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The imminent ban on 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs is going to impose a significant cost on our household. This is an interesting case of a somewhat bi-partisan attempt to save energy while imposing what they took to be only a small cost on most households. But it is a cost, and it's cost that poorer households will be more burdened by. So, like New York's recent bottle bill that adds 5 cents to the cost of a larger variety of bottles, people with lower income will be more burdened by it if they continue to buy products in those bottles, while more affluent households will not notice as much of an effect of the increased cost. Our household, however, will be much more burdened by this than most.

The alternatives to incandescent bulbs don't seem to me to be genuine alternatives for our household. LED bulbs really are the best you can get. LED flashlights fail when the flashlight itself fails. It's never the bulbs that are the problem, and the batteries should last a very long time unless you leave them on all the time or never turn it on (in which case the batteries will corrode). But LED bulbs for ordinary household lights are still very expensive. The prices I'm finding for them online are something like $10 per bulb. This might be fine if they last forever and will never need to be replaced, and the energy savings might also help make up for it, but that's for a household where you won't need to replace them except when they fail on their own. We have a child who actively seeks to smash light bulbs whenever people forget to turn the lights on when he's home or when we let our attention turn to deal with anything but him, allowing him to climb on something to reach them. I think we lose a light bulb or two every week, and we can't be spending $10 per bulb at that sort of replacement rate.

Compact fluorescents are not a viable alternative either, for two reasons. Fluorescent bulbs do last longer than incandescent bulbs if you simply measure how many hours they can be left on before breaking, but that's not how most people use them. For businesses that leave the lights on for long stretches of time, they make sense. But if you turn them on and off regularly, they break far, far sooner than incandescent bulbs. They often don't last more than a few months with the kind of use they get in our house. I've seen them last a day or two more than once. They might save energy if you're willing to eat the cost of constantly replacing them, but they're not cost-effective unless you keep them on all day. This is not easy if you have been conscientious enough to develop a muscle-memory habit of turning the lights off when you leave the room, and it's next to impossible if you have children who will turn lights on and off all the time. I have to remind myself constantly not to turn the lights off in my office at work and in the classrooms I teach in, because it will cost the college too much money to keep turning them off and on again and replacing the bulbs regularly. The bulbs in our office are constantly in need of replacement, because people often turn them off when they leave the room, either not knowing of this problem or not thinking about it when they leave. And those are adults. There's really no way to control for what small children or children with autism will do with lights, and we've got both.

Even worse is the health hazard given the amount of mercury inside compact fluorescent bulbs. It's not a huge amount of mercury in a given bulb. It's about the size of a period in standard-size type. But even that amount is not a good idea to have around small children, and the EPA's recommended precautions for cleaning them up are simply not possible in our household. When you add in an autistic child who goes out of his way to unscrew them and smash them on the floor, it's simply not viable to have them in any bulbs he can either reach or stand on something to reach, which means none except in lights with closed cases.

Fortunately, the law doesn't ban incandescents altogether, just ones that are below a certain energy efficiency. The market provided a solution in the first phase of the ban. The light bulb industry managed to produce some 100-watt and 75-watt bulbs that met the standards that the first phase imposed, and we've been buying those bulbs (and will have to buy exclusively those bulbs until the industry produces similarly more-efficient 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs). We're not actually going to see incandescent bulbs disappear. We'll just see more expensive ones. This is an expense we'll have to absorb without seeing as much benefit as most households would get from it, since our the bulbs will have a shorter life than in most households. But it seems to me to be the best alternative for us.

I pay good money for a service contract for our Dell computers, which in my case is provided by Unisys. They used to be pretty good at giving you the next-day service that you pay for, but it seems to be getting very hard to get next-day service recently. Obviously they can't give you next-day service if you call on a Friday night or the day before a holiday, because the technicians aren't working on weekends and holidays. But I'm talking about calling up early in the day in the middle of the week, getting scheduled for the next day, and then getting assigned to a technician who refuses to rearrange her schedule to fit mine, when there's really only about an hour in my day when I can't do it.

I have a 10:00 appointment today. It's going to take me five minutes to get there. It should be about 45 minutes long. It will take about five minutes to get home. Even if it goes long, I should be home well before 11:30. So I was hoping Dell would put me in the 1:30-5:30 slot for service today, and I was expecting to be able to change that when they called to ask me what time would work for me. What's the point of asking me if a time will work if they're unwilling to change it? The service desk person had me talk to the technician, who said it won't fit her schedule, and I'd have to talk to the service desk people again. I did, and they said only the technicians can change it. There's no way even to move me to the later slot. I have to wait until tomorrow, and tomorrow I have the same problem. I need it to be later in the day tomorrow too. At least they let me schedule that.

This could easily have been avoided if they'd asked me when I could be available for the technician to come before they assigned me to a technician and a time slot. I never used to have a problem with this. If the technician scheduled me for a time I couldn't keep, I'd be moved earlier or later in the day, as long as I talked to them when they initially called me to verify the time. If that technician couldn't accommodate me, they could assign it to a different technician as long as they knew before the technician had gone out with the parts. Now they seem to assign a time and a technician, verify it with the customer as a formality, and then move you to the next day in violation of the contract if you can't conform to the schedule they didn't bother to confirm with you before they assigned you. This does not count as next-day service. If it happened one call in ten, I wouldn't be very upset about it, but this seems to happen to me just about every single time. It happened last week, and it had to be delayed two days. I think something like that also happened a little over a month ago.

