Sunday, December 4, 2016

Entry 359: On Chess


It is a pretty good time for fans of Seattle sportsball.  The Seahawks are comfortably in first place; the Sounders improbably made it to the MLS finals; and the University of Washington even more improbably qualified for the college football playoffs.  But don't worry, I'm not going to talk about these things in depth.  Of the five people whom I know read this blog regularly not a one of them is interested in Seattle sports.  I am however going to talk about a different sport -- kinda: chess.

Magnus Carlsen, a 26-year-old Norwegian chess wunderkind, retained his title of "Greatest Chess Player Alive" (probably "ever," honestly), by defeating Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin in the World Chess Championship on Wednesday.  The match was incredibly close, which was not expected, but Carlsen, the heavy favorite, ultimately pulled it out in "overtime."  This event likely would have come and gone without my notice had I not heard it discussed on a podcast.  I don't follow chess regularly, but it's a great subject to do a deep dive on, so every now and then I will go down the chess rabbit hole, and this match gave me a great opportunity to do so.

[The baby-faced kid who runs the dining hall in your dorm?  No!  The greatest chess player ever.]

I've tried on several occasions to take up playing chess, but it has never really stuck.  I never felt like I was making much progress as a player.  I would read annotated games and have little idea why one move was better than another, even after it was explained.  When I would play (usually against a computer) my entire strategy was to set up a very focused, multi-move siege on one of my opponent's major pieces.  And then as I was carrying it out, my opponent would either (a) move the piece to safety; (b) take one of my major pieces that I had left unprotected because I was too focused on my attack.  Then I would lose.

Also, chess is a game with an extremely steep "entry fee," meaning in order to be good you have to do a lot of tedious memorization.  With the aid of computers, people have mapped out thousands upon thousands of different opening sequences, and if you don't learn them, you simply can't compete with somebody who has.  It's like Scabble in that if you don't have the dictionary more or less completely memorized, you will never be a top player no matter how good you are at actually playing Scrabble.

But chess is very different from Scrabble in that there is no randomness to it.  It never comes down to the luck of the draw.  This is both good and bad.  It's good in that it's pretty much as "fair" a game as you can possibly have -- our wits against your opponent's.  It's bad in that this can make games boring to follow.  When both players of a chess match are really good, ties are overwhelmingly likely (in the 12 regulation games, Carlsen and Karjakin drew 10 of them), and games often turn on a single misstep.  You rarely see amazing comebacks and swings in win-expectancy like you do in Scrabble or poker or a game in which luck is an integral part.  Now, there are variations of chess that are more exciting, and you can induce action by making players move more quickly (this is how they break ties in official matches -- they continually decrease the amount of time on the players' clocks until somebody wins outright), but I think a lot of "true" chess aficionados view this as a bastardization of the game -- like how many soccer fans don't like penalty kicks as a tie-breaker.

Another reason I'm interested in chess is the a.i. aspect.  It's the perfect human-vs.-machine game -- or at least it was.  It's not much of a competition anymore.  The decision is in: Machines won.  There is a good documentary Game Over about the (in)famous 1997 match in which IBM's Deep Blue beat grandmaster Garry Kasparov in disputed (by Kasparov, at least) fashion.  (Apparently you can watch the entire movie on YouTube.)  But the whole thing seems quite quaint now, given that I could probably download a free chess app on my phone that could defeat Magnus Carlsen with ease.

But don't despair, fellow human, Skynet isn't taking over just yet.  Although the best chess algorithm can defeat the best human, a decent chess player with the aid of a computer can defeat the best computer by itself.  There is a whole new variant of chess called centaur chess (or advanced chess) in which humans compete against each other, but the use of computers is completely legal.  The best players are those who can effectively manipulate computers to look for good moves, but not rely completely on the output from a single program.

In general, this is the way humans "stay ahead" of computers.  We use them to make ourselves smarter (and if you believe futurist Ray Kurzweil, we are not that far away from cyborg brains).  Computers can do amazing things like, say, solve difficult math problems or fill in crossword puzzle grids (y'know, for people who are into math and crossword puzzles), but the best work is still done by a human using a computer as a tool.  People aren't obsolete yet.  Also, when it comes to Terminator 2 style takeovers, there is another thing we have to consider: We can still turn computers off.  They aren't sentient beings.  That's a pretty big thing.  Imbuing a previously inanimate object with a sense of self is not exactly a trivial accomplishment.

