Friday, December 28, 2007

Some people change...some don't

Last night was the annual get-together of the local alumni from my fraternity. After pretty much forgetting each other's existence for the past year, it's always great to gather for dinner and catch up. Who's moved where, who's doing what, how many kids are you on, what kind of Blackberry are you using...the usual stuff.

One thing I took note of is that this year was that, for the first time, it appeared that the "with kids" table was the same size as the "without kids" table. We're all growing up, and with each passing year the evening becomes far less about retelling stories of how many beers we used to consume on an average Friday night as an undergrad, and far more about who's kid managed to get himself in trouble on the bus ride home from kindergarten.

Some might find this thought depressing. I personally don't. I find it interesting to see friends move to the next stage of life, and as a result how much they keep in touch with or lose touch with their own pasts. Some become totally different people when they become parents. Others stay pretty much the same.

Speaking of which, I shared this thought with a buddy of mine from childhood, who is currently stationed in Korea as an officer in the Air Force. His wife and two small kids are there with him. I got this in reply:

...with the kids, I can continue to practice my wrestling moves (cross faces, double arm bars, leg scissors, full/half/quarter nelsons, pancakes, chicken wings, switches, reverse switches, one-on-one arm bars, inside & outside cradles set with the Russian grip, grab-regrabs, fireman carries, etc.). I haven't started on the WWF moves yet---that will be fun with some atomic knee drops, back breakers, and double arm bars with a chin to back, etc.... I the fact that Elena can do a 25-rung monkey bar without touching the ground and Paul can hang on the monkey bar rungs while I do the ABCs and 1-20. He's starting to venture out and reach for the next rung on the monkey bar. But I think his Russian grip is getting extremely strong for a 4 year old. By the time his 6 or 8, it will be like super-glue and if he sets in the Russian around your neck, you'll basically have to have him surgically removed. As you can see, the "training" is going well.

This friend of mine would fall into the "others stay pretty much the same" category.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The IT guy at the South Pole

There's a very interesting article in Computerworld about the guy that manages the IT department at the South Pole. Quite literally the coolest IT job around.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

When the dads get involved

Last week was another Adventure Princess Circle gathering, where my 7-year-old and I got together with other members of our tribe at one of the couple's houses. Typically, a circle gathering goes like this:

1. Arrive at house
2. Girls run around house determining who has the greatest vocal capacity
3. Girls play foozeball, dads enjoy a beverage
4. Dads and daughters gather in a circle to take care of a few business items, like what to do with the four dollars collected for charity or determining which girl helped their mom do the dishes this week.
5. Girls are herded to table, to enjoy sugary and/or salty snack
6. Girls do a craft of some sort
7. After achieving final sugar high, girls are driven home so the moms can deal with peeling the girls off ceilings and getting them to bed.

Our recent meeting went pretty much as planned. But an added bonus was that during craft time, all the dads immediately found the rare opportunity to become architects.

The craft was to create a gingerbread house. Prefabricated the night before by the host family out of graham crackers and a complex mixture of egg whites, polymers, and magic fairy dust, the kids' job was to decorate the house in the classic gingerbread fashion. Each child was given a full container of frosting, and an endless supply of decorative items. There were M&Ms, Snow Caps, pretzel rods, pretzel circles, pretzel squares, gumdrops, marshmallows, cookies, Twizzlers, and more. At first the kids were free to create and play, but once that first dad realized his daughter wasn't achieving a completely smooth and adhesive surface by creating an even layer of frosting on all surfaces, it was time to step in. Suddenly, a deck appeared on the back of one house. Then came a pond made of blue M&Ms. There were patios. Stepped terraces. Bell towers. Mailboxes. Hot tubs. Wishing wells. Roads. Hummers parked in the driveways. Soon, the dads were clearing the way for construction crews, in order to add 3-season rooms and master suites. These were no longer ordinary holiday gingerbread houses; they were ski resorts and mansions built with the architectural skill, attention and prowess of Franks Lloyd Wright or Gehry.

I can't wait to get the gang together and start building our pinewood derby cars. I already promised to bring the chain saw and caulking gun.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Avoid those Hotel Drinking Glasses

Here is a wonderful hidden camera story about the extensive lengths your average hotel cleaning staff goes through to ensure those bathroom drinking glasses are spotless. And I'm sure every word of it is true and the norm.

Last hotel we stayed at, Natalie accidentally dropped a glass in the sink, taking a large chunk out of the side of it. We left the glass on top of the wet bar that was in the main part of the room. I was going to leave a note of warning but forgot.

Later that day we came back and the room was cleaned. That same glass was back on the bathroom counter with the little paper cover on top of it again. Nice.

Not that I'm excusing this sort of behavior, but one little bit of irony here is that I'll bet your average household bathroom isn't nearly as clean as your average hotel room, and thus the dangers of germs in hotels are perhaps even less than the dangers in your own house. But then again, they are your own germs, not someone else's. Around here we wait until the towels start walking away on their own before we consider a scrubdown, but we haven't caught a disease yet.

Shopping Superheros

It amazes me to see people shop for electronics like it's 1988. Last night, I was in Target, searching for colored plastic bins with which to organize my daughters' hats and mittens (because I'm JUST that way). As I stood there searching for just the right capacity and opacity, out of the corner of my eye I watched a guy, whom I shall refer to as Shopperdude, standing in front of one of the end racks, looking at Target's sparse selection of GPS systems.

Shopperdude stopped a Target employee and asked for a recommendation. The kid said he had no real idea, but that they were all pretty good.

"Which ones talk to you?" he asked.

"They all do, I think," said Targetboy. At that moment the fur on my spine began to tingle. Targetboy was wrong. Sure, it's likely they all say things like "turn left" but not all of them would say, "turn left on Main Street". That's a big difference.

"Do they come with batteries?" asked Shopperdude.

"Umm, not sure..." Targetboy looked at the package of one, scanning for details, and said, "I think only this one does."

Huh? You moron! They all come with built-in rechargeables! Geezuz.

"Well, do you sell the Tomtom?"

"Umm....yeah....I think this Magellan is a TomTom."

Holy crap. This kid needed to be reduced to dust with a death ray. And fast.

I truly had the urge to stomp down the aisle, hipcheck Targetboy into the plexiglass, and take over. But now Targetboy had flagged down Targetgirl to help him. Targetgirl even arrived with her Superhero utility belt containing a bar code scanner and a remote communicator. Grabbing her remote communicator, she relayed Targetboy's questions to Stockman, the invisible answer-giver stationed in the Hall of Inventory. Stockman at least explained that TomTom and Magellan were two different brands, but as far as I could tell that was the only helpful information he gave.

After another five minutes of staring at packages, flipping them over, and hoping one of them would have "please for god's sake buy me!" written on the back of one, The man decided on the one that was on sale for $399.

That's a lot of frickin money to spend on a gadget without doing any research. As I posted previously, each brand has two dozen different models, and each model does (or doesn't do) specific things. Do your research Shopperdude, you'll be much happier. Never mind that you'll save money buying online.

I really thought about stopping Shopperdude on his way to the checkout counter and setting him straight, telling him the Garmin 260 was $120 cheaper on Amazon than it was at Target, but then I thought against it. If everyone did their research, everyone would buy online rather than Target and save money. Target would fail financially, and I wouldn't have any place to get my colored plastic bins. I'd have to buy the cheap clear ones at the Dollar Store. Instead, I let Shopperdude go, saluted him silently, and thanked him for keeping American consumerism going.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Howard has some work to do

I noticed my friend Howard posted that the reading level of his blog is "high school." I ran the same test on mine, and it reported back that mine reads at a college undergrad level. Hah! How 'bout them apples!

I guess my daughters haven't completely destroyed every last brain cell...yet....

Chinese Food for Xmas

That reminds me...gotta find out if the Dershowitzes want to go to Peking House with us next week.

Friday, December 14, 2007

New members of the family

New members of the family
Originally uploaded by daninhim
Our new adopted members of the family arrived today. Coral Pink (the goldfish) and Coral Blue (the Algae Eater) were rescued from a family moving to Germany, or something like that. We'll see if they survive the night. Coral Blue started off jumping around to different areas of the tank, but currently he's lying at sort of an angle on the fake rock around the barrel, and hasn't been moving a whole lot. Hmmm....

Oh, a note on the names. Obviously determined by a seven year old and a four year old. I would have chosen "Roger" and "Arnold" myself. But we convinced them that naming the Algae Eater "Algernon" and the goldfish "Algae" just wouldn't work.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Happy Holidays, a capella

This is very fun.