After three calls to the scheduling desk personnel and two to the technician, I finally got someone to tell me that I can call the number they had me call and influence my schedule before the parts get shipped (i.e. the day before but only once my dispatch has taken place to be in their system). They don't normally even give you that number until you get your first call from Unisys (in the morning), when your time is assigned already. So maybe I now have a way to ensure that my next-day service really is next-day, but the information required to ensure such a thing is hardly available to most people calling in service requests, and I wouldn't have thought such a thing was necessary.

Update

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I thought I'd issue an update for anyone still checking in at my blog who isn't in contact with me in any other way. This past year has been the busiest but most productive year I've had in a very long time. I'd done a lot of reading but hadn't written much in the 2009-2010 academic year, and we made some schedule changes that allowed me to get out of the house and spend longer periods of time writing during the summer of 2010 and beyond (which increased even further by November or so). At that point I was revising my first chapter as a result of substantial comments from a philosopher of science who basically led me to tackle a whole new (to me) sub-discipline of philosophy of biology, and my first chapter is much stronger for that, but it took me most of the summer to do it.

I had a good draft of another chapter already, but that needed significant revising in light of a book that I'd read and marked up but just hadn't transferred any of it into my actual dissertation. I had parts of my other three chapters, but it felt like starting over in restructuring and figuring out where to put the parts I'd written. I knew what I was doing in each chapter, except one that needed some careful digesting of another book that I set about reading during this period. The new schedule allowed me to complete those chapters in quick succession, so that I had a good draft of the entire dissertation by something like January or February. I made revisions as I got comments back from my supervisor and other members of my committee. My final chapter was the only one not to get approval once I submitted it, and I needed to revise it again, dragging it into April or May before I could get my next draft of that chapter done.

The delay in receiving comments back slowed down my fast pace considerably, as did a much higher amount of activities for the kids in the afternoon and evening than we've ever had before (depending on the time of year: sensory therapy twice a week, piano, social skills, horseback riding, and extra speech therapy once a week, soccer three times a week, swimming 2-3 times a week). Then Sam's degenerating wrists led to therapy twice a week, eventual surgery, and more household responsibilities for me. During this time, we were also dealing with some severe complications with the medication we were giving our higher-needs autistic son (the lower-needs one has been doing very well). During a several-month period he required much more constant vigilance than the especially high amount of attention we usually have to pay to keep him safe and in the house and our stuff intact.

It's a good thing I was mostly done when all this took place, because there's more. By the end of the spring semester, I just had an introduction to write and some updating for my bibliography, and I had a few edits to make from my other committee members' comments. It was after I'd done a little of that that my hard drive died, and a few days later my two primary backup devices failed within minutes of each other. Then we got a call from school because of heightened behavior on a day with a staff shortage, which led to a hospital visit and a medication change (which turned out to help considerably). Our internet and therefore out home phone, which is voice-over-IP, went down that day, and Sam's cell phone had been missing for a least a week, so we just had one cell phone to keep in touch with each other during it all. One of the elders of our congregation described that day as rather Job-like.

The data loss was annoying and time-consuming but not devastating. I had the drafts I'd sent to my committee, but that didn't include the bibliography, which took a full week of two people devoting almost full-time work to get it updated again, with Sam working on the bibliography while I did the footnotes. Redoing the content that I'd worked on since my emailed drafts (which was the only content lost) took a few days of doing little else, but it was much quicker than trying to recover files from my flashdrive that were misnamed, often older deleted copies, and sometimes even unknown file types. Fortunately, I had a hard drive that had all my data as of last November, and I could run my computer on that drive while waiting for my new computer, because the damage to its hard drive is in the middle of the drive and therefore doesn't affect the booting up of the system. So recovery was mostly possible, and I just lost some lecture notes from the fall semester that I'll have to redo if I ever teach that course again with that book.

After all that, I emailed off my completed dissertation to my committee on July 16, and I've spent the two weeks since then catching up on my summer teaching, which I'd gotten behind on in the previous two weeks. Yesterday was the first day that I felt like getting the next task done wasn't urgent, just important. I'm in relatively good shape for the one class I'm teaching for the rest of the summer, and I'm done with dissertation stuff except for eventually preparing for my defense, which is scheduled for August 16. That's where things stand right now. In seventeen days I'll be defending my dissertation, and my fourteen years as a Ph.D. student will come to an end. I'll be on the job market this fall for academic jobs starting in the fall of 2012, and that's almost a half-time job by itself, but I'm going to be trying to work on some publications in the meantime as much as I can. I don't know how much blogging I'll be doing. The stress level is lower, which means it's now just higher than usual instead of completely crazy, and I don't expect it to get much lower than that very soon. But I hope I'll have moments when I can (a) come up with interesting things to blog about, (b) take the time to write them up, and (c) be able to respond to any comments that come without interfering with writing new posts. Blogging might be more regular if all those occur.

Alan Turing famously devised the Turing test, which was intended to test whether a machine can think. If it could show enough behavior consistent with thinking, Turing claimed that it really does think.

Turing tests have come under quite a lot of criticism for relying on the fallacious inference from something appearing to have a certain property to the conclusion that it does have that property. Turing tests take the behavior that follows from genuine thinking to be sufficient to establish that there is such thinking, even if the same behavior can be produced by a computer program. I would take the fact that it comes from a computer program to be sufficient reason to think such behavior can occur without genuine thinking.

