Thursday, December 01, 2011

Our latest example of our own poor parenting

Dad, where's the iPad?

Why do you need to use it?

I just need it!'s over there.

(Five minutes later...)

What are you doing on the iPad?

Playing Bakery Story.

That's why you needed it so bad?

I needed to cook my food before it spoiled!

Um, yet you left the bag of cheese from your snack on the counter for the last hour?

Yeah, but this game teaches me to cook!

You mean, as opposed to, say, helping mom make dinner?

What's your point?


Monday, November 28, 2011

Ask the Spirit Wind...

(Some of you faithful readers out there are fellow dads in the Indian Princess program with me. Consider this a rerun. For the rest of you, I wrote this a few months back for the newsletter I produce for our local Indian Princess program, the YMCA father/daughter bonding club that Jessica and I are in. Yes, I'm repurposing content. Deal with it).

Homer Simpson once said, after having joined a mysterious secret society known as The Stonecutters, "Marge, I've never felt so accepted in all my life! These people look deep into my soul and assign me a number based on the order in which I joined." Well listen up all you first-year dads in the Indian Princess program. Much like Stonecutter #908, it is time for you and your princess to communicate with the Great Spirit Wind and come up with your very own Indian names.

Understand that this is an extremely important and delicate task. Your Indian name describes you. It lets people know the source of your inner beauty. It goes on the lapel of your vest, if you pay extra for the embroidery. The same is true for your young daughter's Indian name. And bear in mind that you might want to steer your little girl away from any names with "butterfly" or "rainbow" if you're going to be able to pick her out in a crowd. 

Think of some of the great Indian names of our past history. Cochise. Geronimo. Dances With Wolves. These great chiefs carried names of power. Of nobility. Of the ability to jump off things while yelling your own name.

Because you asked, I'm going to share with you the story of finding my own Indian name. It was Saturday night at our first father/daughter campout, and I was still struggling to come up with something meaningful. I had wracked my brain day and night trying to pull something from deep within. My youngster was of no help to me, as the best thing she could come up with was "Smells Like Feet". As the evening campfire approached I pulled our tribe's campfire torch from my car, and removed the plastic shopping bag that was wrapped around the top to protect the car from smoke stains. I took one look at the bag and had my epiphany. "Giant Eagle."

All was well and good until last Spring's Deer Valley campout. There, I found myself on the ceremonial campfire stage with a fellow tribal officer, also with the chosen name of Giant Eagle. And HIS name was embroidered on his vest. AND he was an actual Giant Eagle employee. He won this round.

So it was back to the drawing board. I came home, gathered my princesses (the older one graduated from the program a few years ago), and told them it was their solemn duty to come up with a new and more meaningful name for their dear old dad. The elder child suggested "Elephant Snout". I sent her to her room without dinner. My younger one promptly ran to get a children's book containing names for different animal butts. "How about Moose Caboose? Chicken Cheeks? Duck-billed Platypus Gluteus Maximus?" Again, no dinner. My wife informed me it was time to take the dog out for her daily exercise. It was then that we knew.

Your do-nothing newsletter writer, Runs With Terrier.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving at the Genius Bar

This week the family attended the usual Turkey Day festivities with my wife's extended family in Detroit. Lots of children, gushing grandparents, too much turkey, and Apple products. Lots and lots of Apple products. It was kind of odd, frankly. I counted six iPads, 5 iphones, an iPod Touch, and a Macbook Air amongst 14 people, half of which were under the age of eleven. Much of the weekend was spent showing off favorite apps, discussing how to copy DVDs onto the iPad for the long drive home, and competing against one another playing Words With Friends. I kind of felt I should be wearing a blue shirt with an Apple ID badge around my neck.

But the highlight of this strangely Jobsian Thanksgiving, was my wife's new toy. After years of surviving with a basic flip phone that (dare I say it) was ONLY good for making PHONE CALLS, I finally broke down and bought her a new iPhone for her birthday. For the first time in her life her technology is cooler than mine. And at long last, I have my revenge.

