Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker Review

Tonight we attended the first showing of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker and boy do I have some thoughts. My TL;DR non-spoiler review is that the film isn't terrible but it's very disappointing. It was mostly a OK film but then a couple of key decisions ruined it for me. In hindsight, they should have stopped after Episode VIII.

Now for my full review. WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW!

  • This film looks beautiful! Many of the set pieces are spectacular and everything down to the details of individual ships is really well crafted.
  • The score is, of course, outstanding. John Williams really showed up for the final film in the saga.
  • Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley once again acted their faces off. Well done, everyone, but especially them.
  • They did a decent job weaving Leia into the narrative. It was always going to be a tall order to include Leia's character after Carrie Fisher died - and you can definitely tell that something is "off" in most of the Leia scenes - but I thought they did about as well as one could.
  • Several of the plot points have major potential. Leia's death, all of the ships showing up to save the Resistance, and Rey's adoption of the Skywalker name could be very effective if well executed.
  • Unfortunately those plot points are not well executed; they wind up half baked. The ships showing up just in the nick of time, for example, could have been tremendously emotionally powerful in the same way that British private citizens mobilizing ships to evacuate troops from Dunkirk during World War II was very moving. Instead, however, the arrival of the new ships is cheaply glossed over and then quickly abandoned to bounce around to other action sequences.
  • The arrival of these allies combined with a one-on-one fight with a superpowered villain that requires the hero's mortal sacrifice feels very Avengers: End Game. It even has the same villain-says-taunt-then-hero-responds-with-slightly-tweaked-version-of-same-taunt-as-retort climax. Yawn.
  • The pacing was very uneven. It starts off cramming lots of plot and exposition down the viewer's throat, jumping from one thing to another to another without giving much time for anything to land. Then it slows way down, then speeds back up. It has the feel of something that was made by committee. They had way too much footage so had to chop out a bunch of stuff in order to reduce the runtime. As such, it just feels like several setpieces strung together by a [very thin] narrative thread.
  • The exposition necessary to connect this jumble of setpieces together is very clunky and, at times, so eye rolling as to pull me out of the movie. Maz stating to the audience that Leia knows what she has to do and is about to give up her life to reach out to Ben is just . . . the worst. Come on, JJ, show don't tell!
  • The multiple writers and directors attached to this project have resulted in the film being something of a Frankenstein's monster. JJ's first Star Wars film, Episode VII, felt much more confidently directed. He had a much more coherent vision, tone, and style in that film than he did in this mish-mash.
  • In fact, the made-by-committee feel is a problem at an even higher level. For a film that is supposed to be the culmination of a trilogy - and even of a nine-film series - this feels much more haphazard. It feels like this film was thrown together trying to wrap up story lines rather than being the end result of a flowing, well thought out road map.
  • The action was underwhelming. It seemed to be more interested in style than substance. Good action tells a story through fight (or flight) choreography but this seemed more interested in lots of jump cuts and strobe lights. That's disappointing from a series that has generally done very well in this regard.
  • Many of the plot points come from the prequel films or the Star Wars Legends (née Expanded Universe) books. With some few exceptions, these are not the strongest sources for material, often bordering on fanfiction quality. As an example, I don't really care about the concept of the Sith. It wasn't in the original trilogy and didn't make Star Wars the icon it became. That said, exploring the more mystical aspect of the Sith could have been interesting - and this film flirted with it via Palpatine's acolytes and ritual, but didn't really deliver.
  • Most of the plot twists were super obvious from a mile out.
  • I didn't really buy Kylo's turn back to the light side of the Force; he just kind of flipped a switch. Similarly Rey struggles in the beginning with connecting to her jedi predecessors but then magically achieves this feat during the climax - not because she underwent a journey and transformed but just because . . . plot. In both cases these scenes are very well acted; it's the script that doesn't earn the transformation.
  • Hayden Christensen gets a brief voice over toward the end of the film. Boo!
  • Frankly, large swaths of the film are pretty boring and I find my mind wandering.
  • So much unnecessary fan service / easter eggs. Please just tell me an interesting story with compelling characters and stop winking at me!

  • Bringing Palpatine back was a mistake. He had a good death and we all moved on from him decades ago. He just makes the entire movie feel less serious, almost comical. I would generally prefer not to bring villains back as it reduces the stakes and shrinks the universe. An unhinged Kylo without any father figure to check him would have been a great villain. That said, if you absolutely have to bring back some villain, why not one who had a dissatisfactory death and about whom people would like to learn more? Snoke coming back would make just as much sense as Palpatine and would feel much less goofy. 
  • Retconning Rey to be Palpatine's granddaughter was really dumb. I loved that Rey was nobody and I think that really is appropriate for the Star Wars mythology: anyone can be a hero, not just purebloods of the Force aristocracy. The reveal was just so hamfisted too, like something on cheap daytime trash TV: "We'll reveal who the father is after this commercial break!" I literally facepalmed in the theater.
  • I facepalmed too when Rey and Kylo kissed right before he died. Rey was built up during the previous two films to be such a strong female character and I loved that she didn't have to have a love interest for validation. I understand the "I would love Ben" arc they were going for here but I just didn't buy it given their infrequent and usually contentious interactions. I thought it cheapened Rey's arc and I thought Rogue One handled this much better by just having their leads hug at the end.
  • Maybe the worst part of the previous two points is that I suspect they are the result of caving to fan whining. Some fans vocally wanted Rey's parents to be a thing. Some fans vocally wanted to ship Reylo. In a film that was already brimming with fan service, it was very disappointing to see huge plot/character points be determined by an angry mob. The good news is that fan edits will only need to cut ~10 seconds of total screen time to negate both of those points!
UPDATE: I have seen it a second time and was a little more positive. Unless my opinion changes a great deal, though, I think I am as done with this episode as I am with the prequels. From now on, Star Wars will be Episodes IV - VIII, essentially the story of Luke Skywalker, with some other amazing characters thrown in. And frankly, that's more than enough.


So Proud of Katie!

Tuesday I had the enormous privilege of attending Katie's public PhD dissertation defense. What an incredible moment it was as my wife stood before her colleagues and presented her research findings, the culmination of her last six years of work and the reason for our cross-country move to North Carolina!
To be clear, Katie's dissertation research was fraught with challenges. Her initial target group became reluctant to participate after the 2016 election. She had to change her research subjects on the fly but ultimately managed to recruit dozens of participants and maintained 90% of them over the full year of her longitudinal study. Some of the data she collected posed great difficulty in analysis such that Katie unexpectedly had to develop new methods to process them.

In addition to these direct challenges, we also had significant indirect challenges in our personal life. We experienced four pregnancy losses during this time period and, as much as these heartbreaking events affected us both emotionally, Katie bore the brunt of their effects physically. She lost months of time recovering from these losses - not to mention dealing with the challenges (nausea, etc.) of being pregnant in the first place!

Then, when we finally had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, those were certainly joyous times - but just as certainly not times that lent themselves very well to deep time and focus on research! Not long after our baby was born, Katie interviewed, was hired, and began a job at Duke University, where she has been thriving for the last year while writing her dissertation in parallel. Oh and, by the way, Katie has been an amazing partner to me / mother to our child the entire time!

It has not been a straightforward or easy road for Katie but, despite that, she persevered and accomplished her goal. There are still some revisions to be completed but the major hurdle of defending her thesis against leaders in her field has been passed with flying colors. Her strength, resilience, and competence is inspiring - not only to me but it certainly will be to our toddler as well.

I have been in awe of / inspired by / in love with smart women since literally the day I was born. Some, like my mom, had no choice but to be stuck with me. Katie, however, actually chose to spend the rest of her life with me and to build a family together. I'm not sure I deserve it but I'm grateful for it every day. And, on days like this, I'm just so damn proud of who she is and what she has accomplished.

Congratulations to the soon-to-be Dr. Katie!


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Chapter 4

Can we talk about how OP Hermione is? She's the smartest (IQ) of the Power Trio by far and then this scene (when Harry arrives at 12 Grimmauld Place and Hermione anticipates how he must be feeling / how to talk him down from his lashing out) demonstrates how she has the highest EQ as well.

They always say that she's the cleverest witch of her age - but, if you are a genius at #allthethoughts and #allthefeels, I say you are the most powerful witch or wizard period. Not that I'm complaining; this Ravenclaw adores Hermione!