So the usual criticism of Turing tests is that they assume thinking is occurring just because the usual behavior resulting from thinking is occurring. While I'm not interested in diminishing that objection, it occurred to be recently that Turing tests aren't just not sufficient for thinking (things that pass the test might not be thinking). They're not even necessary (things that think might fail the test). For one thing, someone who thinks might simply refuse to comply with the test and thus could fail. But more poignantly, someone with a communication-related disorder, e.g. someone with autism and dyspraxia who is completely non-verbal, simply cannot display the behavior the test is looking for. Being unable to communicate is certainly not a sign of being unable to think.

I would argue that more harm is caused by those who take passing a Turing test to be necessary for intelligent thought than is caused by those who take passing such a test to be sufficient for intelligence. We recently attended a communication seminar for parents and educators of non-verbal and mostly non-verbal children. At one session an autistic college senior was present. He can now speak in a somewhat limited manner, but he can communicate by typing on a portable device at a level that's almost certainly far beyond what most kindergarten teachers would have ever expected if they had seen his communication level in his younger years. He had no verbal language until age 12, but because his teachers taught him to type they knew that he was able to grasp much higher levels of thought than most teachers would have even speculated. At last night's session, there was a guy with Down Syndrome and autism who, as far as I could tell, can even as an adult do little more than grunt was typing out sentences that indicate a pretty high-level grasp of some pretty abstract and complex phenomena.

With a son who can't speak much more than five syllables at a time (unless he's singing or engaging in echolalic repetition of Veggie Tales or some other TV show), we've been able to see something like this firsthand. We knew in kindergarten that he was reading fairly complex words for the level of verbal behavior we normally saw, because he'd occasionally see a word and say it. (I remember him saying "banana" one time when there were no pictures of a banana, just the word.) But it's been very hard to get him to demonstrate his intelligence with writing, until this year, with his teacher and support staff working very hard with him to get him typing. Six months ago we could get him to trace over words we wrote out with a highlighter, or we could get him to point to words sometimes on a communication device, which could then pronounce them for him (but they had to be programmed in first, since he wasn't typing them). Now he's showing reading comprehension by completing "because" clauses to answer why certain characters did certain things. It makes me wonder how much he's been wanting to be able to communicate for years but unable to get his mouth or hands to do anything to show it.

The Turing defender might now say that he is able to show it, so it's not an objection to the test, but he's only now able to show it, and there's no reason to think he just started to be able to think on this level. I suspect most teachers would have assumed he couldn't handle the level of math that he's doing (basically right on second grade level) or the vocabulary and reading that he's doing (which is, as I said, at a pretty good level for demonstrating reading comprehension, better than his older brother could demonstrate at that age). He happens to have a teacher with 25 years of experience working with kids like him, who is informed about technology and methods to get kids like him communicating. Many educators encountering a kid like him might well assume low ability levels and not work to get him to communicate. In effect, they're using a reverse Turing test and concluding that someone isn't intelligent because they can't show it in the typical ways.

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Bickering

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Sophia: Ethan, stop arguing.
Ethan: We're not arguing. We're bickering.
Sophia: Ethan, bickering means arguing.
Ethan: Yeah, but we're still not arguing. We're bickering.

Later in the day...

me: So, Ethan, what's the difference between bickering and arguing?
Sophia: They're not the same?
Ethan: Yes, they are!

When the one store in our area that sold Lactaid Cheese stopped carrying it, I asked a dairy section worker there about it, and he told me Cabot cheeses are lactose-free. This was a big surprise to me, because it seems like normal cheese. The only lactose-free stuff I was familiar with seemed modified in significant ways (e.g. Lactaid cheese is that individually-wrapped stuff, but it's better than most of those cheeses, and Lactaid milk tastes sweeter than most milks, too sweet for me to tolerate and for my blood sugar issues to be able to handle). But Cabot markets their cheeses as naturally lactose-free.

So I did some Googling, and it turns out many cheeses are naturally-lactose-free but just aren't advertised that way. Sharper cheeses (which Isaiah won't eat, because he rightly thinks they taste funny) tend to have less lactose, because bacteria from the aging process eats up the sugar, which is what lactose is. Harder, more-aged cheeses are thus more safe for the kid who won't touch them. But then some of these sites also including Colby cheese, which seems to me to be less sharp than the average cheddar, and mozzarella, which seems to me to be at the opposite end of the spectrum. They also said cottage cheese should be lactose-free for the same reason yogurt with active cultures should be. The bacteria, if left in long enough, will eat all the sugar. With active cultures, the bacteria get into your stomach and aid in digestion even if the sugar remains. Isaiah has definitely gotten sick from cheese, though, but it seems every cheese he might eat is supposed to be naturally lactose-free, according to some of these sources.

But then people who are lactose-intolerant still get sick from some of the above, and there seems to be no way to know if it's really lactose-free. Even if it lists the sugar contents as zero, Sam says that just means it's below the legal threshold in each serving to count it. Kraft cheeses are like that, for instance. That means I probably still shouldn't be sure of any given cheese that it's ok unless it says it's lactose-free, but many cheeses might have low enough lactose levels to be fine in moderation. if that's right, then is any of this of any help?

No Free Milk

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Our kids qualify for free lunch at school, and we submitted the city's form for that at the beginning of the year. They've all been receiving free lunches all year. But Sophia decided a couple weeks ago to start bringing her lunch most days, mostly out of peer pressure because most of her friends do that. (If you don't qualify for free lunch, then it's much less expensive to send one with your child than to pay what the school charges. Have they already established bringing a lunch as a status symbol by kindergarten?)

The first few days, we sent juice with her at her request, but then she decided she wanted to drink the school milk with her lunch brought from home. A couple days ago a note came home saying that the lunch room says she needs to pay for 40 cents for milk. I sent a note back saying the lunch room is wrong, because she qualifies for free lunch and has had no problem all year. The teacher sent another note home saying we need to take it up with the lunch room.