Our expectations have changed

I came across this article about a prototype hand-powered camera today. You spin the wheel for 15 seconds, giving you enough juice to take a snapshot. Really handy. Right. But it's a prototype, I'm not mocking it. But what got me in this article was the line, " As the camera has no screen monitor, users must connect the device to a computer to see their pictures."

In my day, cameras had monitors. They were called paper!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

At a crossroads

I'm at a crossroads. A point of no return. And no, it's not because my new GPS broke (it's working quite nicely, thanks for asking). It's because I'm about to put doors on the new cabinets I've built.

You may recall I took on the project of built-in cabinets in our living room back in September. Dad came in, and in about two days we built base cabinets and bookshelves on either side of the fireplace, leaving me with the relatively straightforward tasks of tiling the counter top, cutting and hanging shelves, painting everything, and installing doors.

Well, after over three months, I'm down to that last step. The doors. And this is where I hit the turning point. You see, my wife and I have small children. Perhaps you were aware of this. Perhaps you have a few of your own. If you do, you're also aware that any room in which a small child plays becomes a cleanup project for FEMA within seconds of the child entering. I'm afraid that once the doors are up and the cabinets are officially done, there will be no stopping Hurricanes Natalie and Jessica from striking landfall in our living room.

You see, before the project began, this room was "the playroom". There was no furniture in there, only a, a swamp...of toys. Barbies. Puzzles. Blocks. Fisher Price animals. plastic playsets. tiny hair brushes, no more than a centimeter in length, used either to brush the hair of a Polly Pocket doll or to lodge in the windpipe of a puppy. There were times when it was quite literally impossible to walk from one end of the room to the other without getting a Mr. Potato Head body part wedged under a toenail. When the project began, we decided to completely empty out the room. All toys went to the guest room (speaking of which, please don't visit any time soon unless you plan to stay at a hotel. We have yet to hack a pathway to the bed in there). Since there was no furniture in there to begin with, the room has been a sanctuary from the daily clutter of living with children. A place where a dad could run free, and handily enough a place where a four-year-old could do multiple tumblesaults (her word) without injury.

Once I put those doors on, my project will be complete. No more, "Kids! Get your stuff out of here! daddy has to use the sander and doesn't want to get dust all over your Magnadoodle!" No, those doors will go up and suddenly a huge volume of stuff will make it's way back into the room. Those nice empty cabinets will be stuffed to the door frames with crap, crap and more crap. The kids wil find reasons to bring down Animal Bingo, Fisher Price Zoo, and multiple cans of Silly String. It will be chaos.

I'm thinking of putting a lock on one of those new cabinets, and saving the space for myself. Not so I can store stuff. But so I can hide in there. Sure, I won't be able to tumblesault in there, but it will still be my sanctuary.

Sigh. I guess there's no putting it off. To the workshop I go. Well the good news is, once this room is ready, I'll move on to either the office or the dining room. And that room will get its chance at a few months of heavenly order before that overwhelming force known as clutter takes over again.

Star Wars Toys that Didn't make the cut

These are the perfect gifts to complete any Star Wars fanatic's collection.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Child Logic

I thought this was brilliant logic.

My 4-year-old Jessica called us to the bedroom tonight to inform us her feet were hot. So she asked for socks.

We explained that socks would not make her feet cool. She said she knew that...she wanted socks because she knows they would keep her feet warm. And "warm" is less than
"hot" so it would be better.

You just can't argue with that.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Hannukah In Santa Monica

I agree with Bob, who forwarded this to me..."like a lot of Jewish meals, this one goes on a little too long." But fun anyway. Whoda thunk they'd ever hear Tom Lehrer and South Park in the same medley?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Buying a GPS

It's an odd thing to have my wife as excited about a new gadget as I am. but that's what happened when I borrowed a coworker's Garmin GPS unit for a trip to the other side of the state last week. After it successfully got us to our destination with nary a forethought by us she said, "Omigod, you are getting me one of these, right?"

Okay then! Time to shop!

Oddly enough, it was only a week before that the multitude of Black Friday shoppng circulars listed various TomToms, Garmins, and Magellans as part of their eearly bird specials, but I was more interested in sleeping in. Luckily there still seem to be many deals to be had out there.

I gotta hand it to Garmin and TomTom (the only two brands I looked at). They do a great job of making so many models of their product that it was virtually impossible to figure out which would be the best to buy. Garmin alone has over 25 models, each with incremental improvements (in some cases) over lesser-numbered models, but with little if any consistency in their numbering scheme. Once I hopped over to Amazon and such to check prices, it got even more confusing as the reviewers on Amazon themselves had trouble keeping track.

I went into Circuit City to put my hands on a few models. Again no consistency with what they displayed. I found it odd that the Garmin 260 (the one I ended up buying) was there on display, but the Garmin tri-fold brochure that sat next to the displays made no mention of the 260. Plus, I got the usual dork pestering me, saying things like, “I dunno, I usually work in the computers section, but I hear a lotta people return the Tomtoms.” Helpful.

So after rummaging through all the info, I narrowed it down to the following criteria:

-I don’t need Europe maps. If I go to Europe I’ll borrow my coworker’s unit.

-I need it to say the street names. “Left turn coming in 200 feet” is not as good as “In 200 feet, turn left on Wahoo Boulevard”. That’s a $50 upgrade from any model that doesn’t say street names.

-I don’t need the widescreen version. Cool, but expensive, and really not needed if the voice is telling me where to turn.

-I don’t need celebrity voices. As cool as it would be to have John Cleese telling me to take the roundabout, it’s up there with custom cell phone ringtones as something I can survive without.

-I don’t need an MP3 player. Many of the more advanced models take a memory card that dishes out MP3’s. Big deal.

-I don’t need an FM transmitter. That would make it tough to listen to the radio at the same time while driving.

-A picture viewer is not necessary, but pretty standard. Again the memory card can hold jpegs and be viewed on the unit. Actually, if it will work with a memory card formatted for my digicam, that might come in handy when we’re on vacation and want to check out the day’s pictures in a screen slightly larger than the LCD on the camera.

-Bluetooth connectivity would be nice, enabling me to use the unit as a hands-free speakerphone for my cell, but a)in some cases that’s a monthly payment option and b)in the case of the Garmin, reviews said the speaker sucks for that use and not to bother. Easy enough.

So in the end, the Garmin 260 was the winner. And it turned out I had enough Amazon credit card points to get the bugger for free.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I know someone on CNN

Friends of ours own a web-based store called Time And Space Toys that specializes in pop culture fun from our childhood. A while back they obtained the original Santa and Rudolph from the classic stop-motion specials on TV and had them restored. Their treasures have made it to, here.

Last year I posted a video on youtube after they presented the restored Santa and Rudolph on a local morning show. See it here.

I've never known someone to make it to before.I kind of expected the first person I'd know there would have blown something up, not restored something.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Are you smarter than a Chimpanzee?

There's a story on Yahoo News about a study that was done proclaiming that chimps have better memories than college students.

Like this is a surprise.

In the study, test subjects (human and primate) saw nine numbers displayed on a computer screen. When they touched the first number, the other eight turned into white squares. The test was to touch all these squares in the order of the numbers that used to be there. The study showed chimps could do this faster. And in follow-up tests, better.

I don't doubt it. I know Curious George could beat me. I can't remember what I had for lunch today, and the empty dish is sitting on my desk next to my monitor. In college, I seem to recall that the important things in my short term memory were the times the computer cluster was available, the quantity of beer we had available for the party this weekend, and the names on my fraternity family tree up to my big-big-big-big-brother. Who has time to memorize shiny boxes? That was before the age of the iPod, before the age of the Web, and before Doom and Halo. Now, with all the distractions of daily life, kids don't have a chance. Chimps have plenty more space in their brains to memorize things like this, because really the only other things a chimp needs to recall are when he last picked a bug from his mate's hair, and where to step to avoid the poo he threw earlier in the day.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Football game from hell

The last and only professional football game I've ever gone to was to see the Steelers play in Three Rivers Stadium about 12 years ago. A friend invited me to go to the Steelers/Dolphins game this past Monday, so I checked my schedule and said that I'd love to go. What I should have done is checked the weather report first.

Now, if you are a football fan you are aware of the circumstances surrounding this game. It poured rain all day and evening, causing terribly poor conditions at game time and eventually a low final score of Dolphins-0, Steelers-3, Mother Nature-4. So, here was my review of game night.

We started off with dinner near the stadium at a little tavern. The moment we walked outside of the restaurant after dinner, a lightning bolt hit nearby and set off several car alarms, and the rain came down in sheets. We dashed to the car and drove to our planned parking space near the stadium, then sat there as the rain came down and the radio informed us of a game delay due to the lightning. After about twenty minutes the rain slowed, so we ventured out, our bodies wrapped in plastic rain condoms, toward the stadium.

When we got there we learned that attendees had been evacuated from the grandstands and were told to wait in the covered concession area. This would have been fine except that the concession area is not designed to hold all the stadium's attendees at one time. We were packed like sardines, quite literally unable to move. My friends and I happened to be standing by a couple of Salvation Army bell ringer volunteers, one of whom had had just about enough pushing and shoving for one night. He yelled obscenities to the people around him such as "If any one'y'all push me again I'm gonna bust a cap in yo 'lil white ass" and so forth. Nice example of charity work.

At least ten minutes into the start of the game, the crowd finally broke and we were able to make it to our seats. That was after a trip to the bathroom, where I got to witness some dude attempt to revive his drunkenly-comatose girlfriend, or at least lift her off the floor from beneath the mens' room urinal. Why she ended up there I'm not sure. On our way to our seats two paramedics came by the other way pushing a stretcher with a body bag on it. And the body bag was definitely not empty. I still have not found details on that one.

The game was friggin ridiculous. With no points scored until the final 17 seconds, we spent most of the time wondering which one of us was going to be the first to say, "let's go the hell home". We were wet and cold, and the temperature was dropping quickly. the highlight of the game was the punt that hit the ground and sunk like a stone into quicksand given the muddy texture of the field. What a mess.

Some people say this is what being a football fan is all about. I say this is what widescreen plasma TV's are all about.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Stop Dressing your daughter like...

Good article, and the reason I won't be going to the mall any time in the next twelve years....

The princess had just graduated to a size seven when everything went to hell. We headed for our favorite department store, ready to take that leap into the world of 7–16. Bye-bye, 4–6X, I thought to myself with a tug of sadness. My baby was growing up.

And apparently into a prostitute.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Air Force Test

This will eat up your lunch hour quickly.

Quote of the day #234

Jessica (to her older sister): Sissy, I'm serious!!!

Natalie: You CAN'T be serious! If you were serious, you'd know math! What's two million times two??

Jessica: Nine!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sesame Street: Hard Core

This New York Times article reviews the new DVD release of "Sesame Street: Old School", explaining that these earliest episodes of Sesame Street are not intended for preschoolers of today. I heard the same thing on NPR today.

Let's see. Cookie Monster had an eating disorder and approached the border of obesity. I was a big fan, yet I'm a wiry 154 lbs. Ernie and Bert? We all knew it. Never cared. Bert was always a nerd, Ernie was always conniving and sneaky. And he taught us how to eat crackers in bed without getting caught. And then there was Oscar. He loved trash. That's all there was to it.

When I was a young lad, no one had heard of Elmo. No one cared if the cast of muppets was ethnically diverse. They were muppets. And they taught us a few things. to this day I can't see a series of a dozen numbers without singing that tune, "Onetwothree Four Five, Sixseveneight nine ten, eleventwelve!"

Elmo is probably the worst thing to ever happen to Sesame Street. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a big Kevin Klash fan. Any time a several-hundred pound African American can talk with a squeaky voice and get away with it, you won't find me stopping him. But Elmo presents kids today with plenty of negatives: stupidity, wimpiness, and bad grammar. I'd love to see Oscar and Elmo in a Celebrity Death Match. Elmo wouldn't stand a chance.

I think Virginia Heffernan stated it quite well in her article, when she said,

People on “Sesame Street” had limited possibilities and fixed identities, and (the best part) you weren’t expected to change much. The harshness of existence was a given, and no one was proposing that numbers and letters would lead you “out” of your inner city to Elysian suburbs. Instead, “Sesame Street” suggested that learning might merely make our days more bearable, more interesting, funnier. It encouraged us, above all, to be nice to our neighbors and to cultivate the safer pleasures that take the edge off — taking baths, eating cookies, reading.

I agree. I'd be very interested in getting this DVD, showing it to my children, and explaining all there is to explain about the world in which I, my sister and my friends grew up. A world without peanut butter allergies, Asperger's disorder, fear of crossing the street, or motorized scooters. A world where the most prized possession a kid could have was a bike with a banana seat, not a Nintendo WII.

Bowling for 7-year-olds

There's nothing cuter than watching bowling. Or rather, watching 7-YEAR-OLDS bowl.

I'm not a bowler. I've gone perhaps 5 times in my life, and in fact this past weekend was the first time I did so sober. Nonetheless, I'm always intrigued by the sport when I'm involved. The drama that unfolds during a game can be likened to many of the world's great sports, including bocce, table tennis, and extreme sock drawer reorganization. I noticed with this recent trip to a bowling alley that they have taken a new stance with marketing by adding disco balls, blacklighting, crazy 80's music, live Steeler games, and wild graphics on the scoring screens that block the view of the score at any given moment. I suppose just plain old bowling wasn't enough to keep up with a generation born on Nascar and Halo3.

Sunday was an Adventure Princess outing, a father-daughter round of bowling. It was a "scotch doubles tournament", with the tournament part being a bit of an overstatement. Each girl bowled the first ball and the dad attempted to round out a spare with what she left standing. I noticed quickly that in order for a 40lb young lady to heave a 7 lb ball 50 feet down a parquet runway, she must develop a style quickly.

My daughter's style was all about speed. Not so much the speed of the ball as it rolled, but the speed of getting ready for her turn when the time came. She would run to the ball tray to retrieve her little pink orb of destruction and run with it to the top of her lane, then toss it without pausing to breathe, aim, or ensure that the pins were placed and ready. Of course that last part isn't too important as it took a solid minute for the ball to roll all the way down to the other end of the lane.

Each of the girls had her own style. There was Sydney, who gave a little three-foot hop before releasing the ball and was all about using the bumpers for maximum angle. There was Jordana, who would calmly walk to the top of the lane, hold the ball with both hands, swing forward once, twice, three times, look behind her at her dad for confirmation, and release the ball without watching where it was going. Then there was Gabriella, who didn't so much toss the ball but dropped it at her feet, allowing the rest of the folks at that lane time for a quick bathroom break, a trip to the snack bar, and the completion of a Tom Clancy novel before the ball made its way to the pins.

But in the end there's one thing important to note. If a group of people with no bowling skills goes bowling, every player has an equal chance of playing well regardless of age, size, or number of fingers. My daughter got a strike and three spares herself. I never managed a strike, and I think I bowled two spares. The luck was similar across the board.

Really, it all came down to how hot the french fries were.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor

According to Wired Magazine, researchers at Penn State claim to have developed a way to use bacteria to extract hydrogen from almost any biodegradable organic substance. Yes Marty, this is the first step. Once we've got the Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor, we'll develop the Flux Capacitor, and we'll be ready. Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.

100 Movies, 100 Quotes, 100 Numbers

AFI's 100 Greatest Movie Quotes

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Chihuly At Phipps

Those in Pittsburgh with the sense to go got a real treat by attending the Chihuly At Phipps exhibit at Pipps Conservatory. The show is about done with it's summer-long run. I took a few pictures, here. Amazing stuff. Chihuly is famous for his glass sculptures, including those that decorate the ceiling of the Belaggio Hotel in Las Vegas.

Date rape drug? Come on..

Unbelieveable. So now Aqua Dots, a Chinese manufactured toy, is being recalled because the toxins included in them include the date rape drug.

Mind-blowing, completely mind-blowing. We actually just received these things as a birthday gift for Jessica last month. The kids played with them once, and moved on. Actually moved back, to paper and markers.

These days kids aren't even safe playing with wooden blocks. If it isn't the date rape drug, it's lead paint. Or poly-ethyl-styro-crazystuff. People, people, come on! Let's think about this. Is it really necessary to take advantage of every single Toys 'R Us discount coupon you can find, in hopes of filling your kids' playrooms with crap that's only going to give them cancer?? When I was a kid my favorite toy was a rock. Really. A pet rock named Elroy. And he never caused cancer. Never hurt a soul. He was a one-piece toy, with no sticky glue and easy cleanup. And I grew up completely normal, with no known health or social issues. Not many friends either, but Elroy was always a pal.