When it comes to chess a.i. specifically, I have some personal connections.  When I was about ten I set out to "solve" chess.  That is, I was going to write down every possible combination of moves, so that when I played, I could just follow along in my master book of moves and never lose!  This, of course, is beyond naive.  The total number of possible combinations of chess moves is something literally unimaginable -- like if a billion people were able to write a billion moves per second for a billion days, you still wouldn't be anywhere near it.  (Note: I don't know if this is technically true or not; I'm just saying it to make a point.)  But, hey, at least I recognized that chess could, in theory, be solved by brute force enumeration.  That's not bad for a preteen.  I was just too ambitious.  If I had gone with tic-tac-toe, I probably could have pulled it off.

I remember I told my dad about my plan to solve chess, and he was like, "yeah... you're not going to do that."  And I insisted that I was, and he was like, "no you aren't."  And I again insisted that I was, and he again told me that I wasn't.  And the conversation finally ended with him telling me to go ahead and try.  (It's funny how the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  I can't tell you how many conversations I have with Lil' S1 in which he insists something is true when it is clearly false.  The other day he drew a '3', and said it was an 'A'.  When I told him he was wrong, he ran into his room crying and got under his covers.  Oh well, he needed a nap anyway.)  I didn't even get past white's first move.  After I did a few pawns, I realized that perhaps my dad knew what he was talking about, and started playing Nintendo or something.

[Fisher vs. Spassky in 1972.  One of the most interesting chess matches in modern history.]

So I never did solve chess, but as a junior in high school I did program my own chess engine in computer science class: Ski-Bot the chess playing machine.  I consider it my greatest academic achievement.  I'm not being facetious.  I actually think it was a bigger accomplishment than my Ph.D. dissertation.  As a seventeen-year-old with about three months worth of programming classes, I wrote a computer algorithm that could actually play chess against the user.  Ski-Bot was by no means a great chess player, but it could whoop up on beginners, and it would always catch a mistake, so it impressed a lot of people.  I still have it on floppy disk somewhere, but I don't have an old Mac to run it on, and there is a decent chance that the magnetic tape of the disk has eroded anyway.  It's more than 20 years old after all.  So Ski-Bot might be gone forever.  But that's okay.  I'll just tell people I retired it after it beat Nat Nguyen, the best chess player in my class, much like IBM retired Deep Blue after it beat Kasparov.

Alright, I think you are probably tired chess by now (if you've even stuck it out this far), so I will call it a post.

Until next time...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Entry 358: The Turkey's a Little Dry... THE TURKEY'S A LITTLE DRY!!!

I made my first ever Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.  It came out pretty well, given it was all planned in the eleventh hour.  On Tuesday during work, S and I were texting about what we should do for the holiday.  We didn't have any firm plans.  Our friends informally invited us over, but they live on the other side of the city, and with nap schedules and all that, it sounded like too much of a hassle.  (Yes, that's where we are at right now: We didn't go to our friends' house because they live in a different section of the city.  They are still in D.C., but they live in the southeast quadrant, and we just can't be bothered to leave the northwest.)  So we decided to just stay home, and then I had a brilliantly bold idea: I could cook Thanksgiving dinner.  I didn't really know how to do this, but it couldn't be that hard -- right?

Turns out, that is in fact right.  If you were expecting a Mr. Mom-style comedy of errors, in which I try to stuff the turkey with a loaf of bread and then cook it in the toaster, you are out of luck (and you should update your movie collection).  I made a perfectly acceptable, decent-tasting turkey dinner.  I overcooked the Turkey a tad bit because I was so scared of undercooking it and killing my family with salmonella.  But I eat my turkey mixed with potatoes and stuffing and dosed in gravy anyway, so I hardly notice if it's a tad bit dry.  And in my defense, I didn't have a meat thermometer.  They were all out of proper meat thermometers at the supermarket, so I bought a soup thermometer and tried to sorta jabbed it in to a hole I cut with a knife.  I think it actually worked, but I didn't completely trust the reading, so even though it said it was done, I left it in for an extra 15 minutes, which I think dried it out a little bit.  But, like I said, no biggie.  S liked it; Lil' S1 "liked" it (i.e., he choked down a piece we made him eat before he could watch iPad); Lil' S2 didn't really like it, but turkey is one of the few foods he doesn't like in general -- he ate everything else I made.  I bought the smallest turkey I could find, and I'm still going to get five meals out of it and then likely throw some of it away.