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Chapter 2

As we are winding down for bed each night, we read a little bit with our toddler. Currently we are making our way through the Harry Potter series and just finished book 4 / started book 5. Book 5 / Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is where my my online Harry Potter book club began which means I have had the chance to engage in thoughtful discussion with other Potterheads about it.

As my family progresses through this and subsequent Harry Potter books, I will post some thoughts from my book club discussions here, starting with the chapter we just finished at home: Chapter 2. Caution: there be SPOILERS below:

  • It has always fascinated me how/why Mafalda Hopkirk sends Harry a letter so promptly after he casts his patronus. Is she the only person who would send such letters? In which case, is she on duty 24/7/365 to do so? Or was she just the person on call / on shift at the time? As well as magic works, this should actually be a very automated task, but the fact that Harry receives another letter from her shortly thereafter in response to Dumbledore's arguments seems to contradict that possibility. 
  • Or, if the dementor attack was a concerted attempt by the Ministry to silence Harry, was there an entire team of ministry officials coordinating it, including Hopkirk standing by to send the letter as a Plan B in case Harry successfully warded off the dementors instead of having his soul sucked out by them? 
  • We actually DO get an answer to this question in Chapter 32 of OotP: 

“He never knew I ordered dementors after Potter last summer, but he was delighted to be given the chance to expel him, all the same...” - Dolores J. Umbridge

  • It sounds like Umbridge was operating on her own, not coordinating a Ministry-wide conspiracy to murder Harry, in which case I am still left with my original questions about the inner workings of the Improper Use of Magic Office. 


Guest Post: Memo to Expecting Parents

This is a guest blog post from Katie, an amazing mother, partner, friend, and scientist:

To my expecting friends,

Congratulations on this exciting, terrifying and amazing path you are traversing! Here are a few musings that may be worth exactly what you are paying for them, but they are things I was thankful others prepared me for or things I did not know and wish someone had told me. In no particular order:


  • Foods you can eat with one hand (burritos, protein bars, hard boiled eggs, you get the picture…)
  • Fridababy Fridet Momwasher (perineal bottle) – the angling and spout design are amazing, for real
  • Alcohol-free witch hazel – add a healthy squirt to the aforementioned Momwasher
  • Epsom salts – add a couple of large handfuls to your regular bath or a small handful to your sitz bath
  • Breast pads and comfortable nighttime nursing bras and/or pajamas – there is a fair amount of leakage early on, and the pads will also save your shirts if you need to use nipple cream/oil
  • Aquaphor – great for covering baby bottoms and lubricating breasts while pumping (I used it daily—months into pumping)
  • Bed pads – disposable or reusable – to put between each layer of bassinet/crib/bed sheets. Blow-outs at 2 am are a thing.
  • ALL the free diapers (mom & baby) from the hospital


  • You know how hungry you get now? It gets even crazier. I was not prepared for how voraciously hungry I would be after delivery. Order ALL the food. At UNC, you can order once per hour. It takes about an hour for them to deliver your food, so plan ahead. I definitely ate six to eight full meals per day, including multiple times overnight, and had multiple snacks too. That hunger continues if/as long as you nurse. Carry snacks everywhere.
  • It’s normal for new moms to cry. A lot. Especially postpartum days 3-4. I’m not a crier, and I found myself surrounded by puddles. Hormones are a thing, and life can feel entirely overwhelming. Call me. I’m always up for a good cry.
  • Walking is very, very good for you after delivery. It may not be easy to get out of bed, but if you can, take a lap around the ward when you go to refill your water. If you have a good place near your home, go for short walks outside with the new baby.
  • If you are planning to nurse, schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant within a week of returning home. Our LC saved my nipples and my sanity. If you are in North Carolina, I cannot overstate how wonderful the Women’s Birth and Wellness Center is, and anyone can see the LCs there. Partners – this is a great thing to encourage. Even better, schedule the appointment yourself!
  • Nursing can be hard at first, and it gets easier—I promise. I was skeptical when my friend told me that, but it did get easier. I didn’t think I would, but I even came to enjoy it. It’s 100% normal to nurse all the time in the first two months. Fifteen times a day is normal, and I promise it isn’t like that every day. These kiddos are growing nonstop, and your supply is trying to work itself out. They also are learning how to eat and will eventually become more efficient. Use that time to read books to your little one (whatever interests you—I read Stephen King out loud) and watch Netflix (I recommend The Letdown and GLOW).
  • Formula is great. We are lucky to have access to high-quality formula and safe water. It’s a great way to maintain sanity while you are nursing so that you can continue to nurse if that’s what you want (it’s best to supplement with formula after nursing), and it’s great if nursing just isn’t working out for you. You don’t need to apologize for providing your baby with any type of age-appropriate food.
  • Enjoy your gorgeous hair while it lasts. You will lose approximately half of it sometime between 2-4 months.
  • No time is too early for bedtime. For the first three months, I went to bed between 6:30 and 8:30 pm. It’s what I needed to feel human, and I did not apologize for it.
  • Your parent-friends will tell you to text them anytime. Do it. You will be surprised by the number of people who are also awake at 3 am.
  • It’s normal to feel like you’re going crazy. Call me when it happens. I still feel like that sometimes. It comes and goes.
  • Do what feels right in your heart of hearts. There is no “right” way to parent. At the end of the day the things that matter are: love, shelter, food, and snuggles with your baby and partner.
  • Your baby will grow and develop at their own pace, and it’s all okay.
  • Parenting can be so hard, especially now that most of us don’t live on the same street as our entire extended families. We need to spend a little more time and effort creating our villages. Bryan and I are here for you! I sent many of my more experienced parenting friends and new peer friends late-night texts and random questions. Their reassurance helped preserve my sanity. Let us reassure you!
Last, but certainly not least, YOU ARE ENOUGH. You’ve got this!


Congratulations On Retirement, Mom!

I had the great honor yesterday to deliver some brief remarks at my mother's retirement from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. As a curator of post-Apollo human spaceflight, Mom has had one of the coolest jobs in the world and I am incredibly proud of her.

The party was a lot of fun and gave me a chance to mingle with her colleagues, both those I have known most of my life and newer hires whom I was meeting for the first time. The room was packed to overflowing and many people - including current and former directors of the museum - took the mic to praise Mom for her career.

Some themes that emerged were how much she loved her work, how much she focused on people and relationships rather than just artifacts, and how she knew when to play up her Southern friendliness and when to be tough. I was pleased that most of the remarks - and private conversations I had with her colleagues - were about her character rather than about her specific accomplishments. It is clear that she has left her mark on the institution she has served so dutifully and that she will be missed.

Following are the remarks that I made when it was my turn at the mic:

Dr. Valerie Neal. Curator. Historian. Author. Editor. Department Chair. You may call her that but,  before she was any of those things, she was what I still call her today: Mom. So I'd like to share a few thoughts on her career from a slightly different perspective.

When I first set foot in the National Air and Space Museum, I was 10 years old. It was the summer of 1989 and we had just moved here from Huntsville, Alabama. We were living out of suitcases because we didn't have a house yet and we certainly didn't have childcare yet! So, until the school year began, Mom brought me in to work with her every day.

When I was that age, I had some friends who would complain about having to go into work with their parents - but I could not relate - I thought my mom had the coolest job in the world! That summer the Museum was my babysitter, my teacher, and my playground. I would spend all day every day working through the galleries, attending the shows, and browsing the shops. Can you imagine a more magical place to spend an unstructured summer during your formative years? It was like my own, private, self-directed Space Camp!

And it didn't end there; I practically grew up in the Museum. I wore my first tux at Mom's first exhibit opening. As I was getting into computers, the Museum's head of IT kept me supplied with adequate computing power. When I became interested in science, I used a school career day to shadow members of the Museum's Lab for AstroPHysics ("LAPH"). The Museum was the first place I found where a kid who was interested in science and technology could be nurtured rather than LAPH'ed at.

30 years later, as I have strived to leave my own mark on the world through a career in energy technology innovation, many people have pointed to my childhood immersed in Space as a source of inspiration for taking big shots at transforming the way we power society. While that's true, I think it's a little simplistic. If you dig a little deeper, I was - and continue to be - more fundamentally inspired by a young, single mother from a small town in rural America leaving everything behind - her friends, her support networks, her comfort zone - to make a greater impact on a bigger stage, in the nation's capitol at the most popular museum in the world.

