Sunday, January 30, 2011

Parenting: Month 3

高曾祖This month has been a battle with colic in its various forms. And we have been working through reflux, thrush, eczema, allergies, and the myriad other causes and cures that multiple cultures have come up with for colic. And more to come, recognizing every culture on earth probably has more candidate cures then the standard length of colic. So we have about another month of this to go. While my wife and I are both marathoners who have proven endurance and ability to endure pain and suffering, the in-laws who are with us and take care of T when we are working are not. And my wife and I are considerably better at calming T down when he is wailing away then they are. A case where the skills are mismatched to the need.

Mom and Baby practicingThe big controversy in parenting around now is Amy Chua's book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" that just came out. Chua writes as an advocate for "chinese parenting", meaning being strict with the children, letting them you know you believe they can achieve, and not letting them settle for less then their potential. There is a lot of commentary on the book, from those who are agast at it and those who defend the way described as the way to do it.

My wife and I are listening to the book on CD. And we agree with Chua's daughter's comment in the New York Post. The book is retrospectively funny. There is not a chapter where Amy Chua is in fact taking herself seriously. And everything is laughing at the fact that she was so strident at the time.

Time to go on a fire callThat said, there are things that we want. We want our son to know that we believe him to be capable of being great. We want him to realize that this is not because of giftedness or being a prodigy, but because of hard work and grit. That we expect him to be capable of things that are hard, and thing that are hard are worth the effort needed to accomplish them. And that it is worth respecting and emulating competence and wisdom where it can be found. These are not widespread beliefs. And it is hardly guaranteed that he will

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book Review: Microsoft Excel 2010: Data Analysis and Business Modeling by Wayne L. Winston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Microsoft Excel ® 2010 came out, I noted that it claimed to finally correct long standing errors in its statistical functions (1). While I wait for McCoullough et al (2) to do their usual reviews, I was encouraged to see that it now passes some basic statistics tests where previous versions consistently failed. For all its faults, spreadsheets are the principle vehicle of communicating quantitative information in business. And to support that, Microsoft Excel has built in many tools for modeling and data analysis. But discussion for many of these techniques in MS Excel books is limited to describing the dialog boxes that are needed to use the functionality. Winston in Microsoft Excel 2010 Data Analysis and Business Modeling provides a needed in depth look at Excel as a data analysis platform in addition to a spreadsheet.

Winston wrote this book as a result of teaching MBA and consulting clients spreadsheet modeling classes. It is broken up into 84 short chapters, each comes with examples (using downloadable spreadsheets and data) and example problems. Each chapter is used to demonstrate a defined concept. For example, financial issues are covered in three chapters, demonstrating net present value, internal rate of return, and the standard bond/loan finance calculations.

The many short chapters allows topics to be covered in some depth. Seven short chapters cover random numbers, followed by five chapters on simulation and some uses of simulation. While the first chapter on a topic may cover the steps to use the tool, the followon chapters all present uses. For example, the Solver is introduced in Chapter 28 with an example that steps through the menu and dialog boxes. Then each of the following seven chapters describe the use of the solver for a standard math programming problem: optimal product mix, scheduling, distribution, capital budgeting, financial planning, facility location, and rating sports teams (ok, this last one is not a standard math programming problem). This focus on providing non-trivial examples for substantial tools is the strength of the book.

Are there things that are missing? Two areas that I find myself teaching students in using spreadsheets is using the tabs to organize data and general spreadsheet management. While there are chapters on pulling in data from text files and the internet as well as a chapter on using auditing tools, there is no chapter on the art of using spreadsheets. The book falls into a common software focused book on working through the functions, even if it does this very well. Therefore, it would not serve as as a book to be used by specialists in data analysis, who need to know the art and purpose of data analysis in addition to applying techniques. But it is good for generalists who have to do analysis as part of their jobs as well as those who need to package analysis to a business audience. And for this purpose, Winston’s book does a good job.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of Microsoft Excel 2010 Data Analysis and Business Modeling 3rd ed. by Wayne L. Winston through the O’Reilly Press Blogger review program.

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(2) McCoullough and Heiser, 2008, On the accuracy of statistical procedures in Microsoft Excel 2007, Computational Statistics & Data Analysis Vol 52 (10), pp 4570-4578.

Thoughts on 4 Jan 2007: From Father to Son, Last Words to Live By

One of the reasons for keeping a blog is to see what you were thinking years ago, and compare it to now. This piece was written in January 2007. S and I had started dating, but marriage was not even a thought (and needless to say, neither were children). A potential deployment to Afghanistan was a topic of discussion, but far from being actualized.

