Thursday, April 26, 2012

Television Review: Psych, Season 6

With this season [1], Psych became the USA network's longest-running television show, beating out such favorites as Monk, The 4400, La Femme Nikita, and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.[2][3] I understand this because it's a funny show with quirky, enjoyable characters; because it's rich with references to other shows, movies, and pop culture; and because there's something inherently compelling about solving mysteries. However, I also don't understand this because Psych is mostly episodic, not serial. For the most part there aren't any story arcs that compel you to watch the next episode. Rather than have a cliffhanger every episode, they only give you one at the end of the season (and possibly another if they're going to take a mid-season hiatus).

Television Review: White Collar, Season 3

As we enter Season 3 of White Collar [1], we find Neal more deeply immersed in his previous lifestyle of crime than he's ever been since his work release with the FBI began. The more he convinced he becomes that he wants to go straight, the more he backslides into his old life—whether he means to or not. But this time he's also corrupting an innocent: his girlfriend Sara. The relationship between Neal and Sara was unbelievable from the beginning. Even more surprising, in this season, is how often he gets her involved in his cons. And how easily he wins her back after they have a falling out over his moral turpitude.

Television Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season 3 (Fire)

In the final season of The Last Airbender Aang completes his training by learning to master the element of Fire.[1] This presents challenges for him for several reasons. First, he intends to use his powers to topple the tyrannical Fire Empire, so finding a master to teach him is difficult. Second, he is leery of the seductive nature of fire—the last time he tried to learn firebending he lost control and hurt Katara. Finally, he is anxious about how to stop the Fire Lord. Aang tries to be as nonviolent as possible—even to the point of being a vegetarian. But everyone he consults—even past incarnations of the Avatar—expect him to kill the Fire Lord.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lamarckian vs. Mendelian Inheritance

There are two theories of inheritance. On the one hand you have "Lamarckian inheritance" or "soft inheritance" [1], which posits that 1. traits which are passed on to offspring are acquired by overuse, lost by underuse, or altered by the influence of the environment (e.g. a giraffe that stretches out its neck by reaching for higher branches on a tree would be expected to have babies with longer necks than would a giraffe that never stretches its neck out); 2. the traits of offspring are a blending of their parents' traits (e.g. a cross between a white-flowered pea and a red-flowered pea would produce a pink-flowered pea); and 3. the transmission of particular traits of an individual to its offspring is complete and fully distributed (e.g. if a rabbit suddenly grew antlers, all of its offspring would inherit that trait). The death blow for this theory came when August Weismann showed that cutting the tail off a rat never results in tailless offspring—even when you do it for 20 successive generations.[2]

On the other hand you have "Mendelian inheritance" or "hard inheritance", which posits that 1. traits which are passed on to offspring are unaffected by overuse, by underuse, or by the influence of the environment (e.g. a giraffe that stretches out its neck by reaching for higher branches on a tree is no more likely to have babies with longer necks than is a giraffe that never stretches its neck out); 2. the traits of the offspring are identical to one parent or the other (or both) based on the recessive or dominant status of the gene (e.g. a cross between a white-flowered pea and a red-flowered pea would produce a 3:1 ratio of white- and red-flowered offspring); and 3. the transmission of particular traits of an individual to its offspring is incomplete and randomly distributed (e.g. if a rabbit suddenly grew antlers, only some of its offspring would inherit that trait).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Don't Believe a Scientist (When They Try to be a Linguist), Part I

When it comes to their particular area of discipline, scientists who otherwise masticate the English language quite sloppily [1] will turn prescriptivists. The sad thing is that they're often wrong to do so. Here are some examples that I've accumulated over the years. It usually starts out with the scientists co-opting a colloquial word and giving it a more precise definition within their discipline. Then they turn around and try to pretend that the previously existing definition is in error and that all uses of that particular word must conform to the recently restricted definition of their jargon.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Standing Up

