Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Spongebob Science

When I'm looking for a fascinating show on science, I tend to shy away from classics such as NOVA, Mythbusters, or Bill Nye The Science Guy. No, for truly interesting demonstrations of science, I go to Spongebob.

Think about it for a second. In a simple half hour of animated wonder, you can discover fascinating creatures such as a squirrel that can wear SCUBA gear. Or a sponge that makes its home in a rare breed of pineapple that grows at the bottom of the ocean. And even more importantly, it's a land where fire can actually burn under water. Now THIS is science that our kids need to know. Thank god the show is on 24/7. I've told my kids in no uncertain terms that, if they want to be brilliant geniuses when they grow up and solve all the world's problems, they need to pay close attention to each and every fact-filled episode of that amorphous, yellow, porous demonstration of science at its finest and not miss a single moment. Even if it means watching the same episodes over and over again until all the knowledge has sunk in.

They seemed to be taking my advice to heart.

Okay don't get me wrong. Spongebob Squarepants is a brilliant show. Where else can you find a crab that apparently provides foodstuffs made of his own flesh and blood, a pet snail that meows like a cat, or a tiny plankton with dreams of conquering the burger industry? And Patrick? God, I love Patrick.

However, the one thing about the show that really gets my bunches in knots is the fact that simple scientific principles of underwater living are ignored during the writing process. I'm no scientist, nor am I a professional screen writer, but every time I watch the show I notice that approximately fifteen seconds into each episode, the writers fail to remember that their characters are sea creatures.

Here are some simple examples:

1. Spongebob is a professional bubble-blower. He blows fantastically complex bubbles. Under water.

2. In virtually every episode, a character falls to the ground in some sort of classic Wile-E-Coyote way. As opposed to taking advantage of, say, buoyancy.

3. Flames.

4. In at least one episode the gang hangs out at the beach, by a body of water. Forgetting they are IN a body of water.

I think the moment where I'd finally had enough of this was during an episode where Patrick somehow manages to form an intensely strong sense of smell. Sandy the squirrel walked past Patrick, and he held his nose because Sandy had a bit of a foul stench of wet squirrel to her tail, which was sticking out the back of her airtight scuba suit. Patrick proceeded to spray her down with air freshener, and she coughed and choked from the spray. So let's list what's wrong here. Sandy has an airtight suit on, but her tail sticks out. Her tail is fluffy and bushy, not wet and matted. Patrick sprays her with air freshener while she's wearing an airtight suit, yet she coughs and chokes at the fumes. Come on, people, we're better than this!

When I watch Spongebob, I can't help but feel the same way as when I watch a Bond flick, wanting to yell at the villian, "just stop talking and shoot Bond already! Forget the laser to his crotch! Likewise while watching Spongebob, I can't help but shout, "Float you idiot, float!"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday cheer for the morning

A classic from last year. Straight No Chaser doing 12 Days of Xmas...sort of...

And A Charlie Brown Christmas, performed by the cast of Scrubs:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Status update: The festering Craphole (day 73)

Believe it or not I've made significant progress on our little bathroom renovation, and today was quite the banner day. This afternoon's efforts consisted of wainscoting, painting, and only two trips to Home Depot.

As is usually the case with us, the design of this room as evolved somewhat organically. Unlike those HGTV design shows, where the hottie designer of the week presents his or her client with a to-scale 3D color drawing of the entire redo, we've been sort of winging it. We knew we wanted something in the way of an oceanic theme. I knew I was going to do wainscoting on the walls, primarily because I didn't want to have to deal with patching the numerous holes. So we decided to delve into the world of faux finishes, painting the upper half of the walls in sort of an ocean blue. After finding and installing a floor tile that looked sort of like sand, we then had to decide what color make the wainscoting. Despite our daughters' pleas to make it seaweed green, we went against the theme and painted it a simple warm beige. We told the kids to imagine a sand dune.

By the way, if anyone can offer up the steering wheel from a sailing ship, we'll gladly take it off your hands to use as a towel rack.

Then came time to figure out what to do about a sink. Before we embarked on this project, I had envisioned a pedestal sink. However, I have never installed a pedestal sink, so at the last minute I wimped out and decided to put a typical vanity cabinet in. Went to Home Depot, decided on something, brought it home, lugged it upstairs, unboxed it , slid it into place, and promptly reversed the process after realizing how ugly it looked. So, we're back to the pedestal idea. Oh well, I can read directions I guess. And on the bright side, a pedestal sink means less surface area to collect toothpaste spittle.

A note about tiling a bathroom floor. I've determined that I could make a lot of money inventing something to easily cut that round hole for the toilet drain. currently the process involves a miter saw with a carbide bit (because I was too cheap to rent a wetsaw to cut 6 tiles), which effectively cuts the tiles but creates a ton of sparks and makes the house smell like a machine shop for a week. Then, you take a pair of "nibblers", which are essentially pliers used to break little pieces of tile off until you get the right shape, hopefully without shattering the tile in the process. After three hours of nibbling and two failed attempts resulting in shattered tiles, I had a reasonably carved circle...and a hand that was no longer able to grip objects for two days.

Here's the progress so far. If you zoom in on the second picture you'll notice artwork on the lower half of the walls done by a certain 5-year-old. She specifically asked if I could install the wainscoting AROUND her artwork so it wouldn't be covered.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Frustration-Free Packaging

God bless you, Amazon...you heard our pleas.

I've written over the years (as has a multitude of others, about the evils of childrens' toy packaging and the frustration and waste involved. Well hallelujah, Amazon has finally seen the light. they are now offering something called "Frustration-Free Packaging" for many of their childrens' toys. They work with the manufacturers (such as Fisher-Price, the kings of the wire-tied playthings) to sell the same packages you see in the plastic display boxes, but in simpler non-display shipping boxes. Pop open the box, slide it out, and little jimmy can be jamming his Millennium Falcon into Hyperdrive before dad's had the chance to find his wire cutters. It's a great day.

Holy crap, did I really write that original post in 2005???

The "I don't get kids" files, chapter 947

Lunchtime today started of in a typical fashion. Our 8-year-old, when asked what she wanted for lunch, of course requested pasta. She always requests pasta. If given the opportunity to construct her own food pyramid, it would list spaghetti at the top, wish various forms of penne, linguine, and elbows taking up the "grains" slot, ravioli in the meat and dairy slot, and of course tomato sauce in the fruits and veggies. As an alternative, we suggested trying a can of wedding soup, explaining that it was chicken soup with pasta and meatballs in it. What could possibly be bad about that, right? She agreed, so on went the stove. Five minutes later, when a bowl of piping hot wedding soup was placed in front of her, she feigned stomach poisoning and exclaimed that this isn't what she really wanted, and no one ever listens to her, and the rest of us get to eat whatever we want but she's forced to eat nothing but gruel all day long. When we pointed out that she hadn't even tried the soup yet, she begrudgingly allowed the spoon to touch the outside of her lips, slumped back in her chair, and whimpered that it "isn't the best in the world" and thus refused to eat it.

Okay, that's one end of the spectrum. Our five-year-old decided to explore the other end.

Take a look at the picture below.

Notice, next to the "reduced fat" label on the box of Ritz Crackers, is a concoction somewhat resembling Bruchetta: a cracker, topped with tomato, fresh basil, mozzarella, and perhaps a little pepper. Jessica declared that THIS is what she wanted for lunch.


After looking at the box, she INSISTED that this was not a slice of mozzarella but rather a slice of BANANA. And the little black spots? Raisins. We replied with, "so you want a cracker with tomato, lettuce, a banana, and raisins?"

"Yes, that's what I want."

So as you can see, we made it.

And she loved it.

I just don't get these two.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Wakeup calls

Our children may be getting on in years, but one thing has stuck with them since their days of infancy. They can regularly wake us up in the middle of the night for no good frickin' reason. With Jessica, our 5-year-old, it's usually either a bad dream or an environmental issue. Here's how the dream sequence goes:

"Ahhhh.....!!! Mommmmyyyyy!!!!

(Mommy leaps out of bed and dashes down the hall. Dad pretends he slept through the racket with a classic roll-and-grunt maneuver)

"What is it honey?" Mommy comes to a stop in front of daughter's bed, her heart pounding through her chest.

"Mommy, I had a bad dream!"

"Well, tell me about it."

"Um. Um. Zeebee Zee (her stuffed zebra), um, she was eating a carrot."


"That's all."

For example of an environmental issue, let's discuss missing socks. About once a week she will wake us because one of the socks she had on her feet has slipped off during the night and disappeared into the depths of her covers. This, understandably, is a situation requiring severe panic.