So, Mom, I congratulate you on a career of inspiration.

A career of inspiration doesn't just happen, though. Mom is one of the hardest workers I have ever known. Growing up, many of my memories of us at home feature Mom at her desk - late at night, over the weekend - working away on an exhibit, talk, or manuscript. Once when I was young we were camping and she was telling me a ghost story as I fell asleep. Well, clearly she was getting sleepy because she started getting her facts mixed up. I will never forget how the protagonist of her story turned the corner in the haunted house and encountered . . . the Space Shuttle!

Indeed, Mom's work at the Museum was never far from her mind, but she always made the time and space for me. She came to every one of my football games. She copy edited every paper I asked her to. Despite her tremendous workload, she was always there as a strong, supportive, loving mother - and, for that, I am eternally grateful.

I have never been Mom's colleague so I don't know what it is like to work with her. Her younger sisters - my aunts - have been known to call her bossy. A younger version of myself might have even accused her of micromanaging as she stayed on me about my homework and chores! Your mileage at the Musuem may have varied. I'm also not a scholar in her field so I can't gauge the quality of her work product.

But I can state categorically that you will never find someone more committed or dedicated to her craft, to the point that, in our household, we use the expression "good enough for government work" ironically because the hardest working perfectionist we know happens to be a federal employee! She is the consummate public servant which, as a tax payer, I find gratifying!

So, Mom, I congratulate you on a career of dedication.

Hard work only gets you so far, though; at the end of the day, results are what really matter. As such, every exhibit opened, every artifact collected, every book published, every article written, every interview given - every opportunity to see my mom as an intelligent, confident, articulate, passionate leader in her field - has been a source of enormous pride for me.

The moments that make me especially proud are the times when my own friends and colleagues contact me to tell me how much they enjoy something she worked on - usually after a museum visit or having seen her on some program. During the 2012 media blitz surrounding Discovery's arrival at the Udvar-Hazy Center, my wife's boss said she had been really impressed by Mom's interview on a major talkshow. At first I was proud but then . . . I was perplexed. My wife asked her boss how she knew it was my mom; they had never met and Mom and I don't share the same last name. Her boss responded, "Well, I was watching TV and, all of a sudden, there was Bryan . . . in a blonde wig . . .  with lipstick . . . dropping all kinds of really interesting knowledge about the Space Shuttle!" I will take a comparison like that as a compliment any day!

In this Internet-enabled age, it isn't uncommon for someone I don't even know to tell me how much they enjoy Mom's work. A woman reached out to me on twitter a year or two ago to let me know that she had been moved to tears by seeing Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center for the first time - not just due to the sentimental value the artifact had for her and her family but especially because of the way it was presented. She likened it to the profound, nearly spiritual experience of turning the corner of the Accademia in Florence and seeing Michelangelo's David for the first time. That conversation was a poignant reminder that the work Mom does - that you all do - at the Smithsonian touches people's lives in significant and meaningful ways.

So, Mom, I congratulate you on a career of impact.

As you have written the book of your life, you have steered your career toward these three themes: inspiration, dedication, and impact. For that I congratulate you three times over. And now your grandchild, your daughter-in-law, and your son are looking forward to joining you in asking, "Where next?" as we explore your next chapter together.


Enchanted By Ireland 6: Dublin

We spent the last few days of our Ireland trip in Dublin. Upon our arrival we had afternoon tea at House Dublin (where we would be staying the night) and then went for a run along the nearby Grand Canal. Even though we were in the most urban Irish environment yet, everything was still so green. The canal especially was canopied by dense trees with lush grasses growing up the banks.

Our 8th day in Ireland and first full day in Dublin began as many of you probably guessed it would: with a pilgrimage to the Guinness Storehouse! Is it a tourist trap? Sure. But it's my kind of tourist trap! We ascended floor after floor of exhibits about Guinness's ingredients, brewing process, history, marketing, and culture. Ultimately we reached the top, the Gravity Bar, and there we shared a few pints with a 360-degree view over Dublin as our backdrop - truly a bucket list item for yours truly!

We spent much of the afternoon walking around Dublin. With a huge, old, Gothic church on practically every corner, there was a lot to see along the way. We found our way to Trinity College, where we made a pilgrimage to their amazing library. Some of their artifacts, like the Book of Kells, were interesting but the endless rows of multi-story shelves full of books was the real attraction for me.

Our hotel was near St. Stephen's Green, which was a lovely little park for passing time between meals and attractions. We wrapped up the day at Sheehan's Pub, where we had a local non-Guinness stout and a tasting of several Powers whiskeys.

For our 9th and final day in Ireland, we checked into Clontarf Castle. It is an historic castle that has been updated as a hotel and event space but, despite its modernizations, it still felt very "castley." There were suits of armor everywhere - including hidden away in nooks and crannies and hallway dead ends. I loved it - it was like playing a Harry Potter video game in real life!

Clontarf had a lovely harbor-front promenade so we walked around a bit before settling on lunch at Moloughney's, which was lovely. I don't have any pictures between lunch and dinner so I suspect that we took a nap. During the entire trip I was taking a pint of Guinness with lunch - which was bad for my waistline but good for my soul - so a nap might have been just what was called for.

We stayed at the hotel for dinner and managed to reserve the table in the tower dungeon! The food was fine but the experience of dining in a dungeon really took the cake - the Guinness cake, even, which is what we had for breakfast at the Dublin airport the next day!

What can I say about this trip to Ireland? It was a magical, amazing experience. The castles, the lush green hills, the very nice people, the excellent food - what a place! We spent a week and a half there but only scratched the surface. I have so many more places to explore but Ireland is definitely on the top of my list for a return soon!


Enchanted By Ireland 5

We spent the morning of our sixth day in Ireland driving west to Dingle. This took us over the Conor Pass, a local high point from which you can see for myriad kilometers inland in one direction and to the sea in the other. We parked at the top of the Pass and traipsed around the hills, enjoying the vistas more than the biting winds! There was sheep scat everywhere but it was a small price to pay for the breathtaking views.

In the afternoon we arrived in Dingle, a charming harbor village that seemed straight out of The Hobbit. Its rolling green hills, cute boats, and waterfront pubs and restaurants were quite idyllic. We spent the afternoon walking around and ducking in here and there - add Dingle to the list of places in Ireland to which we would like to return and spend a little more time.

Dingle also was the only place we saw a pub advertising an Irish stout other than Guinness - and it was Murphy's, another well known Irish stout. I thought that we would show up to Ireland and discover lots of hidden gem Irish stouts that they keep to themselves rather than exporting to the US but, nope, it's pretty much Guinness Island (with a little bit of Murphy's). We also did a spirits tasting at Dingle Distillery before departing.

As we drove through County Kerry to our final destination of the day, we encountered a herd of cattle in the road. We could only assume that these Kerry cattle were the source of Kerrygold butter so I am pleased to report that they seemed very happy as they ambled past our car to another pasture!

We would be spending the night outside of Killarney and the only place open for dinner was Kate Kearney's Cottage. It was a bit of a tourist trap (busloads of tourists in the parking lot) but the food was decent and there was live music and folk dancing during dinner. They sent us off with a very tender rendition of Danny Boy, which was the perfect way to wind down the evening.

After dinner we settled into our home for the night, Carrauntoohil Eco Farm. The farm practiced ecologically sound agriculture and hospitality. This had several implications, one of which was that the toilets were outhouses that used sawdust instead of plumbing - very hippy! Several of our party stayed in yurts for the night. Katie and I, being high maintenance glampers, opted for the "lodge" instead of a yurt. Well, the joke was on us because the "lodge" was a converted shipping container and decidedly less glamorous than the yurts! Ah well, we all had a blast, despite the torrential all-night downpour.

We awoke the next morning to mountains shrouded in fog. We made friends with the farm animals, packed up, and set off for our next adventure!


Why My Toddler And I Participated In Today's Climate Strike

Today I took our toddler out of daycare (with his mom's permission!) and participated in the Climate Strike in downtown Chapel Hill.