Now that Lilli's hands-down favorite thing to do is to walk [1], Leann and I have been beset with a whole new assortment of ailments: sore backs (from being hunched over all the time), sore knees (because when you walk on your knees you don't have to hunch over), phalangeal sprains, finger sores…okay, maybe I'm starting to exaggerate. But seriously, that's about all she ever wants to do. Sometimes when I'm tired of walking her around, I prop her up against something—the couch, her toy box, etc.—and hope that she'll be happy just standing there for a while. She usually is, thankfully.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Deciduous Teeth

A few weeks ago Lillian started getting her deciduous teeth (also called baby teeth or milk teeth) which made her a little more irritable than usual—thank goodness for children's ibuprofen and teething toys! [1][2] First her lower right incisor (I believe a dentist would call it 'P') came in. Then her upper right incisor ('E'). And recently her lower left incisor ('O') erupted. Armed with these little guys she's now capable of demolishing graham crackers, slices of apple, and…fingers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


In her endeavor to learn to talk, Lillian has discovered that she doesn't have to open her mouth—she can still make noise with it closed. This leads to a variety of outcomes: the sound /m/, talking through her nose/humming, and the ability to express pleasure when eating ("Mmmmm!" [1] and "Yummy!"). I'm not sure whether she's really figured out the last one, but she does seem to hum more often when we're feeding her solid food—though that could just be wishful thinking. But she certainly does like to hum/sing when she's happy. And squeal.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Baoding Balls

I received a set of Baoding balls (保定健身球; my box called them by the simpler name "Chinese iron balls") from my sister Ashley [1] after she spent some time in California at a high school choir competition (I think it was called the Heritage San Francisco Festival). Some are made of two hollow spheres of iron with a chime in between. As the balls are manipulated, the inner ball strikes the chime against the inner surface of the outer ball, creating a ringing noise.[2] Others are a single hollow ball with a spring inside that acts as a chime. I'm unsure what type my set is, but it consists of two balls (some sets have more) and their chimes ring on different notes. With my set of Baoding balls, the outer ball is further covered in cloisonné, a decorative vitreous enamel.[3] They are used for relaxation, to improve hand dexterity, and to help with recovery from hand injuries. But Lillian doesn't care so much about all that. She just likes how they ring when she shakes them.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Army Crawl

I've previously mentioned that Lillian can get up on all fours and rock back and forth.[1] Well a few weeks ago she started doing a sort of army crawl. She hasn't progressed to a full crawl, in part, because she would much rather grab someone's fingers and walk around.[2] As you can probably guess, by now, whenever I tried to get a video of her doing this army crawl, she'd just flirt with the camera or fuss because she wanted to walk, not crawl. But I finally got the video I wanted.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Movie Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

As a kid the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, with James Mason, was one of my favorite movies. So it was with some trepidation that I approached this remake (remaquel?). How could they possibly live up to my expectations. Granted, the original had some cheesy special effects (e.g. putting a sail on an iguana and pretending it's a rampaging Dimetrodon). This film, which definitely had superior special effects, turned out to be more like a sequel to Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth—they even go so far as to reference the book repeatedly.

Movie Review: How Green Was My Valley

It's funny that a movie called How Green Was My Valley was shot in black and white. But after having seen the movie, I think it was appropriate. It is a dismal, 'realist' account of the lives of Welsh coal miners during the mid- to late 1800s. It depicts how they are slowly destroyed by life, regardless of how good or honorable they try to be. This is exactly the sort of story that defines the modern literary genre of fiction.[1]

Movie Review: Dinotopia

The only exposure I had to Dinotopia before watching this miniseries, by Hallmark Entertainment, was a book my Great Grandma had. It was large with lavish paintings of people and dinosaurs coexisting. I don't remember the plot at all, but the concept of domesticating dinosaurs was (to my young mind) brilliant and my sense of awe while reading the book has stuck with me.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lillian's Favorite Things

Lillian hasn't experienced raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens. She doesn't have any bright copper kettles or warm woolen mittens. The packages she's received [1] weren't in brown paper…but she loves strings.[2] Here are a few more of Lillian's favorite things.[3]