"Waaaahhhh! Moooooooom!!!!!"

"What is it honey?" Mommy comes to a stop in front of daughter's bed, heart pounding as before.


"Are your feet cold?"


"Do you need the sock right now?"

"YES! It's my fuzzy sock!"

Mommy then proceeds to strip the bed entirely, only to have Jessica inform her that, oh wait, she didn't wear socks to bed tonight.

If the younger chooses not to wake us on any given night, chances are good the elder sibling will. Usually she knows enough that mom will be PISSED if she's woken up yet again, so she will stealthily tiptoe into our room, put her nose to my nose, and lightly clear her throat. The end result is usually the launching of her father into the ceiling fan. This typically happens on Saturday mornings, the one day dad gets to sleep in a little. We repeatedly tell her how, back in our day, weekends were for sneaking downstairs and watching cartoons all morning without waking the parents. That hasn't sunk in yet.

"Echem. Dad"?

"Holy crap WHAT WHAT WHAT!!!??"

"I got myself dressed. Can I go downstairs?"

"Ask me again and I sell you to an Albanian slave labor camp."

"So that's a yes?"

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sure I was born a few miles from ESPN, but....

I'm a sports moron. And anyone who knows me is aware of this fact. Ask me who won the game last night, and I will answer with the final score after my daughter beat me in Scrabble. As a general rule of thumb, if there's a sporting event held on a weekly basis and shown on TV, I have no clue that it's happening. I can't tell you who the Giants played last week. I heard the Phillies won the" series last season, but never saw a single game. I have no idea what it means to be in the pocket", what A-Rod's real name is, or what the hell NASCAR stands for.

And I just don't care.

Sure, this got me beaten up regularly in school. I think my parents tried to help me out a bit by suggesting I join the golf team in high school, but that seemed to just get me beaten up more severely. And these days, during lunch at the office when the guys start bitching about the latest draft pick, I tend to focus a little more closely on my Chunky Soup in hopes no one calls on me for an opinion. I like to think that all the brain power spent memorizing RBI's and batting averages from the pages of Sports Illustrated could be better spent on more productive pursuits, like how to most efficiently utilize the extra space in the kitchen pantry the next time the wife finds a sale on couscous.

Over the years, however, I have realized that it takes a little bit of effort on my part to not be considered entirely socially inept. As the saying goes, "when in Rome, watch the game." 15 years of living in Pittsburgh has made me painfully aware that there is really only one sport I need to follow in order to be accepted by my neighbors. That sport, of course, is football. And to make it a little easier, it's only important to know about the Pittsburgh Steelers. So, on any given Sunday (heh, how's that for a sports reference?), I will turn the Steelers game on in the background while I rearrange my sock drawer. I might even glance at the TV once in a while.

But watching the game is a recent change in my habits. I remember back when my wife and I were still dating, she and I went to a restaurant for dinner and ended up waiting at the bar for our table. A townie sitting next to me said something to the affect of, "Ey man, y'inz see that game last night n'at?" I turned to him, gave him a smile, and proceeded to provide the guy with complete details of the game from the night before, right down to how I thought the quarterback's passing game was slightly off, and that the wide receiver should never have dropped that pass from the 30. He patted me on the back with a "ubetcha" sort of comment, and then we were off to our table. Hilary stared at me, fully aware of my disinterest in commercial sports, and wondering how on earth I knew what to say to this man. "Easy," I told her. "Every morning I listen to news radio on the way into work, and pay attention to the morning sports report for exactly this reason. Same reason we keep a fire extinguisher in the house...to use in case of emergency." I believe Hilary gave me the same look that Linda Kozlowski gave Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee when he fought off muggers with the classic line, "That's not a knife....THIS is a knife."

Many of my friends are aware of my sporting deficit. My high school buddies, who keep me on their discussion emails each day after a game just to see what stupid comment I can come up with, felt it incredibly pathetic that I only own one piece of sporting apparel, a black mock-T with a Baltimore Ravens logo on it which I got as a gag gift (there's a strange rivalry between fans of the Steelers and fans of the Ravens, and according to the county charter all Ravens fans should be put to death immediately). I didn't get the joke. So one of my buddies actually bought and mailed me a Troy Palamalu jersey. Cool. I loved that Muppets sketch.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I believe it was Topol, in Fiddler On The Roof, who had a lot of things to say about tradition. Traditions are a good thing, especially around the holidays. Some folks
create a grand spread for Thanksgiving, either a giant turkey and all the trimmings. Some folks travel a long way to see family in other states. Some folks use the Thanksgiving weekend to decorate their houses For Christmas, so they can be seen from the international space station.

Us? We get sick.

You see it starts off the same every year. As part of her collection of holiday coloring projects and other holiday flair that she creates in class, one of our daughters will pick up and bring home an wonderfully colorful virus and infect the rest of the household. Usually this happens a few days before we begin packing to go away. First one kid will spike a fever. Then the other. Then Mom. Then Dad. In the end, we'll be lucky if we recover in enough time to hit the road and infect our extended family across the state lines before all the leftover turkey is done.

This year was no different. It started with Jessica, getting a minor fever and "the poopies". Okay, no big deal. She bounces back quickly. But then the evil sick bug decided to veer in a slightly different direction this time, and hit me head on. There have been rumors of a "stomach bug" going around town lately, and I'm here to tell you those rumors are completely true. For two days straight I felt like that guy from Alien just before the monster leaped out of his navel. I spent 48 hours doubled over, shivering with a fever, and unable to provide much more than simple grunts in response to my wife's offers of aid, medication, or chicken soup. Last night wearing 14 shirts and 92 socks I slept under eight blankets with a running hair dryer and a toaster oven and froze my ass off. Then, at around 4 in the morning the fever broke and I went outside to lie naked in the snow to cool off. By mid afternoon I was back to my usual self, just in time for my wife to catch the bug. And Natalie, for that matter. Both are currently sleeping upstairs while I type this. I blame any typing mistakes on the shaking of the house caused by their feverish shivering.

If all goes according to plan, they will be almost fully recovered by Thursday morning. Thus our tradition still stands, just like it does every year. ah, the holidays.

Oh I should mention that today is my lovely wife's birthday. I believe she's 29 now. Happy birthday honey, hope you like your gift!

I should also mention that recently I was reading the paper and discovered that Fiddler on the Roof is playing, in Pittsburgh, with Topol playing the role as Tevia. I said this to my wife, with responded with, "The actor Topol?" Of course I replied with, "No, the toothpaste." Okay it's a pathetic joke, but how many people in this world have, like myself, been waiting all their lives to be set up to deliver this punchline? You wish it was you, you know you do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Amazing Grace

Okay this has absolutely nothing to do with the general theme of my blog, I just thought it was very impressive. Worth watching the whole way through.

Is that Soccer Star David Beckam, or your goldfish?

Today in the mail I received the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. What a brilliant collection of crap you just don't need. The Wireless Multiplayer Poker Game ($60, a much better value than, say, a deck of cards), The Best Nose Hair Trimmer ($25, and available for immediate shipment, thank goodness), Or the Animatronic Roommate ($120...I think I had several of those at CMU, but back then we called them design majors).

But this year, two items in the catalog caught my eye. First was the USB Remote Controlled Race Car ($50 in the catalog, but on sale for $19.95 on the web!). You plug it into your computer, and use an on-screen steering wheel to drive the car around your desk. It has a range of three feet. Anyone seen my desk lately? I think an off-road version would be a little more useful.

This one, however, takes the cake. It's the Fish Agility kit. Now, at $40, this is an absolute necessity. I mean, how long it's been since that goldfish of mine has done anything useful? Most of the time he just swims around, eating my food, pooping, and looking pretty. Big deal, I have kids that do that. I want my fish to actually serve a purpose. At last, I can teach that Blood Parrot Cichlid of mine to fetch! to score a goal! to go outside and retrieve the newspaper! I hear version 2.0 will include tools to teach my algae sucker how to do my taxes. I'm going to hold out for that version, a bargain at any price!

Okay, the moment I finished writing this post, my 8-year-old daughter just informed me that her class is buying one of these and the whole class will spend the next semester training their classroom goldfish to shoot baskets. I'm speechless.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The start of the pattern...

I didn't write this. I received it as one of those silly internet forwards riddled with capital letters, animated gif images, and probable spam. But I thought it fit in well with the theme of my blog. If you are the original writer of any of this content please let me know and I will credit you one half of my profits from this post.