The rest of the courses were fine as well.  The mashed potatoes were lumpy because I mashed them with a wooden spoon (in addition to a meat thermometer, we apparently could use a potato masher).  But I actually prefer my potatoes lumpy, so that's fine with me.  Then I also made some green beans (gotta have something green), some stuffing, some bread rolls, and of course a pot of gravy.  Good eatin'!

If I do this again next year, I'm going to try to snazz it up a bit.  I went very conservative, because it was my first time, and because I bought everything in one supermarket trip two days before Thanksgiving.  Some people like it simple, and I do too, but all things equal, I prefer it not simple.  I'm the food asshole who ruins it for everybody.  I'm the reason if you order a hamburger in D.C. it might come topped with saffron orange aioli, or if you get coleslaw it might have dried cranberries in it, or a club sandwich might come on focaccia bread.  I'm the guy who loves all that fancy shit.  So next year, I might try to do it up.  We shall see.

As for the ritual of Thanksgiving, Lil' S1 went around the table and asked us all what we are thankfully for -- it was cute; he must have learned it at school -- but I'm not feeling too thankful this year.  Yeah, sure, I have my family and my health and all that, but I would still have that if we didn't elect a crazy man to be our next president.  A bunch of my friends on Facebook put up posts giving thanks to God, and, in light of our recent election, I was so tempted to reply with something snarky (they're all Trump haters), but I bit my tongue (held my fingers?).  I hate arguing on Facebook, and I hate arguing about religion, so I probably made the right choice in not arguing on Facebook about religion.

Bill Maher said something I found funny (because it's true) on his last show about religion [paraphrase]: "It's hard to have a rational discussion about religion, because it's such bullshit."  I'm nicer and less vocal about religion than Maher -- mostly because I'm not a comedian who makes a very nice living, in part, off of ridiculing religion -- but I agree with his broad assessment of it.  It's all such nonsense.  It's fairy tales.  I've noticed I've become a much more staunch atheist as I've gotten older.  This doesn't mean I've become more closed-minded or less accepting of people who think differently -- it's the exact opposite, in fact (live and let live is my motto).  What it means is that, on a personal level, I don't hedge my bets with religion anymore.  I admittedly have zero faith.

I was never a formally religious person, but when I was younger, I still believed in God.  I still had a fear of God.  I thought that if I disrespected him, even in my own head -- thought he didn't exist or thought his rules were bullshit -- that somehow he would punish me for it later.  I also used to pray to God frequently, and believed that it worked in some sort of long-term cosmic way.  Even though I didn't go to church or worship, I thought that I had a personal "understanding" with God, like you do with that old friend you haven't seen in a decade: You do your thing, and I'll do mine, but you know I love you, and if the chips are down, I always got your back.  God and I were tight.  He was just alright with me.

But something changed.  At some point I realized that I hadn't checked in with God in a very long time, and that my life was absolutely no different.  I realized nothing bad happens to you if you don't believe in God, and good things don't happen to you if do.  I realized that my reasons for believing in God all required a presumption of God to begin with.  It was circular logic.  And once I stepped outside the circle, I realized how silly it all really was.

After all, there have been thousands of "circles" that people have been caught in throughout history; there have been thousands of gods and religions we all dismiss as absurd now -- sun gods, harvest gods, rain gods (oh wait), war gods, etc. -- but now we are supposed to believe that we've finally figured it out?  It just so happens that we are living at a moment in human in history in which we've discovered the one real god and the one true religion?  Yeah, I'm not buying it.  Look, maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Hinduism or Taoism or Pastafariansim really is the one true religion.  Maybe.  We shall see -- or we won't.  My money is one the latter.

OK, I think I'll wrap it up here.  S took the kids out for a little while, but they are due back soon, and I'm getting hungry.  I'm not sure what I'll have for lunch -- probably turkey.

Until next time...

Friday, November 18, 2016

Entry 357: Things Are Just Going to Suck for a While... They'll Get Better... Then They'll Probably Suck Again

I don’t know the official stages of grief, but I’m pretty sure “acceptance” is one of them.  That’s where I’m at right now.  I’ve accepted that things are going to suck for a while, and there is not much I can do about it.  I accepted that there is going to be a black cloud hanging over me (and most the nation) for – who knows how long?  A month?  A year?  Two years?  Four years?  I don't know.  But I do know that every time I think a good thought, it’s quickly purged from my head by the same terrible thought.

