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.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Yakko's World

It's a shame that Animaniacs had to disappear from the airwaves. It was perhaps one of the most brilliant cartoons out there. and educational, as well. check out:

Yakkos'Nations Of The World

The State Capitals

The U.S. Presidents

Or, if you're more into the Shakespeare scene, try Animaniacs on Hamlet or Midsummer Night's Dream

Sheer brilliance.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

62 Uses for Vinegar

Click here for 62 household uses for vinegar. Some of them are quite useful and interesting. I had completely forgotten about #10, soaking a chicken bone in vinegar overnight to turn it into rubber. I remember doing that a few times as a kid. I didn't really get out much, after all.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lance is in my head

I hear him there. It's Lance again. Mocking me. Telling me to get off my ass, to give up on that Family Guy marathon on TBS, to dig my running sneakers out from under that pile of dirty towels, and to get out of the house and work up a sweat for a change. Man, I hate that guy.

Lance Armstrong is inside my head. More specifically, he's inside my iPod. well, actually, he's inside a little doohickey attached to my iPod, called an iPod Nano+Nike..umm...doohickey.

A couple of months ago, my doctor checked my cholesterol and told me I wasn't getting enough exercise. I told her that I thought perhaps going up and down the stairs twenty-eight times each night before the kids managed to successfully fall asleep would classify as "enough" exercise, but obviously it didn't. she told me, in not so many words, to get my ass to the gym. Trouble is, I've tried that. Like most Americans, it never works. You start off going four days a week religiously. Then suddenly that drops down to two days, then once a week if you're lucky, and soon you forget which road the gym is on. No, I needed another option.

That's when I decided to try running.

I hate running. It's boring. It's painful. It's exhausting. It sucks in hot weather. It sucks in cold weather. In fact, I have some recollection that the first time I ever used a four letter word was when the track coach back in grade school met me and said, "hey, a tall thin guy like you should try out for the cross-country team!" I believe I replied, "F*ck that!" But recently I realized the benefits of running. It's cheap. There's virtually no equipment. You don't have to drive anywhere. And you never have to worry about getting to the gym only to discover you forgot an important item in your gym bag, like soap or headphones. So I gave it a shot. I started to realize it wasn't so bad. I could run a few miles and work up a sweat, and given the geography of Pittsburgh there were plenty of hills on which I could challenge myself to see how well I was doing.

Then, I discovered this iPod Nano+Nike doohickey. It's a $30 gadget that comes in two pieces. One piece plugs into the bottom of your iPod Nano (or my wife's Nano, in my case), and the other piece hooks onto your sneaker. Use it when you run, and it tracks your mileage, pace, and calories as you go, storing all your run data on a Nike website for reference.

Frankly, it's a brilliant piece of technology, but not because of the data it can track. It's because of Lance. You see, throughout your run, a young attractive female voice briefly interrupts your music to tell you important things, like "1 mile completed" or "400 yards to go!!" but any time you hit a new milestone such as the longest run you've taken, or the fastest pace for the mile, Lance pops in and congratulates you personally. "Congratulations! You just ran your longest run ever!" Makes you feel pretty accomplished.

And it drives me crazy. With each run, I wonder what I can do to get him to notice me again. When I take a week off from running, I truly believe he's just sitting there, inside the little gadget, as it rests on top of the inkjet printer, thinking, "oh great, another couch potato." Yeah, I can hear him. Right now he's talking to the main voice-over lady saying, "can you believe this guy?? I won 7 tours in a row with one testicle, and after his first and only 5-mile run he can't stop whining about the blister on his toe. Jeez, what a slug."

But recently I discovered there's a setting on the doohickey where you can change it from Lance's voice to that of world-famous marathon runner Paula Radcliffe (I never heard of her either). That's much better. I've been mocked by women all my life. It's part of my comfort zone. I can work with that.

Now where the heck did I leave that headband with the built in umbrella?

Leave the kids home and see Ratatouille

We spent a hot summer day in the movies yesterday to see Pixar's latest masterpiece, Ratatouille. It was a really good movie. But the kids hated it. Our younger one fell asleep, and the older one cried to leave (we convinced her there was ice cream in her future if she stayed, so she did). Frankly, I could see her point. It wasn't scary. But it was adult-themed. Most of the characters talked with a French accent, and she didn't follow it. The jokes and humor were way, way above her head, and the overall theme of French cooking had no basis on her everyday life. Add that to the fact that the head chef was a meanie, and she wanted outta there.

I thought it was a good movie. Not Pixar's best, but a couple of things resonated with me. First, this movie really seems to be a cross-over for Pixar, where they successfully draw both animals/characters AND humans. In Toy Story, the humans were clunky looking. In The Incredibles, they were purposefully cartoonish. In this movie, they looked right. Second, the cooking theme was fabulous. Anyone with a sense for the kitchen would love this movie, and the writers made this a major point of the movie with a theme of "Anyone can cook."

On the flip side, the idea of rats in the kitchen just didn't work for me. In Bugs life, the ants were cute. In this movie, the rats were, well, rats. And seeing a thousand of them flowing into a restaurant was just ooky.

I will have to see it again, though. If only to recall which character was played by John Ratzenberger. Supposedly it was someone named Mustafa, but I don't recall who that was.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Simpsons Avatar

The Simpsons Movie Site has a game on it where you can create your own avatar. Or, in non-geek terms, draw yourself as a Simpsons character. Here's me, though I couldn't find a nose that truly did me justice:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Money advice from a 6-year-old.

Now that our renovation is winding down, we decided it was time to refinance and somehow pay our way out of this money pit. The process involved dragging the squirts with us to the bank to sign some loan papers, so I informed the kids it was time to get their shoes on so we could go to the bank.

"Why do we need to go to the bank?" Natalie asked. I explained to her, in basic terms, what it meant to "refinance".

"But daddy," she replied, "you could save ten thousand dollars over the lifetime of a loan with Quicken Loans! Why don't you try them out?"

Hmm, too much TV maybe?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Off Topic: Make me a WiPod!

I try to avoid getting my geek on here, but I couldn't resist. I, like a bazillion others out there, have been ogling the new iPhone while being completely uninterested in buying one. I currently have a work-provided Blackberry, and have no reason to expect to use anything but that in the near or long term future. Therefore, the phone part would be of no value to me. Plus, I don't have six hundred bucks burning a hole in my pocket. I already have plenty of holes in my pockets, and I need that money to buy new pants.

However, I’ve been saying that by the end of the year Steve Jobs needs to hop back up on the stage and introduce the next generation of iPods, which would (should) essentially be the iPhone without the “phone” part. Multi-touch screen, OSX, Wi-Fi access, and bigger drives. It seems I’m not the only one thinking this way.

Now, in this article, the writer suggests that the next iPod will not have internet access. To me that would be a mistake. I would think that the benefits of having a truly wi-fi networked iPod would be huge to Apple and to users. And it’s exactly what I want. I want my iPod to do the following:

-Automatically connect to available wifi
-sync wirelessly. I hate cables. So does Steve Jobs.
-Be recognized by my desktop machine running iTunes, so that I can listen to music on my office computer that's shared by my iPod.
-Sync with an AppleTV wirelessly, so I can (in theory) go to a friend's house and play that episode of Lost on my friend's TV easily. I say "in theory" because I have no friends with AppleTV, nor do I expect to any time soon.
-Have all that cool google maps stuff and browser stuff that the iPhone has.
-And, yes, I suppose to some it would be great to be able to buy music from the iTunes Music Store directly from the iPod. I don't expect to do that much, but I can't imagine Apple's not thinking that way.

It seems to me that anything less wouldn't be worth doing. Especially because it ALREADY EXISTS.

Imagine being able to walk into the office with your iPod, it connects to the Wifi automatically,

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Waiter, some more monsters in the closet please?

I once determined that dressing a small child is like putting socks on a moving ceiling fan. Be that as it may, putting two small children to bed is like trying to walk a tightrope. One false step and you're flat on your back, staring at the ceiling, wishing someone would just come and put an end to your misery.

It usually starts innocently enough. "Five minutes 'til bedtime" comes the proclamation. After this initial announcement, brief series of events are scheduled to occur:

-Clean up the toys
-Go upstairs
-Change clothes
-Come down for snack
-Read a couple books
-Head upstairs
-brush teeth, pee, wash up
-Nighty night
-Mom and dad get some "us" time.

Believe it or not, things don't always go as planned.

Sure, we start off on the right foot. But more often than not, the tightrope starts to wobble somewhere between agenda items #1, and #2, and by Item #4 we're tangled up in the net far below. Let's take a walk, shall we?

First, there's agenda item #1, the cleaning of the toys. This simply doesn't happen. The conniving little varmints have already learned how to scheme their way out of cleanup duty, usually by stirring up a ruckus. "She hit me! She poked me in the eye! Waah! Get upstairs, you!" So let's move to #2.

Going upstairs can be surprisingly challenging. Often I have this bright idea of yelling, "last one upstairs is a rotten egg!" This starts off great, because the kids hit the steps running. However usually by the third stair tread either someone trips, pushes, or gets upset at being deemed the rancid poultry. If in fact they DO make it successfully up the stairs, dad becomes the rotten egg and a ten-minute giggle fest ensues.

Let's touch on snack time next. Typically it starts like this. "What do you guys want for snack? (no answer). What do you want for snack?? (no answer). Snack? anyone? Kitchen closes in thirty seconds!!!"


"We don't have grapes."

"But I WANT grapes!"

"We don't have grapes. How about strawberries?"


"Once again, we have no grapes. If you can find grapes, you may eat them."

"Really?? Yay, grapes! Wait, ACTUALLY, I want strawberries."

My wife and I could wash, trim, and cut an entire bushel of strawberries - nay, an entire truckload of strawberries, and no matter how many were placed in front of those kids it would be two strawberries short of needing a second helping. "Can I PLEASE....have more strawberries???" So, one of us gets up, washes, cuts, and arranges a nice second helping of strawberries only to find out that while we were in the kitchen hunger passed, and it was on to things, like the discovery of the dried up piece of Play-Doh found under the kitchen chair that makes a great bouncy ball.

Let's skip ahead a few chapters, to the bathroom ritual. Each night, the statement, "okay, go brush your teeth" seems to have an alternate meaning. what it really means is, "yay, I get to stand in front of the sink, stare at myself in the mirror, and imagine myself as the beautiful princess that I am, swept away by Prince Eric, to a land that's pure and white, with happy little animals and colorful flowers, and friendly flying dragons that breathe fluffy white clouds for me to lay upon, and...

Sorry. Got carried away there.

Anyways, the bathroom ritual is my least favorite part of the evening. If it's not the escape to dreamland, it's the aftermath. I'm curious to know when a child first realizes that spitting out toothpaste in a downward angle, TOWARD the sink, is far more effective than, say, spitting in the general direction of the tub? OR that a towel can often dry hands just as well even if it doesn't have a picture of a princess on it. Or that the proper method of cleaning toothpaste spooge off the mirror is NOT to lick your hands then rub the mirror with them. When the kids finally head off to college, I'm calling the CDC and having them quarantine the bathroom and study it for the existence of a new virus.

From start to finish, we typically expect the bedtime process to take about ten minutes. The reality is that more often than not, two hours is gone before the final goodnight. And mind you, the final goodnight is never the first goodnight. Shut the lights and leave the room, and suddenly it's as if the kids are at a fine restaurant that serves only parental annoyances. "Yes, I think tonight I'll have the scary shadow, with a side of noises outside the window. What's that? You're out of scary noises? Well, perhaps the chef can whip up a nice bad dream from that movie we saw earlier, with a side of another book please? And for dessert, perhaps a slice of can I sleep in your bed? Wonderful, thank you."

Check please.