It was a youth-organized, peaceful protest against climate inaction, featuring student and faculty speakers. The gathering started at Peace and Justice Plaza, where there was music, chanting, and some speakers. We then processed through campus to the Old Well, where there were more speakers and more calls to action.

Many journalists were there as well and I was impressed that they all asked my permission before taking my picture because I had a toddler there with me. One of them asked me why I was there and I gave her a pithy response. Here is a slightly more thoughtful summary of my reasoning:

Too long have our politicians, our businesses, and we as consumers been addicted to an energy system that is fundamentally unsustainable. Our elected leaders are either ignorant or bought and paid for by those telling them to look the other way. Our businesses are myopically driven by quarterly numbers that are rewarded by maintaining the status quo and externalizing long-term costs. We as consumers demand cheap, abundant energy to support our immediate quality of life without regard for long-term impacts. It is easy to point fingers but we are all complicit in this destructive energy chain.

To be clear, I'm not demonizing energy. Energy has been transformative in elevating - and continuing to elevate - billions of people around the world to higher standards of living and quality of life. As Nobel laureate Dick Smalley said, if we can solve energy, we solve the other major challenges facing humanity essentially for free. We have not yet solved energy, though, and the repercussions of our toxic energy chain are already being felt: the Earth is warming, ecosystems are dying, and extreme weather events are becoming more severe and numerous (As I write this, Houston just experienced its second 1,000-year rainfall event in . . . checks notes . . . two years.).

I am also not demonizing capitalism. Capitalism is the mechanism that used energy to improve so many lives and I believe in it as a strong force for good. It isn't perfect, however, and it can run society off the cliff if it receives the wrong price signals as inputs: garbage in => garbage out, as they say. A role of regulators and policy makers is to ensure that our free market has accurate, comprehensive price signals and here we have so far failed. We allow dirty energy to be produced, distributed, and used artificially cheaply (subsidized, even!) by not capturing the cost of cleaning up the mess left behind. In essence we have been mortgaging those costs forward to future generations but the bill (which has been accruing lots of interest in the meantime!) has come due.

Maintaining the status quo is a path to economic and social catastrophe the likes of which we haven't seen . . . ever? We the people elect the political leaders and we the people buy the products that keep the businesses profitable so change must start with us. It is imperative that we demand action with our votes, with our dollars, and - on days like today - with our voices.

I'm actually very optimistic that we will solve energy. Humanity is incredibly effective when we unite around common cause, whether it is putting a person on the moon or defeating the Nazis. We have many of the solutions we need to combat climate change already and I know we can develop the rest. In fact, I believe solving energy will be the greatest economic opportunity we have ever created! It won't happen by itself, though, and time is running out; we need action now.

As many of you know, I have devoted my career to helping solve energy. It was the thesis of my first ever blog post and it is what I spend my day doing at Smart OES. So why strike? Shouldn't I be back at the office working hard on solving energy? Well, I think it's important to let others know that they are not alone in demanding this sort of change. Moreover, I wanted to demonstrate critical mass to politicians and business leaders who may be watching.

Most of all, though, I have been really inspired by this group of young climate activists. Older generations are failing them on climate change and, rather than just giving up, they are taking matters into their own hands. People claim that younger generations are lazy and entitled but what I witnessed today was the opposite; they are motivated, hard working, and effective - so I especially wanted to come out today to support them.

But why bring my toddler? After all, at 16 months old, he isn't going to remember it. That's true, but this is the most significant issue that will affect his life and I want to show him that his parents do care and are dedicated to creating a better life for him. I don't know if we will have righted the ship by the time he is an adult. I'm nearly the age now that I was when my dad died so frankly, I don't know when I will leave him or whether I will leave him anything more than a broken planet. One thing I can leave him, though, is a sense of empowerment and a feeling of duty to stand up and fight for what is right. One day when he is old enough to remember, he will look at old pictures and see himself exercising his civil rights to peaceful protest. As he builds the narrative of his life, one of his early chapters will include publicly, demonstrably doing what's right and that is why I brought him today.

As someone who has always been moved by Les Misérables, which is centered on a small group of young activists protesting against an unjust establishment, I feel like I've been training my entire life for this Climate Strike. I'm not sure exactly what it will accomplish but the experience was moving. The power of human voices and collective action is real.

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!


My Entrepreneurship Principles: Leadership

In my first piece on Mindful Entrepreneurship, I laid out several principles to optimize the entrepreneurial process.  In my second piece, I argued that culture is extremely important to startups. In this final (?) piece I will now examine how leadership can create an optimal startup culture and execute the entrepreneurial process.

Entrepreneurial Leadership
  • Culture starts at the top; in a startup, all eyes are on the founders and the management team. Mission statements, declarations of values, and pronouncements of "our culture" have little effect on a venture's actual culture, which is determined much more by the actions of its leaders. If a company claims to have a culture of psychological safety but everyone sees a software engineer getting reamed out by the CTO for not doing things his way, then that culture is not actually safe. It is crucial that that startup leaders walk their own talk; however they act, that will be the culture.
  • Bring the right people onto the team. Startup hiring can definitely be a challenge; finding people who are not only good but will also succeed in a less stable context isn't easy and many of the hiring best practices used by larger organizations fail at a startup. The best advice I can offer here is to seek out candidates who exhibit both humility and curiosity. These attributes are a perfect storm for contributors who thrive in the highly uncertain, rapid learning environment of a startup.
  • Hire for diversity. Recall the effectuation principles from my first post: I was brought into a rapidly scaling startup to talk about how to apply those principles to leadership. One key take away is to prioritize the additional means that new hires bring to the team. Hiring for a very specific skillset is folly at a startup, where everyone wears multiple hats and what you think you need changes on a daily basis. Rather than evaluating candidates purely based on some pre-fab job description, give weight to all the additional skills, experiences, and perspectives they bring to the table.
  • Encourage divergent thinking. Instead of asking your employees, "What is the right answer," ask, "What is possible?" Follow up with, "What else is possible?"
  • Ask questions. Rather than barking orders, ask employees how they think problems should be solved. This serves the dual purpose of empowering employees with agency while also reinforcing a culture of skepticism. "Why?" "Why not?" "Is that a fact or a hypothesis?"
  • Foster collaboration. It can be tempting in a startup to divide and conquer as much work as possible. Remembering that groups make better decisions in the face of uncertainty than do individuals, though, it is beneficial to reduce employees working in isolation as much as is practical. Use techniques like pair programming, team huddles, and strike forces to increase collisions among team members.
  • Push employees out of the building. It is also important to increase collisions between team members and the outside world. Bring internal staff along on client visits. Provide incentives for employees to give talks (tech or otherwise) in the appropriate domains of the community. The more your team interacts with the outside world, the higher your venture's chances of benefiting from serendipity.
  • Maintain a constant feedback loop. It is hard for startup employees to take big swings if they aren't standing on solid ground. Use 360 feedback to ensure that employees always know where they stand, how they are perceived, and how they can improve.
  • Put the fish on the table. Feedback need not be limited to anonymous tools and it is important that it be provided - sensitively - in person. We use the term "fish on the table" to motivate team members to share open, honest feedback with each other. If there is a rotting fish kept under the table, it will start to stink. If it is brought up above the table, however, it can be dealt with. When a team member asks to put a fish on the table, others listen and try to accept the feedback openly because they know it is for the good of the team.
  • Be a secure base. As babies learning to walk, we know that, if we fall, Mommy or Daddy or another care giver will be there to pick us up. We develop the confidence to take risks through reliance on these secure bases. This circuitry persists through adulthood such that, if you want your employees to take risks, you need to be a secure base for them. Let them know frequently that you will still love and value them even if they fail - show them rather than just telling them. A major role of being a startup CEO is also being the CPO - Chief Psychology Officer! Joining a startup is scary; being a secure base to your employees emboldens them to be fearless.
  • Create meaning for your team. Working at a startup can be daunting. The work can be hard, the hours can be long, the pay and benefits can be below market . . . remind your employees of the purpose of their work. Mission and meaning are like secret weapons for startups; they make up for many other shortcomings so you can't let anyone forget about them. At my startups, we have very visible indicators of our progress toward meaningful metrics and periodically bring in speakers who have been impacted by our mission.
  • Keep your integrity. Startups are hard and there is temptation to cheat in some ways even just to keep your venture afloat. At the end of the day, though, the only think you will take with you from one startup to the next is your integrity. If you fail, people will forgive you as long as you were honest. (I know an entrepreneur who lost all of an investor's money but did so honestly and transparently; that same investor then backed the entrepreneur's next venture as well.) If you are dishonest, however, your reputation will be trashed forever. 
  • Never stop learning. Leadership is like other skills: it can be practiced. It can be improved. It can be developed. Just as a startup organization should never stop learning, neither should its leaders.