“Yes! The Seahawks beat the Patriots! ... (But Trump is going to be president.)”

“Mmm, these nachos are pretty good… (But Trump is going to be president.)”

“Ha!  Lil’ S2 is so cute dancing to music… (But Trump is going to be president.)”

It’s like there is a little orange devil sitting on my shoulder, who pokes me in the brain with his trident as soon as I start to feel the slightest bit happy.  And he’s not going away anytime soon.  I can’t get rid of him.  I just have to wait for him to die on his own.  He will die.  I will feel better.  I was sad when George Bush won in 2004 (though not nearly at the same level), but it’s not like my life sucked the next four years.  Those were pretty fun times for me, truth be told.  So things will get better* – at least until Trump’s policies actually start to take hold…
I’ve been trying to walk the fine line between staying informed and staying sane.  One underrated, shitty aspect about Trump’s election is that it ruins news.  I've become a bit of a political news junkie.  I read a lot about politics online; I binge read The New Yorker every few weeks; and I listen to five or six political podcasts every week.  But I’ve had to cut back drastically.  I just can’t handle listening to another breakdown of why Hillary lost, of why we all should have seen it coming, of what Trump’s victory means or what terrible cabinet choice he is going to make.  It’s just... tortuous.  So I’m forcing myself to do the bare minimum to not succumb to the siren song of quietism.  But after I do that bare minimum, I’m putting on the Bill Barnwell Show and trying to distract myself with the weekly NFL matchups.

But I’ll be ready for the fight.  There is a good chance people who normally just sit on the sidelines and root (like myself) are going to have to take a more active role in the resistance.  What this means exactly, I don’t know.  Unfortunately, I’m bad at activism.  But when an opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready.  One thing I know I can do is donate to worthy causes.  I’ll definitely step up my donation game.

Alright, that's enough about that -- fine line, remember? -- let's move on to a more pleasant topic: My kids.

Things are going pretty well with them.  They still aren’t letting me sleep enough, but that’s to be expected.  Every morning Lil’ S2 wakes up around 6:00 a.m., and I bring him into bed with me (S is usually gone by then) where he tosses and turns for a half hour, and then we both fall back asleep, just in time for his older brother to bust through the door and destroy our five minutes of peace.  It’s an "awesome" morning ritual.

We had parent-teacher conferences for each kid this week.  I went to the one for Lil’ S1.  It was fine.  He’s doing fine.  I don’t really know what to take away from these types of events to be honest.  All the kids in his class were “graded” on their pattern recognition and their regulation of their emotions.  Lil’ S1 was a 4 out of 7 in the former and a 5 out of 6 in the latter.  So this means he can “copy simple repeating patterns,”and he can “comfort himself by seeking out a special object,” but he can’t “extend and create simple patterns” or  “look at a situation differently.”  Okay… good to know, I guess.  Although I think they got those grades reversed.  He can make simple patterns (the other day he made a “light saver” with connecting blocks that alternated exactly three dark blue and two light blue), but he really struggles to comfort himself and calm down once he gets revved up.  I mean, more so than most kids his age.  The other thing to keep in mind is that he turned four three months, while other kids in his class are already five.  Those nine months matter immensely at that age.

Lil’ S2 is doing well too.  He’s getting really good at understanding what we tell him, and he’s quite mobile for his age, but he still can’t talk at all.  This is a bit strange.  Most kids can say a few words around a year or so.  He’s already 15 months and there’s not even so much as a “no” or a “mine” or a “mama” or “dada” out of him.  S and I aren’t particularly worried because he doesn’t appear to be behind in other areas – like I said, he clearly understands things (for example, every time we put socks on him, he will go and grab his shoes, and he does the same thing for his brother, and he knows whose shoes are whose) – but it would be nice to hear him say a few words soon.

He’s actually going to go to his grandparents’ in South Carolina for about a month soon.  S has to take another trip to Africa for a few weeks in early December, so to make things easier on me, she’s going to take him to her parents’ place (I can handle one by myself, no problem), and then everybody will be going down there for the holidays.  So maybe he will start talking while he’s there.  Maybe my mother-in-law with teach him some Kannada.

