This American Life Coming to Television

I love This American Life. I don’t listen to it as often as I should. (I have 62 podcast episodes of the show downloaded but unheard.) But as much as I love it as a radio program, I’m even more excited at the prospect of the new television version:

“They can’t do this on TV,” Kris told me the other day. “It won’t work the same. Part of the charm of the show is that it’s iconic, that you don’t get to see the people, that you can project your own images.”

She has a point, but I have to say that the above teaser for the show does a lot to dispel my fears. I’m praying that the iTunes Music Store carries this show, because I’m not about to subscribe to Showtime to get it. I don’t want to have to resort to BitTorrent.

Sometimes a Cheap Meal is Expensive

My sister-in-law, Tiffany, called yesterday. “Do you guys want to have lunch at the new Thai place?” she asked. We did. Kris and I are eager to find another cheap restauarant close by. We picked up Tiff and drove to the Thai place, but it wasn’t open. Instead, we walked over to Sully’s, a small diner nearby. The place was full.

“It’ll be ten or fifteen minutes,” the hostess told us. We didn’t want to wait.

“Let’s go to Hale’s,” suggested Kris. “They have good food.”

We climbed back in the car and drove ten minutes down the highway through heavy traffic. “We could eat at The Bomber,” I said, pointing out a local landmark. After World War II, Art Lacey bought a B-17, flew it to Portland, stood it on pillars, and built a gas station underneath it. He opened a restaurant next door.

“You don’t even like The Bomber,” Kris pointed out. “Every time we eat there you complain about how bad the food is. Let’s go to Hale’s.” But when we got to Hale’s we were dismayed to discover a line out the door.

“Wow,” said Tiffany. “The food here must be good.”

“Not good enough to wait in line for,” said Kris. After some discussion, we drove to The Bomber.

The Bomber is an Oregon landmark. Photo by vj_pdx.


The Bomber’s menu is a mess, with a layout so busy it’s impossible to tell what’s what. It’s also full of cutesy names for common food. (The on-line menu is much clearer than the printed version.) Kris ordered a “Lacey Lady”, which most places would just call a turkey club. I ordered The Dunkirk — a French dip.

As we were driving home Tiff asked, “So how was the Dunkirk?”

“It was awful,” I said. “The beef was like rubber. It was cold. And the mashed potatoes were inedible. The gravy was cold and chemically. The potatoes themselves were like the paste we used to use in grade school.”

Then, after a pause, I admitted, “I don’t ever have to eat at The Bomber again.”

“I told you so,” Kris said, laughing. “And think about it. We just paid $20 for the two of us. We could have had a healthy and tasty meal at home for much less. Plus, which would you rather have: five meals at The Bomber, or one nice dinner out?”

No contest. I’d rather have one nice dinner out. I’d be willing to give up many similar restaurant meals for a single excellent dinner. Better still, I would rather have the lunch special at the local Chinese place. We could have eaten there for $5 each (including tip) and had enough left over for another meal!

In all, we had a frustrating experience. We’d intended to have cheap meal at the new Thai place at 11:30. Instead we drove up-and-down the highway, didn’t eat until 12:45, and paid too much for lousy food.

A bargain is only a bargain if you get good value from it.

Smart Kids

Here’s a post I missed last week at Metafilter. Thanks to the magic of Matt’s new podcast, though, I found this gem today, long after the discussion had died. The post is awesome. It’s so awesome that I’m going to leave it up here for a couple of days until all of you — especially you parents — have had a chance to read the linked articles. Here’s the entire post:

“You’re really smart!”
Psychologist Carol Dweck says that praising a child for being smart only teaches the kid to avoid any effort that might fail. "When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes." Malcolm Gladwell chimes in with his thoughts on the importance of being a smart kid, "What a gifted child is, in many ways, is a gifted learner. And what a gifted adult is, is a gifted doer. And those are quite separate domains of achievement."
posted by revgeorge (218 comments total)

The 218 comments are filled with great anecdotes about smart kids who learned not to try for fear of failure. I was one of those. I am one of those. I was always told I was smart (and I appreciate the love my parents showed by praising me in such a way), but these affirmations had the opposite of the desired effect. They made me less confident in my abilities, not more.

Here are a few of the interesting Metafilter comments:

I’ve chewed on this question pretty much my whole life. School came pretty easy to me and I was always told I was smart. That never really jived with how I felt — I assumed I was lucky because I was curious and tested well. I felt (and still feel, to some extent) that I was gonna be “found out” — that I really didn’t know shit from Shinola. I think my lazy and procrastinating streaks are probably a result.

There are a couple of points the articles don’t make (but, on preview, I see that other posters have made). One is that heaps of praise can lead to a pernicious imposter syndrome — if I try and fail, then everyone will know that I’ve been faking all along. If I appear to be simply apathetic, well, I’ll be judged for that, but no one will think I’ve been faking intelligence, at least. Another is that if all my achievements are chalked up to some sort of innate, in-born talent, then I’m not really getting any credit for my hard work, am I? I see that with professional athletes, as well–Michael Jordan was certainly born with a predilection for being very good at basketball, but he also worked very hard at it. Calling his accomplishments the result of pure talent reduces their value.

Danish novelist Peter Hoeg, in his horrifying autobiographical novel Borderliners, talks about the pitfalls of praise; his idea is that value judgments are artifacts of the adult world, that during childhood curiosity rules. There are so new things to explore and make and want to do, and these experiences and ideas live outside the adult world of good or bad, right or wrong. So, according to Hoeg, even praise forces a child to see, during the initial period of childhood discovery, in adult terms of right or wrong, and unfairly forces a child into a mindset and a track based on an adult’s judgment.

I was a smart kid– too smart for my own good, in many ways– and almost always got good grades. But one thing that I distinctly remember is how much I loathed being praised for my effort. I hated getting a report card in grade school and seeing an “A” for results and another “A” for effort. It always felt like cheating, somehow. If I was going to be praised, I felt, it should be on my intrinsic merits, not just because I had “worked hard,” whatever that meant. After all, anyone can apply time and concentration to a task. I would know I had achieved true academic success, I believed, when I received an “A” for results and a failing grade for effort. I never did.

If I run a half-marathon and do well despite lack of proper training, just through determination, I feel like I cheated. Sure, I made it, but I didn’t train. I didn’t become better. I just made myself do it. Similarly, I remember a certain philsophy paper that I pulled out of my ass and scored an A. It didn’t deserve an A. I certainly didn’t put A-level effort into it. Did I keep the paper? No, it got tossed in the trash. Did getting that A build self-esteem? Far from it. Pushing yourself builds self-esteem. Achievement, especially for those for whom it comes easily, is worth little, whether or not you do better than others.

The older I’ve gotten, the less likely I am to try something new and my cognitive experience is that my enjoyment of an activity is linked to my success as perceived and reported back by others, or winning, or perfect performance. I am incapable of internal, inherent standards and rely on external cues from others to judge my personal satisfaction with an experience.

(That last sentence is so true it hurts.)

The kids who do well in later life are the ones who are given the emotional and psychological mechanisms to cope with set backs and failure and who are taught how to see (simple simple at first) things through. Kids have to be taught that their failures are as important, if not more so than their victories, but in this culture if you don’t get out there early and distinguish yourself you’re thought of as “not good enough”.

And then there’s the absolutely amazing comment from “robocop is bleeding”: the story of Dr. Addler and The Wheel.

I’ve read the two main articles now, and have read about a quarter of the comments. Whenever I get free time, I go back and read a few more. This is fascinating stuff, and I think it goes far in explaining some of the challenges I’m facing lately.

This “smart kid” syndrome is the reason I get stage-fright regarding radio interviews or even posting to my blogs. This is the reason I’m always asking for constructive feedback. When people only tell me how much they love something I do, it has the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of being proud of what I’ve accomplished, it gives me a reputation I feel I have to maintain. It makes me afraid to stumble.