It turns out they won't give her the free milk unless she signs up for a free lunch. Kindergarteners don't go to the cafeteria like the older kids. They have to order a lunch, which gets brought to their room. This was never been an issue for Ethan, because he just eats whatever the school lunch is. It was never an issue for Isaiah, because they take him through the lunch line, and he selects which particular items he wants, which is usually not very much. Then they get out the lunch he brings, and he eats some of those items with whatever (if anything) he wanted from the school lunch. He just brought a lunch in kindergarten anyway, because we didn't want them to have to deal with his pickiness and lactose issues until he could actually go through the line to select items. So Sophia is the first to want to bring a lunch while just drinking the milk from the school in the kindergarten setting, and we're just discovering the policy that she has to waste a whole lunch that she won't eat if she wants to get the free milk that she qualifies for.

Now I know they can make room for kids to get free milk without the lunch, because there are some kids who qualify for free milk but not free lunch. Since she qualifies for free lunch, she apparently can't get the free milk without ordering the whole tray of lunch (and she can't select just the items she wants, because kindergarteners don't go through the lunch line). It turns out one of the staff at the school is happy to eat her lunch when she doesn't want it, so maybe it's not so bad in the end, but this is a truly crazy policy. Why would they insist on a policy that requires a free-lunch student to waste a whole lunch to get the free milk she qualifies for on the days when she's brought her own lunch?

When we were about to leave for church on Sunday, we had to turn the TV off in the middle of an episode of something Ethan was watching. I told him I'd record the West Coast version when it played three hours later, but it's hard for him to pull away from anything he's started.

As we rounded the corner, instead of doing a usual temper tantrum he closed his eyes, bowed his head, and said in his fully frustrated about-to-lose-it voice, "God, please rewind the day!"

I don't know if he was seriously bringing his problem before God or if this was an autistic scripting incident substituting his concern for one in whatever TV show script he was acting out. This is the first time he's done this rather than just crying out to the sun to go back (to give him more time before bedtime) or to the rain to stop.

But it was no use trying to explain to him that it wouldn't work. If God rewound the day, the part of the show Ethan had already watched would be playing, and then he'd be watching it again and stopping at the same point so we could go to church, all without remembering that he'd watched it already, and then he'd say the same thing, "God, please rewind the day!"

What we think we want isn't always what we want, and if we got it we'd discover that it wasn't really what we had wanted. The kind of impossibility involved in his desire is on a level he can't understand. But why should we think something similar isn't true with some of the things we want, even demand, or some of the things that we'd expect should happen if an all-powerful, omniscient God has a plan for how events in our lives will unfold?

Ethan's speech pathologist sent home his report from his evaluation for his upcoming triennial review. Two things about it seem a little strange.

1. One of the tests aimed to discover how well Ethan uses appropriate pronouns. The speech pathologist seems to acknowledge this particular problem. The report says:

On many occasions, Ethan provided an appropriate response to the given sentence, however since it was not the targeted response, credit was not allowed (e.g Ethan was shown a picture of a school choir and given the sentence "the choir has a song to sing -- who will sing a song". Ethan replied with "the choir", however the targeted response was "they will").

In ordinary English, "the choir" is actually a more natural response to that question than "they will". Ethan's response is actually superior to the officially-accepted one, taking just the question in isolation. Only if you know that the rules of the game expect you to respond with a sentence including a pronoun will you prefer "they will". Even then, it sounds sort of artificial, but a student who understands the pragmatics of the conversation might do all right on this question. A student with problems involving the pragmatics of conversation will almost certainly not. Ethan has problems with the pragmatics of conversation, which means this question will not test what it's supposed to be testing, which is the proper use of pronouns, but rather the pragmatic ability to discover the conversational rules of the language game being played. So this seems to be a badly-designed test. I wonder how the rest of the test is. This is the only example she gave.

2. Another test involved recognizing semantic absurdities. Presumably with an eight-year-old kid they won't be asking things on the level of the liar paradox, but I would hope they could do better than the example the speech pathologist gave in her report. She says that he couldn't recognize that the sentence, "The plumber fixed the lights" is silly. I can't either. My uncle was a plumber, and he probably fixed lights at some point in his life. He did own his own house, after all. That sentence is perfectly meaningful, and there's nothing absurd about it. I could see how this would be a nice sentence to test actual understanding of semantic absurdity, because some kids might be fooled into thinking that it's semantically absurd, when it's not. But the test actually has it doing the opposite. The kids who can see that it's a meaningful sentence come out with a lower score for vocabulary recognition.

The speech pathologist concludes, "This indicates that Ethan demonstrated difficulty understanding the target words in the sentences that were used incorrectly." Maybe there were other sentences where that's true, but this example shows nothing of the sort. Ethan knows full well what the word "plumber" means, and that's the most difficult word in the sentence. One of the tests the psychologist gave to him during this process tested his vocabulary at the level of the second half of sixth grade (he's in third). His problem wasn't that he doesn't understand the vocabulary in the sentence but that he knows something the test designers didn't, which is that the sentence in question is perfectly meaningful in English and could easily be used without anything silly going on. Unlike the first example, the speech pathologist didn't seem to recognize this fact.