This was a commentary on a piece in the New York Times. Of the fiance of one of the Times editors, who was a First Sergeant in the Army, and a father. Who wrote about what he wanted his son to learn as he grew up.

Original post on Xanga

New York Times article

Dana Canedy is an editor for the New York Times. Her fiance, Charles Monroe King, was a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and a gifted artist. He was also a soldier. As a First Sergeant, he would have been responsible for the training of 18 and 19 year olds for war. And when he went to Iraq he left a yet to be born son behind. During his tour of duty, Charles wrote a journal for his son to read as he was growing up.

Dear son, Charles wrote on the last page of the journal, “I hope this book is somewhat helpful to you. Please forgive me for the poor handwriting and grammar. I tried to finish this book before I was deployed to Iraq. It has to be something special to you. I’ve been writing it in the states, Kuwait and Iraq.

There are many things that we learn from newspapers. There are matters of fact, the 'first draft of history,' scores, events, editorials. But in the better papers, you learn something of what it means to live life. The First Sergeants of the U.S. Army and their counter parts also had the role of teaching their young charges about life as many of them left their familiar homes for a larger world. Of balancing checkbooks, of dealing with the pressures of making their own decisions and of the realities of romance.

Never be ashamed to cry. No man is too good to get on his knee and humble himself to God. Follow your heart and look for the strength of a woman.

One month before his tour of duty would have ended, First Sergeant King died in an IED attack near Baghdad, and this journal became the one means where he could teach his son of what it means to be a man.

Remember who taught you to speak, to walk and to be a gentleman, he wrote to Jordan in his journal. These are your first teachers, my little prince. Protect them, embrace them and always treat them like a queen.

I get the chance to have conversations with people about the training of young men and women, of raising sons and daughters. And the question is what values do I wish to impart should I become a father. And as of right now, what I can work on now is the way I account for the days of my youth.

The 18th was a long, solemn night, he wrote in Jordan’s journal. We had a memorial for two soldiers who were killed by an improvised explosive device. None of my soldiers went to the memorial. Their excuse was that they didn’t want to go because it was depressing. I told them it was selfish of them not to pay their respects to two men who were selfless in giving their lives for their country.

Things may not always be easy or pleasant for you, that’s life, but always pay your respects for the way people lived and what they stood for. It’s the honorable thing to do.

When I was in college, one woman in a bible study declared her goal of being the comfortable suburban mom. And many talk about being comfortable, of the large house, nice car, the trappings of modern american life. But those are not the stories I want to tell. On the top shelf of my bookshelf next to me are the trophies and medals of many races and awards. I've joked with friends that it will be a long time before my kids match that. And it may be something they will respect. But I will also tell the stories of calls in the middle of the night. Of having shots going in my direction. Of going towards and into fires. Of comforting the tired and scared. And I hope that these things are something they will consider valuable. It is not a natural thing. I know many who find it incomprehensible to risk a sacrifice without expected gain. And I have known many who find it outright repulsive. And I do not want to emulate them.

So what of young Jordan, who will grow up without a father? Will he be surrounded by those who tell him that the goal is to be comfortable and that his father was a fool to wear the uniform and lead young men and women that he trained into harms way? Or will he read his father's journal and respond to his father's words by considering his father a man of honor, and believe that being a man of honor is something to aspire to.

God blessed me above all I could imagine, Charles wrote in the journal. I have no regrets, serving your country is great.

Right now, being a father is still an abstract thing. And somehow, after all these years, I have not quite lost the dream of the young, that the world is changed by myself and those I have the privilige of being alongside. Right now, as I read Dana's words, Summon the Hero's by John Williams is playing in the background. Should I have sons and daughters, I hope that they get to hear stories of those who dared to be great, and to see the living embodiment of greatness around them.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book review: Winter Fire by William Trotter - Meeting Sibelius in Finland:

Snow and branches

[Originally posted at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Blog]

Every month in the music department of the main branch of the Carnegie Library in Oakland, a group of music lovers gathers to discuss a book as part of the Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club. And this month, Jim Cunningham (WQED) along with Paul Silver (PSO: viola) led the discussion on Winter Fire by William Trotter.