You see, I have occasionally been labeled "that dad", the one who is too busy with his head down and his eyes on his iPhone when he should b enjoying the world around him. Of course that time has long past, and it's rare that I'm distracted by it anymore. It certainly never makes it to the dinner table, and my wife hasn't had to say, "HELLOOOOO? ARE YOU LISTENING??" to me in a long time. well, at least not because of my phone. But yet, somehow the subject of the non-attentive dad will often come up in mixed company, and my lovely wife has always been happy to paste that label on my forehead. Well, no more. The tides have turned. Now she's the one with that Pavlovian reaction every time someone sends her a Facebook message and the phone gives off a little floop. She's the one eagerly awaiting that next turn against her cousin in California playing a week long Words With Friends marathon. And she's the one constantly asking Siri if she should be putting on a sweater.

Okay, perhaps I'm being unfair - she's only had the phone a few days, and it's all new and shiny. Of course she's going to want to play with it. And that Siri thing is just so freaking amazing. We'll give it some time, and I will report back in a few months. But back to the Thanksgiving family gathering, it really struck me as amazing both how much money we've all given Apple in recent years, and how our Apple products are constantly at our hips not unlike a six-shooter was always at the ready on the hip of a cowboy in the Old West. Its technology got us safely to Detroit, and allowed us to easily check the status of our hotel accommodations. We used it to check available showings of The Muppets and buy our tickets. We looked up recipes and the biography of Ernest Hemingway, and we kept our kids busy during any given downtime. We even used the GPS settings to see where en route from the park the kids and wives were, so we could prepare for the onslaught of a half dozen young children starving from an afternoon of fall playtime. And that infamous quote about the best camera being the one that's with you? Truer words...

The holidays always means getting together with people that often don't have much more in common than shared blood. Yet technology seems to have built on those bonds. No more seeing people once a year and having to catch up on what seems like a lifetime of stories. It's all been posted on Facebook for everyone to stay up to date. No more great stories of getting lost on the way there or having arguments with the grandparents over which bridge to take to the movie theatre. Just let the GPS do the job. This technology has done a wonderful job of making these annual visits easier to prepare for, travel to, and deal with. But are we better for it? Perhaps. I'll ask my wife. That's her texting me from the garage asking for help bringing in groceries.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Next Parenthood Renovation

Holy crap.

I take three months off from blogging, and in the blink of an eye I've gone from being a father of preschoolers to panicking about how we're going to be able to afford a Bat Mitzvah in two years. What the hell did I just miss?

Back when I started this blog in 2005, coming up with subject matter was an easy task. I was the father of two small children, ones who really didn't understand the term "internet" and just thought that the computer was something "Mommy and Daddy stare at while I watch Elmo". Now, I have daughters with their own Skype accounts. Daughters who know how to connect their friend's ipods to our wireless network. Daughters savvy enough to google themselves, and come across my blog. Suddenly, I'm censored.

Back in the early days, I had free reign to write about my daughters' pooping habits. I could drone on endlessly about the silly things that came out of their mouths. I was generally welcome to make fun of them because, well, at that age they're more like scientific oddities or house pets than they are actual humans. But now, they are self aware. They are people. People with Skype accounts. I need to be careful what I say. The day I post the details about my daughter's barfing episode and she hears about the post from a schoolmate is the day it's all over, and I'm living in the woodshed. I guess that's the reason you haven't seen much from me lately here. I'm too busy censoring myself.

But now that we're planning our first Bat Mitzvah, I feel I need a platform to vent again. Over the next couple of years, things are gonna get a little crazy. Every big decision we make is going to have to be weighed against Bat Mitzvah plans. Do we replace our 12-year old minivan, or stick it out a few more years with its broken door and leaky windshield? Do we plan a big summer vacation again next year, or buy a plastic pool and stick around the back yard? And most importantly, do we need those new friends in our lives, since it will just increase the size of the guest list?