Well, I’m writing this on my lunch break, and it is now over, so I will have to call it a post.

Until next time…

*Note: I'm only speaking for myself -- my privileged, white, heterosexual, cisgendered, upper-middle class self.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Entry 356: Shit

The past three days, I've fluctuated wildly between having too much to say about Tuesday's election and having nothing to say about it at all.  When something unexpected like this happens, everybody goes searching for reasons why -- was it whitelash?  was it sexism?  was it the uprising of an economically oppressed class?  was it a repudiation of the Clintons?  of politics as usual?  I think it is natural to ask these questions and possibly even helpful.  If you can properly diagnose what went wrong, you will be better able to prevent it in the future.  But only to a point.  Because there is one aspect of Tuesday's election that few people are talking about: bad luck.

I keep hearing about how everybody got the election wrong.  But did we actually get it wrong, or did something unlikely just happen?  (Let's not forget, Hillary won popular vote!  We weren't wrong that more Americans preferred her to Trump.) Sometimes the underdog wins; that doesn't mean they shouldn't have been the underdog.  There is an element of randomness to elections -- particularly presidential elections with the winner-take-all by state format.  Try as we might, we simply cannot predict with complete accuracy who will turn out for whom where on a given day in November.  As far as the public is concerned it is a random event.  It is left in large part to chance.  Is it meaningful that Hillary narrowly lost Florida, but overperformed in Texas and Arizona?  That she won Colorado and Nevada, but lost the Midwest?  Does this tell us anything going forward, or did things just break that way this election?  Before you think it must be the former, that there must be a deep lesson we all can learn, remember this: In 2008 and 2012 the big takeaway was that the only way Republicans could compete nationally is if they appeal to Latinos.  How morbidly laughable does that seem now?

A lot has been written about what liberals should do now.  How can we win again?  The big thing I keep hearing is that we need leaders who will appeal to the neglected working class of rural America, to those who have been legitimately hurt by automation and free trade.  And I think we do need to do this, but I think we need to do this because helping the working class is the right thing to do, because it is in line with our values, not because we think it's the missing piece to winning the next election.  Because nobody really knows what or who will win the next election.  Nobody knows what the state of the electorate will be four years from now or even two years from now.

The real message -- or at least a real message -- we should take away from this election is that the future is more uncertain and random than our initial instincts lead us to believe.*  What I say to liberal leaders looking for answers is this: Do what you think is right.  Start a movement you believe in.  Don't try to play the game, because you don't understand the rules of the game -- nobody does; they are constantly changing.  By the time we get the rules figure out for 2016, it's 2018 and we are on to something new.   So don't think an old, Jewish socialist is unelectable; don't think endorsing Black Lives Matter will alienate too many white people; don't think you have to bend over backwards to appear pro business or tough on crime or hawkish.  Stand up for what you believe in.  Do what's in your heart.  Be authentic.  Try to start something cool.  The votes will follow.  Or they won't.  We just don't know.  We never know.

Until next time...

*Another message we learned, or rather one we had reconfirmed is that America is still a very racist nation.  We simply haven't yet overcome our legacy of slavery.  When people like Paul Ryan acknowledge the president-elect is racist, but support him anyway because he personally isn't the member of a targeted group, and he needs somebody to sign his stupid budget -- that's white privilege.  When black and brown people in the inner-city are beset by economic hardship, our response is "it's your own fault; you need to have better families; you need to take personal responsibility for your own lives, and clean up your own communities; you need to do life better."  When rural white people are beset by economic hardship, our response is "brown people are taking our jobs!  the system is rigged!  burn the whole thing down!" -- that's white supremacy.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Entry 355: Just Vote, Gonna Be Okay, Da Da Doo-Doo-Mmm

Just vote, gonna be okay, da da doo-doo-mmm
Just vote, mark that ballot babe, da da doo-doo-mmm
Just vote, gonna be okay, v-v-v-vote
Vote, vote, just, j-j-just vote

The 2016 presidential vote is happening on Tuesday, and I'm trying really hard to channel my inner Lady Gaga, only instead of being inebriated in a club whose name I can't remember, I'm anxious in a land of election news I can't make sense of -- a place where sanity has little standing, facts matter not a whit, and we are a missed 38-yard field goal away from having President Pussygrabber become a reality.  