Winter Fire follows a WWII German officer named Erich Ziegler as he serves the German Army in Norway and the Eastern Front. He is an infantry officer, who in his civilian life is a conductor. In particular, he had written an article on Jean Sibelius, the Finnish composer who was the pride of Finland. And after a period of exemplary service, he was tapped by German Army Intelligence to serve as what in the U.S. Army is known as a Foreign Area Officer, based on his expertise and special knowledge of Finnish culture. His stated mission: To ingratiate himself into Finnish society and take the pulse of Finnish leadership and military on their commitment to being allies of Nazi Germany in WWII.

In the course of his duties he is attached to a Finnish unit near the front. And he finds the wartime refuge of Sibelius. Over the course of the book, he is welcomed into the Sibelius household, falls in love, and develops deep relationships with the Finns he serves with. As the tide of war turns against Germany, he is buffeted by political forces including Nazi party members, officials more interested in promoting their careers and image then in accurate representation of the war to Hitler, and in the end, Sibelius and his Finnish hosts offer Ziegler refuge against the fall as Nazi Germany collapses, despite the Finns pledge to their new Soviet and Western Allies to expel the Germans in the last stages of World War II.

The book is of music and war, two topics that do not seem to go together. What we do see is how in both professions, Erich has to experience it intensely. When he in the combat front, every lapse of concentration has consequence, and in particularly intense areas this intensity can be debilitating. The intensity also opens him to moments where he becomes one with his environment, and his Finn comrades note that he becomes much like the Finns.

Similarly in his artistic experiences are intense. Being a conductor working with a new score, absorbing it and imagining what it can become. And with a new orchestra, turning that image into a reality. And the highs and lows of doing this, and being buffeted by his political environment of a depraved Nazi Germany where, just as has been documented in many other forms, the closer you get to Hitler the more craven officials become.

But a person can only maintain levels of intensity for so long. In this book Erich goes between the intensity of the combat front and instead of the breaks his comrades in arms would get when their units were rotated away from the front, he dives into the intensity of his art and political conflict.

In the end, a dream that Erich has been hoping for over a large part of the book is being denied. But another dream is being offered in its place. The Finns who have been alongside Erich through triumph and disappointment through the course of the war offer Erich refuge and hope for the future. And one after another, they present their dreams of a future for Erich. But it is not Erich's dream, and he has to decide if he can come to terms of a dream denied.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review: Programming Python 4e by Mark Lutz

Programming PythonProgramming Python by Mark Lutz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been using Python since I was a graduate student. While I have known of earlier versions of this tome it had never occurred to me to go through this. Because my focus in computer programming is not in the systems administration or IT related skills like most of O'Reilly Press customers seem to be. My interest is in scientific programming and data analysis. Now that I have had some time and occasion to use this, I find that the content is indeed weighted at an audience whose function is computer programming (as opposed to using computers for something else), but what this book really provides is an education on how to accomplish tasks in idiomatic Python, not just a programming how-to book.

Programming Python (PP4E) goal is NOT to teach programming in the Python language (that task was for another book by Lutz, Learning Python). The stated goal was to teach practical use of Python, and that necessarily means using the standard libraries. But even at 1600+ pages you can't do everything. So this book focuses on (IT) systems administration, GUI development and web programming using Python 3.x (not covering Python 2.x). None of these are what I do. But, there are some tasks that are covered that can be very useful, so in reviewing this book I focused on Graphic User Interface (GUI) and text processing.

What I found as I worked through these sections was that PP4E was not a reference as it lacks systematic coverage of topics. And it is not just a tutorial, although it definitely follows a crawl, walk, run sequence as it covers the topics. What it does do well is cover how to think and how to make design decisions. So for the GUI section it focuses on tkinter, and it does cover various widgets, window managers, etc., where it shows its colors is when it discusses how the parts work and how you make choices between alternatives (e.g. window managers). There are some warts with its focus on Python 3. There are several chapters in the GUI section that require the Python Imaging Library (PIL). But based on the PIL web page, PIL is not ported to Python 3.x. So it probably means that Lutz used a pre-release port without telling us.

Similarly, regular expressions is something I've never quite gotten. And I would not be able to master use of the re module here, since it lacks a usual lists of functions with examples that a reference or a tutorial would have. But what it does do is to cover how regular expressions fit along with other string operations, when and why to use match, search, find, findall, compile. When to compile and how to think through building a regular expression sequence. You would not learn how to use regular expressions here (I would never be able to develop the examples from what is in the book), but you will learn how to think through them, and bring that when you go back to a real reference or instructional book.

One aspect that is very annoying is the examples quickly become more complex than the material that leads up to it. So instead of crawl, walk, run; it takes on the feel of crawl - sprint, with a basic introduction then quickly moving into a complex and mature code. Some of this is a result of a goal of trying to be deep in everything. So be warned.