Kids say the darndest things #879

I came home from an evening meeting last night just in time to say goodnight to the squirts. I walked into my 4-year-old's room to find her there all snuggled up with a book and two stuffed animals, both little gray puppies.

"And who are you sleeping with tonight?" I asked.

"My two favorite puppies."

"And what are their names?"

"This one is Snuffles."

"And the other one?"


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In the right setting...

I heard two things from someone today that, in the right circumstances would be quite fun to hear:

1. I never seen one like that before. That’s beautiful!
2. Holy shit, that’s huge!

Unfortunately, these two things were said to me by an exterminator. We discovered a yellow jacket's nest in the attic. Not being fond of an attic full of stinging insects (or for that matter a shower full, since several of them had made their way into the house through the bathroom vent), I felt this was something best left handled to the pros. The nest was at the very far end of our newly renovated space and not easy to get to, but from about thirty feet away you could see it was about the size of a backpack and rather active. Once close to it, the exterminator dude told me it wasn't just on the wall of the attic but along the floor joists as well. Basically there were enough yellow jackets in there to sting the population of Guam.

$140 later, the nest was destroyed. Frankly it was worth it at any price. Now I can get back to using the attic for what it's original pretend to be a troll hiding up there and scaring the begeebers out of my daughters.

What every man needs in bed

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Organizing monkeys and showering with bees

So I mentioned something about organizing monkeys the other day. I said I was going to post something "tomorrow", but that was days ago. But life, as you know, can often be distracting from important things like blogging. So today I'm at home having caught a head cold from my kids. I'll use this as time to do some catch-up writing.

I'd originally planned to write something about one of my many projects, which was to create a DVD containing a slide show of my parents' safari trip to Kenya. My dad bought a digital camera for the trip, and returned with over 800 photos that he wanted to organize on a DVD he could play for friends without lugging a computer around. After a couple weeks of back-and-forth discussion about how his PC doesn't have a DVD writer, how MS Windows sucks, and how iPhoto on the Mac would make his iLife quite simple, I finally convinced him to just send me the photos so I could put something together in iPhoto and burn it to DVD. Little did I know he'd have me hand-arranging all 800 photos into a specific order in the slideshow. But as a result I think I've finally convinced him that he needs to buy a Mac. Cool, now with Leopard's new iChat "share the desktop" feature, I can actually provide remote tech support for him, too.

So that was my original explanation of organizing monkeys, but I realized there's a greater theme there. Lately there have been quite a few of those monkeys lying around on my back, and I'm really looking forward to flicking them off one by one. Those 800 photos or so got organized at random moments, such as while the kids were having their bedtime snacks. Creating the iPhoto slideshow only took an hour, while organizing the pictures took a month. One monkey flicked.

But there's plenty more monkeys to go around. Be it helping my wife finalize her mom's estate, building more furniture for the house, or standing in a pile of leaves I just raked only to watch them blow back across the yard, it's a wonder there's time to go to work each day.

The various woodworking projects are progressing nicely. As I mentioned recently I successfully built a desk for my wife. As a result we are now looking forward to redoing the entire office. Something I don't look forward to because, frankly, I enjoy stripping wallpaper about as much as I enjoy placing leeches in my ears. So I've put that aside and begun to focus on the living room.

The living room is an 11x20 room with a fireplace on the long wall. It currently serves as the "plastic room", a home for layer upon layer of Fisher Price, Barbie, and My Little Pony toys with nary a path through the crap on which to walk. We've decided it's time to make that room more functional for humans. Mom and Dad came in a week or two ago, and we began woodworking project number 2, the built-ins.

Construction is going well. we got the basic structure up in a couple of days. That leaves me to paint, build shelves, doors, etc. At my current pace, I expect we will have this project done some time before the first Bat Mitzvah, after which I can go back to thinking about the office wallpaper.

Once the cabinets were built and in place, my wife and I began to think about furniture. "Finally a chance to start from scratch with a room," we thought, "and furnish it not with milk crates and Ikea specials but with real, grownup furniture". Then we realized that an 11x20 room with a fireplace in the middle and a wall opposite the fireplace that isn't centered on the fireplace is a real pain in the ass to furnish. A couch won't work in there. It's just too narrow. We had to get creative.

After ten minutes of brainstorming and getting nowhere my wife called it quits and went upstairs to gather laundry. Then I had a stroke of genius. I gathered every random piece of furniture I could find in the house, and laid out a "prototype" of my vision. There was nothing on the walls. There were floor pillows. Area rugs. Side tables. Nooks. Ottomans. All those things those non-budget-ridden HGTV suggest you do to "spice up a room". I called Hilary downstairs to see. "What did you do???" she exclaimed.

"This is just a prototype. We'd need to buy stuff, but maybe here's how it would go."

"I LOVE it!!! I can't believe you did this! It's perfect! Let's go shopping!"

Oops. I just created an expensive day for myself.

Friday, November 02, 2007

My new favorite blogger

By now you've probably seen the viral 1977 JCPenny catalog email making its waves around the internet. Here's the original post. I like this guy.

He reminds me of the point of my own post goofy shit that people might like to read. I gotta get back to that. I guess I'll start by giving the update on where I've been. Building furniture, and organizing monkeys.

On that note, I'll leave you to stew in your own juices until tomorrow, wondering about my monkey comment.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Q&U wedding

As a dad (especially one of girls, and even more especially one of fire-engine-red-haired girls), your parental responsibility knows no bounds. Today my fatherly responsibility involved skipping out in the middle of a work day, camcorder in hand, to catch my daughter's appearance at the Q&U wedding.

Since the early days of the alphabet, Q & U were inexorably linked. Over time Q realized she could not be without her true love, the U. U felt an equal love for Q, though frankly he played the field a bit, often seen with whatever cheap, trampy consonant he could pick up at the local paragraph. That R...what a floozy. But Q saw though all that, knew that U had a good heart, and they decided to make their partnership official, announcing it was time for matrimony.

Okay, what the heck am I talking about? The first grade play, of course. a little girl plays the Q, all dressed in her finest ball gown. a young boy plays the U, dressed in what can only be deemed a practice run for his future Bar Mitzvah suit. The principal wears her graduation gown and serves as justice of the peace, and the rest of the students fill in the blanks as ushers, bridesmaids, and chorus singers.

The highlight of course was seeing the blushing bride. Scratch that. It was the blushing dad, who somehow got convinced to take off work and walk his own daughter down the aisle (or, rather, across the gym). There's an event I'm definitely not prepared for, myself. I happened to notice a grandmother in the audience who HAD to be the bride's grandma. She was actually crying.

The festival was joyous. The singing, not quite in tune. The cookies, tasty. The boys were completely mortified and dying to get out of their monkey suits and in front of their PlayStations. The girls did what girls do best...twirl their dresses and pretend to be princesses. And then we had punch.

Good times.

Story of my life.

I'm thinking this would be a good entry for an "add a caption" contest. Here's a couple:

1. That whole pot of gold thing truly is a load of crap.
2. As Phil sat there, he suddenly had an idea. It was an idea like no other. An idea that surpassed any idea ever thought of before. "I'll put the outhouse...INSIDE the house!" he thought.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Update on the woodworking project

Okay so it's been a while since I mentioned this, but I've made some progress on the furniture building. As I last posted, I'd determined the obvious, which is that Pottery Barn is retardedly overpriced for something that could be built fairly easily with a $38 sheet of plywood. Well, it turns out I was right, though the plywood actually cost $48.

First, let me put in another plug for Google Sketchup. Best free program, ever. Being able to draw an accurate, to scale rendition of what you're about to build helps avoid a lot of waste, to say the least. This took me about ten minutes:

With sketches in one hand, my Kreg K3 Master Pocket Hole System in the other, a table saw at the ready, I dove in head first. A sheet and a half of plywood, a quart of gel stain, and some wipe-on poly later, my wife had her desk:

In another few days, she may even have file drawers (yes, those plastic boxes are temporary). Of course, we realize that the hideous wallpaper has got to go. You must understand this room was once a dining room but is now an office. And it was a dining room decorated by the former residents, who seemed to have a penchant for Laura Ashley fabrics and various shades of rose and mauve. Now that we have furniture, we can think about wall colors. I'm thinking flowerless.

Then, I'll start working on MY desk, as well as bookshelves, hutches, recessed lighting, and all those other niceties Pottery Barn wants you to trade your first born for. Meanwhile, as I sit here at my ten-year-old Ikea tabletop, my wife's new desk behind me, I can only think, "I wish I was sitting over there."

Turn down those radios!

A car repair firm in the UK has been taken to court accused of infringing musical copyright because its employees listen to radios at work.

The Performing Rights Society has "maintained that amounts to the 'playing' or 'performance' of the music in public and renders the firm guilty of infringing copyright."

If there ever was a sign that the music industry has NO CLUE and has gone TOO FAR, this is it. So let me get this straight. Performers license their music to radio stations. Radio stations BROADcast the music, so people can hear it and perhaps maybe buy the music because they liked what they heard. A dude in a quickie-lube played the radio station at work. Someone other than himself might have heard the music. WE CAN’T HAVE THAT!!!! Someone put a stop to this before that visitor to the quickie-lube does something bad, like buying some music!!!!!

Remember the movie “That Thing You Do”? There’s a scene where the gang hears their song on the radio for the first time. They run into the electronics store where one of them works and turns on the stereos. By the same token the owner of the store (the father of one of the band members) should have been sued. And why wasn't every shoulder-hoisting-boom-box toter back in the 80's sued for performing in public? Oh I remember, cuz most of them were being sued for disturbing the peace.


I heard a story on the way to work today (sorry, can't find a link) about how in the state of PA, 80% to 90% of so-called "e-Waste", electronics, computers, TVs, etc, ends up in the landfill as opposed to being recycled. There's a fear currently that with the nation going to digital TV broadcasts soon, millions of obsolete TV's are going to be dumped in the next couple of years, causing an even worse problem. There's a proposal out there to tack on a $6 or $7 tax on new TVs to fund "e-cycling" or recycling of this electronic waste so it avoids the landfill.

Opponents say this is the wrong path. Instead the burden should be put upon the manufacturers, so that they spend their resources developing more environmentally friendly products that can be recycled easier.

I'm having trouble with this theory. First of all, the story specifically talks about all the soon-to-be obsolete TVs out there about to be tossed. How will forcing manufacturers to come up with new ideas stop that from happening? Those TVs are already manufactured. While I agree that manufacturers need to adopt a "cradle-to-grave" mentality going forward, they got the story wrong in this case because it specifically talked about the mass dumping that will happen when we go to digital broadcasts.

Second, I don't buy that on January 1, 2009, millions of people are going to wake up and throw their TV's away. Many are on cable boxes, which do the job of converting the digital signal to analog as needed. There are doohickeys out there that will do this for you as well. And there's a huge population of folks out there that can't simply afford to toss a perfectly good TV and buy a new state-of-the-art digital one. I know I certainly don't plan to.

I don't mind the tax idea (as one of several solutions). If we can tax cigarettes and booze as luxuries, we can certainly do that to TVs nowadays. These days TVs are nothing if not luxuries, which you can easily see if you try to buy a basic, cheap TV. It's not easy to do.

I also don't think Americans will go out of their way to bring their electronics to recycling establishments, especially given how poorly the word seems to get out regarding the existence of said establishments. Personally I have a collection of about two dozen old telephone books in my garage. They are recyclable but cannot be included with regular recycling. I don't know where to bring them. Someday I will figure that out. Better yet, some day I will figure out how to stop Verizon from dumping an unwanted telephone book on my front lawn twice a year.

Personally, I found my own solution. With the addition we put on the house, we gained some virtually unusable attic space. It's got a low ceiling, a lot of insulation in the way, and it's tough to get to. A corner of it has recently become my electronics graveyard. I've already put two computers, a bin full of CD walkmans, casssette players and the like, an old stereo, and a few other gadgets in there, and frankly if we ever move I will likely leave the stuff up there given it is all tucked away in a corner the future owner likely won't see for years. I'll be happy to store your stuff too, say for $6 or $7 per month.

Friday, October 05, 2007


It's 6:42 in the morning. It's completely dark out. I'm outside, getting the garbage out to the curb. Suddenly I'm started by a teenager trudging slowly up the sidewalk. She's followed by several others. All are wearing iPods. None acknowledge my presence. I make some noise with the garbage cans in hopes of not startling them, but I realize it does not matter. These children are not alive. They are early morning teenage zombies. It's like a George Romero film. I wonder if I could sneak up behind one of them and tip him over.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

That'll show the little varmints.

Your kids grating on your nerves? Get 'em back with this fun new toy from Rainbow Playsets!

Electronic Book Reader...I don't get it

Yet another solution in need of a problem. Sony is releasing their latest eBook Reader. It seems to me there are two reasons eBook Readers will not take off any time soon. First, you can't read it while taxiing down the runway. when I fly somewhere, that half hour or so where all electronic devices need to be turned off makes for quality reading time, which is why I carry a book when I fly. It's almost like study hall, where you're forced to turn off your iPod and your laptop and simply read a book. Second, I would bet the screen is tough to read on a sunny day outside. So the idea of reading the latest trashy eNovel on the beach is out. Keep working on it, guys.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Best Plasma TV, ever

A lot of people ask me for advice on flat panel TV's. As if I know what I'm talking about. Right. Well, my answer just got much easier. Consumer Reports has reportedly rated the Panasonic TH- 50PZ700U plasma TV their highest rated TV ever.

We have a Panasonic 37" plasma. We love it. Gorgeous picture, all kinds of niceties. I've always told people they can't go wrong with a Panasonic, and now CR has proven me right. Gee, I guess I DO know what I'm talking about :-)

By the way the link above has a list of reasons to consider plasma over LCD. I agree with them all, but they forgot an important one. If you have young kids (ah, see, here's the tie-in to my blog), go for the plasma. Why? Fingers. They can be washed off a hard glass screen. If you get a kid with grabby hands, he's just gonna mess with the soft LCD screen.

Oh, and regarding the alleged lifespan of a plasma TV? People have said they only last 10,000 hours. Well, I have a friend who's a movie-buff and bought a Plasma several years ago (I'm guessing 6 years). It's still going strong.

Oh, and if you're considering hanging a TV on the wall, read my post from last year about the bracket racket.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dad's Pachelbel Bedtime

Wow, if you thought Mom's William Tell Overture was good (below), you'll love this. Brilliant.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Agony of the feet

Up until Monday night, my woodworking project was progressing nicely, albeit somewhat slowly due to current circumstances. So far I have the makings of a file cabinet and bookshelf, with a desktop to go across them, all stained and waiting for a coat of polyeurethane.

Things took a bit of a downhill slide Monday night when I did a fantastic impression of Tim the Tool Man Taylor.

If you've been to Home Depot (and who hasn't?) you may have noticed that the guy who does the pre-recorded announcements is the guy who played Wilson the neighbor on the show Home Improvement with Tim Allen. You might have also noticed the one announcement that repeats quite often, explaining how HD is a "working warehouse", and that they try to keep us safe in numerous ways, and that we should always ask for help when lifting heavy items. Well, wouldn't you know it...right when he said that I dropped a sheet of plywood on my foot and broke my big toe.

I think the worst part of it was when the woman standing about ten feet from me at the time saw what happened and said, "Ouch! That looked like it hurt! You okay?" to which I calmly responded, "oh yeah, it missed me. No big deal"

I was lying.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Someone tell my kids.

A Japanese study says early-risers are actually at a higher risk of developing heart problems.

Now if we could convince our children not to wake us up at the crack of early, we might live a little longer.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Renew crap

This blows my mind. According to the Engadget article,

Memorex is hitting all the right buzz words with its new line of "ReNew" products, unfortunately the company forgot to spend much time thinking about the products themselves. Sure, it's all packaged in recycled cardboard and egg carton recycled paper, built with recycled plastics, meets RoHS standards and all that jazz -- Memorex will even plant 75k trees through the Arbor Day Foundation with a portion of the sales -- but unfortunately the products themselves scream "cheap crap."

So, how, exactly, will creating more products that will quickly end up in the landfill save us from filling up our landfills?

It reminds me of a shopping bag from the Gap I noticed in our house the other day. It was a heavy paper bag with think ink printing, coated in a heavy plastic-like clearcoat, with rope handles and metal grommets. Totally not recycleable. However the text on the bottom of the bag stated "made from 100% post-consumer waste paper. Please reuse this bag". So in other words, "we made the bag in an environmentally friendly way, but it's up to you, Mr. Consumer, to keep it out of the landfill. It's not our problem any more. Deal with it."


Preparing to leave

So as you may have read, my mother-in-law passed around Labor Day. She lived in a little apartment in Shadyside, and for the most part I've been taking on the task of moving her belongings out of there while my wife understandably builds up the strength to even go near the place so soon after.

I can thankfully say I haven't done this too often. The last time someone close to me died and I was involved in the demolition process was when my grandfather passed away about ten years ago. Comparing the two events, I must say that cleaning up my mother-in-law's stuff has been a piece of cake. She was a woman of simple needs. She had no car. No home ownership. Not much furniture. Oddly enough the one thing she had the most of in life was televisions. Why a single woman in a small apartment without cable TV needed four TV's I'm not sure. But regardless, I thank the woman for making the process relatively painless.

Throughout the process (which still continues), I have found myself thinking quite a bit about what I would do to better avoid putting this sort of burden on my family members if I knew the end was near. So, I guess it's time to put things in writing. Bear in mind that none of these ideas relate specifically to my mother-in-law or my grandfather. They are simply thoughts that popped into my head.

1. Take some time to clean out your closets. Closets are the absolute worst when it comes to this sort of shovel-out. 90% of what's in the average closet could have been thrown out years ago. 5% is something you thought you should save, and tossed in a closet never to be seen again. And the remaining 5% is perhaps of interest to someone.

2. Don't save greeting cards. My grandparents saved every one they ever received. Those cards may have meant a lot to them. They meant nothing to us except an extra trip to the trash bin.

3. Get your files organized. NOW. A close relative should have a complete list of your accounts, credit card numbers, insurance policies, safety deposit box locations, etc. There's plenty of articles out there about what to it now.

4. Make sure someone knows your passwords. The previous item is something everyone knows. But I think new on the list is to have a way of letting the person in charge of safekeeping of your documentation know where to find your passwords to important systems such as Quicken, or to your bank website. This is especially true if you are the only spouse that pays the bills. I often think about how I use Quicken to pay everything and, if I were to be gone, my wife wouldn't know the first thing about even starting the program up.

5. Got something weird in your drawers, something you don't want people to see? Get rid of it.

6. If you own something that is of value or has meaning to the family, but that value might not be obvious to the naked eye, make sure to document. For example, if that little statue of the baby Moses on the mantle was carried by your great-great-great uncle Moishe on his back as he walked from Poland to New York (I'm just sayin'), then make sure someone knows it before tossing it on eBay or, worse yet, in the trash. If it's VERY valuable, mention it in the will. If it's just something you feel would be meaningful to someone, write it down and give it to the person in #3. On the other hand, don't go nuts. I have a friend who's mom thought she had an incurable tumor (she got better). Once she heard the bad news, she went around the house with a post-it pad bequeathing every last item in the house to one relative or another. Now that she's better, they are STILL finding post-its on everything down to the Pyrex cookware.

7. Pay for as much of your burial proceedings as you can in advance. Buy a cemetery plot. Take out an insurance policy that covers the burial fees. The only thing worse than having to bury a loved one is having to bury one and THEN deal with around ten thousand dollars in fees.

8. Make sure someone knows who your estate lawyer is. The lawyer should have copies of your will (you DO have one of those, right?) and will be able to make the whole process MUCH easier.

9. If you rent, make sure someone knows the terms of your lease. Currently we're dealing with a landlord who thinks he has the right to charge us a "termination fee" of several months' rent. That's not what the lease says. But the lease was written by a FORMER building owner. Currently the lawyer is working that one out.

10. If you have IRA's and annuities, it's important to be aware of the tax implications upon your death. Your survivors will have several different options for withdrawing the month to work around tax obligations. I say discuss those things now!

11. Do NOT save years' worth of bills and paperwork. It just confuses matters. Just as an example, my mother-in-law had an investment account back in the 80's with one company. In the 90's she switched to a different company. Around 2005 she switched again. She saved all the paperwork from all three accounts. The only way I could tell the first two accounts were not in existence was to call the investment companies, one of which no longer existed. That wasted a couple of hours. Keep all your current paperwork organized in one place, and list all current accounts on that document you're going to prepare for the person safeguarding your information.

12. Wanna have a little fun? If you know you're going to check out soon, toss some cash in your clothing pockets. The fact is that when emptying out the closets, your survivors will need to go through every article of clothing to make sure you didn't stash your diamonds in the pocket of the coat you last wore in 1984. And that's really boring. Might as well make it interesting for them, and toss a couple of bucks in here and there. Funny story related to that. Before my grandfather died, he took several thousand dollars in cash out of the bank before a trip to Florida. The money disappeared. He swore the housekeeper stole it, until the day he died. When we cleaned out his closet. Guess what we found? The cash, in the original bank envelope, in a jacket he decided he no longer liked.

More suggestions?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A major milestone

On the way to work today I had the pleasure of watching the odometer on my '99 Mazda 626 hit a hundred thousand miles. It makes me feel good to know that We've gone for about six years with nary a car payment, as both cars were fully paid for in '01. I dread the thought of buying something new right now. For one thing, I don't need the extra bill each month. For another, I'm concerned that if I bought right now, by the time I was ready to unload it there'd be all sorts of new technology on the road and my current car would have the resale value of a CD player. I think I'll treat my Mazda to a nice birthday washing. Perhaps some new belts, a little shine. It's taken care of me. I'll try to reciprocate.

Monday, September 17, 2007

My slow return

Boy, what a couple of weeks it's been. As mentioned previously, we're dealing with a sudden and somewhat unexpected loss in the family in that my wife's mom passed away. It was a really harsh time. She was a 3-time cancer survivor, but in the end what got her was heart failure. And we don't even know why. It might have been the many months of chemo; it might have been her stem cell transplant; it might have been something totally unrelated and completely coincidental. We won't ever really know, as religious belief took precedence and we opted out of having an autopsy done. Over the past weeks we've been literally surrounded by friends and family, dealing with a swarm of estate issues, with cleaning out an apartment that hasn't been rearranged in 15 years, and with dealing with two children that no longer have a bubba. I've been wanting to blog about so many things just to clear the air and get some perspective, but I don't know even where to begin. So I figure I'll just chip away at small chunks until I reach some sort of equilibrium. I'm not even sure if that last sentence made any sense, but I've had a couple of beers, so deal with it.

It hasn't been all bad. As promised, I've dived headfirst into building furniture for our home office. More details to come, but suffice it to say I think I've done a good job replicating that $400 Pottery Barn file cabinet with a $38 sheet of baltic birch plywood. Plus, my buddy Paul and I finally managed to see the Simpsons movie, something long overdue. I think that over the next few weeks, I'll be sorting out my thoughts regarding estate planning, preparation (such that it were) for a death in the family, and the concept of the Jewish shiva. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Dealing with Grief

It's funny how things change so suddenly. My last post was about a simple thing like budgeting for overpriced furniture. Only days later, my wife's mom passed away unexpectedly. Needless to say, it's been a little tough to find the time to write in the past couple of weeks, but with the thoughts swirling through my head right now I could write a novel if I had the time. This post is simple a note to let all (okay, both) my faithful readers know I'm still out there, that I'll be back soon enough, and that sadly I've got a whole new vein of subject matter about which to write. In the mean time I'm observing. Having a close family member pass away is a very foreign experience for me, and I'm definitely learning as I go. From the logistics of cleaning out an apartment that hasn't been changed in 15 years, to learning and understanding how a 7-year-old copes with losing one of her most precious and beloved friendships only days before her birthday, I've got a lot to pay attention to currently. More to come. I'll try not to make it too depressing, though. You know me.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Pottery Barn Dreams on a K-Mart budget

With our house renovation behind us, we've lately been spending lots of time hemming and hawing about furniture. Well, maybe more hemming than hawing. As you can well imagine, after dropping a boatload of cash into construction, lately we get a little queasy when we look at the prices of things like dining room tables, couches, and office furniture.

Luckily, none of our needs are immediate. We've got a dining room table, though it's too small and doesn't match our decor (early neo-retro-classic with an art deco-country flair). We've got office furniture that's functional, but reminds me of my college dorm days (hmm... probably because it's the desk from my college dorm). We've also got an entire living room to furnish, but for now that room is the storehouse for Fisher Price's western Pennsylvania showcase.

As I mentioned in a recent post, my wife had the opportunity to hire a professional organizer to create an organized environment for her at-home writing career. I'll write some details on that another time, but suffice it to say having a clean, organized office has given me the bug to do something about furnishing it. So I've started hunting around for office furniture. I've found that the choices out there really, really, really suck.

Unless you like particle board, there isn't much to choose from. My repulsion for semi-disposable furniture automatically knocks anything from Ikea, OfficeMax or the like immediately out of the running. That leaves us with professional-grade places or fancy-schmancy places like Pottery Barn. We also crossed off the professional office furniture places, because we really don't need our home to look like a dentist's reception area.

One of the few places in the world that seems to sell good quality and decent looking office furniture is Pottery Barn. No surprise really. Everyone knows their stuff is gorgeous though pricey. I was recently browsing though their catalog (yes, I was on the john, of course. Bet you're glad I mentioned that) when I discovered this line of "modular" furniture for home offices. I showed Hilary, and she loved it. But as is usually the case with PB, I was horrified by the price. A simple two-drawer file cabinet was $250! Extrapolate that out and we could easily furnish our office for about the same price as a year of tuition at Carnegie Mellon. Not really an option. But I felt I had to go to PB and see this stuff in person, to understand exactly what magical powers this office suite possessed enabling it to garner such a high price.

So I went. And I looked. And you know what? It was very nice. But more importantly, I realized that the design was ridiculously simple. Clean lines, no fancy routed edges, absolutely nothing special (which is why we liked it so much). So, I decided it was time for my next woodworking project.

A half hour later, I had the basic cabinet sketched out in Sketchup.

One trip to Home Depot and $38 later, I had the lumber I needed. Tomorrow, a trip to Rockler (my new favorite store) for some additional components and a can of some good wood finish, and I have what I need to build a proof of concept. I figure if I can make a file cabinet as nice as they can (okay, 75% as nice), then I have all the skills I need to completely furnish our office and have enough left over to send the kids to trade school, at least.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More Poison Ivy Hell

If you ever saw Total Recall, my face kind of looks like Schwarzenegger’s did just before his head almost exploded from lack of oxygen.

Here's a picture of me before the poison ivy:

And here's what I look like now:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Poison Ivy Hell

This now makes the second time in one summer that the poison ivy gods have tried to take me down. A couple of months ago I thought I'd take advantage of my town's "free mulch" program. They take all the leaves collected in the fall, mulch them, and dump them in a public area free for the taking. This year for the first time, I thought I'd take some. Demonstrating that there is no free lunch, I got hit with a nasty case of poison ivy all over my body.

Yesterday, I got hit again. I racked my brain, trying to figure out how. I hadn't really done much outside. I certainly didn't roll around in free mulch. Then I realized it. I'd grabbed a plastic bin to collect some lawn waste yesterday. The last time I used that bin was to haul home free mulch. Man, that's potent stuff.

Luckily, only a day into this new case, I ran into a friend who's also a pediatrician. One scrip later, and I'm on steroids. Hot dog.

Monday, August 20, 2007

elementary changes

When I was your age, television was called books!

-Princess Bride

As we prepare Natalie for entry into first grade, we've begun to notice that things have changed drastically since my days at Northeast Elementary School.

First of all, lunch. Gone are the days of packing the daily peanut butter sandwich. Now, if your child dares bring in a PB&J for lunch, she is forced to eat it at the "nut table." Much like the designated smoking areas at airports these days, the nut table segregates legume-spread eaters from the rest of society due to the overwhelming number of peanut allergies in the schools these days. I wonder if there's a special table for those kids who can successfully spew milk out their noses when they laugh.

And then there's the PIN number. Every kid in school is assigned a 6-digit PIN number (insert Simpsons reference here: "These people look deep inside my soul and assign me a number in the order in which I joined"). This PIN number grants them financial access to mom and dad's wallet by allowing them to buy lunch and/or snacks. Gone are the days of bullies stealing your kids' milk money. Now they can just shake fellow students down for their passcodes, starting them early in a prosperous career in identity theft.

Some things, however, haven't changed. Natalie's school supply list included a pocket folder, so I took her to Target to pick one out. After mulling over the benefits of the spangly hearts versus the one with the butterflies, versus the pink with yellow circles, she decided upon the one folder I was hoping she'd miss - the full color head shot of High School Musical Heart Throb Troy Bolton. Yes folks, it's the next generation's Shaun Cassidy.

Horton Hears A Who

New kids' movie alert. And it looks to be a good one! Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey star in Horton Hears A Who, from the makers of Ice Age. March 14, 2008. Grab your hot steaming kettles of Beezle-Nut oil, and be there.

Friday, August 17, 2007


It's finally here! Excitement Excitement! It's the premiere of High School Musical 2!! Omigod, Omigod!!

The buzz machine was in overdrive this week both on the Disney Channel and throughout my daughters' circle of friends. After having the lyrics to every song of HSM1 embedded permanently into the deepest nooks and crannies of my cranium, it was time for the onslaught of the sequel. We invited some friends over on Friday night in expectation of a veritable All-Star Game of Disney movies, popped on the plasma, the girls' eyes lit up, and there they were, Troy and Gabriella and the Eastside High posse.

The DisMAY machine was in full swing. Throughout this past week we were pummelled with such marketing gimics as a TV Guide full cover spread (collect both versions!) of the cast, with a CD-rom filled with extras such as the dance moves and lyric sheets, ensuring every child receiving this disk would DEMAND to have a HSM2 party for their birthday, complete with professional dance teachers and a team of hired cheerleaders. There have been previews, trailers, skywriting, fireworks displays, and even a special address by George Bush himself creating a national holiday in honor of the event.

So how was the movie? Eh.

HSM1 was an accident. It was a kid-friendly, medium budget story that just happened to have really catchy music and a moderately decent storyline, and it suddenly became a phenomenon. HSM2 was all about the choreography, with little attention paid to the script or the acting. The storyline was some loose creation revolving around the kids working at an exclusive desert spa/golf resort that just HAPPENS to have a talent contest.

As demonstrated by the fantastic choreography of "hey batter batter swing", a combination swing/hip-hop dance song done on a baseball field, the cast has definitely improved upon their dance skills and complexity of their moves. The songs were far less catchy, but then again I'm saying that after only hearing them once. Perhaps by the fiftieth time I hear it, those few remaining slots of brain matter will be completely filled.

By the way if you missed it Friday night, do not fret. You can catch a repeat every night on the Disney channel for the next four thousand days.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Happy 25th Anniversary, Compact Disc

It was August 17th, 1982. That was the day , twenty-five years ago, that the very first CD was pressed, in the Phillips factory in Germany. And the first CD? ABBA's The Visitors. How frightening.

I can recall a few major milestones in my history with the little plastic coaster. The very first time I heard a CD was in 1986. It was Billy Joel's The Bridge. My friend Matt's dad had gotten a shiny new (and then very expensive) CD player, and Matt invited me over for a demo. He turned the volume up to eleven, popped in the disk, hit play, and it blew me away.

My first CD purchase was The Swing, from INXS. Back then, my sister and I were die hard INXS fans (up until the point where the lead singer knocked himself off while attempting auto-erotic asphyxiation). I was just about to hit college age and, without letting my parents know, I coordinated with my high school music teacher who "knew a guy" that could get me a sweal deal on a pioneer stereo, CD player, and dual tape cassette player with which to outfit my future dorm. It wasn't long before my roommates and I became the de facto party DJ's for our fraternity house, spending our Friday evenings surrounded bu stacks and stacks of jewel cases and cute women (okay, it was CMU...geeky guys) rummaging through them in search of an Ultravox request.

I still have that receiver in my workshop. The CD player, along with the multitude of other CD players I've owned over the years, has since hit the trash bin.

I also have a clear memory of the first DVD I ever saw. It was September of 1992. I just started my first job out of college, as a book buyer for the Childrens' book division of Readers' Digest (no, really). I met the guy in charge of all those Readers' Digest music anthologies, who to this day had the coolest office I've ever seen. All the walls were covered in acoustic carpet, and the back wall was floor-to-ceiling electronics. He also happened to be a beta tester for nearby Phillips Corporation, and showed me this newfangled thing called a DVD. He popped in (what else) Top Gun, and again life changed forever.

It seems a shame...a few years from now the idea of showing a friend your latest CD purchase, folding out the cover art, reading the lyrics...all that will be long ago history. Now in the days of iTunes, music downloads, and P2P, music has become so disposable. Think of all the young toddlers who will never understand the wonders of gravity discovered by rummaging through dad's CD rack.

I still love turning on my 500-disc CD changer, hitting the random button, and letting it spin while I work around the house, catching up on those musical memories and hoping to discover a long lost or perhaps never-noticed track from my original collection. No ABBA in there, though.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

15 inches of fame

I would be remiss in my duties as a father if I didn't post this on the net for all to see. Natalie had her 15 minutes of fame (well, at least 5 of her digits did) by getting her hand in the local paper.

It kind of reminds me of Pixar's Monsters Inc, when Mike and Sully star in a TV commercial, and Mike's entire face is blotted out by the company logo. "I don't believe it....I was on TV!!!!"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A brief distraction or two

Animator Vs. Animation
Remember those stick figure animations that were circling the net a year or two ago? Here's another, entitled "Animator vs. Animation". There was one like it a while back, but I think this one's got some new bits.

The Impossible Quiz
Warning: Don’t open this during work hours. You will find yourself completely sucked in and all productivity destroyed. I tried it the other night around 11pm and an hour was gone before I knew it.

The game is called The Impossible Quiz. Give it a minute to load, read the directions, then answer the questions. You have three chances. Each time you get a question wrong, you lose a life. After you lose three lives you must start over. The questions are simple. Yet ridiculous. Brilliant stuff.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

It's the Muppet Show....

Finally. At last. My kids will now understand just why their dad is so weird. It's the Muppet Show, Season One and Season Two on DVD. I've been waiting thirty years for this.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Short term and long term memory development in children

I'm not a child psychologist. Nor do I play one on TV. I have not done any studies on this subject. Nor do I plan to. But I think I can safely say with confidence that by age six, the development of a child's short-term memory greatly lags that of their long term memory development.

My wife witnessed this today when she dropped our older daughter off at day camp. It seems there was an immediate issue in that Natalie, for one reason or another, was about to be kicked out of Friday's talent show by her two best friends (they planned on singing selections from High School Musical, of course). The friends were disgruntled because she told a small fib, and they decided to get back at her in a way that only six-year-old girls can kicking her out of the talent show (by the way, we have not confirmed if this talent show is something actually planned by the camp, or something formulated in the minds of three six year-olds much like their previous plans to form a nationwide charity selling seashells, to fly into space together on a fuzzy carpet dressed as princesses, or to take over the government of this country and replace it with a well-trained team of puppies). At some point during the renouncing of their friendship with our daughter, my wife had to break in, sit the three of them down, and lecture them on the consequences of lying, on proper behavior amongst friends, and on how to pick on other kids without getting caught by an authority figure.

Yet by the time camp was over, the girls were literally begging to come home with my daughter and play at our house. So much for ostracizing. Thus an example of short-term memory underdevelopment. Sure, you might say it was actually an example of small children not holding a grudge. But no. I don't think so.

There are a multitude of other examples I can provide. Most have to do with performing cleanup of their playthings. Sure, when they pull out the giant box of building blocks they hear us and respond affirmatively when we say, "make sure to clean those up when you're done!" But before too long they've been distracted by the ice cream truck, and have forgotten their half-finished castle even exists.

Or, there's that moment during the bedtime ritual where they rush to the bathroom to brush their teeth, pee, and all that other stuff. As one makes her way to her bedroom we ask, "did you brush your teeth?" Usually the answer is no, because she was distracted by a shiny strand of dental floss hanging from the towel rack.

Compare this to a child's long term memory development, and there are obvious differences. About two months ago we drove by a mattress store and noticed it had burned to the ground. Virtually every day now, Jessica asks us, "Wemembuh that mattress store we saw yestuday? Why did it burn?" Obviously, it's been a life-changing event for her.

Jessica will also say on a regular basis, "wemembuh when Uncle Hillel took me in the pool yesterday? I had fun!" That was three YEARS ago.

Sometimes we play this short term memory loss to our advantage. If one asks, "daddy can you play blocks with us?" while I'm ensconced in, I dunno...blogging perhaps, I can say, "yup! Be there in two minutes". And within 30 seconds they've already moved on to crayons, forgetting that blocks exist." Of course, a week later I will hear, "daddy, you never played blocks with us yesterday," thus proving that long term memory will always take over and bite us in the rear.

Which reminds me...I promised Natalie I'd buy a goldfish for her. Hmm, that was a week ago. I'm thinking she'll mention it within the next few hours.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Jewish people and health care

My mother-in-law has been dealing with a tremendous number of health issues lately. My wife, being the only child, of course is involved in her issues on a minute by minute basis.

Today I overheard one side of a conversation (my wife's side) that reminded me of what I'm dealing with...a Jewish Mother and her daughter. She was on the phone with her mom, who was in the hospital being scheduled for some tests. The one portion of the conversation that I overheard went like this:

"...and what time do they take you for your tests? How long is the procedure supposed to be? And the doctor knows to contact me with the results? Pot roast. It's in the slow cooker."

Kena horah.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Google Wants You

I came across an announcement that Google wants to pay you to be part of their product research. Provide your information, fill out a survey, and they will put you on file as a potential candidate for their research, either at a Google office or remotely from the computer. if they pick you, they pay you $75 for about an hour and a half of your time.

Of course I filled it out, but I also noticed a bit of genius in their survey. They obviously want to classify you in their files as someone who either has a clue about how to use a computer, or as someone who still asks the question, "Do I have the internet on this computer?". And they do this with two simple questions (actually more, but these two were the particularly brilliant ones:

1. I have changed the default home page in my web browser.

2. When I search the web, I am confident that I will find what I want.

The first, I think, is the most brilliant. I've seen so many computer users with their browsers set to go to,, or whatever other site has hijacked their browser never allowing them to return. Those are usually the same folks who have no idea of the secret Control+Enter shortcut that allows you to type the url (cnn) and automatically add the www and the .com on either end of it. If you can reset your home page, chances are you can do a few other things as well.

The second question is pretty sharp too. I know that I can find anything on the web, from the definition of pugilism to Castro's favorite color. Bet there's a lot of folks out there who haven't figured that out yet.

Thank you J.K.

Our family does not own the latest Harry Potter book. Oddly enough despite the fact that my wife is a the most ravenous bookworm I've ever met, devouring tomes more quickly than I can consume a box of Entenmann's Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies, I am the furthest ahead in the Harry Potter journey, having finished the fourth book about a year ago and running out of steam.

But with the buzz around the latest and final addition to the Hogwarts juggernaut, Harry is back in the house. We'll eventually buy the last book, but we've got a few more to get through first. Over the past couple of weeks I read #2 to Natalie (I'd read #1 to her last year), and began reading #3.

But my six-year-old put me out of a job.

I came home one day this week to discover she decided she couldn't wait for me, and read the next two chapters on her own. Now, two days later, she's almost done. And she's six. Why doesn't it seem normal for a six-year-old to be reading a book the size of Harry Potter in a matter of days?

All the buzz is true. Harry Potter isn't just a story. It's a piece of magic that has introduced young and old alike to a world of reading they never knew existed.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Staying at two

My 7-year-old got some devastating news last night. It seems her best friend, already the older of two sisters, is about to have a second sibling. As soon as poor Natalie found out that she was going to remain in the "just one sister" club while her best friend would enter the more exclusive "oldest of three" sorority, Natalie's world began to crumble.

"All my friends are having more brothers and sisters, and I only get one sister! It's not fair!"

Now, when you start off with as logical a statement as that, there's really nowhere to go but up. We started off by pointing out that of all her friends (and there are A LOT), we could only think of two that had more than one sibling. And several were only-children. We also explained how having an additional kid was a very complicated and important decision to make (I believe that was the point I mentioned something about her mom being no spring chicken and getting slapped, but my memory is fuzzy).

We then continued by pointing out that her father was one of two, and her mother was a standalone. and lastly, we explained how, if there was a new baby in the house, Natalie would lose out on all the attention she gets from us now, she wouldn't get anything new because we couldn't afford it, and she'd have to become an auto mechanic when she grows up because we would only be able to afford technical school rather than that exclusive university where she would learn to be an artist, dancer, rescue girl, fire-fighter, and teacher with a minor in English Lit.

None of it worked. She cried for 45 minutes. We were flabbergasted. We had no idea she would react this way. Finally. I offered up a reasonable solution.

Tomorrow, we go shopping for goldfish.

On a side note, when three-year-old Jessica was told the news, she responded with, "aw, we never have any new babies" and went back to playing with her My Little Ponies.