Rocky Mountain High Colorado

Katie had a conference at Copper Mountain in Colorado so our toddler and I tagged along. Copper Mountain is where I learned to ski when I was four years old so it was a fun "homecoming" of sorts for me.

We arrived in Denver Friday morning and spent the day in Boulder, where I had meetings with some startups that I advise - it was great to see them in person rather than over Skype for once!

Friday evening we drove up to Copper Mountain, where we had a spacious condo all to ourselves. I didn't sleep well Friday night due to the sudden change in altitude (~3,000 m / ~10,000 ft) but I was greeted the next day by gorgeous views regardless.

While Katie participated in her conference Saturday, our toddler and I explored the village and hiked around a bit. Copper Mountain is clearly primarily a Winter ski destination - many shops and restaurants were closed for the offseason - but I thought it was just wonderful during the Summer. The cool temperatures were a refreshing change from the heat and humidity of North Carolina and they did a great job of creating activities more appropriate for the season. Saturday all day was a three-peak cycling race called the Triple Bypass and Saturday evening there was live music in the village center.

Sunday, after an early morning hike, we made our way back to Denver, stopping at Red Rocks for lunch with the same family that taught me to ski 36 years ago. It was lovely to see them again and fun to introduce them to the next generation! The stunning red rocks reminded me that Colorado isn't just alpine but actually features a great deal of landscape and architecture more reminiscent of the American Southwest.

Monday morning we hopped on our flight back to North Carolina. This was a very quick trip but it reminded me how much I enjoy Colorado. It seems to be about the closest thing I can find to Switzerland here in the US - but with more direct flights. We may try to visit more often - and especially during the Summer, when we are seeking refuge from the heat and humidity!


Is Vinyl Better Than Modern Media?

A friend recently asked what was going on with the recent popularity of vinyl records. Is vinyl "better" than more modern music media? Or is it just a hipster fad with no base? I am far from an expert but, as I have a fair bit of experience with vinyl (~100 LPs and a jukebox full of 45 singles), I weighed in with the following take.

Vinyl can be "better" (a very loaded - and subjective - term!) than newer formats for older music:

  1. When a song was originally recorded, mastered, and stamped out to vinyl, that was how it was "supposed" to sound (barring disagreements between the artists and the production/engineering staff, disagreements within the band, limitations of production technology of the time, etc.).
  2. When the music is transferred to digital formats, some sound quality loss necessarily occurs. Digitization samples the original audio many times per second to create the new, digital signal. If it samples more frequently, the audio is higher quality; if it samples less frequently, the audio is lower quality. Practically speaking, the human ear probably can't tell the difference but hardcore audiophiles care about it.
  3. During early digitization, ie to CDs, many filters were used during the digital transfer process to remove pops and other imperfections that are often found on vinyl (and that vinylheads find endearing - a feature, not a bug!). Those filters, though, often filter out more than the imperfections and the music loses some of its top end and/or bottom end sound.
  4. During digitization, "remastering" sometimes happens as well; someone remixes the tracks, plays with the volumes, applies filters, etc. to make the the music sound "better" in the new, digital medium. Occasionally this works out well, like the 50th anniversary re-release Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (performed painstakingly by the original engineer and his son!), occasionally it is disastrous, and usually it is a mixed result. Regardless, it changes the music from the original standard.
  5. For most digital file formats, e.g. mp3, after digitization of the original analog music, there is also compression to save space; the compression further distorts the music. This is probably imperceptible to those who aren't looking for it but, again, hardcore audiophiles care about it.
  6. For streaming media, digital files are further compressed and altered, especially when bandwidth is low, further reducing the quality of the audio.

So what does this all mean? Firstly, vinyl pressings of modern music that has been digitally recorded offer no real benefit other than a cool physical medium. For older music, recorded on analog tape, there are indeed differences between its vinyl format and its conversion to more modern media.

Whether the vinyl is "better" depends on a number of factors and is highly individualistic. Not all digitization efforts are equal and neither are the preferences of the listener. Whether vinyl is right for you really comes down to personal taste.


My First Track Meet

Last weekend I competed at the USATF Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships. I took home a couple of medals but mostly it was an exercise in humility! It was great fun, I made some excellent friends, and I left feeling incredibly invigorated.

My journey to the nationals began last Summer. As I have blogged about before, I participate in the annual summer track meets hosted by Carolina Godiva Track Club. These are informal events with participants ranging from 8 to 80 years in age. I have never trained for them and have mostly viewed them as a fun, social way to get in some speed work for my distance running.

Last year, though, my world was rocked at one of these events when a 60-year-old woman named Becky lined up next to me in the 100m dash and ran neck and neck with me the entire way - wow, I was impressed! It turns out that she was the US national 100m champion in the women's 60-64 age division. Between her, Louise (78 years old), and William (77) - all of whom came out to some of the summer track meets - I was thoroughly inspired.

Although I have never run track competitively, I spent the first half of my life as a sprinter of sorts on the football field. I carry around a lot of muscle that does me no good in long distance but helps me generate power in a sprint. Whether for these reasons or for the reason that I've just been getting kind of bored training for the same 5-10k distance races for the last 15 years, the inspiration I felt from Becky, Louise, and William motivated me to make a change. In August of last year, I shifted gears and began training as a sprinter.

Another friend from summer track nights, Cindy, took me under her wing and helped me get started. As a world class track and field athlete, she helped me ramp up quickly in this new world. Her husband, Dante (an Olympic-caliber 400m runner himself), helped and supported too. It was hard to make consistent improvement throughout the Fall, though, as I was traveling a great deal and getting sick every other week as our son brought home various bugs from the petri dish that is daycare.

I ran two "test" track meets, one in October and one in January. The results weren't great and, due to my inconsistent training, I wasn't showing much progress. I recognized several friends at the January meet, though, and they encouraged me to join the Piedmont Pacers, a local track club that competes together as a team at these types of events.

Joining the Pacers really marked a turning point in my training. At least once a week I began joining a team practice with other Pacers. Louise, who turned out to be a Pacer, brought along her teammate, Angela. Rick, a very fast sprinter and middle distance runner about my age - brought along his awesome wife, Ryan. Even Becky, who isn't a Pacer and lives hours away, would come join us when she would happen to be in town. Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I am 110% extrovert so turning training into a team event really supercharged my workouts.

When March rolled around, it was time to see if the training had been paying off. To be clear, my times indicated that I wouldn't be terribly competitive. I was still new to track, still trying to remind my muscles how to fast-twitch, and, to boot, I would be the oldest competitor in the 35-39 age division - just three weeks shy of moving up to 40-44! However, I thought it would be good experience for me and I hoped to help the Pacers earn at least a few points, so I left my pride at the door and headed to Winston-Salem for three days of intense competition.

Day 1

On the first day of competition, I only had one event: the 400m. In January I had run a 1:08, which is substantially slower than my outdoor 400m times from the Summer. Because indoor tracks are shorter, requiring more time in tighter turns, I expect my times to be a little slower but I was hoping to bring my time down at least to 1:06. An even-ish race plan was to run a 32s split for the first lap and 34s for the second lap.

Well, best laid plans! I went out way too fast, probably pulled along by my much-faster-than-I-am competitors. When I saw the clock at 30s as I finished my first lap (barely slower than my 200m PR), I knew I was in for a world of pain in the second. The rest of that race seemed interminable - all the more so because I was basically running by myself at that point - but I finally crossed the finish line in 1:06.66.

It was an improvement but not quite what I had hoped for. I'll try to settle in and run my race next time. Dropping some excess weight will help too; I averaged 529W of power over the course of the race and that could propel a lighter version of myself much more quickly. Regardless, I have a long way to go; the winning time was 51.42!

Day 2

I had three events to run the second day, starting with the 60m. The 60 is a pure, all-out sprint so I had no strategy other than run as fast as I could. The start really matters in the 60 since it is such a short race. I'm still pretty new to starting out of blocks but I was hoping my recent practice would pay off.

When the gun went off, my reaction time was good. I had violent arm swings and rapid step turnover. My top speed just isn't very good yet, though. My poor flexibility limits the range of each step and my competitors all pulled away as the race went on. I finished in 8.75, nearly two seconds slower than the winning 6.88. 8.75 was a new PR for me, so I'm pleased with the progress, but I have a lot of room for improvement. In addition to flexibility, I really need to work on explosive power for this race. I'm stepping out of my blocks rather than exploding out of them.

After several hours of waiting around, my next event was the 4x800 with Matt (41 years old), Kevin (43), and Rick (38). A team's youngest member determines its age category so we were competing in the M35-39 division. 

Matt, who was battling a calf injury, started us off well with a 2:42 leg. I took the baton and ran a very uneven 2:47. My first lap was - surprise, surprise - way too fast so, after I passed two competitors, I settled down. I may have slowed down too much but it was hard to know my pace as I had taken the baton at an odd time and my brain was way too oxygen-deprived to do math! I averaged 432W on my leg.

Kevin did better, running 2:46 with disturbingly even splits. Seriously, he might be a robot! Rick, our fastest runner, started off hot, running a 32s first lap. We could see that the first place team was way ahead of us and we had a commanding lead over the third place team, so we called out to Rick to slow down and save his juice for the next race. He wound up running a 2:33, putting us at 10:48, which was good enough for the silver medal - huzzah!

No sooner had we finished the 4x800 than we had to line up for the 4x200. Our 4x200 team had the same members and we ran in the same order so at least our exhausted minds didn't have to think much.

Matt ran a good 29s opening leg. He had to pass the baton to me in the outer lane on a curve, though, which was a bit of a challenge. I ran 30s (577W), as did Kevin after me, and then Rick brought home the anchor leg in 27s. Our final time was 1:56 but the competition was much stiffer in this race and we were only good enough for 4th. 

Day 3

Having run the final heat of the final event of the day before, I was among the last competitors to leave the track. Naturally my first race the next day was early so . . . no rest for the weary!

Because my projected time was the slowest (by far!) in my heat, I was assigned to lane 1, meaning I had to run the tightest turns. When the gun went off, I had another powerful start, but I had to bend that power around a tight curve - and then another one at the other end of the track. I finished in 29.25 (633W), an indoor track PR for me, but far behind my competition. The same notes apply: I have a lot of work to do to increase my top speed.

Our team reunited to run the final heat of the final event of the track meet: the 4x400.  We were tired and sore from days of competition but adrenaline pumped us up as we neared the starting line. The same teams who had beaten us soundly the day before were out there again but they were tired and sore too, so anything could happen.

Matt again started us off well, hobbling through a 1:06 opening leg, maneuvering us into 4th place. I grabbed the baton and all soreness seemed to leave my legs. It's hard to tell from the race video, but it looks like a ran a PR 1:04 (553W) for my leg.

It seems strange that I should be able to run seconds faster (and sustain higher power output) over 400m on the third day of competition vs the first. I definitely can't attribute the performance increase to a running start as we were being extra cautious with our handoffs to ensure that we didn't drop the baton. I have two hypotheses:
  1. I'm a team sports guy, not an individual sports guy. Put me out there with teammates depending on me and I will rise to the occasion.
  2. In the relays, other runners are spread more evenly around the track, motivating me to surge and pass them. Compare that to the individual events, during which the closest I ever was to the competition was when were at the starting line!
Regardless of the mechanism, I ran a good time (for me) and passed two competitors to put us in 2nd. Kevin ran a strong 1:13 and then Rick brought us home with a smoking 58s anchor leg. Final result: 4:21, good enough for another silver medal!

Final Thoughts

As I returned home, exhausted but exhilarated, I reflected on my first real track meet experience. Here are a few of my final take-aways:
  • It was fun - a lot of fun! I didn't expect that. There were long stretches between my races when I intended to sneak away to a cafe to get some work done but staying and cheering for my friends as they competed kept me at the track.
  • I loved being on a team; that made all the difference in the world, adding meaning to every race. The Pacers finished 7th in the team points competition and I was proud to have helped contribute 15 of those points through our relay performances. Being part of a team also gave me more people to cheer for throughout the meet.
  • I wonder how "valid" the results of the competition are. It's neat to receive a silver medal and claim that our team earned #2 in the nation but we were really only #2 of those present at the meet. How many faster teams might be out there who didn't have the time, money, or other wherewithal to travel across the country to compete? This point isn't very important to me since I'm really not in it for the medals, but it did make me wonder.
  •  What I will remember most about this meet is the friendliness and supportiveness of all of the competitors. Before each race, competitors shook hands and wished each other luck. Between races, I met and made fast friends with competitors from all over the country and with very diverse backgrounds. Kudos to the USATF and JDL Fast Track for cultivating such a culture of positive sportsmanship - that is, after all, what sports are all about!


Parenting Recommendations 3: Parenting Books

My final post on parenting for the moment: here's a list of postpartum parenting books I've read so far, again sorted by my rating, descending.

The Science of Mom (another evidence-based book for the first year postpartum) is the only top ranked of these for which I have notes:

  • Good review of scientific method, publication
  • Delayed cord clamping 2 min
    • More blood, iron 88% higher iron at 6 months of age and low iron leads to lower test scores this is especially important for breastfed babies because breast milk does not contain much iron
  • Vitamin k shot
    • Get it
    • Initial link to cancer disproven by subsequent research
  • Eye profilaxis
    • Consider delaying until after initial bonding up to one hour
    • babies don't see as well with it so it may inhibit initial bonding
    • could affect microbiome
  • Breastfeeding
    • Benefits primarily during infancy (eg immunoprotecton)
    • possible long term benefits on cognitive development
    • introduce solids 4-6 months (but let baby lead), continuing breastfeeding
    • start with low allergenic foods and gradually introduce foods with greater allergenic potential one at a time
    • avoid cow's milk until one year bc it can lead to iron deficiency
    • Meat good for heme iron but limit liver to a few servings per week to avoid too much vitamin A
    • Egg yolks good for iron and DHA
  • Sleeping
    • Safest place is in the same room but in separate bassinet
    • Expose to natural light during day (even when napping) for first three months to establish circadian rythyms
    • prepare baby for sleep before they become overly tired
    • institute pre-sleep routines
    • self soothing babies are put to bed while awake, not soothed to sleep because falling asleep is a learned skill
    • wait a couple minutes to respond at night; confirm that crying is distress, not baby noises
    • babies use sleep aids; make sure you aren't it
    • use a sleep aid when you're all together to lay the foundation for making the transition to more independent sleep easier
  • Feeding Solids
    • Whole grains have more phytates, which could reduce iron absorption, than refined grains. Soaking grains reduces their phytates.
    • Fruit instead of juice. If juice, dilute it with water and serve in a cup, not a bottle.

Parenting Recommendations 2: Prenatal Books

Each time we became pregnant, I was both elated and scared as it reminded me that I don't know anything about babies! My way of dealing with that anxiety was to read everything I could get my hands on. And since we were cumulatively pregnant much longer than nine months, I managed to read a lot! Some of the books were great, most were OK, and some were downright terrible.

Here are the prenatal books I read sorted by [my] rating, descending. And for the top books, here are my notes, because you may have other things to do than reading all the time! Caveat: these notes are not necessarily complete or good; they reflect what I took out of each book at the time.