And that, unfortunately, might be underestimating Trump's chances.  My boy Nate Silver is even more bullish on the Great Orange Groper, giving him a 35% chance of winning, roughly double that of the New York Times' Upshot, linked above.  (Note: both forecasts are frequently updated, so their respective odds might have changed a little, but I doubt either will move drastically this close to the election.)  The difference, as I understand it, is that the FiveThirtyEight model responds more aggressively to poll fluctuations than does the Upshot's model.  The most recent polls are relatively favorable to Trump -- due perhaps to natural tightening as the election draws nigh, perhaps to the (utterly bullshit) resurgence of Hillary's emails into the news (I tend to think it's mostly the former, actually) -- and so this is reflected more strongly in the FiveThirtyEight model than the Upshot model.  Also, FiveThirtyEight -- because they weigh poll fluctuations more heavily and because of the large presence of undecided and third party voters -- see the race as inherently more volatile than Upshot.  This leads them to be more bullish on Trump, but also more bullish on a Clinton landslide.  That is, they are more open to the possibility the polls are significantly off in either direction.

Which model do I personally think is more accurate?  I lean toward FiveThirtyEight, because Nate Silver has a good track record with me.  He's gone 100 for 100 in calling states the past two presidential elections, and I've relied heavily on his college basketball forecasting in my annual office March Madness pool, and I've done quite well in it.  Not trusting him now would feel like cherry-picking, i.e., believing him only when he tells me what I want to hear.  Either way, this will be a very interesting experiment as FiveThirtyEight and the Upshot are quite far apart on several swing states (see below), so there should be a conclusive forecast "winner" this election.

Florida: 538, Trump 52%; Upshot, Clinton 69%
Ohio: 538, Trump 68%; Upshot, Trump 53%
North Carolina: 538, Trump 52%; Upshot, Clinton 71%
Nevada: 538, Trump 49%; Upshot, Clinton 66%
New Hampshire: 538, Clinton 62%; Upshot, Clinton 75%

One more thing I will say about FiveThirtyEight is that I've found their election coverage this past week kind of annoying.  Reading the headlines and the tenor of the articles, you might get the impression that Trump is the two-to-one favorite, not Clinton.  I understand that they want to emphasize that, in their view, many people aren't giving Trump enough of a chance, and that they have to write something new each day.  (If everyday they ran the same article with the headline "Clinton is still the clear favorite, but Trump could possibly win," it would be an accurate reflection of reality, but it probably wouldn't attract many readers.)  But it's starting to come off as overly-contrarian, sensationalistic, and click bait-y (for a data-journalism website, anyway), which isn't super surprising being that they are now owned by ESPN.  You can find some examples of what I mean here, here, and here.

But I think it is very important to not confuse FiveThirtyEight's election coverage with their election forecasting model.  Despite what many people commenting on their articles have charged, I don't believe that they have monkeyed with their model to make the election seem closer than it really is.  I think it's basically the same model that predicted with great accuracy that Obama would win handily in 2008 and 2012.

As you can gather, I've been spending way too much time analyzing this election.  One reason is that I appreciate the math that goes into the polling and modeling; another reason is that the stakes are so damn high this election.  I personally have much more emotional capital invested in this election than I have in any other election.  If Trump wins, I will be devastated in a way that I wasn't when Bush won in 2004 (in 2000 I was out of the country, so I mostly missed that whole kerfuffle), and that I wouldn't have been if either McCain or Romney had won in 2008 or 2012, respectively.  It goes beyond policy (although a Trump presidency would be a policy disaster); it goes beyond existential fear of my country (we survived a literal civil war; we will survive a Trump presidency); it's something more personal: If Trump wins, I will, for the first time in my life, be ashamed to be an American.  That's not something I ever want to feel.

Well, that's about all I have to say for now.  I'll catch you all on the flip side of November 8.  But before I go, I ask -- nay, demand -- that you vote (and not for Trump).  Also, I leave you with this bit of encouragement.  Sam Wang isn't some lefty crackpot.  He's a smart dude, and he could very well be right.  Let's hope he is.  We shall all find out soon.

Until next time...