Update: I should say that I accept that you can derive an absurdity from this second example, if you provide a particular context, e.g. if you're told that the plumber is carrying out a job as a hired plumber and doing only that job. If you say enough that someone who understands English fully competently, together with the pragmatic rules of conversation, will understand all that information, then perhaps such a person would think such information tells against thinking the plumber will be fixing lights. But that's precisely my point. You need a pragmatic context to derive the absurdity, and this isn't a test of pragmatics but of semantic absurdities. There's nothing semantically absurd about that sentence.

November License Plates

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As you can tell by the late posting of this, I've sort of lost interest in looking for license plates on a regular basis. I got a good sense of what I would find by trying it for a while. I might still post license plates I see on long trips, but this will be the last monthly one. It was fun for a while. I haven't even kept track for December.

U.S. States: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

Not seen since Oct 2009: Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Tennessee
Not seen since Sept 2009: Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon
Not seen since Aug 2009: Wyoming
Not seen since April 2009: Idaho, New Mexico
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

October License Plates

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U.S. States: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia
Canada: British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario

Not seen since September 2009: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, West Virginia, U.S. Government, Quebec
Not seen since August 2009: Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming
Not seen since April 2009: Idaho, New Mexico
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

September was a really good month for seeing license plates, so this is a much shorter list. A trip down to Philly, then NYC, then Connecticut and Massachusetts and then back halfway across NY helped a little bit, but most of the rarer sights were actually in Syracuse. This is the longest I remember the "not seen since" line for the previous month being.

September License Plates

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U.S. States: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

Not seen since August 2009: Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Wyoming
Not seen since April 2009: Idaho, New Mexico
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

William P. Alston (1921-2009)

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I heard late last night about William P. Alston's death earlier in the day, strangely not through any departmental channels but through a friend who never met him. He was one of the professors I've most respected in my entire academic career. He wrote his dissertation with Wilfred Sellars on the work of Alfred North Whitehead but spent most of his career on philosophy of language, philosophy of religion, and epistemology. Along with Alvin Goldman and Alvin Plantinga, he helped spearhead the externalist/reliabilist revolution in epistemology, a tradition that I think took things in the right direction. He also was one of the most important figures in the revival of philosophy of religion in the last four decades from a point where it had become looked upon as a joke except to reject traditional religious views to a point where some of the most important philosophers today are Christians or other theists. Alston himself was not a Christian when he began his philosophical career, a path shared with several other notable Christian philosophers (Norman Kretzmann and Peter van Inwagen come to mind).

It was always encouraging to me to think about how successful he was in philosophy given his personality and philosophical temperament, which I think are similar to mine in a number of ways that I'm not like most of my philosophical colleagues. He wasn't a system-builder. He wrote about what he had something to say about but wasn't trying to put together a comprehensive philosophical view on every issue he could have something to say about.

Most of his work didn't involve coming up with brilliant views on cutting-edge issues that no one had ever thought of before (although I think there are a few occasions of that in his work, especially in his most recent work in epistemology). He tended to favor traditional views, sometimes so traditional that the majority in philosophy had left the view so far behind that they considered it a joke until people like him came along to disabuse them of such notions by defending the views in novel ways.

Some of the most important philosophical figures are noteworthy for one or both of those reasons (system-building and novel views). Alston, however, filled a role of simply doing good philosophy, often in small but important details. He might see a fallacious argument that was nonetheless popular and apply an important distinction, perhaps one known to the medievals but often ignored by contemporary philosophers, to show why the argument fails. He found elements of competing views that might be compatible and explained why a moderating position might be better than either original view. He applied new arguments in epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, or metaphysics to some problem in philosophy of religion to show why a new trend in a completely different area makes Christian belief more favorable (e.g. his application of functionalism, a recent view in materialist philosophy of mind, to explain how language about God can be literally true even if not used in exactly the same sense as the same terms are used for us).

August License Plates

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The students are back in town. That and a trip to NH filled some states I hadn't seen in a while, but several dropped out too.

U.S. States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

Not seen since July 2009: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Oregon
Not seen since June 2009: Mississippi
Not seen since April 2009: Idaho, New Mexico
Not seen since March 2009: Montana, British Columbia
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

July License Plates

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U.S. States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

Not seen since June 2009: Colorado, Mississippi, Wyoming, U.S. Government
Not seen since May 2009: Delaware
Not seen since April 2009: Idaho, New Mexico
Not seen since March 2009: Montana, British Columbia
Not seen since Jan 2009: Nebraska, North Dakota
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

June License Plates

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U.S. States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

Not seen since May 2009: Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, Utah
Not seen since April 2009: Idaho, New Mexico
Not seen since March 2009: Alabama, Alaska, Montana, South Carolina, British Columbia
Not seen since Feb 2009: Arkansas, Louisiana
Not seen since Jan 2009: Nebraska, North Dakota
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

I have to make mention that Wyoming enters the list after more than a year. I hadn't seen one of them since May 2008.

We've got two old and falling-apart minivans, and we're buying a newer one pretty soon. Both the old ones really are on their way out. We're going to have to get rid of one of them now, and the other might hang on for a little while, but I'm not fully sure which one to get rid of first. Here are the issues:

1998 Windstar:

1. exhaust system rotting through (several holes)
2. oil pan rusted through and leaking
3. transmission probably won't last too much longer (some resistance to shifting)
4. brake lines rusty but not leaking when last checked (but that was a while ago)
5. almost 135,000 miles
6. a lot less comfortable to drive for a number of reasons
7. registration expires mid-July and is probably not worth renewing
8. inspection is due in November and will certainly not pass without significant expense
9. lots of minor issues, but most are really inconveniences even if really annoying ones (and it looks much worse and has no CD player)