Expecting Better (evidence-based analysis of "conventional" prenatal "wisdom"):

  • obese women (before pregnancy) have more pregnancy complications
  • up to 2-3 drinks / week first Tri
  • up to 7 drinks / week rest of term
  • avoid raw milk / raw milk cheeses / queso fresco
  • avoid undercooked meat and deli turkey
  • raw egg fine
  • seek high omega-3 / low mercury fish, e.g. salmon, sardines
  •  6 vomits average per pregnancy
  •  vitamin b6, ginger for nausea
  •  CVS and amniocentesis both safe, but CVS better/earlier
  •  Avoid raising body temperature to 101+ during first trimester
  •  Hair dye is probably fine
  •  Avoid gardening or at least wash hands thoroughly
  •  Gain 25-35 lbs during pregnancy but err on the high side
  •  Regular exercise good but don't go above 90% HR
  •  Kegels good and reduce labor time
  •  Yoga probably good
  •  Sleeping on back probably fine unless you feel faint
  •  Medication - check safefetus.com and stick to A and B class drugs
  •  Bed rest not effective for reducing pre term labor
  •  Cervical effacement in addition to dilation a good indicator of labor readiness
  •  Intermittent fetal monitoring better than continuous during labor
  •  For labor augmentation, break water first then try drugs
  •  Just say no to episiotomy - cutting the vagina
  •  Vitamin k shot after birth is OK
  •  Having a doula is good
  •  Epidural has pros and cons
  •  Drink fluids during labor (including calories like Gatorade)
  •  Induction problematic so make sure fluid levels are measured deepest pocket, while well hydrated, and consider a second test
  •  Clapping effective sugar ineffective for non stress test
  •  Nipple stimulation and membrane sweeping work for inducing labor
  •  Vaginal birth preferred

The Informed Parent (same, evidence-based approach but extending beyond prenatal to the first few years of childhood):

  • No evidence for benefit of eating placenta
  • Pediatricians: personal experience, beliefs, staying current on literature
    • use online questionnaire (including this book's website) to interview pediatricians
    • AAP (American Academy of Pediatricians)
  • Induction: reduces risk of cesarean birth in late-term pregnancies
  • Augmentation: combination of mechanical (e.g. forceps) and chemical
  • (e.g. oxytocin) may help modestly speed along slow labor but either individually not effective
  • Episiotomy not beneficial, often worse
  • Pain
    • Epidural works; combined spinal epidural (w/ local anesthetic) works faster
    • Epidural associated with more cesarean and intstrumented (e.g. forceps) births
    • Nitrous associated with dizziness, nausea/vomiting
    • Sedatives work but not as well as opioids
    • Immersion in water and relaxation/massage techniques may work
    • Acupuncture associated with fewer interventions and cesarean births
    • Water injection, aromatherapy, biofeedback - insufficient evidence that they work
  • Cesarean
    • slightly higher risk for mom
    • First stage labor: 0.5-0.7 cm dilation / hour (for first time moms - 0.5-1.3 cm/hour for experienced moms)
    • Second stage labor: outcomes good for 3 hours pushing (first time moms - 2 hours experienced moms); labor augmentation like forceps or vacuum => < 3% need cesarean
    • Fetal heart rate: stimulation of fetal scalp, mom position change, amnioinfusion (saline into uterus) may address HR irregularities
    • Induction does not increase risk of cesarean delivery
    • Breech Position: external cephalic version => only 21% need cesarean
    • Big Baby: < 11 lbs (or 9 lbs 14 oz w/ gestational diabetes) => evidence does not support automatic cesarean
  • Circumcision
    • Very few risks, most of which go away in modern medical procedures
    • Benefits reduce risk of penile cancer, reduce rate of STI contraction, reduce rate of UTI
  • Disposable diapers about even with cloth diapers for cradle-to-grave environmental impact - compostable disposables have an edge
  • Breastfeeding
    • Wide variety of better outcomes for children (dose-dependent: the more, the better)
    • Especially when fed at the breast (rather than pumped bottle) as breastmilk composition adapts to baby's nutritional needs
    • Exclusively breastfed babies need Vitamin K (shot) and sometimes iron and Vitamin D (supplement)
    • Premature/underweight babies benefit so much from breast feeding that donated milk is prescribed over formula
    • Up to 24 months of breastfeeding => benefits for the mom; after 24 months is understudied
    • Not all women can breastfeed (primary lactation failure - unable to produce milk at all - vs secondary - something interferes with breastfeeding early on)
    • Baby should breastfeed 8-12 times per 24 hours and should suck at least 10 min on each breast, feeling sleepy afterward
    • Baby should have 6 wet diapers / day and 4 yellow, seedy, cottage cheese-like stools / day
    • 44% of mothers don't get milk w/i 72 hours of birth
    • Nipple pain common in first week but may indicate a problem after that
      • Vasospasm: nipple turns white then blue as blood returns
      • Thrush: yeast infection causing red, sore nipples
      • Clogged ducts: tender lump
      • Mastitis: infection causing red, hot breasts with pea-sized lump
      • Expressed milk helps relieve nipple pain
    • Tongue tie in 3-11% of babies (mostly male) easily addressed with frenotomy (~100% success)
    • D-MER is a condition that causes negative feelings for mom during let-down but passes quickly
    • Low milk supply:
      • Relaxation can help a little
      • Metaclopramide increases prolactin levels for 1.5 oz more breastmilk per feeding but should only be used for 3 weeks
      • Fenugreek (~600mg) helped in a small, poorly documented study
      • Milk thistle helped in a very small study
      • Shatavari helped in a small study
      • Torbangun helped in a small study
    • Moderate caffeine and alcohol probably fine while breast feeding (no need to pump and dump) but we don't know much about marijuana
    • LACTMED is a database of mom medications and their effects on breastfed babies
    • Feed when baby is hungry; little/no evidence of benefits of feeding according to a schedule
  • Feeding
    • Teething usually 4-7 months
    • No evidence that adding complementary foods at 4 months vs 6 months is beneficial (except slightly higher iron levels)
    • One study shows better growth with meat as a complementary food vs cereal
    • Preschoolers told to clean their plates ask for more food even when away from home
    • Children for whom food is offered as a reward are more overweight
    • Screen time associated with weight in children most likely due to mindless eating and advertising of unhealthy foods
    • Inadequate sleep associated with childhood obesity
    • Children who regularly drink sugary drinks are heavier and more likely obese
    • Family meals reduce risk of obesity
    • Portion size and plate size can reduce overeating
    • CAN framework: make healthy food Convenient, Attractive, and Normal
    • Vitamin D deficiency possible if exclusively breastfed - especially if Mom has it
    • Cow's milk promotes vitamin D but inhibits iron; two cups a day seems to be a good balance
    • To address child's resistance to new foods, eat variety of foods while pregnant and repeatedly expose child to new foods without comment, pressure, or urging. Also exclusive breastfeeding to six months helps.
    • Allergies: small risk reduction when introducing potatoes before 4 months, oats before 5 months, meat and wheat before 6 months, rye before 7 months, fish before 8 months, and eggs before 11 months
  • Tdap and flu vaccines recommended for Mom
  • Cdc vaccine schedule recommended for baby
  • Private cord blood banking not likely to be helpful
  • Normal birth weight 5.5-8.8 lbs
  • Get the vitamin k shot
  • Erythromycin not helpful if mother is sti-free
  • Delay cord clamping 2-5 minutes to get lots of iron-rich blood to babies since breast feeding won't get them much iron
  • Mother-baby skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth associated with better breastfeeding outcomes, better mother-baby interactions 1 year later, improved blood sugar levels, decreased crying
  • Either parent may not feel immediately bonded with baby - but fake it till you make it
  • Crying
    • Pain: rapidly escalating to maximum intensity with eyes squeezed shut (repeated like a siren at the highest level)
    • Fear: rapidly escalating to maximum intensity with eyes open
    • Anger: gradually escalating with eyes half closed
  • Soothing:
    • Swaddle
    • Side/stomach
    • Sway
    • Shush (including mom singing)
    • Suck
    • Skin-to-skin (including breastfeeding)
  • Pacifier benefits: pain relief, comfort, slightly lower risk of SIDS
  • Pacifier risks: increased ear infection rate, increased risk of teeth misalignment after 18 months. No evidence pacifiers cause diads to stop breastfeeding sooner or nipple confusion.
  • Sleeping:
    • Mothers who spend awake time in front of screens (computer, TV, etc - phone?) are awake longer than those who don't
    • Infants sleep average 13 hours / day, wake up 3 times / night, tend to transition to more predictable sleep patterns ~3 months
    • Research on bed sharing safety not great - not nearly as categorically unsafe as opponents claim (most studies don't control for other risk factors, e.g. smoking, many blur the lines of what is considered "bed sharing," e.g. including infant deaths on couches, many don't consider whether parents routinely bed share and employ best practices)
    • Increasing bed sharing risk: sofas, smoking, alcohol (or other depressant), multiple kids in bed, excessively tired parents, infant on pillow or blanket, premature infant, bed sharing with anyone other than parent, exclusive formula feeding
    • Reducing bed sharing risk: firm mattress, infant on back without blankets / pillow / mother's clothing, no strangulation hazards nearby, infant can't fall out of bed or get trapped, no smoke / alcohol / drugs, mom is not a heavy or restless sleeper, only mom shares the sleeping surface, infant isn't at risk of overheating
    • Sleep training is effective in ~80% of infants (4 months +) and no adverse long term effects have been found
    • Bed time routines helpful for sleep
    • Mother's emotional availability and responsiveness before bedtime helpful for sleep. Hypothesis: infant's feeling of security at bedtime persists through waking times so infant is more able to self soothe.
  • BPA has a high correlation (and likely causation) with negative biomarkers
  • No cough meds for children under 4 (unless doctor says so); honey (for children over 1) helps symptoms
  • Children's acetaminophen and ibuprofen OK
  • Avoid homeopathic and essential oils
  • Melatonin can help autistic or ADHD children fall asleep with few side effects
  • Keep guns out of the house; at worst, keep them unloaded and locked up. 1 in 3 parents of baby's friends will have guns so ensure they do the same.
  • Children don't learn anything from things on screens until ~24 months old
  • TV negative for children not just directly but also indirectly through less parental interaction
  • Advertising on TV often leads to more childhood obesity
  • TVs in child's bedrooms associated with poorer sleep and greater obesity
  • Media violence is associated with more aggressive children
  • Developmental Milestones
    • 6 months
      • Turns head when hearing name called
      • Briefly sits without support
      • Smiles
      • Plays peek-a-boo
    • 1 year
      • Waves bye-bye
      • Pulls to standing
      • Might say "dada" or "mama"
    • 18 months
      • Follows pointing and also points
      • Uses several words
      • Walks
    • 2 years
      • Uses short phrases
      • Can point to named objects
      • Follows one-step instructions
    • 3 years
      • Uses sentences of 4-5 words
      • Climbs
      • Engages in pretend play
      • Copies parents and peers
  • Reading
    • Infant reading programs don't work
    • Talk to child as early and as much as possible
    • Keep books around and expose early/often
    • Read stories to child; ask open ended questions about the story/characters
  • Discipline
    • Children unable to reason before ~3yo => negative reinforcement ineffective
    • Give attention for positive behavior, praise more effective for already compliant children
    • Withdraw attention for negative behavior
    • Maintain consistent routines
    • Consistent, immediate responses to behavior
    • Model the desired behavior (and not the undesired behavior!)
    • Clear, calm verbalization in age-appropriate language of what child did wrong and what he should have done
    • Help child make choices and understand consequences
    • The stronger the attachment to the parent, the more effective discipline is
    • Effective negative reinforcement:
      • Nonverbal (looks)
      • Verbal (calm and firm, not harsh, which is counterproductive)
      • time out or removing privileges to reinforce the reprimands
        • time out only works if "time in" is something child wants to be part of
        • time out is a removal of privileges, not a punishment (must be done calmly, no shaming)
        • 1 minute too short, 4 minutes effective for children age 3-6
        • some studies suggest a sliding time scale is more effective: time out ends after some time of good behavior; the clock resets with each outburst
    • Corporal punishment associated with 12 negative outcomes and dose-dependent
    • No evidence for long-term positive effects from corporal punishment
  • Toilet training
    • don't rush, shame, or pressure
    • 40-60% of children complete toilet training by age 3
    • Girls usually master it (22 months) younger than boys (25 months)
    • If child masters urination in the toilet but not BM, consider stool softening approaches
  • Childcare
    • Any effects of childcare are modest
    • Family factors (home environment, socioeconomic status, etc.) have 2-3x more effect than childcare
    • Quality of childcare matters a lot
    • Childcare associated with very mild behavioral problems that fade away by 3rd-5th grade
    • Childcare associated with stronger social skills, more self confidence, challenge management, self entertainment, more outgoing, less stress
    • Higher quality childcare with better trained caregivers associated with better performance on standardized tests
    • Daycare centers associated with independence, social skills, and higher test scores from age 2 through 3rd grade
    • Regardless of childcare, least problematic children come from homes with sensitive fathers who encourage independence, mothers who let children decide their own activities, and parents who have a loving / emotionally intimate relationship with each other
    • Families of daycare children lose an additional 13 days of sick leave (over the first 6 months?)
    • These GI, upper respiratory, and ear infections are going to happen whenever the child first begins regularly interacting with other peers.
    • Preschool offers academic benefits to lower class families, not much for upper-middle class families
    • The home learning environment (being read to, exposure to computers, etc.) has a much greater impact on academic success

What's Going On In There (detailed look at prenatal and postpartum neural development)

  • Get purposeful prenatal winter daylight exposure for babies born april-june, who have a higher chance (18% vs 12%) of being very shy
  • First hour skin to skin contact does not seem to have extraordinary bonding benefits
  • Increasing variety of touch stimulation is likely to enhance brain development
  • Loving touch, stimulation, and massage have shown to improve health of infants
  • Bouncing, rocking, carrying stimulates the vestibular system
  • Breast feeding babies smarter than bottle feeding even adjusting for socioeconomic factors
  • Taurine in human breast milk (also in formula) probably helpful for brain and retina nerve development
  • Human breastmilk provides not just the essential fatty acids but also the enzymes with which to break them down
  • Breastfeeding babies prefer (suck longer) variety in tastes that come through breast milk
  • Alcohol still present in breast milk 3 hours after ingestion
  • Brain growth spurt through two years of age => especially important to have adequate fat in diet
  • Visual acuity develops rapidly - from 20/600 vision at birth to 20/20 later. Initially babies can only detect high contrast (e.g. black on white) and only "where" vs "what" but these both change rapidly. The most crucial period of development is 6-12 months so, if there are any visual abnormalities (e.g. crossed eyes or cataracts), get them fixed within the first six months.
  • First two months peripheral vision more developed than direct
  • Binocularity onset happens rapidly between 2 and 5 months as the cortex takes over image processing
  • While vision develops late and matures quickly, hearing matures early and matures gradually.
  • Sounds above 85 dB can damage newborn hearing
  • Newborns don't recognize daddy's voice until a few weeks
  • Up to one year of age, best for baby to hear one thing at a time, not lots of noise
  • Motherese good after high pitch response develops around 3 months
  • Lots of tummy time recommended to develop upper body strength, coordination
  • Walkers don't help walking
  • Holding baby upright to practice walking helps
  • Gentle challenging helps
  • Parenting style matters more than whether a child goes to daycare:
    • Less sensitive mothers trend to have less securely attached infants
    • Attached babies have lower stress response to unfamiliar stimuli
    • Temperament is lower limbic system and is genetically determined while personality is upper limbic system and is experientially determined
    • Parents must strike a balance between smothering attentiveness and fostering independence; children of always-attentive parents are less securely attached than those of parents who intermittently give them space to explore, fall down, etc.
  • Babies distinguish speech (left brain) better with right ear and music (right brain) with left ear
  • Toddler vocabulary usually explodes once they have 50 words
  • Language development contributors
    • Parents who talk to them more
    • More positive feedback (in all areas, not just about language development); corrections not helpful
    • Socioeconomic status of parents (Poor: 600 words a day directed toward baby, working class: 1200 words a day, professional class: 2100 words a day)
    • *Repetition (eg same nursery rhyme) to reinforce neutral pathways
    • Repetition with substitution and expansion
    • books
  • IQ physiology
    • Head circumference correlated 0.14 with iq (born more than 14" average 7 pts higher than born less than 12.75")
    • ‎brain volume correlated 0.35
    • stimulus response time correlated 0.5
  • Prefrontal lobes control wisdom and executive function, not iq
  • High quality Daycare centers generally show better cognitive development than home care
    • Student teacher ratio < 1:5 2yo, 1:7 3yo, 1:10 4yo
    • Not the time for academic focus
  • Iron helpful in second 6 months
  • Breast feeding for a full year
  • Rotate toys in and out weekly to combat habituation
  • Exposure to other people and places associated with higher IQ
  • But guard against overstimulation