Friday, October 28, 2016

Entry 354: Politics... Wait, No, Family and Marriage, Actually

Is there anything else to write about now other than the election?  Yes, there is, but I have a different forum for crossword puzzles, and nobody wants to hear my in-depth thoughts on the Seahawks running back situation.  (But if you want my quick take: I miss Beastmode!)  Oh, I suppose I could also write about family, but things are pretty boring right now on that front – which is fine.  We have our routines; they work for us… for now.

If you froze my current situation in time and repeated it until the day I died, sixty years from now (99 seems like a decent age to hypothetically die), I wouldn’t think it was much of a life – the highlights of my day are usually the walk I take during my lunch break, and the five minutes I’m home and both of my kids are awake and not whining about something – but the good thing is that my current situation is not frozen in time.  I imagine the kids will be less clingy and less fussy by the time they reach their 60s (when I hypothetically die) than they are now.  I imagine someday S and I will be able to do more things with them and take them more places.  I imagine someday they will become more independent, and we will be able to spend more than ten minutes alone together, when we aren’t sleeping or wishing we were sleeping.

It’s weird, two of S’s friends who don’t know each other, and who each have small children confided in her in back-to-back days that their respective relationships with their husbands have been very rocky since the kids came, and they are both worried.  One of them said she was frequently annoyed with her husband’s presence for no good reason, and the other said that she and her husband had become “coworkers” instead of spouses.  And my first thought was, “Uh… yeah, isn’t that how all relationships are for parents of small kids?”

I suppose it’s a matter of degree, but that’s kinda how things go for a while, right?  If you have young children, you’re likely to be majorly overworked and sleep-deprived; and if you’re majorly overworked and sleep-deprived, you’re likely to be grumpy; and if you’re likely to be grumpy, you’re likely to be annoyed by the mere presence of other people; and if you’re likely to be annoyed by the mere presence of other people, you’re likely to take it out on your spouse, because they’re the person who is always around and whom you can take it out on.  If you tried to pull that shit with your boss, you'd probably be fired.

As for being coworkers, yeah, marriage does get pretty logistical with young kids – that's just how it goes.  But if you work well together as a team you can take some pride in it.  The other night both our kids woke up at the same time around 2:00 a.m., and S and I arose from our slumbers, quickly set up our game plan, double-teamed the kitchen for some milk, went into man-to-man coverage to put each kid back down (she got big; I got little), and were back in bed spooning within five minutes.  (Of course the spoon only lasted about five minutes because it’s not very comfortable to actually fall asleep in that position, but it was a nice five minutes.)  Things don’t always go that smoothly, but when they do, it’s a beautiful thing.

My general feeling on it is don’t put so much stress on your relationship.  Enjoy the little things and know that the big things will come back in time.  I think S feels the same way, but maybe not quite to the same degree.  She definitely gets antsy and starts saying we need to have a date night, and we usually do, but here’s the thing about date nights: They are not always fun.  Sometimes they are, and you have a great time, but other times you just feel like you’re going through the motions because you should, and you’re not really enjoying yourself.

[I find both these actors very funny, and yet you would have to pay me a lot of money for me to actually watch this movie.]

The first problem with date night is that you have to get somebody to watch your kids.  DC is an expensive city, especially when it comes to child care, so sitters are pricey.  Add this cost to the cost of the activity, and S and I are dropping at least a Benjamin every time we go out, often much more.  That's not such a big deal, if we have a fantastic time, but a lot of times we don't because (a) we incessantly worry about the kids (more me than S), (b) we start to fade immediately after leaving the house (more S than me) -- and not only that but we are cognizant of the fact that our kids are going to be waking us up at the crack at of dawn, possibly early, and it's really hard to cut loose and relax when the prospect of a 5:30 a.m. wake up call is hanging over your head.  All of this is not to say S and I are incapable of going out and having a good time.  We do have enjoyable nights out sometimes.  It’s just to say that date nights often aren’t what they're cracked up to be.

Actually, recently S really wanted to do a date night, so I suggested that instead of going out and spending a bunch of money just to be tired in nicer clothes than sweats, we should rent a movie from iTunes, pick a specific day and time to watch it after the kids are in bed, and make it into a little event that we are going to do together – no folding laundry, no checking Facebook, no reading work email, no following a game online.  We are going to set up date conditions and have a date night at home.  She said that was a good idea, so we did it, and then she fell asleep a half hour into the movie.  I didn’t mind.  I finished it (Whiplash -- pretty good), then I turned on the end of a football game and watched that, and then I woke her up and we went to bed at the same time, which is a rarity.  Oh, and both kids slept until the morning – so it was actually a nice little night.