I received a free electronic copy of Programming Python from O'Reilly Press as part of their blogger review program.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: Maya Wrap Ring Sling

First outing
Originally uploaded by LugerLA
I got the Maya Wrap soon after my son was born. While we had a Baby Bjorn, I was looking for something not so bulky, and something with some more flexibility in how it is used.

The Maya Wrap is an example of a Ring Sling, which is an example of a fabric carrier. Essentially, it is a long piece of cloth threaded through 2 rings similar to D-rings used with webbing for camping equipment. The baby sits in the pouch, and the cloth is adjusted by sliding it through the D-ring. By adjusting the parts of the cloth (either end or the middle) you can set the tension across the baby's entire body. The Maya Wrap is made up of a breathable cotton and is rated for newborn through 35 lbs. There are ring slings marketed that are made of patterned fabrics, or in silk (for special occasions) In principle, a baby can be held in a cradle hold (pictured) upright tummy-to-tummy, kangaroo hold (facing forward) or hip straddle. Initially I used cradle holds, but I've switched to upright (more on why later).

Given that it is missing the precisely located straps and buckles, one question is how do you know it is being used correctly. There are a few guidelines that are true for all baby carriers (and some carriers fail these)

1. Baby is seated in the carrier. If you think about how you hold a baby for extended periods of time, most carries involve support across the baby's bum and across the back. So a carrier should do the same. The main way many carriers fail is to hold the baby in between the legs at the crotch vice across the entire bum. In particular, the fabric should be supporting part of the thigh and the knees should be higher then the butt.

2. Baby's back is supported. A baby's back is naturally bent into a C, but the carrier should not exaggerate the C. A class of carrier called bag slings were notable for this (think of a pouch, and the baby sitting in the bottom of the pouch). And Bag slings were recently banned by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The test for this is to look at the baby's chin. The baby's head does not follow the C of the spine, so the chin should not be against the baby's chest. (and if you can't see it, you probably have the baby positioned too low)

Things I like about the Maya wrap.
1. Once we got past the initial learning curve (first three time trying it) it was easy to drop T into the sling.
2. It is very compact. It does not take up much room in a bag.
3. Few moving parts. It was easy to set up and have it ready. Now straps or buckles all over the place.
4. My son has been diagnosed as colicy. And putting him in the sling upright has been a sure way of calming him down. (or even letting him sleep in there.)
5. My two month old son is also easily scared. Between the sling pouch and the tail, we can basically hide him, and cut down on the sensory overload that is the world around him.
6. Wearing the sling, I can eat while holding him. Basically, my hands are relatively free (although I usually have a hand on his back or bottom when I have the sling on)
7. For that matter, I can do some other things wearing the sling that need my hands. Listening to music on my ipod. Reading books or my ereader. Packing/unpacking

Things not so nice.
1. There is a learning curve. My wife and both of our parents don't want to use it because they don't like how it works. And things have to be adjusted reasonably well to sit on your shoulder and have the baby in a comfortable position. Once you get the hang of it, it is not hard, but you need to put some work in to get there.
2. It is a pouch, so there is not much ventilation inside the baby compartment. The cotton fabric is breathable, but the baby will be warm because it is essentially another layer of clothing (in addition to the body heat)

Over all, I love it and I'm glad I got it. T does not like the Bjorn so much and because he is colicy, having the ring sling makes it conceivable to go out even though we have to hold him constantly.

Maya wrap is available direct from Maya Wrap. There are also a number of sellers listed on Retail availability seems limited, but apparently there are a number of home-based businesses that cater to baby and children needs that also sell babywearing products, including ring slings.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Why I write reviews

Finding a comfy spot to sleep Near the beginning of the year, the New York Times Sunday Book Review had several literary critics right about the purpose of serious book reviews. And the explicit background is the web, with many blogs where anyone with an interest can write reviews (e.g. yours truly), sites which invite reviews (such as And in a world where anyone can say anything, what is the value of serious reviews (or what makes a review 'serious')?

What is not available in the crowdsourced review? Renee Fleming when she was in Pittsburgh last fall made the comment that the popular review had one flaw, that it tended to be gladitorial style, thumbs up or thumbs down. And as criticism goes, it was shallow and useless.

And there is the place for good criticism. The purpose of criticism is not to state a like or dislike, it it to describe and evaluate. There are a few things that you should be able to know after a well done review or criticism.