By the way, my “take away” from all this is:

  • Parents, praise your children, but don’t give them general praise like, “You’re so smart” or “You’re helpful”. Instead, give them specific praise: “Thank you for helping with the dishes”, “You did a great job on that essay”, “That pass you made was excellent — it helped Chris score a goal”.
  • Hard work and intelligence are both important, and both should be emphasized. But it’s the work that is most important to praise.
  • Failure, while it probably shouldn’t be encouraged, should be shown to have positive aspects. We learn from our mistakes. We cannot grow without failure. Failure is only bad if we let it defeat us. Don’t stigmatize failure, but show how it can be used for gain.
  • Don’t be afraid to criticize. Criticism, when it is constructive, helps a person grow.
  • It’s much kinder, in the long run, to mold a child’s behavior than it is to mold an adult’s behavior. By the time your kid is 38, it’s too late to change things that have fucked him up. The time to take care of that stuff is when she’s 8. But that can be very, very hard to do.

There’s a lot of information in these articles. A good book could almost be drawn from them. But it’s well worth reading.

Music for Nine-Year-Olds

Naomi is a writer. From time-to-time she sends out stories of her family life via e-mail. (She really needs a blog, but she won’t listen to reason.) Last weekend she sent out a bit entitled “Sk8er Boi on God’s Planet”, which describes the challenges of guiding her oldest daughter, Lydia, safely into the world of rock music. Naomi writes:

So suddenly my 9-year old daughter has become fascinated by the rock music scene. I had anticipated this, of course, but I was hoping that our Machiavellian plot of making her an early reader would serve to make her a late bloomer in the realm of teenager music. No such luck; she is apparently multifariously precocious.

But despite my misgivings, I was (at first) greatly comforted by the fact that her first love is Avril Lavigne and not Britany Spears. For those who don’t know, Avril is on the dark-eye-liner, black-clothes-wearing, pouty-lipped, politically cynical angry-at-the-entire-world end of rock music women, balanced on the other end by Brit’s cheerleader act. (no prejudices here, folks; as a Christian I love everybody equally. Really.)

As a fellow who loves music, I’m very excited that a kid I know has finally reached the age to be interested in rock. I don’t know Lydia well, but Naomi’s message still prompted me to spend two hours on Sunday (two hours that would have been better spent writing) gathering together songs that I hoped a nine-year-old would like (and that a nine-year-old’s mother might approve of). I was careful to choose songs that sounded “hip” without being risque.

But when Kris found out my plan she said, “What are you doing? You can’t make a mix for a nine-year-old girl. She’ll think this is her parents’ music. She’ll think this is lame.” I was mortified to realize that she was right. Still, I remember that I liked some of my parents’ music when I was a kid. And they listened to some of the stuff I liked. Maybe there’s hope.

I wrote to Naomi asking her advice. She replied:

I checked with Lydia, and she’d love to get your “Lydia mix.” She is not nearly as snobbish as she could be, partly because of her terrible isolation from anything pop culture. I kid you not, only a year ago she came home from school and asked “Mom, what’s Pokemon?” The scariest thing is not that she didn’t know Pokemon (scary enough) but that she still sees me as a source of accurate information about kid culture. That one will change soon enough!

So, in order to vet this mix for Naomi and for those of you hip to nine-year-old culture, here’s the pool of songs that I’ve managed to collect. This is slightly longer than a CD, so a couple of songs have to go. Which ones? Are there others that might be included? For each song I’ve listed the artist, provided a link to the lyrics, and posted a YouTube video. (I hope the latter doesn’t kill things for people.)

