Friday, November 30, 2012


Over Thanksgiving weekend, the long-running children’s sitcom iCarly aired its final episode.  At GoofManor, we’ll miss it.

The story is about teenaged Carly who lives with her adult brother Spencer (who is the least mature character – he brings an ostrich home in one episode).  Her dad is in the Air Force, hence the odd living arrangement.  Her best friend is Sam who is a tomboy and almost juvenile delinquent.  Together with Freddie (who lives across the hall from Carly with his insanely over-protective mother) they make a webshow.   Hilarity ensues – really (I just said there was an ostrich, that alone is comedy gold).

It was a pretty good show.  First and foremost – and this is kind of crucial for a sitcom – it was funny.  MamaGoof and I would sit and watch it with the little Goofs and laugh.  We enjoyed the foibles of the characters.  And while the show wasn’t completely chaste – the characters dated – it was on the whole innocent.  Adult viewers laughed for the same reasons as the kids – the sheer absurdity of the situations.

It was, I’ll come right out and say it, about a thousand times better than Hannah Montana.  On iCarly the kids weren’t rich pop idls, contending with the challenges of mega-stardom.  Hannah Montana was the entertainment equivalent of pixie sticks, while iCarly was more like a good slice of pie.  Neither is really good for you, but maybe there is some nominal value in pie – pixie sticks are just sugar with artificial coloring and flavoring.

The iCarly crew had a modicum of fame due to a web show (the eponymous iCarly), but they were not terrifically wealthy.  The kids were regular kids who went on adventures and showed some initiative.  It harked back to the Henry Huggins stories I grew up reading where the kids got together to do something interesting for its own sake and garnered positive attention.

Another thing – the clothes and bling on iCarly were unremarkable.  Stoking covetousness in children is all too easy and I was grateful for a show that did not do that.  Probably the only thing the little Goofs really desired that they saw on iCarly was the autonomy.  The kids went off to the mall, to restaurants, and to one another’s homes with tremendous freedom.  Also, MamaGoof approved of how the girls dressed – not a small thing.

As a kid I remember watching sitcoms with my parents.  Now, most of the prime-time fare is simply too raunchy.  I’m no prude, and there are exceptions, but most of it requires me to pre-watch and really, I have other things to do.  Fortunately, there are now a number of shows that are not insipid or “after-school specially” and, most importantly, are funny.  But now there is one less – ByeCarly.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankfully Burgled

When GoofBoy and I got home Monday afternoon, I chatted with a neighbor and gave GoofBoy a key to the house and told him to go in and get started on his homework.

“Dad, there’s glass everywhere!  One of our windows is broken!”

I went over to see, there was a rock-sized hole in one of the side windows by our front door and there was a rock (and a great deal of glass) in the foyer.  GoofBoy rushed into the den and shouted, “My KindleFire is gone!”

We looked around for a moment more.  From the foot of the steps to the upstairs bedrooms it was apparent someone had been there and ransacked it.  My iPad was missing, as was my son’s DSi.

I called the police.  I called MamaGoof.  I felt terrible for her, because most things are just things and can be replaced (or survived without.)  But there are some things she got from her mom that are meaningful to her and that could not be replaced.  I felt terrible because more then half of the time I work at home, and had I been home this probably would not have happened.  I felt terrible because I scoffed at any talk of getting an alarm.  I also knew that MamaGoof would imagine the worst – not only that everything meaningful would be stolen, but also that papers would be missing that would be an enormous hassle to replace and that could put us in an identify theft hell.

GoofBoy went to sit in the car in tears – unwilling to set foot in the house.

The police came and took fingerprints and a statement.  GoofBoy’s back straightened and he accompanied the police around the house; pointing out things that were missing.  They had taken his carefully saved money.  He also knew where GoofGirl secreted her funds, which had not been touched.  In our bedroom, where the sheets had been pulled of the bed and all the drawers had been pulled out I joked, “Wow, someone broke into our house and straightened up.”

The officer and I agreed that it was good that thief hadn’t taken my stash of Dogfishhead 120 Minute IPA.  The police wrote their report, gave us contact information and headed out.

GoofGirl, having been picked up by Mom, called in, “Did they take my toiletries?”

When they got home we ordered a pizza, put the kids in front of the TV and began cleaning.  Despite the mess, little was taken from our bedroom.  MamaGoof’s worst fears were not realized.  It was not that bad.

Most what we lost was electronics – my iPad, the kids’ KindleFire, GoofBoy’s DS, along with some plugs and chargers.  Thankfully, I had taken my laptop to work.  Despite our relatively modest losses, GoofBoy was very upset – he had suffered disproportionately, his cash was taken and his game system was taken.