1999 Windstar:

1. We just put a good deal of money into some parts to get the check engine light off so it would pass inspection a few months ago.
2. almost 107,000 miles
3. I've been told it needs a coolant flush pretty badly, and I know it needs an oil change, but I'm not sure it's worth putting even that much money into it
4. The sub-frame under the engine has split just behind the right front tire, which affects steering, and the rest of the frame is rusting away from the central NY weather; if it breaks in another spot, the engine falls out (I've been told it would cost $600-$700 to put a new frame on). My mechanic said it's probably safe to drive it around town for now, but he declared that this is the end of the vehicle. I don't know if he intended the safety pronouncement to last as long as we've been driving it (a few weeks have passed), but maybe he did.
5. much of the engine itself is in good shape (new transmission at 82,000 miles)
6. several more minor problems that I can't remember, and somehow the reports from the dealer and mechanic have disappeared, but these were hidden problems that don't affect anything obvious in any immediate way yet

Either will probably last us until my summer teaching is over, and we'll have significantly less need for two vehicles once that ends at the end of June. So the expiration in July isn't a big problem if the 1997 van got us through that. I'd want a second vehicle by the time classes start at the end of August, though, and that van won't be legal after that. We're not putting any more money into it. But I'm guessing 1998 one may be less safe. Should we assume it will last as a relatively safe vehicle beyond mid-July anyway? We probably wouldn't use it much unless it lasted through August. It doesn't have the guaranteed expiration, though, so it might allow putting off buying another newer vehicle, and it may be safe enough to justify wanting to drive a more comfortable vehicle that looks and sounds nicer. But maybe it isn't.

I hate decisions like this. I don't even have any gut intuition one way or the other of what seems better or which I'd rather keep longer and which I'd rather get rid of sooner. We need to get rid of both, but having a second vehicle is kind of important for the moment. More often than not this summer it's been able to save us from some real headaches that we would have had otherwise, and I have to leave one school immediately after class to make it home in time to eat and make it to the next class, which means I don't want to depend on being able to have the only vehicle but also wouldn't want to rely on Sam having to come get me.

May License Plates

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U.S. States: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

Not seen since April 2009: Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Tennessee
Not seen since March 2009: Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, South Carolina, British Columbia
Not seen since Feb 2009: Arkansas, Louisiana
Not seen since Jan 2009: Nebraska, North Dakota
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

April License Plates

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U.S. States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario

Not seen since March 2009: Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, South Carolina, U.S. Government, British Columbia
Not seen since Feb 2009: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana
Not seen since Jan 2009: Nebraska, North Dakota, Quebec
Not seen since Nov 2008: Hawaii
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

A Few Quick Notes

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1. I've been extremely busy. I'm teaching two summer classes and barely keeping up with them. Plus the kids have been sick, meaning some have been home and in need of more attention than normal. So I haven't had time to do much blogging. But I've got a few things I've been thinking about that I did manage to put in Facebook updates, which I might as well put here in lieu of anything that will take more time than I have.

2. Remember when Rosie O'Donnell outrageously called it a separation of church and state for President Bush to take the religious identification on the Supreme Court from three to give Catholics, making Catholic justices the majority? I just thought it was worth noticing that President Obama has nominated another self-identified Roman Catholic to replace another Protestant, and I've yet to hear any similar claims from Rosie O'Donnell (although I did hear that Christopher Hitchens is being consistent on this by finding it grave and troubling).

3. I heard a strange NPR story on the dangers of fracking. It took a little listening to discover that they meant this. It was hard to listen with a straight face. I don't know how the reporter got through it.

4. The Supreme Court could rule as early as Monday on a case Judge Sotomayor was involved in that could lead to some real fodder for criticism in her hearing. SCOTUSBlog has an excellent presentation of the issue and how it might go.

5. Once I get a breather I intend to look closely at some of the Sotomayor stuff that SCOTUSBlog has been posting since before her nomination even occurred. I haven't had time to comment on her nomination, but I'm not sure I would even know what to say just yet. Her actual opinions are kind of important, and most criticism so far has not focused on them but on some political speeches and interviews she's given.

Minority Thinker asks, "How Can Parents of Young Children Observe a Day of Rest?" If sabbatarian principles mean we have a moral responsibility to take a day of rest, then what does that mean for a full-time parent whose work is to care for a family? For that matter, what about someone who has a full-time job who then comes home and has a family also to care for? Is it rest from one's job if that rest time is spent doing household tasks and doing a different sort of work? This post is adapted from a comment I left on that post.

I've spent some time reflecting on how Christians should see the Sabbath (and see also this followup). I'm assuming that background here, although some of this might reflect small developments in how I've thought about this since then.

A close look at the biblical passages on the Sabbath reveals that there are certain aspects of farming that they did do and others that they didn't. They wouldn't do any planting or harvesting on the Sabbath, but they would feed their animals, and they would rescue animals if they fell in a ditch. Similarly, for household living they wouldn't gather food on the Sabbath, and they wouldn't do something to bring in income to provide for food if it wasn't something that had to be done every day, but in the ancient world they couldn't prepare a meal and then put it in the fridge to be microwaved the next day, so they prepared food on the Sabbath.