Lydia’s Mix

Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone

Gnarls Barkley – Smiley Faces

Hilary Duff – Come Clean

Wilson Phillips – Hold On

Kylie Minogue – I Believe in You

Vanessa Carlton – A Thousand Miles

Green Day – I Fought the Law

Go-Go’s – We Got the Beat

Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underground

Rick Springfield – I’ve Done Everything For You

Sarah Washington – I Will Always Love You

This isn’t the version I’m putting on the CD

Natalie Merchant – Wonder

Diana Anaid – Last Thing

Jewel – Intuition

t.A.T.u. – How Soon is Now?

Avril Lavigne – Take Me Away

Us3 – Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)

The Decemberists – The Chimbley Sweep

This is not the official video, obviously, because there isn’t one.

Apples in Stereo – Signal in the Sky

The Might Be Giants – Why Does the Sun Shine?

R.E.M. – It’s the End of the World as We Know It

A*Teens – Mamma Mia (ABBA cover in Spanish)

Actually, I may send Lydia a copy of this CD. I love it.

  • Dandy Warhols – Bohemian Like You
  • The Postal Service – Such Great Heights

    Pat Benatar – We Belong

    Sixpence None the Richer – Kiss Me

    Basically, I’m looking for fun songs that I can imagine a young girl dancing around to. I tried to picture a young Kris Gates bellering along to these songs. If I could picture it, they stayed. (Of course, I had to draw the line at Helen Reddy, which I know Kris used to sing along with.) I really wanted to put on some other songs, like The Black-Eyed Peas’ Hey Mama, but I recognize they’re inappropriate. Please, readers, I beg of you: help me create a CD that a nine-year-old girl would love. (I hope to be able to use this for other nine-year-olds as they crop up during the next few years.)

    Writing for Money: The New Way and the Old

    It was late last year that I realized I could potentially make a living writing for the web. It was today that I knew that this was true. I make a modest (but decent) income at the box factory. But for the last week, my web income has equaled my income from my real job. Scary, huh?

    Now this is just one week. Though I’m making good money from my writing, there are many ups and downs. But even the lows are higher than I could have imagined. On November 25th, I made $29.29 in web income. That is the last day my earnings dipped below $30. My best day was last Tuesday: I made $169.90.

    Over at 2blowhards (still one of my favorite blogs), Michael writes:

    Planning on getting rich writing sci-fi or fantasy novels? Think again. Tobias Buckell writes that the average advance for a first sci-fi or fantasy novel is $5000. Five years and five novels later, the average author is pulling in around $13,000 per novel.

    I used to want to get rich off writing sci-fi or fantasy. Then I decided I just wanted to get rich off writing books — I didn’t care what kind. More and more, it’s clear that I may never publish a book (at least not in the traditional sense)! I’m already making twice what a sci-fi novelist makes, and I have complete control of my content. There’s little motivation for me to change directions at the moment.

    Some people — and perhaps you’re one of them — look disdainfully upon web income. “You’re not making money from writing,” is a common observation. “You’re making money from advertising.” I can understand this delineation, but it’s not one that I make.

    I am writing, and publishing that writing, and it’s making me money. I don’t feel guilty about it. I don’t feel as if I’m compromising anything. Did I ever dream I’d make a living writing about personal finance? Nope. But now I can’t imagine anything else I’d rather be doing.

    Liam Mackenzie!


    I’ve been in negotiations with Mac and Pam to go to The Great Wall, a Chinese buffet in Salem, before Pam gives birth to their second child in late March. Looks like we’ll need to change our dinner plans.

    Mac reports that at 10:12pm on the evening of 18 Feb 2007, Pam gave birth to Liam Mackenzie Smith. He arrived five weeks early.

    He is 19 inches long and weighs 5 lbs 12 oz. Considering he arrived 5 weeks to early, he is doing very well — no tubes or ventilators, just monitors. He’s eating well and seems to be adjusting well. Mom had another unconventional birth, but she is doing very well and is happy that Liam is doing as well as can be. Megan is a little dumbfounded, but she already loves her little brother.

    Congrats, Mac and Pam!

    Hello, Mr. Sunshine

    It’s chilly outside, but clear. The wind is blowing. My hands are cold.