After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve.

And the first thing he said was ' DON'T !'

'Don 't what ? ' Adam replied.

'Don't eat the forbidden fruit.' God said.

'Forbidden fruit ? We have forbidden fruit ? Hey Eve..we have forbidden fruit ! '

' No Way ! '

'Yes way ! '

'Do NOT eat the fruit ! ' said God.

'Why ? '

'Because I am your Father and I said so ! ' God replied, wondering why He hadn't stopped creation after making the elephants

A few minutes later, God saw His children having an apple break and He was pissed. 'Didn't I tell you not to eat the fruit ? ' God asked.

'Uh huh,' Adam replied.

'Then why did you ? ' said the Father.

'I don't know,' said Eve.

'She started it! ' Adam said.

'Did not ! '

'Did too ! '

'DID NOT ! '

Having had it with the two of them, God's punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus the pattern was set and it has never changed.

Some additional thoughts (didn't write these either):

1. You spend the first two years of their life teaching them to walk and talk. Then you spend the next sixteen telling them to sit down and shut up.

2. Grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your own children.

3. Mothers of teens now know why some animals eat their young.

4. Children seldom misquote you. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn't have said

5. The main purpose of holding children's parties is to remind yourself that there are children more awful than your own

6. We childproofed our homes, but they are still getting in.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

How to teach your kid to ride a bike

Okay, so it's getting colder outside, but I thought I would jot a few tips down for next spring when it's time to clean the garage, dust off that Barbie bicycle, and teach your kid to be the next Lance Armstrong. Following is my unsolicited advice on how best to teach your offspring to ride a bike with a minimum of injury, to either the child, to you, or to the neighbor's dog. Pay attention, these are important

Rule #1. Move to a flat state. If your cul-de-sac has even the slightest grade, as soon as your child points those handlebars downhill you're going to picture her plowing into the neighbor's mailbox. You don't need the added stress. Sell the house and move to Iowa.

Rule #2. Remove that cute little bell. My five year old really wants to become proficient on her bike. She also wants to ding her purple Disney Princess bell at every passing blue jay. As a result she spends far more time looking at her bell than she does watching out for the neighbor's mailbox.

Rule #3. Once the time comes to take off the training wheels, consider removing the pedals as well. If she can focus her attention on staying upright without having to remember to pedal, she will learn to stay up more quickly by coasting, and have more time to focus on important things like steering and avoiding the neighbor's mailbox.

Rule #4. When the pedals go back on, teach her to ride standing up. Otherwise she's going to poop out trying to get up that hill, and once her tiny legs burn out she'll careen straight into the neighbor's mailbox.

Rule #5. Move to a development in Iowa that has no mailboxes.

Yet again redefining "too much time on one's hands"

"Star Wars" - an a capella tribute to John Williams

I especially love the upper left corner shirt.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Let's avoid the face plant

During my young and relatively uneventful childhood, my family was close with another family a block or so away. They had a boy a year younger than me, and from early in toddler-hood we were often paired up to do those typical childhood things together. As it is often said, we shared a playpen together from an early age. It was for the most part a marriage of convenience, a place where I could be dumped off by my parents or he could be dumped off by his on errand days. I haven't seen him in perhaps 25 years, but I recall, quite frankly, being much cooler than him. Now, please understand that this isn't saying much. From our parents' perspective, he was perhaps a less with-it Bart Simpson while I was a slightly more with-it Milhouse. In other words, to his parents I was the good son that the neighbor family never had. And I had no problem with this, because they owned a boat.

Each year I was invited to join them on their annual summer vacation to the family cottage in Cape Cod. It was during these excursions that I had my first crush, on the older sister who looked like a shorter, slightly less slender Valerie Bertinelli. Back then I would have easily placed money on the fact that (let's just call her) Valerie and I were destined for marriage. Not quite sure why it didn't pan out that way, but it seemed logical at the time. Nice Jewish girl, educated, worldly, and she could water-ski like a pro.

You're probably wondering where I'm going with this. I'm not quite sure I know yet, but hang on for the ride.

Valerie could slalom, jump wakes, and looked really good in a wetsuit (granted I was about 15 years old, so a pound of mashed potatoes would have looked really good in a wetsuit). She spent many days teaching her younger brother and me to ski. I recall struggling unsuccessfully to stand up on my skis numerous times each afternoon, only to immediately be yanked forward by the thrust of the boat and force-fed a jellyfish. Then one day it happened.

Easy now, this is not an end-of-innocence-with-my-buddy's-older-sister story from the pages of Hustler, it's about skiing. Sorry to disappoint, but remember my Milhouse point above and understand that anything about Valerie from this point forward would be a lie. If you're still with me, let's continue.

If you've ever water-skied, especially in the ocean, you know the experience. You float aimlessly in the water, warily scanning the surface for shark fins while attempting to keep the points of your skis skyward, waiting for the boat to maneuver into position. You give the driver a feeble thumbs up, and the engine roars. Rope goes taught, and your arms are yanked forward as if you're taking a pair of pit bulls for a walk and they just spied a squirrel. You focus all your effort on keeping those skis pointed forward rather than having one sucked under and ripping your shin off just below the knee, when suddenly you're standing. For the next 1.2 seconds, as you travel forward towards the churning from the boat's propeller blade, the water is as smooth as glass. The change in pressure on the tow rope causes it to go briefly and completely slack. at that very moment your brain must make a choice. You know how Wile E. Coyote soars of a cliff and hangs still in the air up to the moment he realizes he's about to plummet? It's kind of like that. Because in that next millisecond the rope is going to go taught again and you're either going to be ready to ski or you're going to be chewing jellyfish again. I distinctly remember my first time standing up. It was so amazing a feeling that I immediately panicked and did a face plant with extra flailing. But the next time it was easy.

Once you're up, the real tipping point occurs when you are no longer being pulled by the boat, and instead you take control. You can hang back and relax as the boat guides you. You can zip back and forth across the wake and do tricks. You can smile for the bikini babes in the passing boat without giving a moment's thought to the fact that your bathing suit really needs to be adjusted from all the dragging.

I recall that Valerie's brother didn't quite have the same experience I had. He managed to get up on skis as well, but found it impossible to stand up straight. His back remained completely bent forward and his arms over his head life jacket at his ears, as he was dragged through the Cape Cod Canal like an an upside down letter J. He never quite reached that tipping point. That night while I helped the dad get the boat cleaned up and the life jackets hung to dry, I beamed with excitement over my accomplishments while the brother sulked in a corner, pissed off with his mediocre performance and sore back.

So that's my ancedote. And why am I bringing it up? I'm not sure. But for some reason it popped into my head while watching last night's election. For the past decade we've been pulled by the rope, our heads down hoping we don't get dragged under. And we've gotten really pissed off about it. As of last night, we're standing up straight at last. Now we just need to avoid the face plant.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Good luck winning that one

I was browsing through the Sunday coupons today when I came across a sweepstakes that Birdseye was advertising. "Win a $25,000 kitchen makeover!" it said. Okay, always a sucker for a dollar figure with three zeroes before the comma, I thought I would check it out by going to their website. When I clicked on the registration page, I noticed a field asking for a UPC number. I thought that was odd, because right above it was the line "no purchase necessary". So, if no purchase is necessary, how do I find a UPC number? Funny you should ask. I clicked a handy "help" link which took me to the detailed rules and regulations for this sweepstakes. Here's where it got interesting.

First, the rules clearly stated that no purchase is in fact necessary. That is, instead of purchasing a Birdseye vegetable product you could a)go to the store and jot down the UPC number off a package of frozen peas for later entry into the site, b)send a SASE to Birdseye and they will mail back a UPC number you can use to enter into the site, but only from 12/21/2008 to 12/28/2008 (despite the fact that the sweepstakes is going on NOW) or c)click a special link and enter your email address so they can email you a UPC code for use also during that December time frame. In other words, If you want to enter just buy yourself a friggin' bag of corn. But that's not the REALLY interesting part.

I kept reading, and found out that registering doesn't actually give you a chance of winning. Nor does returning to the site each day, as it recommends you do. Instead, once you register and once you sign in you will...

...then see a screen displaying spinning images that land on three (3) images after a button is clicked. If three (3) of the three (3) images are identical matches, you will receive a message screen indicating that you are a potential Game Prize Winner. In order for your Game Play to result in your being a potential Game Prize Winner, it must have occurred either at the exact randomly predetermined winning time as determined by Sponsor and/or Circle One, or if no Game Play has occurred at the exact randomly predetermined winning time, then it must be the Game Play that occurred at the closest time immediately following the randomly predetermined winning time.

