Waterskiing notes

July 9th, 2012  |   |  5 Comments

So, this happened yesterday:

Standing up

As did this:

On one ski

WT stood on his first attempt (after not having any luck in so doing last year). Longtime friends who remember what it took to get me up on two skis for the first time may be amused to note that I was up and moving around on the slalom ski within fifteen minutes of my first (ever) attempt, although my form could use some work — Andrea points out that I was treating the slalom ski like a skinny wakeboard.

This year’s goals at the midpoint

July 1st, 2012  |  Tags:  |  1 Comment

Earlier this year, I posted some of my goals for 2012 in order to be accountable for them. Since we’re about halfway through 2012 now, here’s how I’ve done so far.

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Now WT is six

June 28th, 2012  |  Tags: , ,  |  3 Comments


Yesterday you ran down to my home office, excited about a stop-motion Lego movie you were making upstairs, and blurted out that when “we put it on YouTube,” people would see it and say “that’s pretty cool, because the guy who made it is still kind of little.” I hope to shield you from YouTube commenters for as long as possible, Thomas, even though you’re slightly less little today than you were yesterday.

Happy birthday, buddy. It’s been a great year, and you’re not just “pretty cool” in your age group; you’re a strong contender overall. Here are just a few of my favorite memories from your time as a five-year-old.

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VeggieTales, Christianity, and morality

June 6th, 2012  |  Tags: ,  |  1 Comment

Via Gene Veith, VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer has recognized the biggest problem with the cartoon series:

I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.

Our kids have enjoyed watching a few of the VeggieTales cartoons on Netflix, and they are basically inoffensive. But Andrea and I have both noticed the (lack of) theological grounding therein: the absence of an explicit Christian message in many of the stories renders them pretty hollow. Our goal as parents is not to raise followers of moralistic therapeutic deism with generic American Protestant cultural and aesthetic preferences; it is to raise Christians. There are plenty of places to get the generic “be nice to each other” message (and probably even more places to get the “here are the Bible’s secret investment strategies” message), but that’s neither law nor gospel.

I imagine this was a very difficult realization for Vischer, and am thankful that he is talking about his change of heart. (I have had similar realizations, but never after building a multimedia empire on a premise that I have later felt compelled to repent from!)

(Speaking of Veith, he also recently linked to an outstanding argument about the aesthetic and theology — such as they were — of late pop painter Thomas Kinkade.)



    Backlit sunflower


First and last days

May 29th, 2012  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

…of kindergarten:

First day of kindergarten Last day of kindergarten

Teachout on DFD

May 25th, 2012  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

Terry Teachout discusses the controversies surrounding Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s approach to performing, as well as what made him so great:

Mr. Fischer-Dieskau’s style of singing was so individual, even idiosyncratic, that it left some people cold. Unlike the generation of recitalists that preceded him, he sang like an actor, not a storyteller. In his hands, each song became a first-person monologue, a confession of supreme intensity. Individual phrases, sometimes individual syllables, were subtly inflected so as to bring out their meaning. The effect was almost kaleidoscopic in its richness of dramatic nuance, and a listener who was used to the “simpler” style of an older singer like, say, Lotte Lehmann or Richard Tauber might easily find it oversophisticated, even—yes—mannered.

Read the whole thing, especially for Teachout’s reflection on his own changing evaluation of DFD’s work over time. And then listen to this, which is outside of what we might imagine as the typical Fischer-Dieskau oeuvre but excellent nonetheless:

  • Here’s a must-read article for pretty much anyone who uses roads: How to Not Kill a Cyclist. One tip it includes is to be patient and measured in your efforts to pass cyclists while driving, lest you “wind up in that worst of all worlds: a quantum state of simultaneously passing and not passing.” (Link via Podiumwear on Facebook.)




Logistics regressions

May 23rd, 2012  |  Tags: , , ,  |  Leave a comment

We were rear-ended at a stop light a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully, no one was hurt and our car appears to have escaped major damage, but our hitch-mounted bike rack was totaled in the impact. The other driver’s insurance company offered to reimburse us for the cost of a new rack as advertised on Amazon.com. Since Amazon’s price was nontrivially cheaper than what we’d paid for the original rack at a local bike shop last year, we ordered the replacement instead of purchasing it locally.

When the new rack arrived, it had two shipping labels on it: the first was for shipment from Amazon’s warehouse in Plainfield, IN to my house in Madison, WI. The second indicated that it had previously shipped from Saris headquarters (where it was assembled) to Amazon’s warehouse in Plainfield, IN, perhaps on-demand. Readers based in Madison probably see where this is going, since they know that Saris headquarters is less than three miles from my house; in fact, we share a ZIP code.