1. Where the work fits in its environment
2. What the work was trying to do
3. How well the work expresses its intent
4. The intended audience of the work
5. Who is not the intended audience of the work

And presumably, the reader of the review can identify if he is in 4 or 5, and if this is something he would want to read/attend/eat.

Why should I do such a thing? One, because this way I remember what I've done before. But also because every one of us is different. And these differences should result in differences in how we view a work. So when I have reviewed books, concerts, camping gear, movies, etc., the reader should be reading them with an eye for what makes us similar or different, and how would those similarities and differences change the way we would view the subject. And how does the object of the review fit into a larger whole (whether it be a set of experiences, gear taken on a backpacking trip, or a as part of a library.)

Do I do this every time? Probably not. Like many things, this is an ideal, to be followed when I am in the mood to do this, and the work is worthy of the attention. But having this ideal is a guard against a shallowness that contributes more noise than substance.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

2010 in review

Someone was commenting that I've neglected a usual recap. And reality is, neither of us can carve out time to write a letter (and school for both of us starts soon, so there goes any other free time. But here goes for something that I'm sure is substandard. I think for things like this, it is an advantage to have been blogging here and maintaining a photo site at Flickr. Because those areas become the record of a life in thoughts and what was important at the time, like the journals and notebooks of old.

Professional life

Finding a comfy spot to sleepBoth of us are fully in the academic life. S spent the past year working on her tenure portfolio. In addition she has been traveling and performing recitals in Chicago and at her college in Beaver Falls and private students as well as her college students.

L is continuing his career experiment in academia. At Pitt he is now non-tenured faculty with a certain amount of fairly stable outside funding. So far, the experiment is being viewed by all concerned as progressing. He has many projects with the local VA hospital (clearly, Louis did not go too far professionally), a fun quick consulting gig with an architectural firm (Note to self: finish the paper on this). The big change is work with students. He has been shepherding along two PhD students, one at Pitt and a statistics PhD student who was visiting for a year. Both have been very productive. The Pitt student has very good results beyond anyone's expectations from when L started with him and looks to graduate soon. The other student returns to Turkey with good progress on a paper, and her home department is expecting several seminars on topics that they are not strong in. L's own PhD advisor is looking forward to his first academic grandchild, since L is his first student to graduate his own PhD student.

Social and community service

Finding a comfy spot to sleep We have continued many things, such as going to PSO concerts where Louis continues to get comp tickets blogging for them on their blog page. However, they have been scaling back some things. L has finally finished his long tenure on the board of the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) Pittsburgh. And, to make sure that they can still wear their fancy clothes on occasion, they still plan on enjoying events such as the PSO gala, Silk Screen gala and Red Cross Ball as part of their ongoing associations throughout the year.

L is continuing volunteering with the Southwestern PA Red Cross. In addition to the ongoing on-call for fires etc. he has had leadership roles in being the disaster assessment lead during heavy snowstorms and taking part in a volunteer review board looking at emergency services operations.


Big Red Lighthouse in Holland State ParkBoth of us have had trips for work. In addition S and L went to New Orleans, LA; Somerset, PA and Saugatuck, MI visiting friends, relatives, and spending time just together enjoying precious times.


L continues to serve as radio communicator for various races as part of Amateur Radio Emergency Communications (ARES) in Allegheny County. And this summer, he finally completed the Rachel Carson Challenge on time. Of course, this is probably his last challenge as a participant (for the foreseeable future). In the future he may take part as a volunteer, and go back to something less challenging, like running marathons.


Welcome to the world Bump!The big event of the year was, of course, the birth of our son T on October 30 at McGee Women's Hospital. At 8lb 11 oz T was a surprisingly big boy. We're not sure how he got so big. The pediatrician assures us he will regress to a body type like his parents within two years.

Father and SonWhile runners have a saying that we are all experiments of one, and this applies to life in general, relationships and marriage, it seems to us that raising a child is especially a good application of this principle. Even though a few billion of these have come around, everyone is a bit different. And we've noted a lot of advice forgets this (sometimes because of poor memory, or someone who thinks all people are the same).

What is that on the left?L's mom was here to provide much welcome help the first month. S's parents are here now and for when S goes back to work. We have had easy times, and some hard ones. And not being sentimental people by nature, it is neither as easy or as hard as sometimes we have feared or hoped. And that is probably as it should be. There are many plans and expectations that people have, but we'll let T find his path, with us looking ahead to be with him on the many expected rocky parts to come.