Did you follow that? You must play a random slot-machine style game. If that game shows a match of all three images AND it's the exact randomly-determined time of day during which you are playing, you are a POTENTIAL prize winner. If no one hit it at the right time, then the closest person immediately following the randomly determined time is a potential prize winner.

I always wondered if people actually win these things. Now I know the answer is only the ones with truly nothing better to do in life.

By the way, I do like the actual grand prize. "The Sweepstakes Winner will receive in the form of a Twenty Five Thousand Dollar ($25,000) Gift Card ("Gift Card") to a home improvement store in the Sweepstakes Winner's local area"

I think if I won that, I'd use it during my regular trips to Home Depot to buy screws and nails and such, just so I could repeatedly hear the dude behind the register say, "that'll be two dollars and thirty-eight cents off your gift card, and your balance is...um....twenty-four thousand, nine hundred seventy-eight dollars and thirty-two cents. Can you excuse me while I have the manager check my register?"

Use the danged keypad!

If you live in Pittsburgh, then you are likely familiar with Giant Eagle and their relatively new "self service" checkouts, where you get the pleasure and stress of scanning and bagging your own products. If you don't live in Pittsburgh, you're probably still familiar with the concept.

Normally, if I witness someone in front of me struggling to figure out the self service kiosk, I will pretend to scan the latest copy of People searching for news of Brangelina's latest offspring. However today I felt it necessary to butt in.

The lady in front of me was attempting to purchase lettuce. She had three types of lettuce with her. Surprise surprise, each was green, leafy, and looked relatively the same as the others. She was completely befuddled by the "produce" option in front of her, where she had to rummage through pictures upon pictures of fruits and vegetables until she found the correct species of lettuce she was looking for. Red leaf? Romaine? Bib? Boston? Iceberg? Who could tell? After a good two or three minutes of struggling, I leaned forward to share a little secret, which I am now sharing with the rest of the world.

In most stores, every item of produce comes with a 4-digit number on the bag, the rubber band, or on a sticker. On the self-service kiosk there's a big button that says, "use keypad". Press it. Then enter the code for your lettuce and press enter. The system will recognize the code, weigh your produce or ask you for a quantity, and tell you to move on. There, you just shaved two minutes off my day. Now get out of my way before my Benn & Jerry's melts.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Status update: The festering Craphole

I'm one month into my latest project, gutting and remodeling the kids' bathroom. My parents were in this weekend, and as is usually the case when they come in I put dad to work assisting me with details such as rewiring lights, ripping out toilets and flooring, and smoothing out walls.

We're now ready to paint and put the floor in. Only problem is, we've gone about this project a little backwards. Over the summer we visited Cape Cod, where we amassed a vast collection of nautically-themed objects such as shells and ceramic fish with which to decorate the walls. We have a shower curtain. We even have little decorative soaps. What we DON'T have are paint color selections, a decision on tile, or even an idea of which toilet and sink to buy.

And then there's the leak.

I'm not quite sure when I first noticed it, but for a while now there has been a small brown splotch on the kitchen ceiling. My first thought had been that with two little girls wallowing and splashing in the tub every other day, some water was bound to find its way out of the tub, under the floor, and into the sheetrock of our kitchen ceiling. However after ripping up the bathroom floor I found no such sign of a leak. Then, yesterday morning, I happened to glance at the splotch again and noticed it had changed color. I pressed it gently with my finger and discovered it was soft. And wet. The leak must be in the guest bathroom, which my parents have been using while staying here. Swell. This would definitely be the "other" part they talk about when they say "if it isn't one thing, it's another". Upon further investigation, it appears that the big round handle that operates the shower is leaking. Swell.

Have I mentioned I hate plumbing? Yes, I believe I have.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Eleven questions that will prove your brain is rotting away

This is a quiz for parents of young children. I've written it to serve as clinical proof that your brains are rotting away. You continually tell your friends and family that your kids watch the same shows over and over again and that you tune them out, but let's face it - you've memorized every line from Hannah Montana's theme song and then some. It will be stuck forever like Gorilla glue in the hypothalamus.

Take this quiz, jot down your answers, then click on the comments area to see how you did. If you get more than 75% right you should seek treatment immediately by renting the entire James Bond 007 series on DVD and watching it start to finish.

1. What kind of animal is Gary?

2. The gang from the Suite Life moved from a hotel to...

3. Did the monkey mail come?

4. Who's the dumber one, Zack or Cody?

5. Who plays Hannah Montana's dead mom?

6. Who is captain of the Wildcats?

7. Moose A. Moose doesn't like what kind of treat?

8. Who's afraid of Sea Snarks?

9. What's going to work?

10. Put it all together and you know...

11. Bonus question: What's the release date of HSM3?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Can I talk about my day?

Recently our household has fallen into what appears to be a new tradition. Each night at dinner, we each get to talk about our day. Now, it's not what it seems. It's not like we're the Cleaver family, and little Nancy gets to talk about her new bike with the shiny pedals while Beaver gets to describe how he hit a sody-pop can with his new slingshot. No, this tradition started as a way of curbing the insanity at the dinner table, and unfortunately it has gone horribly awry.

Dinner has always seemed to be way too chaotic. First there was the matter of cooking it. After a long day of dealing with two small children at home, Supermom understandably doesn't feel exactly energized to create a gourmet feast. No biggie, frozen corn is fine by me. But there was also the issue of simply clearing off the table enough to find a place to sit as a family and eat. Our dining table is adjacent to the TV room, so usually the daily viewings of Hannah Montana and Zack & Cody were held while either snacking or coloring at said table. Thus, in order to set it for dinner we first had to call in a wrecking crew just to clear it off.

Once dinner was served, there's the issue of the "get up" chair. The girls had a secret game where they determined that either mommy or daddy was in the get up chair, and with that chair came the responsibility of getting up to obtain refills of milk, macaroni, or steamed peas.

And then there was the general disorder of dinner. The slurping. The spills. The pretend fart noises. And the kids did all that too! We decided we needed to do something to bring the chaos down a notch, so we suggested going around the table and each talking about our day.

What we expected to happen was this. We expected to ask Natalie how 2nd grade was. We expected "good" as an answer. When asked what she did today, we expected a response of "nuttin." Instead, we were answered with a flurry of endless details about the sequence of events from math class to gym class to recess to lunch to the trip home on the bus to the latest details of the new Spongebob Squarepants episode that was Tivo'd last night. Exhausting yes, but certainly descriptive.

And then we turned to Jessica. Having just turned 5, Jessica's view of the world is pretty basic. If it's clay, I should play with it. If it's a crayon, I should color with it. And if it's my turn to talk, I make sure I get every last minute of my allotted time to talk without interruption.

Here's a typical response from Jessica when asked about her day:

"Today at...today...today at pre..at preschool, we made leaf...we made...leaf...paintings. Mine was a green leaf. And it was SOOOOO big! I never seen a leaf that big. And me and Benny...Benny...he chased me all the time today. I mean he chased me on the playground and tried to catch me but I ran too fast and he couldn't catch me. And...and...we had grapes for snack. And guess what! Guess what else I had daddy! For snack! Nope, it wasn't milk! Nope, it wasn't apple juice! It was...it was...Strawberry milk! But I didn't like it. I like white milk. And then....SISSY! STOP INTERRUPTING ME! Mommy, Sissy interrupted me and that hurt my feelings. Look Sissy, this potato looks like a car! And then mommy and I went after school to Target, and she bought me Hello Kitty pencils. And I had a hot dog! And...ooops. Hee hee...I farted. It was a real fart! And then we came home..and then...and then....wait...I forgot what I was going to say...what was it? Oh yeah, Daddy, when are we going to Disney again? We haven't gone to Disney all year and forever and I want to see the Little Mermaid show at MGM and remember the hotel with the log cabin and where Sissy threw up? I like flying."

As a result of all this, we're starting a new post-dinner tradition. Two Advil and a nap after every meal.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My sister's Big Fat Gay Wedding Cake

Seems I'm not the only member of the family getting stuff posted out in the hinterlands of the internet. My sister is a purveyor of fine pastries and cakes, and made this cake for a victory celebration in Hartford, CT after the State Supreme Court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage last week. BTW she's available to bake for weddings, birthdays, bat mitzvahs, and coming-out parties.

I had another title to this post in mind, but my big fat sister made me change it. The meanie.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My second fifteen minutes

Boy, it seems this is the week for getting published. Or something like that.

