Monday, October 24, 2005

Ralph: Frankenstein, Maude: a pumpkin, Olive: Belle, Oscar: Oscar the Grouch

Halloween decisions have been finalized, and the results are in. Gabby decided to institute a "drop-dead-date" when costume decisions must be final. This was yet another demonstration of her unfathomable wisdom.

I guess the rule was mostly made for Ralph. Ralph averages changing ideas about what he wants to be for Halloween about 4 times per week. This year he has ranged from the boring: a ghost, to the cliched: a clown, to the zombie/robotic: Frankenstein (OK, it's cliched as well). These are intermixed with the generic: spy, adventure man, and astronaut. Other costumes under consideration for Ralph this year include: the headless horseman, a goblin, and Willie Wonka. See other costume ideas under consieration by Ralph here.

I liked Halloween as a child, but for my children it is as close to an ideal holiday as you can ask for. The activities for Halloween include: thinking about costumes, dressing up, seeing other kids dressed up, getting candy, and eating candy (and returning kit-kats, snickers, twix, and a portion of reesus peanut butter cups to Mom and Dad). For me, Halloween was reducible to the candy, and that was it and that was great, I saw the costume as more an obstacle to overcome in getting candy. (What are you Ben? Uh, I don't know. I found this robe in the closet, and this is my Dad's tie on my head. Do you have any candy?) Candy is huge for my kids, but so is the dressing up.

So Maude will be a pumpkin, and if she was someone else's kid I might say "Nice imagination!" (because I continually judge other parents severely, but I'm much more lax with me). But she will be adorable not only because she'll be a pumpkin (and any child dressed up like a pumpkin is usually cute) but she will complete the pumpkin. Actually, Maude basically completes any costume she ever wears. She is what parents hope their kids will look like with a given costume, but sadly and inevitably never do. You'll think I'm bragging when I tell you that...OK, I thought better.

I have read arguments against dressing as Disney princesses for Halloween, and I applaude the social consciousness of this view, and I understand the "nice imagination!" critique for Belle (i.e. Beauty in Beauty and the Beast) as well, but my response is this: 2 birds with one stone. Can you not appreciate that Olive gets to be Belle for Halloween, and she gets to dress up as Belle on any other day she dam wants? She will be loving herself (gazing in the mirror, dancing--i.e. twirling) all Halloween, and then November 1st, she'll dress up as Belle all over again! It really is that simple.

Oscar will be Oscar the Grouch. Because Oscar will always be Oscar the Grouch.
So, I'm pretty excited.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Elder Eli Jones memory

This is an account told me by one of my favorite companions on my mission, Elder (Eli) Jones. We also shared many great spiritual experiences, but this isn't one of those. Here is what happened to him:

He was in a college class, and they were talking about gender and appearance I believe:

Instructor: What is the first thing guys notice about girls...come on, this should be easy...

Eli Jones: Uh, their butts?

Class: (awkward murmuring)

Instructor: Anyone else?

Other Class member: Hair?

Instructor: Yes. Hair. A girl's hair is typically the first thing guys notice.

Monday, October 10, 2005


(this is part of a larger study I'm working on about robots)

With so much recent interest in robots, and with the possibilities that emerging technologies afford in working with and developing robots, I think its a good occasion to talk about robots.

Robots can do many things. For example, they can talk, walk, make cars, play soccer, and do the dishes. Probably the best robot is Richie Rich's robot maid, Irona. Also, electric Grandma--herself a robot--is a great robot. Probably the best feature about the electric Grandma is that she can pour juice out of her finger. There are also lots of different names for robots like mega-bots, junk-bots, humanoids, automatons, circuit-bots, microbots, and such.

People that don't like robots usually just don't understand robots, or haven't taken the time to get to know robots. There are some problems with robots. For example, if a robot runs into a wall or door or something else, it keeps walking. Also, their voices are a little bit wierd, here is a sample of how robots talk. Also they have a lot of things that can pop out of them, like different robot parts. You can learn about robots from a variety of sources: movies, TV, books, magazines, the internet (computers), robot experts, and history. I encourage you, if you haven't already, to learn more about robots.

Although most robots in movies move in mechanical ways, this can be misleading. For example, many robots don't even look like people, like some look more like dogs, or electrical boxes. Robots can move, compute, clean, lift up a piece of furniture with one hand and vacuum under it with the other, measure, add, and, as mentioned earlier, talk. One thing that allows some robots to do this is artificial intelligence. Probably the best way to describe artificial intelligence is to imagine a bowling ball that thinks. That is what artificial intelligence is like--a thinking bowling ball. What allows robots to have artificial intelligence? Simple: circuits.

The most basic, important feature of robots is probably circuits. No circuits, no robots. Know circuits, know robots. Unfortunately, many popular images of robots focus on wires, controls, and switches, not circuits. I think that we should probably learn more about circuits, and that would help us better understand robots. I think this is especially important if you want to become an expert on robots. Robots can be found all over the world, but most everyone in the world is not a robot.

If you want to learn more about robots, you can learn more about them here, here or here (this last link is a commercial site where people can buy robot parts. I don't make a commission if you purchase robot parts from them, but you might be interested in it anyway.) Here is an exciting blog about robots.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On Learning and Plateaus

I don't think it is much of a stretch to say that the problem of education is the problem of 'plateau-ing'. Here is what I mean: unless pushed, or moved in some way, we tend to settle. In most endeavors, we experience tremendous rapid growth or development, and then, for a variety of reasons, we taper off. I lived in Russia for 6 months as part of a pioneering English-teaching effort by my college, Brigham Young University. I lived with a Russian family and taught their son, 4-year old Andrei, English. I was also learning Russian, and this account will focus on my efforts, triumphs, and obstacles in learning Russian, and highlight my 'plateaus'. This account is typical of language learning for most people. I will divide it into a few phases.

Phase 1: Freshly arrived in Russia. I landed in Moscow, and was overwhelmed by the speed with which people spoke. I thought I had no chance to ever be able to communicate with these people. There was too much to learn!

Phase 2: A month or so later: I had now grown accustomed to some routine language used in the house and in my routine schedule: "Come for breakfast!" "Good morning!" "Good night!" "Do you want some more?" "Be careful, the doors are closing, next station...Shabolovskaya" etc. I could also use simple phrases to make my way around. I had come a very long way in a short time.

Phase 3: A month or so later: I could now engage in simple conversations with my host family, taxi drivers, and strangers. I could get around and handle most any problem that confronted me. I could on my own order Chambourgers (hamburgers), and buy fresh chleb (bread) and moroshna (ice cream). Again, I had come a very long way in a short time.

Phase 4: At the end of the 6 months: I certainly could engage in conversations more easily than I could during phase 3, but my perceived "pace" in learning Russian had slowed down significantly. From phase 3 on, I could get around; learning, or improving my Russian, was no longer a priority, I could function as is. I could add a word or expression here and there, but by and large, I was independent and could express myself with what I had. I had, in a word, plateaued.

It is possible that I had not really slowed down, but that my learning was not as apparent as it had been in the earlier phases. I think that it is surely the case that I was learning in less apparent ways, but I'm also convinced that my learning had slowed down. I did not need to listen as carefully now that I could get around. I did not feel the need to push myself to express what I could and continually expand my available language. I did not push myself to more and more fluidly speak, and closer approximate the understandings and utterances of native Russians. I was satisfied with what I could do, it worked for me.

We get accustomed to a certain standard and mode of communication, and close our eyes to its shortcomings. Occasionally, we have a conversation, or read something, and become aware that we still have far to go, but this sensation typically passes, and we find a comfort zone and pursue a path of least resistance to communicate 'adequately'. We find few people who can sustain a long-term apprenticeship to a language (or discipline). It requires a child-like attitude, humility, an eagerness to learn rather than show-off, a willingness to make mistakes and look foolish. In general, it requires a conviction that the issue is not to demonstrate how you can function as is, or that you can often pass off as a native, but rather the issue is to never be satisfied until you understand and speak as a native--which may never happen, but it is the appropriate course.