It’s hard to imagine a better example of the perils of hub-based routing.

The sweeping clarity of rock criticism

May 21st, 2012  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

I often enjoy Pitchfork‘s reviews of popular and semi-popular music, but a description of subpar verse as having “the sweeping clarity of a dissertation, the galvanizing fire of a sermon, and the forcefulness of a hurled brick … [with the] the cleansing power of a confession” is the sort of thing that someone can only write if they have never before encountered any of those nouns in the real world — or if they mean to lampoon pretentious rock writing.

  • DFD, RIP. What a gift that his entire career was within the recorded-music era.


    In my experience, it’s hard to pay attention to nagging worry or ennui when presented with a scene like this:

    Military Ridge sunset

    Indeed, in these situations my only difficulty is avoiding singing something like this too loudly I sail along in the cool evening air:

    Om levende blev hvert træ i skov,
    og var så hvert blad en tunge,
    de kunne dog ej Guds nådes lov
    med værdelig røst udsjunge;
    thi evig nu skinner livets lys
    for gamle og så for unge.


Translating across cultures

April 30th, 2012  |  Tags: , ,  |  Leave a comment

I’ve been idly thinking about translation lately, so I was happy to run across Scott Cairns’ poem “Adventures in New Testament Greek: Nous” this morning. If you’ve spent time in the neighborhoods of the liberal arts that I used to haunt — or even if you haven’t — you’ll probably find it as delightful as I did. (via Alan Jacobs.)

Unfriend me not in the time of old age

April 18th, 2012  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

Lately I’ve been thinking of Facebook and Twitter as a sort of digital Pompeii — evidence of peoples’ past activities will persist, barely-comprehensible and frozen in time, even after the posters have stopped writing about the great runs they just had, the hilarious and poignant antics of their kids, the dated pop-culture references they share with you, and so on. Unlike Twitter’s firehose, which privileges novelty above all, Facebook’s interface calls out prior events and actively encourages you to participate and interact in certain ways, which can lead to points of surprising emotional resonance.

For example, Facebook sometimes reminds me to send a message to a deceased friend on his birthday. I usually react to these sorts of notifications with a mixture of renewed thankfulness for my friend’s life, including all the memories that have occasion to surface once more, and renewed sadness at their present absence. It merely traces along scars, though, to receive an automated suggestion that my friends who have gone to their rest are good candidates for demotion to the “Acquaintances” list because I don’t interact with them all that often these days.

Parenting successes: real-food edition

April 16th, 2012  |  Tags: ,  |  5 Comments

Andrea was out of the house at suppertime today, so I ate with the kids by myself. I made them grilled cheese sandwiches and steamed carrots, but I made myself a spinach salad with avocado and salmon. They ate all of their carrots and most of their sandwiches before taking about a third of my salad. WT was pretty polite about it (“Dad, could I please have some more salmon with spinach and salad dressing on it?”), but Maggie was content to serve herself from my plate, one handful at a time.

Next time, I’m just making one big salad.

Anyway, here’s the dressing my kids loved so much; it’s pretty simple, but I consider that a point in its favor.

Avocado and citrus salad dressing

Blend together the following until smooth:

  • juice of one large orange or 4 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
  • 5 Tbsp avocado oil
  • 1/3 large, ripe avocado
  • salt and pepper to taste

This is probably enough for four salads unless you’re in the habit of really drowning your greens. It’s also great on sweet potato fries.

Dear St. Olaf College

April 13th, 2012  |  Tags: ,  |  2 Comments

Dear St. Olaf College,

Although I may never totally let you off the hook for selling WCAL, ignoring the myriad helpful suggestions I offered you in the enthusiasm of youth, and raising tuition and fees by over 250% in the last 12 years, I still love you — after all, you introduced me to my wife and many of my lifelong friends, you more than adequately prepared me for additional higher education, and you taught me to like Haydn, among other things.

As you surely recall, one of my favorite pieces of apparel is this sweatshirt:


I’ve had it since I was 16 (i.e., for more than half of my life!), and although it is faded, too large, and frayed at nearly every seam, I intend to keep it until it completely disintegrates, because there hasn’t been a St. Olaf sweatshirt since that’s worth the great memories I associate with the Hill. I thought I’d lost it once. In the frenzied post-graduation move-out exodus, a friend accidentally liberated it from my coatrack peg in the Huggenvik House, believing it was hers and she’d left it behind while hanging out. I was despondent until it showed up, neatly wrapped, as a surprise wedding gift over a year later. (Well played, Wilsons!)