The theological principle behind the Sabbath is less rest and more completion and wholeness or peace with God. God created, and then God allowed his creation to stand. It was complete. His work was done. Of course, it wasn't really done. God still maintains his creation and providentially orders it. But there's a sense in which its completion is celebrated in the seventh-day principle. In Christ we enter God's rest, meaning we are complete and not in need of further work to be in God's family. Christ's work is done at the cross. It doesn't mean we're perfected yet, but of course we're not ever done yet experientially in this life. The Sabbath principle is to recognize what is complete in Christ and to rest in that. In this sense all time since Christ is Sabbath time. It's not that the work week has expanded to include the seventh day. It's that the Sabbath has expanded to include the rest of the week, the same way the holiness of the temple has expanded to include all believers as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

Now there is a secondary principle of observing regular rest as a simple wisdom teaching in the sense of the wisdom of Proverbs, but do we have to do that in the 6-on 1-off pattern of the Sabbath ritual in the Mosaic covenant? I'm not sure why we would. The opponents Paul is dealing with in both Galatians and Colossians are too tied up with observing special days and seeing them as special, and Romans 14 and Philippians 3 allow for the weaker Christians to maintain such customs if they can't bring themselves to be mature enough to recognize the principles in other ways, but Paul's preference is for them to mature and apply the principles in other ways when circumstances warrant it.

I think it's important to notice that different percentages are given for different things in the old covenant, with one-seventh for rest and completion on a weekly basis, one-seventh for resting the land over seven years, one-tenth for tithes of produce, or the firstborn (whose percentage may be as much as 100% or may be much less) for animals and children. I think that signals that the percentage of time isn't really the issue. It all belongs to God, and we symbolize that by giving him the best and by recognizing that it's not from us but a gift from God. This is true with our work in any sense of the term, including parental responsibilities. Finding ways to take breaks, especially when others are willing to handle those ongoing responsibilities for short times, is indeed an application of this general principle. It's a recognition that it's God who enables, and we're stewards of our children just as much as we're stewards of our possessions. With high-needs kids who need close attention, it's impossible to get a lot of time away from them, so it's important to try to find those opportunities, not just for rest but to demonstrate our recognition that we're only doing a task God has given us. Some people don't want to relinquish control, and being extremely possessive of your kids, including caring for their basic needs (and I would say this includes how they're educated) may show a sign that the principle of stewardship isn't full operative.

March License Plates

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U.S. States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario

Not seen since Feb 2009: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana
Not seen since Jan 2009: Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Quebec
Not seen since Nov 2008: Hawaii
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

Pictures

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U.S. States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario

Not seen since Jan 2009: Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Quebec, South Carolina
Not seen since Dec 2008: Oregon, Utah
Not seen since Nov 2008: Hawaii, Mississippi, British Columbia
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

I somehow forgot to do this a month ago.

U.S. States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

Not seen since Dec 2008: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oregon, Utah
Not seen since Nov 2008: Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, British Columbia
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since Dec 2007: Puerto Rico, New Brunswick

On the News

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Sam was interviewed for the local news broadcast tonight for a parent reaction to today's decision that there's still absolutely no reason to believe that autism is caused by vaccines. They included some brief family footage without the boys (with me in full mountain man mode) and a still shot of the boys' latest pictures. She's got a link to the video in her post.

Does anyone know if there's a way to download video in that kind of streaming format? I know there used to be a way to do it by changing the filename extension, but I don't remember how to do that, and I'm guessing it no longer works the same way. Update: Got it. Thanks, Jonathan I!

X-Men and Philosophy

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0470413409.jpg


X-Men and Philosophy: Astonishing Insight and Uncanny Argument in the Mutant X-Verse will be published in about two months, at the end of March. You can see the table of contents to see the range of topics covered (and here is the Amazon entry). My chapter, "Mutants and the Metaphysics of Race", will be my first publication besides a book review on the InterVarsity four views volume on God and time, so I'm looking forward to getting a copy to hold in my hands rather than having to look at it in PDF form.

The chapter on destiny and prophecy I wrote for the forthcoming volume in the same series on Harry Potter will not be surfacing anywhere near as quickly. The publisher decided they wanted it to come out at the same time as the final movie. Since they haven't released movie six yet, and there will be eight movies, we'll have a while to wait. The current expectation for the second Deathly Hallows movie is May 2011. The book is pretty much done, but they're going to sit on it for two and a half years rather than releasing it with the sixth movie and then allowing themselves the opportunity to do a second one with the final film.

December License Plates

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U.S. States: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

Not seen since Nov 2008: Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, British Columbia
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota, West Virginia, U.S. government
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nebraska, Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since Apr 2008: Idaho
Not seen since Dec 2007: Puerto Rico, New Brunswick
Not seen since Oct 2007: North Dakota

Sophia was drawing on our dry erase board. I probably wouldn't have been able to put together the various pieces in any coherent way without her narrative, which was something like this:

This is God, and this is Moses, and this is God's friend Jesus. This is the burning bush, and the burning bush sends God down to earth. And that's the story of Jesus.

November License Plates

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U.S. States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia
Canada: British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

As I noted in my post last month, as of Oct 31 I had not seen Hawaii or Mississippi since I started this in October 2007. On Dec 1, I saw Mississippi, and on Dec 2 I saw Hawaii. So I've now seen all the U.S. states since I started this in October 2007. Thus I'm switching to a new format, keeping track of when the last time I saw the plates I haven't seen in the month I'm reporting on. So the following plates did not appear in the list above but have been in my lists since Oct 2007, and I've categorized them by when they last appeared.

Not seen since October 2008: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia, U.S. government., British Columbia
Not seen since August 2008: Nebraska, Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since April 2008: Idaho
Not seen since Dec 2007: Puerto Rico, New Brunswick

More pictures: Jewel in her command center, being entertained and decorated by her brother and sister.

Pumpkin Girl

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Sam has put up pictures of Sophia's trip to the pumpkin patch with her pre-K class.