Over the past year I discovered a woodworking website called The Wood Whisperer, managed by a real swell guy named Marc Spagnuolo. A professional craftsman, he enjoys making and posting videos of his work in an effort to share his skills, hints and tips and hopefully teach a little something to budding young woodworkers such as myself. I've learned quite a bit by watching his stuff.

Recently he offered up an area of the site called ""Shop of the Week", where individuals can post pics and descriptions of their own shops, or lack thereof. I got bored one day, so I sent mine in. And here it is.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Flickr gives me my 15 minutes

Originally uploaded by daninhim
Flickr has given me 15 minutes of fame through a photo credit. I took this picture a while back of the stools at Klavon's Ice Cream Parlor, an authentic and nostalgic vintage ice cream shop in the Strip District in Pittsburgh. Recently I received an email from the editors of Creative Nonfiction, a non-profit currently launching a website called “Pittsburgh in Words,” as part of Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary celebration. The site features classic nonfiction pieces about the city by well-known Pittsburgh authors, and they asked if they could use my photo for one of the stories, "The Beacon" by Gerald Stern. Here's the story. I'm touched. And, no I don't know who Foo is either.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Gutting the festering craphole

I've said it before and I will say it again. Young children are capable of many amazing things, but bathroom neatness is not one of them. I believe it has to do with not yet studying physics in school. They don't tend to understand how gravity affects the landing coordinates of toothpaste globs formed when brushing one's teeth with one's mouth open. They don't understand the effect of centrifugal (or is that centripetal, I forget) force on soapy, wet hands when doing a ballerina twirl to reach the hand towel on the wall opposite the sink. And that classic equation Force=Mass times Acceleration has no bearing on the way a child turns the faucet handle on full blast in order to fill a Dixie cup, sending the cup careening off the lip of the sink and onto the floor to rest amongst the vast array of wet bath towels, shower puddles, and soap-scum-caked bath toys already amassed on the bathroom floor.

My initial goal had been to redo the kids' bathroom only after that moment of shining epiphany when the girls realize it's better to spit toothpaste downwards into the sink instead of forward onto the mirror. But then the vanity door rusted off. And the faucet began to leak. And the sink stopper disintegrated into a pile of dust, hair, and brass shavings. No, we can't take any more of this. The time has come.

So consider this posting to be Chapter One of what may very well be a long and twisted saga of bathroom renovation. I expect to be dealing with situations like trying to explain to my four-year-old that orange and purple are not options for wall color. Or that there are no plans to add a sauna. Or that we are not replacing the shower with a hot tub like "the ones they have in Canada" (we stayed at a Canadian Hotel once and now she thinks only Canadian hotels have hot tubs).

Of course, daily life often gets in the way of projects such as these. In fact my neighbor informed me he started redoing his kids' bathroom two years ago, and there's still only a coat of primer on the walls. So, to force the issue, once day while the family was out shopping I took it upon myself to remove the sink. It shouldn't take too long before my lovely wife finds extra time in her very busy schedule to look through paint swatches and tile samples in an effort to get the kids to stop trashing the guest bathroom.

Tune in next time when our hero says, "Honey? Got the number for that plumber?"

My new toy

Okay, finally some pics of my new toy. This is a fun little car. Drives nice, not as good as it should be on gas, but very sure-footed, peppy, and zippy (which ironically are also the names of two of my daughters' Webkins).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Like a deer in headlights.

Well that was an experience straight out of a Revenge Of The Nerds script.

A friend invited me to play on a community volleyball league. I knew very little details about this league, except that the friend is a former collegiate volleyball player and in fact played against that player from the Olympics with the tape on her shoulder. So I figured it had to be a reasonable league.

There was an intro clinic last night. I invited my neighbor Jim along.

We got there a bit early, so there was only one other person in the room. Jim and I are standing there talking, my back to the door. Suddenly Jim has this stare on him like a deer in headlights. I turn around to see the North Allegheny High school girls vBall team walk in, in uniform. All 6-feet and taller, with legs up to their necks. Some of them extremely intimidating. Jim leans over and asks, "what the f** did you get me into?" I believe I replied with some sort of blubbering sound.

Turns out they had just finished a game, so their coach (the neighbor of mine) asked them to come and help with the clinic. All in all really fun night. The girls mostly kicked our asses but we managed not to injure ourselves. And I actually learned a few things. Like how I completely wasted my high school years. Again.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Don't try to talk me out of it.

Well, that was quick. Last week I was debating whether or not all the repairs I've been putting into our cars lately still make it cheaper than having a car payment. This week we're unloading the old blue mare for a new Subaru. There we go doing something impractical again. Well, SOMEONE has to fund the economy, I guess.

I was asked how it would feel getting rid of my ten-year-old Mazda 626, given we have had it longer than we've had our children. Sure, it's like selling a child, but in return we get a new one that is quieter, behaves better, and doesn't make a mess on the floor. If I could do that with my kids I would replace them too. And when my wife asks me if I would trade her in for a younger, faster model, I tell her yes and to leave me alone. Ah, "me" time!

This was a week of endless moral struggle. Do we do the theoretically-environmental thing and buy a hybrid? Do we go for gas mileage over comfort? Do we finance? Do we sell or trade in? Do we go with Obsidian Black, Spark Silver Metallic, or Satin White Pearl? Are we stupid for not waiting? Are we helping the terrorists? Does the fact that some guy on the internet called our new car's interior "craptastic" have any bearing? And is he comparing that to, say, a Yugo, or an Aston-Martin DB9? Man, what a stressful and unproductive week.

Truth is, we are only looking for a few things in a new car. Safety is #1 on my wife's list (I haven't told her yet that what I REALLY want is a motorcycle...or a jetpack...but that's a whole other issue). #2 is an Auto-stick. Actually I want a standard transmission, but she can't drive a standard, so an Auto-stick is the next best thing and will probably keep me from trashing my clutch in the end. #3 is an iPod connector. And I'm not talking some flimsy AUX port, but a real iPod dock connection so I can blast Depeche Mode with full digital clarity. And lastly, I want a solution for staving off a midlife crisis. I need to buy a car that, in eight short years, I could foresee handing down to my daughter once she starts driving, and sneaking out the back door one day to come home with a Boxter (or, by then, a jetpack).

In the end it came down to a Subaru Impreza (no, not the WRX...I really don't need to wrap myself around a Jersey barrier) or a Honda Fit. On paper and in my brain the Fit makes so much more sense. It's cheaper, much better on gas, more practical, more spacious. But when it came right down to it, I liked the Suby better. And in the end I found three winning justifications. First, which car could I see handing down to my daughter? Second, which car would get my wife to stop chickening out every time we wanted to drive a long distance in winter time when there might be a threat of snow? And third, do we really need another minivan (we have an Odyssey already)? So the Subaru (or as it's already been nicknamed, the Scoobydoo) comes out victorious. This damned thing better last for 300,000 miles like people say they do, or I'm never going to hear the end of it.

Now the question has come of what to do with the Mazda. I was planning on trading it in, but then my coworker expressed some interest in taking it off my hands. Knowing that my coworker's car, a Buick he picked up for $6k a year ago and has since spent an equal amount repairing, had a far worse record than mine, I didn't really feel uncomfortable selling my car to someone I knew. Plus I gave him full disclosure that included a complete maintenance log along with a detailed account of every gripe I ever had with the car. This included the possessed radio volume knob, the broken electric antenna, and the mystery rattle coming from somewhere around the catalytic converter. Despite that, it will likely be a done deal once my coworker gets the required SSA (second-spouse approval).

But to make things a bit more interesting, it turns out that this car would be for my coworker's son. And the son got money to buy the car from his grandfather. And the grandfather was my main professor in college. How's that for cosmic lattice of coincidence? So I'm thinking this car had better work out for him or else I risk having my Bachelor of Science revoked.

BTW many thanks to Dave in Texas who gave me perhaps the most detailed honest opinions on everything car-related I could have imagined, from tips on color selection to match my eyes to interest-bearing savings accounts from ING Direct. If I could have flown him up here to go shop for a car for me, I would have. Kudos as well to my friend Howard for introducing me to this OCD-riddled gearhead.

Pictures of my new child will be forthcoming once I actually buy the thing and get the roof rack installed. Hmm...if only one of my daughters came with a roof rack.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Look! Same Great Taste!

My mama brought me up right. And by "right" I mean "as a cheap bastard". Despite not being the primary grocery shopper in the household (except when I get those 4:30pm calls to pick up sour cream on the way home from work), I regularly clip coupons, scour the local ads, and watch for sales on canned pineapple. Yes, it's a sad life really. If only my mom had let me play sports in school.

It appears that society has invented all the food products that need to be invented. All the vegetables have been discovered. We've killed every animal that looks like it might be tasty with BBQ sauce slathered on its hindquarters. So what's a manufacturer to do in order to keep our interests? Well, it seems that for quite some time now, selling the simple Oreo is no longer enough. Today, Oreos must be double-stuffed. And Chocolate coated. And inside out. And pink. And dare I say it, fried. Manufacturers are continually putting new spins on old products that are really nothing more than new packaging. How often have you seen a label on a box that says, "New Look! Same Great Taste!" Look honey! Our favorite Ritz Crackers now come in a big zipper pack, pre-crushed!

Recently my wife reported that Keebler now has a new Graham Cracker offering. It seems that the Keebler Elves held a focus group and determined that the average American was struggling with the task of breaking those rectangular crackers in half in order to construct a S'more. Oh, those jagged edges. Those accidental trapezoidal crackers. At last Keebler answered our call by producing a square graham cracker. Brilliant. Now if they would just get rid of the danged plastic wrap that you can't re-seal, so that after eating one cracker the rest don't go stale resting on the kitchen counter overnight.

Our local supermarket is considering building an entire wing on the store, solely dedicated to the sale of "100 Calorie Packs". Who decided 100 was the right number of calories? Is 100 calories worth of hostess cupcakes somehow better than, oh say, NO cupcakes? Or a pear? And why the hell does a potato chip that previously came in a large bag now have to be supplied in eighteen tiny bags, all packaged inside a box? Did someone recently decide there wasn't enough trash being thrown out in America? Are Americans not smart enough to control their own portion sizes? Okay, you got me on that one.

And then there's the ice cream I bought recently. Edy's "American Idol" flavors. Mint chocolate chip ice cream with special, more colorful packaging, and chopped up pieces of David Archuleta's dulcet tones mixed in. Fact is, it's still mint chip ice cream, but they charge extra for the swell hairdo on the container.

I am constantly astounded by the seemingly annual innovations released by the Kraft company to make Mac 'n Cheese that much more mindless to make. First, there was a box of noodles with a packet of powdered cheese dust. But Kraft realized the hardship of having to boil water in the old fashioned "heat it with fire" way. So they changed it up so you could quickly radiate the noodle water with but a modicum of effort. But then they realized what a hassle it was to actually was use a bowl. So not the noodles and cheese come pre-bowled. Just pour water in and nuke. Brilliant. I can't wait for the pre-chewed noodles to come out.

Alright, back to my coupon clipping. Oh look! Lego-shaped Eggos are on sale. Nifty. And part of this nutritious breakfast (of eggs, milk, Flinstones Chewable Vitamins, antioxidant-laced chai tea, and persimmons)!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Still cheaper than a car payment, or is it?

My wife and I haven't had to make a car payment in about 5 years. And its been swell. Her Odyssey has always been dependable, as has my Mazda 626. In the 9 years I've had it, I replaced a leaky coolant overflow tank and unplugged the electric radio antenna when it broke. Otherwise, no problems that a brake job or new tires couldn't resolve.

But then I did something stupid. I read the direction book.

Any car guy knows (not that I am one myself, I'm just sayin') that somewhere after a car hits 100k it's time to get the timing belt replaced. So at 107k, I decided to tighten the belt, so to speak, and cough up the 800 bucks to get it done. Unfortunately that $800 bill quickly doubled when the mechanic discovered that not only was the belt completely shot, but so were the pulleys it was riding on. All that and a couple other odds and ends brought forth a $1600 charge on my visa. Oh well, at least this means my baby's good for another 100k, right?


Since that visit to the shop a month ago, the muffler pipe rusted off, costing me another $350. Well, that was last week. Today I pulled into my driveway and noticed steam coming from the hood. It appears the radiator decided to suddenly empty itself. Through a hole in its side.

Okay, so let's say that radiator costs $300 to fix. Still, you say, that means I've only put $2250 into a car to give it some needed updating, right? Well sure. HOWEVER, the week after the ordeal with the timing belt, the Odyssey decided to develop an evil shudder that lead to $800 in brake work. And last Sunday, I blew out a tire - of course, not the tire that had the warranty or road hazard protection, but one of the older tires that would have just squeaked by inspection, which lead to another $350 for two new tires. So in the past month we're surpassing $3k in car repairs. And neither car has actually had its annual inspection yet.

Today, we realized something. If we hold onto both cars as long as we can, chances are good that both cars will need to be replaced at the same time. I'm not ready for two car payments. A friend of mine went through that. He took his wife shopping for a new car and, as he pulled into a dealer lot, his current car did an imitation of the Bluesmobile after the final chase scene of Blues Brothers ended. The next day he was the proud owner of a Prius AND a Highlander with two nice shiny car payments to boot.

I'm starting to think my Zoom Zoom's gotta go out back for a talkin' to Old Yeller style.

There are two things that suck most about this:

1. It would mean basically throwing away two grand worth of car repairs
2. Given the state of gas prices, the economy, and the dearth of cars that get good mileage, I have absolutely no idea what to buy right now, nor do I want to buy right now.

Ironically if it does go, I won't miss this car too much. It's been good to me, but it's just a car. Before that I had a Wrangler. I miss my Wrangler. And before that, I had a Ford Probe. I miss that too.

Well, tune in tomorrow when our hero says, "you want how much???"

Friday, September 12, 2008

Oh, if we could do it all over again

This just reeks of class, I'll tell you what. Click here to feel good about yourself again.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Peanut butter and Jewry

A friend forwarded me this link to a story about a town in Alabama, known as the Peanut Capital of the World, that is offering financial aid upwards of $50,000 to Jewish families willing to relocate there in hopes of increasing its Jewish population. The town is just minutes from the Florida border (I hear there's Jews there!) and is "dotted with big fiberglass peanuts painted to resemble characters and people — there's even an Elvis peanut."


Someone needs to tell these good folks that peanuts ain't kosher for Passover.

Par-Tay for whom, exactly?

Okay, someone obviously ain't reading my blog. If they did, they'd know that I ain't no fan of playsets.

My daughter's 8th birthday party was this past weekend, which means there's a new pile of crap (and I mean that in the nicest way) to unleash on the playroom. There's the set of High School Musical bedsheets, the Paint-Your-own Wall clock, and the Smoothie Maker. And hidden away amongst the rubble, unfortunately, are a couple of playsets.

Okay, the Barbie The Baker set was bad enough, but I have to wonder what the product designers were thinking when they came up with the Polly Pockets Club Groove Par-Tay Bus.

The concept seemed simple enough. It's the ultimate ride with a dance club inside! Take two vapid blonde bimbo girl dolls with microphones, and package them up in a rock-themed party van that blatantly rips off the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine. Make the van magically transform into a sound stage complete with disco ball, turntables, velvet ropes, and elevator. And if that didn't make enough sense for you, make the conversion from van to sound stage so complex that a parent is required to read eight pages of instructions and review a detailed schematic designed on a CAD program in order to figure out how to convert the exhaust manifold of the minivan into a dressing room. You read that right.

Transformers have always been amazing feats of engineering. This thing is not. To convert from a van to a stage, you must disassemble all the pieces, and then attach them in completely non-logical ways. The roof of the van becomes an elevator. The rear bumper, a bench seat. The front windshield, a second-story balcony. The disco ball, well, that is just a disco ball. There are 48 pieces smaller than a thimble. There is also no way of storing these pieces when not in use. After thirty minutes of trying to make sense of the directions, my daughter looked at me and said, "dad, wanna go play with the Wii?"

The pile of pieces have been sitting in the corner of the living room since yesterday afternoon, untouched.

So people, remember...playsets look great in the box, and that's where they should stay. Save the planet, save the landfills, and most importantly keep the dad from having a stress-induced coronary.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Father of the year nomination

Every once in a while I manage to get up off my butt and transform myself into what would appear to be a reasonably cool dad. I should do that more often, because soon enough no matter how hard I try my daughters will eventually see me as the dork that I truly am and not want to be found anywhere near me. Yesterday was one of these special occasions, being the date of Natalie's 8th birthday party. Remember that scene in the movie "Parenthood" when Steve Martin dresses up as a cowboy and appears at his son's birthday party on a real horse? I was shooting for that level of amazement, though I think I managed somewhere on the safe end of the range between Steve Martin and that guy who tried to sell his kids to a Phillipino sweatshop.

