out what's going on. I've worked out an interim solution, but I'm guessing that the repair on this one is going to run me almost as much as buying a new machine, which is likely what I'll end up doing.

I don't have time for an extended rant about this now, but this machine is less than two years old and has already had the hard drive replaced. I've never even considered purchasing AppleCare (which extends the warranty to three years) because my Macs have always gone out of service when I upgraded, and never because they quit on me, but I feel like I almost have to after this experience.

Hopefully I can at least negotiate a lower price on the replacement, especially after the terrible customer service I've gotten in regards to the repair (they haven't even diagnosed the problem yet and this is the seventh day they've had it, and they've never called to give me a status update even though the tech who took the machine said he'd call me back before he went off shift that day). But you'll hear more about this once the story comes to some sort of conclusion, because I'm pretty pissed right now.

When I buy a book, I'd love it if, in addition to the physical object, I also got a download code for one digital copy in your preferred format. I still like physical books, I like the sense of solidity and true ownership that comes with them, but it's going to be hard to convince me to try digital formats on devices like the Kindle or the iPad if there isn't some way of helping me make that transition.

For the moment, I still buy physical CDs and then rip the music and transfer it to my computer and mobile devices, so now I'm very comfortable with the idea of a digital music library; many DVDs now come with a digital file that you can similarly transfer to other devices. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as easy to scan a book and get it into an electronic format, and I'm certainly not going to pay for separate physical and digital copies. Which means that, for the foreseeable future, I won't be investing in any digital reader devices, because the only way I can still be sure I have the content that I purchased is to buy the physical object that contains it.

Picked up my copy of Starcraft 2 today, a collector's edition that I got mainly because it gives me an exclusive pet for my main game, World of Warcraft (I know, I know—I can't help it, I'm a collector). I played the single player campaigns for the orginal Starcraft and its expansion, Brood Wars, but I never really got into online matches, mostly because every time I would go into a ranked match and start to win, the other player would threaten to disconnect (in which case no one gets any credit for a win or a loss) if I didn't agree to a draw.

From the previews I'd seen, it mostly looked like they'd upgraded the graphics engine and crafted a new storyline for the single player mode, and that's pretty much all they've done from what I can tell. Granted, the maps are much more varied and challenging (although the Warcraft/Starcraft basics of harvest, build, attack/defend are still what you do as a foundation for each mission), and the storyline is much more immersive with cinematic cut scenes before and after each mission, but the basic game mechanics remain the same. There are some new units with new abilities, etc., but for anyone who played the original Starcraft, the game will seem very familiar (in a good way).

Our son will be three weeks old on Saturday, and we've settled into a decent rhythm with his feedings, diaper changes, and naps for now. He's gotten pretty good about sleeping for a couple of hours after each feeding, although there are more and more lucid periods where he's awake but not hungry and he just wants to look at stuff. He likes foreheads in particular; Julie says it's because they babies like the contrast between your light skin and dark hair.

He's also getting better and better at tummy time, where you put babies on their tummies and let them practice pushing up with their arms, holding their necks up, and pushing with their legs in preparation for crawling, although he never likes doing it. We take him out in the world most days, either on errands or for a walk in the stroller at the end of the day, and he seems to like that a lot (car rides are a great way to get him to go to sleep, although so far we haven't had to resort to that as a way to get him to settle down in the middle of the night).

It's strange how quickly he has become a part of our lives. Given how much of our attention he demands, it's hard to believe that he's only been here for three weeks; his birth seems like it happened ages ago. It's interesting to see him grow and change every day (this week has been a big week for yawns and stretching), but I'm really excited for when he gets old enough to interact more with us, and especially for when he learns to talk.

I'm heading back into work for only the second day since Will was born, and although I'm enjoying all the time I've been able to spend at home, I feel like it's time to up my physical presence in the office. I'm on email every weekday, and I typically spend a couple of hours throughout the day on work tasks, but I still feel like there are things I'm out of touch with that I'd know more about/have more input on if I was in the building more frequently (the biggest example: a dean and his staff are moving into our building, and everyone's trying to figure out where they should live; I'm very concerned they might try to take my team's space, and if I had been there more the past couple of weeks, I might have been able to offer suggestions which would have pointed to a solution that had minimal impacts for us).

I'm still probably going to limit my in-office days to two a week for another few weeks (a lot of people go on vacation in August, and our office isn't really back in full swing until September), but that extra day or two should make a big difference in terms of staying in the loop on gossip and topics that don't make it to an email discussion.



december 2010
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august 2010
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