    I walk to the garage to find my old copy of Photoshop Elements — I’m giving it to Amy Jo so that she can cast aside iPhoto for something more useful. She’s re-vitalized From a Corner Table, her foodblog (and more!), and is looking for a good way to post images.

    The garage is cold. I find the CD, and then get distracted by a couple of books. I’m startled by a kuh-whump behind me and turn to find that Simon is on the hood of Kris’ car. Simon loves to be with people in the outbuildings. He trills at me and I pet him. His fur is warm.

    “You’ve been outside in the sun, haven’t you buddy?” I say. He butts his head against my palm for more petting.

    He follows me out of the garage, and I lock up. As I do, I turn my back to the sun and find myself sinking, sinking, sinking into its warmth. It’s delicious. I’m standing in the lee of the building so that the air is still, and all I can feel is the sunlight all around me. It’s been so long. I’d forgotten how wonderful this warmth can be. November, December, January, February — all so cold and bleak. But now we’re just ten days from meteorological spring, and the sun is sending advance promises that yes, it will soon be here.

    I come inside to find Kris sitting on a bench, her back resting against the bay window, typing about food. (Kris needs her own blog, don’t you think?) Meatball is at her feet, also in the sun. And next to him is Toto, whose black fur is like a sunlight battery, absorbing the stuff for later use. It’s wonderful.

    Kris and I spent a couple of hours in the yard yesterday. On Friday, John Gingerich stopped by to show us how to prune our fruit trees, and to give us advice on other plant-related matters. Yesterday we put some of this advice into practice.

    I did a wide variety of garden-related chores.

    • I taked the fruit trees, tying them up in an effort to help them grow upright.
    • I cut the all the ferns back to the ground (a massive undertaking).
    • I covered the laurely stump in black plastic (and leaves) in an effort to impede its desire to re-grow. I can’t take the damn thing out because it’s too close to the sidewalk.
    • I raked leaves from the vegetable plot, worked a small patch of soil, and planted peas.
    • I tied up some berry canes.

    There’s still more to be done, of course — there’s always more to be done — but this is a good start on the season. I need to get the boxwood pruned in the next couple weeks if I’m going to do that at all this year.

    We did our yardwork yesterday because it was supposed to be warm. It rained. It was supposed to rain today. It’s overcast with sunbreaks. Go figure.

    Tales of the Chicken, Video Edition

    Our feral chicken cracks me up. Every morning when I go out to feed it, it comes flapping down from the cherry tree. Somehow it’s finding its way off the ground at night to roost. When I call chick chick chick it launches itself into the air and sort of half-plummets to the ground.

    I borrowed Jenn’s video camera for the past couple weeks in the hope that I could get some typical Chicken behavior on film. Chicken didn’t co-operate. Instead of charging at me when I call it, as it usually does, it hung back and watched me taping it. It’s just coincidence, I know, but it was almost as if the bird were camera shy.

    Still, I pieced together 2-1/2 minutes of Chicken footage for you fans:

    You’ll notice that Princess has become a little ornery. She used to ignore Chicken, and Chicken ignored her. But now Princess thinks Chicken is a fun toy. Chicken longs for the days when she could eat peacefully with the kittens.

    (Have I mentioned Princess before? She appeared last fall, and has made this place her home.)

    Chet: The Secret Recipe

    From the kitchen of Mike and Wendy Pringle comes this top-secret recipe for Chet, a seasoned salt of which I’ve become quite a fan. Wendy slipped me a note card with the ingredients when she arrived at Ham Feast the other night. And here, for the first time, I’m making this secret recipe public.

    To produce Chet in your own home, combine the following: 26oz salt, 1-1/2 oz ground black pepper, 2oz ground red pepper, 1oz garlic powder, 1oz chili powder. Optionally, add 1oz of MSG.


    What can you use Chet for? What can’t you use Chet for? Use it for burgers and salads and soups and scrambled eggs and grilled fish and fresh-sliced apple. Use it for anything where you want a little kick.