It appears that birthday #8 is one of the last hurrahs, the last time parents seem to be required to go all out and spend hundreds of dollars on pony rides, Build-A-Bear reservations, or moon bounces before the next year when sleepovers become the norm. However, being the cheap scrooge that I am, I was determined to resurrect the idea of a good ol' backyard barbecue rather than feeding the consumerism machine. Lucky for me, those fine folks in Beijing gave me an idea. I sold Natalie on the idea of a Backyard Olympics, complete with opening ceremonies, team competition and gold medals.

The night before the big event, I spent hours hot-gluing chocolate coins to ribbons and coming up with goofy names for picnic games like the Hangin' On By A Thread Tug-O-War and the Hanna Montana Banana Bonanza, while the wife dutifully gathered plasticware and drink boxes.

Somewhat unexpectedly, every girl that Natalie invited to the party accepted the invitation, meaning we were host to 23 screaming little girls, a number that even in their heyday was probably daunting to folks like The Beatles and Vanilla Ice.

My evil plan for the day included a number of backyard games involving potato sacks, water balloons, and blindfolds. The girls were divided into two teams (the Pink Cyclones and Purple Infernos). The opening ceremonies began to the Olympic Fanfare playing on the outdoor speakers (thank you peer-to-peer sharing sites) and, while I decided to forgo the two thousand and eight synchronized drummers for budget purposes, I even had the birthday girl ascend the steps of the deck to light the Olympic Tiki Torch and announce the start of the games.

Overall the competition was quite a success and conveniently ended with a tie between the two teams. The injury list was low, with only one skinned knee, a bee sting, and some rope burn. The highlight of the games came at the end of the water balloons, when one of the more astute (read: evil) children discovered the stash of extra water ballons and gathered her fellow Olympiads together in a terrorist plot to turn the World's Coolest Dad into the World's Wettest Dad. The plan worked, especially when the hired help (our babysitter) assisted by grabbing a handy five-gallon bucket of water and dumping it on my head (she's like totally fired, by the way). I also found that I am no match for 23 little girls in a tug-o-war.

At the end of the day, when the girls dragged their exhausted limbs home coming down from highs of frosting, chips, and adrenaline, as if being one heck of a party host wasn't enough the birthday girl insisted that I join her on a test run of one her new gifts, the Hannah Montana Wii game. It was then that she learned that her World's Coolest Dad has the musical rhythm of your average bowl of Oatmeal. Well, you win some, you lose some.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cow Magnets

So my friend Howard posted a links to a couple of interesting stories about cows this week. Funny, he usually focuses on politics, but I'm thinking there's not much going on in politics this week. Either that or his FIOS is busted again.

First, it seems that more and more these days cows are being fed things like potato chips and M&Ms, because farmers can get deals from the factories that make junk food to purchase leftovers on the cheap. Mmmm...now imagine slathering that cow with butter. There's your Good Morning Burger right there!

Second, there's a story about how a study was done by people with extra time on their hands, and it turns out a vast majority of cows stand facing magnetic north. I have a theory as to why.

I just finished reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Critics were overwhelmingly positive about this book, but frankly I thought it was a fabulously written mediocre story. The author did an absolutely incredible job building the setting for the story in tremendously vivid, intentionally rambling detail, but while half of me loved that side of the book the other half was extremely annoyed at how little actually HAPPENED in the story in close to 600 pages. Up to the very end he has you on the edge of your seat waiting for the big reveal, and afterward you say, "that's it?" In case you are into this sort of thing and plan on reading it I won't stop you, but I will make mention of something I first learned about while reading this story.

Cow Magnets.

It seems that since cows graze in the grass (when they aren't chowing down on Pringles and M&M's), they tend to pick up pieces of metal such as barbed wire bits, nuts and bolts, and the like. Farmers feed 3-inch cylindrical magnets to the cow, and the magnet picks up the chaff that the cow swallows, keeping the nails and such from causing something fittingly called "hardware disease". Huh. Hardware disease. Anyone who's seen the mess of buckets under my workbench knows I have a little bit of that myself.

My point being, whatcha got yerself her is a bona fide cow compass. If I had a chunk of magnetized iron in my 4th bonivial meta-colon I'd probably face due north too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Too cool for school work

Originally uploaded by daninhim
In an effort to catch up on a little blogging I thought I'd post a pic of my most recent woodworking project. Now that Thing#1 is entering 2nd grade, she needs a place to do her calculus homework. A coworker moving out of town offered up a few sheets of mdf and plywood that she didn't want to schlep in the moving van, so I jumped on the opportunity and build Natalie this desk and bulletin board. As is the case with most workshop projects, I learned a few things along the way. Like the fact there's a right way and a wrong way to hang doors (one of these days I need to deal with the fact that the drawer face is crooked). Or the fact that one should always plan ahead to make sure the project, once built, can make it's way out of the workshop and to its final resting place using available manpower and without denting the door frame.

On a more informational note, I came across this polyacrylic finish from General Finishes. This stuff is great. It's a clear glop that, coming out of the can, kinda resembles phlegm. But after laying three coats of it on the desktop, the surface is now impervious to dents, scratches, and perhaps even stinger missiles. I'm considering painting the entire inside of the house with it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A missed opportunity

The Olympics are now over. I can resurface. Okay, so that's not really the reason I haven't written for a while, I've just been short on fodder. Fodderless, as it were. But, today I had a sad thought.

I realized that I missed a grand opportunity to excel as a parent these past couple of weeks. You see, we let the kids watch much of the amazing Olympics opening ceremonies, but failed to do so much as debrief them on any of the competitions that happened throughout. You see, when they are awake, and the TV is on, usually it's Hannah Montana or some crap like that. Because I'm so used to simply NOT watching TV during the day, I never once thought to put the daytime coverage of the events on TV instead. and the events that unfolded in the evening occurred after their bedtimes. So our household was Phelpsless. Boltless. Completely without Costas. I know I know...Tivo....

Today while driving home from work I caught a snippet of NPR All Things Considered, the portion where they read listeners' letters. One writer commented about how he agonized over letting his kids stay up so late, but after Phelps won his awards and the kids dashed across the street to do their best imitations of him in the neighbors' pool, he realized how justified he was letting them witness these amazing events as they unfolded. Suddenly I felt guilty. Cuz I didn't.

We had Tivo'd the closing ceremonies, and as many know there was a final mens' volleyball competition against Brazil as part of that recording. I mentioned it to the kids, and we watched. Jessica (and her mother) got bored and cranky after ten minutes, but Natalie and I stared riveted (I'm a huge Vball fan anyways). By the last game Natalie was hooting and hollering and jumping on the couch. She was so completely excited to see the USA win a medal, she went to sleep singing "God Bless the USA" with a grin on her face.

Well, at least that made me feel a little better.

Good news is that her birthday party is next week, and her brilliant yet slow-thinking dad is planning an Olympics of our own in the back yard. Chocolate coins hot-glued to ribbons will serve as medals, and instead of track & Field and Swimming we'll have the Monkey & Banana race and tug 'o war. Should be fun. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 08, 2008

I'm in gripe mode this week.

As I mentioned in my last post, part of our adventure to OfficeMax included getting ripped off by the price of printer ink. I know, get in line. As I mentioned, we us a Canon Pixma ip5200. It's actually quite a nice printer. It does photos well, it's fast and quiet, and it prints two-sided. And, as I mentioned one of the "selling points" at the time was that each ink comes in it's own cartridge, so you only need to replace the ones you use up instead of wasting the other inks when one color runs out.


Last night I printed twenty copies of an invitation to my daughter's birthday party. It was 4-color, with a couple of photos, and the design was pretty heavy on yellow.

After copy #4, the yellow ran out. I replaced it. After copy #5, the cyan ran out. After copy #6, the magenta ran out. After copy #10, the black ran out.

Good thing I didn't waste all that cyan, magenta, and black when I replaced the yellow.

I'm really considering one of the new printers Kodak is proclaiming will save a ton of money on ink, as their replacement cartridges are only ten bucks for black and 15 for 5-color. Plus with their current sale, you get 4 extra blacks and three color carts with the printer for $149. Considering we just spent around fifty bucks for a set of 5 colors for the canon which will probably last 4 months, this seems like a really good deal. Plus I've been considering buying a scanner for a while.

Trouble is, I can't get a good handle on the reviews of this thing. Some people say it's the greatest thing ever. some say it's horrible. So which is it? Bear in mind most of the printing we do tends to NOT be photos, but rather printouts from websites or color pictures of favorite webkinz characters. But how well it print? And also how well does it scan? Help me Obi Wan, you're my only hope.