I'm thankful I live in an area of the country with a pretty moderate standard of living. Everyone's heard the stories about the parents that spend a hundred grand on their daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and any Jewish family with a kid coming of age knows that Keeping Up with The Steins is required viewing. Personally, I'm all for a backyard BBQ and convincing my sister to make desserts. But I know I'm going to be outvoted. I'm sure there will be a DJ, There will be a photographer. There might even be professional catering. So while I have no idea how I'm going to afford it all, at least I know I can blog about it.

And you know what that means. I'm back baby!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Really, I don't know why I bother.

Let's face it. The days of buying electronics at a store are long gone. And I should have realized that, but sometimes I guess I'm just too stubborn.

We're headed on a family vacation soon. It's gonna be long car ride. Luckily, we've got gadgets. In fact, we've got gadget overload. Aside from the obligatory portable DVD players, our collection of Apple mobile devices has grown to a point where if I hear one peep out of the little pipsqueaks in the back row between the time we leave and the time we get to our destination I'm gonna go all Clark Griswold at Wallyworld on them.

So of course, having this many gadgets means improving our ability to charge them in the car. Scosche makes a charger with two USB ports and is designed to charge both iPods and iPads (which take more juice), and I decided it was high time to pick one up. Rather than buy one from Amazon and hope it arrives in time for our trip, I decided to go the instant gratification route and stop in Best Buy.

Now, visiting Best Buy is something I try never to do. All the sterotypes of the big box store hold true there. Employees who know nothing more than what's on the card in front of the item, limited and overpriced selections, and a store layout that begs for people to leave with the sudden urge to take a shower. Nonetheless, I knew that Best Buy sells the item, because it said so on their website. So I stopped in.

Last November, Best Buy attempted to boldly redesign their stores,turning the interior into "mini learning stations that demonstrate how devices can interact with one another wirelessly" I found the inside of the store confusing, poorly lit, and utterly unfriendly. Despite that, I wandered around a bit until I found a rack of car chargers, though the one I was looking for was not there.

A blue-shirted woman with a secret service earpiece in her ear and a clipboard in her hand came walking toward me and asked if she could be of service. I told her I was looking for a car charger that supports iPads. "

Well, these support iPods," she said.

"Yes, I see that. But none of these are approved to properly charge an iPad. I need one that provides 2.1 amps".

Okay, just to be clear here, I'm no electrical engineer. But read any Apple product page or iPad charger page on the web, and you will soon know that the iPad requires a 2.1 amp charge. Really, it doesn't take much to find this out. However, my response completely stumped my personal blue-shirt, and she took me in search of the iPads themselves, thinking perhaps the charger I needed would be tucked in next to them. Once we made it to the iPad section (at the other end of the store from the iPods), she spent a good long moment staring at a rack of Apple-branded iPad Smart Covers before she realized this was not the charger rack.

I told her, "Tell you what. Let's bring up the Best Buy website and I can show you exactly the thing I need." I started to pull out my iphone but then suggested it might be faster to do this on a store computer. She agreed, but unfortunately for her by the time she got logged into the computer I'd already had it up on the phone. Of course she happily took the SKU number from what I showed her and entered it into the store inventory system, only to learn it would have to be shipped from the warehouse. She told me it would take two days, I told her fine, and she began to enter the order. On the final screen, after entering my credit card number, it informed us the item was "unavailable". Well, that was a complete waste of time.

Since I was standing next to the camera section, I decided to kill a couple more minutes and check out the digital cameras for no good reason. When I quite literally just placed a finger on a Canon EOS and set off the security alarms, I decided I needed to get out of this godforsaken store as soon as possible. As I walked out, the "greeter" whose job it is to stand at the front door and check people's receipts, held his Secret Service mic to his mouth and said, "will someone please take care of that alarm?"

Now, I found it especially amusing that the guy (me) who set off the alarm in the camera section was able to turn and walk right out of the store without so much as a second glance by the greeter. However he was right on top of getting that annoying alarm turned off. Impressive store security.