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Conference Weekend Walk

A little over a week ago, between sessions of General Conference [1], Leann, Lillian, and I went on a walk. Lilli and Leann are quite relieved that (with the exception of a rogue snowstorm here and there) the weather is warm enough to allow daily walks. Now we don't have to worry about Lilli getting cold, we have to worry about her getting a sunburn! We put sunscreen and a hat on her, but she doesn't usually tolerate the hat for very long. She also has trouble sitting still while we walk around. She likes to lean forward and watch the ground going by under the stroller. Here are some of the highlights from our walk.[2]

Monday, April 9, 2012

Lillian's First Easter

Saturday morning Leann and I hid each other's Easter baskets.[1] Well, Leann didn't want to bring her Easter basket up from the storage unit, so she just had me hide her bag of candy. I stuffed it inside the recliner. She had to ask for several clues to find it. I had several errands to run, so Leann went easy on me and put my basket in a fairly simple hiding place. Saturday evening Leann and I dyed eggs. Like last year [2] I added some oil to the dye for some of the eggs. The next morning Leann creamed the eggs and we ate them over toasted English muffins with a side of bacon.

Friday, April 6, 2012


I've previously mentioned Lillian blowing raspberries.[1] Now, she's started spitting. The differences are subtle. Blowing a raspberry involves sticking the tongue out so that it fills the O of your mouth and then blowing air under the tongue and out, causing the tongue to vibrate back and forth against your lower lip, giving a characteristic sound. Spitting, at least as well as Lillian can do it right now, involves expelling saliva (along with some air) out of her compressed lips. The accompanying sound is similar to a blown raspberry, but is distinct. And that's probably more than you ever wanted to know about either behavior. So, let's get on to the videos.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Invasion III!

A few weeks ago Leann mentioned seeing little speckled beetles crawling around on our couch.[1] She said they were hard to see because they almost perfectly matched the mottled pattern and colors of the couch. I had her catch some so that I could identify them. After a dichotomous key and a little internet searching, I've narrowed it down to the Varied Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus verbasci) or the Furniture Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus flavipes), though the Varied Carpet Beetle is more likely. We notified our landlord and last week he had our next-door neighbor, who sells pest control during the summers, spray the complex with a pyrethroid insecticide.[2]

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Movie Review: Brigham Young

The Hollywood film Brigham Young was released just a few years shy of 100 years after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith.[1] It depicts the incarceration and murder of Joseph Smith [2] and the succession crisis that subsequently gripped the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly referred to as Mormons [3]). Eventually Brigham Young (played by Dean Jagger [4]) was accepted by a majority of Latter-day Saints as the new prophet and he led them on an exodus across the American Great Plains to the Salt Lake Valley. This film departed from most artistic portrayals of Latter-day Saints up to this point (e.g. A Study in Scarlet, A Victim of Mormons, Around the World in 80 Days, Riders of the Purple Sage, etc.) in that it was sympathetic to the Latter-day Saints.

Movie Review: MST3K: Manos: the Hands of Fate

Manos: the Hands of Fate is generally considered to be one of the worst movies ever made. It came about as a bet between Route 66 screenwriter Stirling Silliphant and Hal Warren. Hal Warren asserted that making a film was easy, and he would make one just to prove it.[1] The awful result was Manos: The Hands of Fate. It is about a family that gets lost on a road trip and ends up trapped on a remote ranch run by a satyr [2] who is subservient to a supernatural (and polygamous) being called 'The Master'. With a plot like that, it's only natural that the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 guys got their hands on it.[3]

Movie Review: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

I can't say that I've ever laughed at a Peanuts comic strip. They're just not funny. So most of my contact with the Peanuts characters is from the two Charlie Brown holiday specials I regularly watched while growing up: A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Charlie Brown Valentine. Despite it's popularity I've never seen It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (the Hallowe'en special) and until last Thanksgiving [1] I'd never seen this one, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. In fact, I'm not even sure I knew it existed until I saw it was going to come on television and decided to record it. The version I watched was followed up by a tour of the history of Thanksgiving featuring some of the Peanuts characters.