Although I continue to hold out hope otherwise, I’m beginning to doubt that you will ever make a piece of St. Olaf-licensed apparel that is nearly as great as this classic sweatshirt. What I’m realizing now is that you may not have to. You see, this afternoon, I received a small parcel from one of the officers of the St. Olaf Cycling Club. It contained the items pictured below, either of which is almost certain to steal affection from my venerable sweatshirt:

Jersey and cap

I’m pretty sure that wearing a cycling cap off the bike, even for demonstration purposes, is a Rule #22 violation, but it runs afoul of Benton’s Second Sartorial Law in any case. So mea culpa BUT GOOD GRIEF IT SAYS “UM YA YA” ON THE BRIM. Fortunately, I should still have some long-sleeve weather left this spring in which to wear this excellent kit, and I expect to find myself thinking “Fram, fram!” instead of “sur la plaque!” while so doing.

Seriously, though, you should fix the sweatshirt situation, because the cycling club is just embarrassing the bookstore here. I’m pretty sure that the climbing wall, the fancy science center, the sommelier service in Rand, the heated and asbestos-free practice rooms, the chairlift on Old Main Hill, and whatever other decadent amenities you’ve installed since I graduated wind up tasting like ashes in the mouths of students who can’t enjoy them in worthy licensed apparel.

Will Benton ’00

    Mulch omelet


  • I bet you were thinking that your day wouldn’t be complete unless you could hear ABBA’s “Waterloo” performed in the style of the Ramones. Well, consider your day complete.

  • I’m a big fan of Lawrence Lessig — especially his generally excellent work on copyright and technology policy — but many of his public statements of the last few years seem to betray an increasing naïveté. His credulous 2008 endorsement of Obama could have been written by a particularly enthusiastic high-school junior and this weepy finger wagging is downright embarrassing. Lessig is too smart not to realize that arguments might matter and that there are consistent philosophies not motivated by political considerations that might regularly lead to outcomes that he doesn’t prefer.

  • Here’s my best advice to young computer science students, especially those who are interested in building systems: “I will engage in a heroic engineering effort and …” is always a far worse starting point for a course or long-term project than “I will engage in heroic system characterization and ….” The sooner you learn this, the happier you’ll be and the better work you’ll do.

    (I originally posted a shorter expression of this sentiment on Twitter.)


Web services for improved web application usability

April 10th, 2012  |  Tags: , ,  |  Leave a comment

Via DF, Ziptastic is “a simple API that allows people to ask which Country, State and City are associated with a Zip Code.” This is truly excellent, and it addresses a longstanding pet peeve of mine.

In a similar vein, I’m pleased to announce my latest project. Ageist is a simple API to determine whether or not an individual is older than 13 given his or her birthday. (As an example, click here to see how old the Pixies album Trompe le Monde is, if you want to be really depressed.) While it does not (yet) calculate one’s racing age, I suspect certain race-registration websites could employ some combination of Ziptastic and Ageist to eliminate most of my user-experience complaints.

It’s not you, it’s me

April 10th, 2012  |  Tags:  |  5 Comments

We recently cancelled our pay television service because we have watched approximately 90 minutes of live or time-shifted TV1 in the last six months and six months’ worth of subscription fees amortizes extremely poorly2 over 90 minutes of programming. This isn’t a knock against our former pay-television provider, which has always provided a good product at a competitive price with excellent and friendly customer service; it’s just that theirs is a product that we don’t wind up actually using often enough to justify a continued subscription.

As you might expect, I had to address a friendly customer service representative’s numerous scripted objections, discount offers, and repeated suggestions that I just put the service on hold and cool off for a while before doing anything rash, all before I could get the cancellation processed in the first place. However, I was surprised that they’ve called me twice in the last week with special offers to try and get me to sign on again. I sincerely appreciate such aggressive customer-retention efforts, but this is quickly becoming more awkward than a teenaged breakup.

1 I am not counting the half of the Timberwolves-Clippers game that I mostly slept through while recovering from one of our many kindergarten-originated stomach bugs, since I was in such bad shape that it may as well have been a test pattern. Furthermore, we have watched DVD movies, iTunes content, Netflix streaming, etc.; I am emphatically not questioning the utility of the television itself.
2 I’m actually having trouble coming up with a way to spend more money on less entertainment without being deliberately wasteful, like buying recently released video games and grilling them, unopened, over direct heat.