October License Plates

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U.S. States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government

Canada: British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

U.S. States Lost from Sept: Kansas, New Mexico

U.S. States Gained from Sept: Montana

U.S. States not seen yet at all: As of October 31, I still hadn't seen Hawaii and Mississippi since I started doing this in October 2007. [But that will change next month. I finally saw one of them today!]

Isaiah and Jewel pictures

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Sam has posted some more pictures of the kids, this time focusing on Isaiah and Jewel.

Checking In

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I'm in the middle of some serious revisions on the "Harry Potter and Destiny" piece, whose next draft is due tomorrow. I'm down to 5364 words. I don't need to write anything new, but I do need to figure out how to get it down to 4200 words. The longer this takes the less time I'll have for grading, and I have about a week's worth of grading to do by Friday. So I'm not even going to take the time to pull out a set of notes from my teaching to reformat for the blog.

I did want to note that I've reached a surprising stage in life. I've now had my first instance of discovering one of my kids forging my signature. Ethan has to record a book he read four days a week, and each is supposed to be signed by a parent. He's taken to writing them in himself, and since I wasn't immediately present but across the room, he decided to copy the scrawl from the signature above so as not to leave an incomplete blank on his sheet (if only he did this with the name and date lines). It was just about perfect, too. He has problems writing letters with precise enough motions, but he has no trouble at all forging my signature perfectly.

Meanwhile, it was Sophia's fourth birthday today, and Sam's got some pictures up. [Update: Sam put up a fuller post with more pictures and text at the picture blog, so I've changed the link.]

Kid Pictures

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Sam has posted a bunch of pictures now that we've got a functional digital camera again, and I've only linked to one set so far (when Jewel was born). Here are the others:

Some pictures from Isaiah's fourth birthday party

Ethan and Sophia posing for pictures with Jewel

Ethan's new obsession making signs

Some older pictures (one very much older; that's Ethan gnawing on the crib)

Ethan being Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs

Computer Issues

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My hard drive appears to be fried. I'm trying to decide whether to send it off to a data recovery place that does free estimates to see how much it would cost to recover what I've done since my last backup.

I'm trying to locate the CD from my end-of-summer backup, because the only one I can find is from last fall. I have all my assignments saved to school servers, any dissertation work I've done was sent to people on my committee, and my latest versions of material I'm writing for the Philosophy and Pop Culture series is recoverable from my editors. I'll have to get them to send me stuff, though. The Syracuse University server for some reason refuses to save attachments for outgoing mail for later recovery, and I do all my correspondence for those matters with that account. What I won't have is any lecture notes on material I've covered for the first time since fall 2007, and there's quite a lot of it. I'll also lose all my non-GMail email for a year and a whole bunch of files I've put together collecting and organizing information that would take many hours to reconstruct. All of my backups of Ethan's now-scratched CDs were also on that drive, and he may completely freak out the next time he gets a hankering for one of them that we can now no longer just burn. A few of them are on an older computer, but most of the ones he likes most aren't. Only two of them have existing copies that play straight through.

If it's only going to be a few hundred dollars, it might be worth it, but some of these recoveries are closer to $1000. I haven't even had a chance to call Dell for a replacement yet (my first time in a few days with more than a half hour free without something else demanding my time will be tomorrow morning), so I won't be able to rebuild my system until Monday night, which means we're sharing one computer until then unless I go buy a keyboard to see if the computer that's been effectively Ethan's will work with an external keyboard.

It's been hard in the last few weeks even to find time to sit down and write blog posts, and having to share a computer is going to make that harder (plus I've lost my file of things to blog about, including some half-written posts that would save a lot of time in posting something quickly). So what appears here depends on (1) how much time I get without distractions but with a computer and (2) whether I can remember what I wanted to write about or come up with other things quickly enough given my constraints. I may have a little time tomorrow, but I have other things to do during that time, including calling Dell and perhaps contacting a recovery place or two to ask if they had any sense of what this kid of problem would cost. So it may be sparser in content around here than usual for a few days.

Update (Sun afternoon): After my first two attempts to use SpinRite led to a message warning me not to use it because of a BIOS incompatibility, which several people have told me can't be right, and the third didn't even recognize the drive, I tried it one more time at my brother's urging, and it recognized it and didn't give me the crazy message about the BIOS. It fixed enough problems for me to run it in an external drive bay and copy over everything I can get. The one remaining task is to back up my Firefox settings and booksmarks and my Thunderbird email, which I can do with a neat tool designed for backing up Mozilla products if I can boot up my system. It didn't boot when I tried it, though, so I'm running SpinRite again. We'll see if it works.

Update 2 (late Sunday night): Well, I managed to get all the information off the drive thanks to SpinRite, but I had to run it a few times. The worst problem was getting Sam's hard drive back out of the external drive bay I'd put it into during the time I had to boot up my own drive. Somehow it got stuck in there, and I had to widdle away at whatever plasticky/rubbery stuff was functioning like a screw to hold the back end on so I could open it up from the back to push it out. Once I got those off and pulled the back off, it slid right out, so it must have been wedged into the back end somehow. The drive bay probably won't be travelable as easily as it was, but that's a small price to pay for getting all my data saved and getting Sam's drive back into her computer safely (I hope). I better run SpinRite on her drive tonight just in case. It did get jarred a bit in the process of trying to get it out, but it was parked properly first, whereas the initial drop that damaged my drive happened when it was on, which is extremely dangerous. It's an hour later than I like to go to bed, but it's nice to have relative closure on all these things while I await my new drive to appear on Tuesday.

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