Okay, on to my next gripe.

About a month ago I hopped onto the website for Thule car racks to buy a couple of replacement parts. Recently I had to remove the roof rack from our van and discovered two of the "feet" had rusted solid. As a result I had to cut them off. Thule has this handy website from which you can order replacement parts, but the problem as you can see here it listed the foot (the part I needed) as out of stock. but I found it odd that the full kit at the top was available. So I called them.

The nice lady I spoke to told me that this part is no longer manufactured. She said they DO have some in stock, but don't advertise it on the website because they are running low. But regardless she took my order and told me they'd be shipped out in a day or two.

A day or two later, I received ONE foot. Well, that's useful.

I found it odd that the packing slip said quantity=2, so I called them. This guy named Frank, in the Quebec office, told me that this was because the second foot was backordered. I asked him how could they be backordered if they are not manufactured anymore. He paused for a moment, and then I distinctly heard the sound of a metal file drawer opening. Then he said, "I've got one here, I will ship it out to you."

That was nine days ago.

Today I called Thule back, and got Frank again. I asked him what happened to my second foot. He told me that "according to the computer it said there were more in the warehouse, but that was wrong and instead they need to ship from the other warehouse, and that was going to take another week."

You know, when I was a kid, my mom would often drag me along during her visits to the supermarket. And whenever a new flavor of Pop Tarts caught my eye, she would always give me the same sneaky answer. "Those are on sale at the other store.," she would say.

To this day I've never been to "the other store."

Anyone need a roof rack with only three feet?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

OfficeMax Promotions and logic

Every once in a while OfficeMax has a "15% off everything that fits in this bag" promotion in the Sunday paper. You take the paper bag with you to OfficeMax and, like it says, get 15% off anything that fits in the bag. It just so happened that we needed a few things, so we took the bag to the store yesterday and purchased about about $50 worth of items. As the headset-wearing drone(what's up with those things, anyways? what are these guys, Navy Seals?) behind the register rang up the items and placed them on the counter, I put them back in the promotional paper bag, thinking I'd use it to take my new purchase home and use the bag to hold old newspapers for recycling later.

But no, the cashier told me he had to confiscate that bag so I didn't try to use it a second time, and he transferred everything into an overly large plastic bag, tossing the paper one into a trash can behind him.

What the?????

Hasn't Al Gore taught these people anything? I had a perfectly good recyclable bag in my hand, but no, that goes into the trash, which I'm sure will be tossed in a landfill, and instead I get to waste a plastic bag.

I'm pretty sure OfficeMax sells markers. Anyone think that maybe a better practice would be to grab a sharpie and scribble "USED" across the paper bag? Brilliant, I know. I want credit for that idea when they start doing it. And yes, I wrote an email to OfficeMax. I'm just that annoyed.

I should also mention that one of the reasons we went there was to get raped on new inkjet cartridges. We have a Canon Pixma printer that has 5 separate cartridges, and in theory you "only replace the ones you need." In reality they all empty at the same time, so the theory is complete marketing bullshit.

Normally I would hunt the web to find a good deal on cartridges, but we needed them in a hurry so we figured the 15% promotion would be good enough. When we got there I learned that they now sell an OfficeMax-branded version of the Canon cartridges, at a discounted price. Great. Except that they don't sell the 5-pack, only individual colors. And if you add up the price of the individual colors of the OfficeMax-branded ones, the price is exactly the same as the 5-pack Canon-branded set. Again. Brilliant.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Vomitron claims another soul

I've been reduced to applesauce. Here I am, it's 12:57am and, in a desperate attempt to nourish my recently emptied body, I am carefully and tentatively spooning applesauce. The Vomitron has claimed another soul.

This evening's festivities involved going to a local church fair. All the good stuff was in attendance. Sugar coated funnel cakes, teenage girls texting each other in their short shorts and straight, lifeless hair, and Carnies hawking cheaply made stuffed Care Bears behind booths falsely advertising easy wins. And of course, there were rides. As a dutiful dad of an almost-eight-year-old, I was ready to show my girl the wonder of the spinning steel monsters with minimum height requirements.

I've never been squeamish about bile-inducing carnival rides, but over the past few years I have noticed my stomach acting more and more questionably with every spinning teacup, every looping roller coaster. And as we approached the shining yet rickety centrifugal force experiment, I'm pretty sure my belly button mouthed the words, "dude, I suggest the carousel."

I ignored my belly button.

Natalie and I mounted the steps and took our places in the circle of fun-seekers, and the churning began. As she squealed in excitement, I looked for stationary items on the horizon on which to focus in a futile attempt to maintain control, all the while holding back my hot dog and fries like a pit bull trainer holds back his killer dog. I survived the ride, but thought about finding a discrete tree to grab hold of before my legs gave out. It was a comfortable, cool evening, and I was sweating profusely. My feet were numb, and the sounds of the carnival around me were quickly dissolving into a muffled hum in the back of my head.

The wave of sickness eventually began to clear. That's when Natalie asked to go on the Octopus.

Off in the distance I saw my next challenge, one of those rides with eight two-person cars on the ends of long arms, the arms rotating around a central axis allowing the cars to spin freely and wildly depending upon the distribution of weight. I thought that I saw a central handlebar in each car that would allow passengers to maintain control of the spinning. I thought wrong.

As this pathetic yet dutiful dad mounted the ride with his grinning daughter, I searched in vain for that handlebar but to no avail. The ride began, and it was then that I learned that the 120-pound difference between our weights was quite an enabler. The car began spinning wildly.

The ride lasted exactly two rotations too long. Even Natalie said so. I finished off the ride the color of Kermit the Frog; she was a shade of Gonzo.

The good news was I didn't lose it at the carnival. The other good news was that the friends we were with had decided, while Natalie and I were doing our best imitations of smoothie makers, that their three-year-old had had enough and it was time to go. I barely remember the ride home, other than leaning out the window with the wind in my face, hoping not to chuck in their brand new Highlander.

When I got home, after about a half hour of sitting on the bathroom floor shivering and sweating, my intestinal fortitude gave way, and the funnel cake came back up with a show of violence not seen since the last Jason Statham movie.

I went straight to bed, but now at a little past midnight I've realized I don't have the nutrition in me to last until morning. The safe choice seems to be applesauce. It appears to be staying down.

Update: I forgot to mention that this was Natalie's first experience in memory of her father using the word "Shit." I believe it was fully justified.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Immaculate Conception?

Well, the Evening of Solitary Wonder went as planned. While Hilary was off at the resort with things #1 and #2, I managed to build a complete, to-scale replica of the Basilica in Rome carved from a single piece of curly Bubinga down in my workshop, watched Transformers with only slight damage to one eardrum, and not once did I have to listen to what I'm listening to right now, which is the sound of my four-year-old screaming at the top of her lungs from the timeout chair proclaiming she wants to be second in the shower instead of first.

Perhaps the only flaw in my plan was forgetting to disconnect the phone. It rang at least a half dozen times throughout the night, the caller ID usually informing me that some durned fool family member was checking to see if I was enjoying my night off from the family. People, stay with me here.

On to another subject. So we've got this fish. A blood parrot South American Cichlid. He's been acting kinda funky lately. First, he's taken to rearranging his tank, by pulling up all the plants and by sucking up gravel in his mouth and spitting it into various corners such that the bottom of the tank resembles the topography of the Adirondacks. Second, he's taken to hiding away in a corner behind the sunken pirate keg and when we approach the tank he'll puff himself up to twice his normal size and charge straight at us till he bumps his noggin on the glass, over and over again.

First, I thought Goldie was just in need of a hobby. Now I'm starting to wonder if something else is up. Something involving planned parenthood. So I decided to pull the tank out a bit and peer around to get a good look at Goldie's little hideout in the back of the tank, and there on the bed of gravel I noticed what looked kind of like tiny pieces of rice in a bed of algae. Neither makes sense, since I just cleaned out the tank last Sunday. There's no algae in the tank right now, and there certainly shouldn't be any sand. I started to wonder...could this be some sort of fish eggs? Does Goldie have a nest? Is he a she? None of this makes any sense, since Goldie lives alone except for an algae sucker that never comes out of the pirate keg. If anyone out there knows anything about the odd habits of South American blood parrot cichlids, do tell. The last time Goldie was in a tank with another fish (besides the sucker) was about four months ago. What's the gestation period for cichlid babies? I'm not sure I want to know.