Alright, apparently I can write about something other than the election.  The actual vote is coming up in 10 days (the end is nigh!), so I’ll probably have something to say on it next week.  But for now I hope you enjoyed this all-family entry.

Until next time…

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Entry 353: Late But... Probably Not Worth the Wait, Honestly

I meant to put something up this weekend, but I got sidetracked by my other blog, which required a post because I got another New York Times crossword puzzle published on Monday.  I'm kinda making a name for myself in Crossworld, which is cool.  (And I've got a bunch more on the way too!)

So I'm home from work today because Lil' S1 threw up like six times yesterday, so he couldn't go to school today.  He's taking a nap now, the length or which will be directly correlated to the length of this post.  It's weird, he's not showing any signs of being sick other than throwing up -- which is a bit like the old joke "Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?" -- but usually when somebody is vomiting there are auxiliary symptoms.  With Lil' S1 there seem to be none, and today he has been acting completely normally.  Maybe he ate something that gave him mild food poisoning, or maybe he caught a very centralized stomach bug -- I don't know.  I just hope it is gone by tomorrow.  One day off with him is actually kinda nice, but two days is starting to push it.  I would definitely struggle as a stay-at-home dad.  It's funny, I asked him what he wanted to do today "museum?  movie?  park?" and what's his response?  "Daddy, can we go to Target?!"  Target happens to be in the same building as our gym, and they have daycare service, so I was actually in favor of this proposal.  Might as well get in a workout if I'm not going to work.

In other news, as you probably know, the final presidential debate is tonight.  I'll very likely watch it -- if only for the finality of it.  It's like when you watch a TV series that you've invested a lot of time in, but it starts to totally go off the rails at the end, but you still feel compelled to watch the finale.  That's how I am with this debate.  Honestly, I doubt it will matter much at all.  I suspect the vast, vast majority of people have decided already and aren't open to having their minds changed this late in the game.  For people who like Hillary and/or hate Trump, this is good news, as she has a commanding lead in the polls and will win handily if all her potential voters turn out.  That's my biggest fear: That would-be Hillary voters overwhelmingly don't turn out, because they never really supported her in the first place, and, when it actually comes down to it, aren't going to be motivated enough by the prospect of her in the White House to endure the slight inconvenience of going to the voting booth.  Another, smaller fear is that there are many people who support Trump but are embarrassed to admit it, so they are lying to pollsters about it, and thus the race is actually much closer than it appears.  My coworker subscribes to this theory, but I think he's a closet Trump supporter, so he could just be projecting his feelings onto everybody else.  My intuition from day one is that Hillary is a heavy favorite, and that's what the models that nailed the last two presidential elections are saying, so that's probably the way it is.

[I'm not with him!  And if you're not either, vote, dammit!]

In other other news, Lil' S2 is getting really cute.  He's nearing maximum cuteness, which happens at some point between one and a half and two and a half.  The problem is that he's only cute about 10% of the time, and the other 90% he's either sleeping or he's fussing.  That kid is cranky.  He just whines about everything -- I mean more than other kids his age, more than his brother at that age.  He's also a bit of a daddy's boy, so I get the brunt of it.  If I'm home and not holding him at that precise moment, he will toddle over to me and tug on my pant legs and whine.  To makes matter worse, the moment I pick him up, his brother will come running over and demand to be picked up as well ("Daddy, I'm tired of walking").  It's nice to be wanted, and people always say you miss it when it's gone, but I don't think I'm going to miss this.

In other ways, however, Lil' S2 is much easier than his brother was at his age.  He's easier to put to bed, and he's much easier to feed.  Lil' S1 has been a finicky eater since we gave him solids.  He just doesn't seem to like eating for some reason.  His brother is the exact opposite.  That kid will mow down whatever you put in front of him.  For breakfast, Lil' S1 will take three bites of an English muffin with cream cheese and then say he's full, while Lil' S2 will eat a piece of bread, a yogurt, half a banana, and some of my oatmeal, and then want a bottle of milk on top of all that.  This could very well be how most kids his age eat, and it just seems like a huge amount to me because I'm used to his brother...

Speaking of which, I hear some rustling upstairs.  I'd better throw some pics on this bad boy and call it an entry.

Until next time...