When I got home, I logged onto Amazon and put in my order for the car charger. Even paying extra for quick shipping, it still was cheaper than for what Best Buy's website had it listed. Never again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sure I wear my seat belt, but only when I'm drinking

My office just instituted a new health program, that offers points towards healthy habits (exercising, eating right, etc) in an effort to keep costs down. Overall it makes sense and seems to be a fairly intelligent program. But there is one thing about it I find just a little odd.As part of an overall introductory questionnaire, each participant states whether or not he or she smokes, drinks, or wears a seat belt.

It's the seat belt question that has me puzzled. My first thought is, who in their right mind would say that they don't? But then my second thought is, why does it matter? Okay, I realize that my ER bill is going to be that much lower if I'm in an accident wearing your seatbelt as opposed to, say, being launched through the windshield of my Subaru headfirst into the nearest jersey barrier. I get that. However shouldn't the question perhaps dig a little deeper, and find out a little bit more about my driving habits themselves? For example, do I text while driving? Do I cut people off? Do I check my email at stoplights? Do I like to adjust my eyeliner in rush hour stop-and-go traffic? Do I enjoy the occasional McDonalds' hamburger with a hot coffee held between my legs and greasy fries in the cup holder while cruising at 70 miles per hour down the interstate at four in the morning? I mean really, just because I wear my seat belt, that doesn't mean I'm a good driver. Shouldn't the question be, "do you drive like a maniac who's late for a movie?"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I need an R2 unit

In the past three years that I've owned my current car, an indicator light has popped up on the dashboard several times. According to the direction manual, this indicator light suggests that one of my tires is about to have a catastrophic blowout, and that I should immediately pull to the side of the road, move to a safe distance from the automobile, duck down, and call the authorities immediately.

The first time this happened, after checking the pressure in all the tires and finding nothing wrong, I brought the car to the shop where, after connecting the car to their magic diagnosticator and visually scanning the surface of each tire, they discovered a small nail in one of the tires. The second time this happened, they found nothing wrong but suggested I bump up the pressure a few pounds beyond what's suggested in the direction book. Now the light is back on, and I'm annoyed.

We live in an incredible world of technology. I could go out right now and buy myself a car that does some truly amazing things. These days cars can give you tun-by-turn directions with a map on screen. There are cars that will make cell phone calls for you. Find the nearest gas station. Call for help if you crash into a tree. For goodness sake, there are even cars that will PARK themselves now!

So will someone PLEASE tell me why, in this day and age of fantastical new automotive wizardry, I still need to bring my car to the shop just to find out what that little red light on the dashboard means?

I want a car that tells me how much metal is left on my brake rotors, and whether they need to be adjusted or completely replaced. I want a car that tells me exactly how low my oil level is. In quarts. I want to know when the last time it was that I changed my air filter. How dirty my transmission fluid is. And I don't want to have to bring my car to someone else to find this information out.

Really, what I want is an R2D2 unit in the back of my car that can constantly analyze the health of my vehicle, let me know if there's a problem, and give me the details of the fix. Is that too much to ask? Obviously, it isn't:


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Aimee Mullins and her 12 pair of legs

This is simply incredible. Every parent should show this to their kids.

Athlete, actor and activist Aimee Mullins talks about her prosthetic legs -- she's got a dozen amazing pairs -- and the superpowers they grant her: speed, beauty, an extra 6 inches of height ... Quite simply, she redefines what the body can be.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Syyn Labs and that neato OK Go thingy

I'd been hearing about some new music video by the band OK Go, the ones who made the now-infamous choreographed-dancing-on-treadmills video a while back that by now even your grandmother has seen:

But I'd never seen their newest concoction, a Rube Goldberg contraption that's timed to the music, and kept forgetting to look for it until I read a little bit about it in the latest issue of Fast Company Magazine. According to the story, this video took 85 takes to get the functionality and timing just right, and the final result is one video take with no editing and no tricks. Sheer awesomeness.

The contraption was built by folks at Syyn Labs, a sorta-kinda company made up of artsy nerds who love bringing things to an obsessive level.

Oh, but wait - there's more. Syyn Labs was then tapped to make another Rube Goldberg contraption for the Google Science Fair, seen here: