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.