I pre-emptively cancelled my credit card and began changing passwords.  I got very tired thinking up all new word letter combinations that I would have a chance of remembering.  GoofBoy was deeply concerned that I change his password, lest the thieves mess up his fantasy team – apparently a common aspect of identity theft.

In the wake of these sorts of events, everyone becomes a forensics expert or criminal psychologist.  It was like an episode of CSI as we analyzed the burglar’s mode of operation and probably mindset.  We determined it was some kid who wasn’t that good at burglary.

“I bet he’ll get in big trouble with his parents for doing this!” GoofGirl observed.

Mi nina, when I say kid it could be someone in their twenties.  And the burglar probably doesn’t have parents who take good care of him, that might be why he started robbing houses.”

This was hard for GoofGirl to grasp, “How can someone in their twenties be a kid?”

We decided to be thankful.  Thankful that no one had been home and hurt, thankful that nothing important was taken and that our lives are secure enough to absorb this loss.

Then, sitting in my office I noticed something else was missing.  I have an old laptop – it was a piece of junk when I bought it new and any version of Office developed since the Enlightenment makes it crash.  But there is a game I’ve been playing on it – Caesar III.  It is a city building game set in Roman times, so that to amuse the population the player builds circuses for great chariot races and gladiatorial matches.  When you have advanced enough levels you win and become Emperor.   I play about 3 times a year, so I expected this game to last me until my retirement.

The laptop was gone (along with the Caesar III CD in the drive).

“NOOOO!” I shouted as it all hit home that I would never play my beloved computer game again.

But I decided to be thankful, thankful that I was now free of my mad ambition to rule the ancient world.

Also, I was thankful to be able to use the word “burgled.”

Goofing Things Done

"Hey Dad," GoofBoy began tentatively, "do you think if you really tried you could get all your work done during the day when we are at school?"

"Huh," I said.

"Well, you have like seven hours to get your work done.  So I don't see why you always have to get back to work after dinner."

"OK, buddy, you most people actually work eight hours a day?"

GoofBoy's eyes got wide, stunned by the demands placed on adults.

"And I sort of have two jobs.  I have my job and I have a dissertation to write. So I'm not sure I could get everything done in seven hours, even if I were super-organized.  Also, I have to eat lunch and sometimes I have to do stuff around the house or run errands.  So I don't really have seven hours to work."

GoofBoy nodded.

"Buddy, why do you ask?  Are you feeling neglected, like I'm not spending time with you?"

"Oh no Dad, I'm fine. It's just I thought if you finished your work you could do fun stuff at night, you know, play computer games or read or something."

"That's sweet buddy, but its ok.  I really like most of my work. It's almost fun.  But I'll try to be more efficient."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Not the Music Man

Not long ago, I made a joke about how my music buying habits must have made the iTunes music recommendation program explode.  I have bought exactly two items, “Bon Bon” by Pitbull and an album of bagpipes by the Strathyclyde Police Pipe Band.  I am a demographic of one.

MamaGoof and our guest then proceeded to have a conversation about Pitbull’s musical genre.  This fascinated me.  MamaGoof is extraordinarily busy, between work, kids, house, and me (lately I’ve been pretending to be a leopard – having me around can be exhausting), she does not have a lot of leisure time.  Yet somehow she had acquired a working knowledge of musicians whose musical careers began after the millennium (when did 2000 become a long time ago?)

I guess normal people can do this remember and categorizing music thing, but not me.

That neural net that allows people to hear songs and remember who sings them does not exist in my brain.*  This skewed much of my youth.  In college I was known as “the guy who hates music.”  It wasn’t that I hated music. I just wasn’t that interested.  I could hear a song and like it, hum it to myself but have no idea who was the artist and thus no ability to acquire said song and build a collection and a set of musical preferences.

I was – and am – completely incapable of carrying on even a brief conversation about music.  Since an enormous number of conversations between people aged thirteen to twenty-seven are about music this led to many awkward moments.

It did not help that when I did find something I liked and somehow managed to hang on to the identity of the group it was invariably cheesy/boring/dorky etc.

Bucking the Trend
Many years ago I went on a cross-country with a friend.  One of the reasons I think he was willing to go on this long drive with me was that I would let him pick the music.  One day, as we were driving from one of those enormous square states out West to another he turned to me and said, “It’s a nice day…”

I cut him off and added, “For a white wedding.”

“Whoa, surprise Billy Idol reference!”

In high school I recognized that I was missing something, so for a few months in a systematic manner I sought to rectify my failings.  Every Friday night I watched the MTV video countdown.  This had the twin virtues of being boring and sad.  Still I have an odd idiosyncratic and deep knowledge of hit videos circa 1984-1985.  But besides surprising friends on long cross-country drives, it hasn’t done me much good.

Fortunately, it appears the little Goofs take after their mother and have normal music appreciation abilities.  It is a blessing.

*Among the other things my brain simply cannot do are reverse driving directions (I regularly make wrong turns on routes I drive daily), remember how I like my eggs, and when watching a recorded show, I have no idea when the commercials end so I can stop fast-forwarding.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Harry Potter 8.1: Age and Guile beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut

I have been told on good authority that Harry Potter fan fiction is primarily the provenance of dorky fourteen year olds (possibly a redundancy). Nonetheless, I'm having such a good time with my dark take on the Potter universe I can't bring myself to stop.  For a quick re-cap, Muggles get tired of all this magic stuff in book six, in book seven Special Forces showed up at the Battle of Hogwarts, and book eight begins with a spaceship that uses both technology and magic.  This installment would take place a bit later in book eight (and the post title is borrowed from a P. J. O'Rourke book):

The nameplate on the door simply read: Geoffrey Grimace, Section Chief. Hermione had her wand out, but she had no need to use it. Her glare was enough to keep the staffers immobile at their desks. She entered unannounced.

Despite the trappings of power, grand wood-paneled office and gleaming baroque furniture, the man behind the desk was not imposing. He was small, plump, and had smudges on his glasses and stains on his tie and shirt. He looked up when Hermione entered, "Ms. Granger, please stop waving your wand around. If you use spells on anyone in this building it results in an enormous amount of very tedious paperwork."

Hermione slid her wand into a pocket, but her visage remained fierce.

"Now Ms. Granger, to what do I owe the pleasure? Have you taken up my offer to join Her Majesty's Service? Your classmate, Anthony Goldstein is doing absolutely fantastic work. I'd welcome you here of course. You'd be no good at operations, you are simply too kind and empathic. But you would rise quickly in the Analytic department. Great opportunities, there is talk of setting up an entire new agency - MI-7 just for wizardry."

Hermione glowered, "How did you find my parents?"

"I'm sorry?"

"When we first met at the Battle of Hogwarts, you said you had interviewed my parents. But I had used spells to wipe their memories and sent them to Australia. How did you find them?"

"Inland Revenue Service. Two substantial and diligent taxpayers suddenly disappear from the rolls. The people in that division were under you magic so they had no recollection which bothered the special auditors office even more. The very scale of the anomaly and dearth of information triggered enormous curiosity. Soon there was a multi-agency task force working the file, hunting desperately for details. A blank spot this big was undoubtedly concealing something of great enormity - a terrorist perhaps, organized crime, maybe just good old tax evasion on an enormous scale. It became such a large mystery that it reached my desk just as Downing St. asked me to take on the wizardry portfolio. I had a hunch that these items were related - I didn't share this hunch of course but pressed for deeper and wider-ranging investigations. We scraped together records of your parents' existence. We got a bit side-tracked at one point. Did you know your mother had a fling with a Michael O'Shea in college before meeting your father? He did some fundraising for the IRA back in the day and we tracked him down in America. He said your mother was the most boring woman he had ever met."

Hermione's eyes went from hot to cold. Her hand strayed toward her jacket pocket.

"I would not do that Ms. Granger. Mr. Shacklebolt has been very diligent in tracking down errant magic-users. He would put you in Azkaban," Grimace said, almost sadly.

"How is it that you've turned that brave man into your puppet?"

"I am an intelligence operative. I use craft to corner people into doing things that they would rather not do, that are often against their own interest."

Grimace paused a moment, shifting behind his desk, "You want to know more details, that is why you asked about how I found your parents, to sense how far my powers go. It is simple, if the Ministry of Magic begins acting in ways in which we do not approve we have prepared a number of contingency plans that would make the lives of magic folk extremely unpleasant. We could simply expose the names and locations of all the magic folk in the United Kingdom - we have extensive dossiers. We could also shell Hogwarts with howitzers. We have dozens of plans, with multiple redundancies. The magic-users have great powers, but it is impossible for them to ferret out and foil all of our plans.  To effectively ruin the wizarding world in the United Kingdom, only one of our plans needs to succeed."

"You are a horrible, devious little man," Hermione spat.

"Perhaps," Grimace's chatty tone became sharp, "But it was not our conflicts spilling into your world that led to this change of state. And we have done nothing to interfere with your daily lives so long as you stay clear of ours. As we establish new relations we have consulted with you every step of the way.  Now, I am afraid this discussion is at an end. You may leave, and on your exit I really must insist that you keep your wand to yourself."

Hermione, mechanically stood and prepared to leave. As she reached the door, Grimace said, congenial again, "Ms. Granger, you really are a bright young woman. But I was doing this before you were born.  And I was up against the Russians - you magic folk are innocents compared to them."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Shabbat Afternoon Adventure

Yesterday was Shabbat and since we don't drive on the day of rest, our adventures were constrained. But the weather was fantastic so we had to do something. We took a walk in the park near our house. The little Goofs took their scooter and more or less shared it. Within minutes, GoofBoy had a wipe-out that resulted in skinned knees. But, and this blew me away, GoofGirl reached into her bag and produced band-aids and disinfectant. She had also packed snacks.

"Why did you bring that?" I asked.

"I had a feeling something would go down," she said, cooly.

We scootered and walked along, marveling at how deep our usually placid neighborhood creek was after Hurricane Sandy. When the stream is this deep and runs fast there is a power and even a hint of menace in this usually bucolic setting.

GoofGirl had the idea of tossing sand into the stream. The grains of sand swirled on the water, illuminating the currents and eddies before being washed out of sight.

We kept walking. Where the trail came to an end, to our surprise, was a bridge over a neighborhood thoroughfare. We had watched this bridge being built on our regular errands and must have driven under it hundreds of times. But we had never walked (or scootered) across.

Running my hand across the metal grating encasing it (so miscreants can't toss rocks down on traffic) I cut my hand. GoofGirl again leapt into action offering me a selection of band-aids and rolling her eyes at me.

Because the bridge went from high ground to low ground it was a terrific venue for scootering adventures. GoofBoy had a round then handed it to his sister, running alongside her offering encouragement and instruction.

After a few rounds the Little Goofs had had enough. But at the base of the bridge was a rock garden with uneven slabs planted in the ground. The Goofs chased each other around on this and then we headed home.

Fun is where you find it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

President Goof

With all of the talk of the election, GoofGirl asked me a big question, "Daddy, what would you do if you were President?"

"I would cry. It is a really hard job and I don't want it!"

"But really, Daddy, what would you do?"

So I laid out my platorm:

1. I would outlaw the term Chilean Sea Bass and force these succulent fish to be called by their original name, the Patagonian Toothfish. I would deploy the full firepower of the United States Navy to ensure that they were not overfished and that I could eat it whenever I wanted.

2. I would bomb Iceland to the Stone Age. There are two reasons for this: trolls and everyone who has every played Risk knows that Iceland is the key to North America.

3. I would adopt the laws of Singapore towards chewing gum. Outlaw it and apply corporal punishment, and if that didn't work I would threaten warrant officer punishment.

4. I would fire nuclear missiles at the moon to deter any aliens thinking about invading. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense and we should let the little green men know that maybe we were just a little crazy.

5. I would bring back the Siesta, a mid-day drink around noon followed by a big two hour nap. Spain would be out closest ally and our two countries would be up late every night dancing, eating tapas, and playing dominos.

"Really Daddy? Nothing about the children, about money for schools or the homeless?" GoofGirl rolled her eyes, "You talk about politics all the time and all you want to really do is protect some freaky looking fish?"

What a sweet girl, she has principles.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, November 05, 2012

Unbearable Bear

There are many aspects of parenthood that, while very difficult (such as the constant sleep deprivation), are not a surprise.  Children will get frustrated, have spats with friends.  All of these kinds of agitations are difficult, but none are much of a surprise.

Then there are the issues that simply cannot be predicted.

The little Goofs' school has a canned food drive.  At the end of the canned food drive there is a raffle, to which everyone who made a donation - which is pretty much everyone - is entered.  The winner receives a very large (GoofGirl-sized) plush bear.  GoofGirl won! A very large stuffed bear!

Much to our surprise, GoofGirl was very concerned about this.  It is true we had placed a moratorium on further additions to the ranks of her menagerie.  But, we explained that we would make an exception for the bear which was an unexpected treat.

GoofGirl remained deeply concerned, bordering on upset.  We kept explaining she was welcome to enjoy it, and she kept getting more upset, a few days later she burst out, "I wish I had never won it!"

She moped around the house, looking at it out of the corner of her eye.  I was having a great deal of difficulty figuring out what was going on so I reassured her that the bear wouldn't maul her.  She rolled her eyes at me.

I offered to give it away, but even talking about it made her upset.  I urged her to talk to the school guidance counselor who informed me that GoofGirl didn't feel that she "deserved" it.  A really sweet sentiment, but this was taking guilt way too far.

Still her mood improved, she was okay with the bear as long as it just sat there and we didn't talk about it.  But what is sadder then a giant plush bear, just sitting there?  Whenever I went to stroke it, GoofGirl hissed at me.

One night, GoofBoy was up late watching football.  I walked into the den and said, "Your sister is asleep, so now finally.  You know I love this bear!"

And I picked up the bear and cuddled it.  GoofBoy grinned, "I love the bear too, Dad! It's so soft!"

So there we were, two guys watching football, cuddling a giant plush bear.