Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Ridgeline Pickup Bed Rack with a Soft Tonneau Cover

Okay, so I haven't posted anything on my blog in YEARS, and all of a sudden I'm using it to document how I built a rack for the back of my pickup truck? What gives, you ask? Well, it's that I own a 2019 Honda Ridgeline, I'm on a Facebook group with other whackos like myself who seem to be seriously into this truck, and I've been chatting with them for the past several months about how I could build some sort of utility rack over the top of the bed while at the same time maintaining the ability to use a soft tonneau cover on the bed AND be able to roll it up with the rack in place. Got it? So if you came here hoping Mike was diving back into blogging fresh and new, forget it - at least for now. But if you came across this post as a Ridgeline owner ,curious about what I did and how, here are the details. Welcome!

Okay, so I've got a 2019 Ridgeline with the North Mountain rollup soft cover on it. A month after I bought the truck, I took my firstborn to college and stuffed every inch of the vehicle with her...well...stuff. I'm a bit concerned about not having enough space in the spring when she comes home, so I thought that having a rack over the bed might be useful for carrying one of those Thule or Yakima cargo boxes or something similar. Plus I'd like to have the flexibility of using this rack for other things, such as to carry a kayak or mountain bikes, in the future, all while maintaining the usability of the North Mountain tonneau cover. It's probably worth mentioning that I can't go the simple route of having a roof rack, because my garage has a pretty low ceiling so the truck will not fit with a rack on top (as you can see in the pics below).

So first of all, let's talk about the tonneau cover. The great thing about this cover is that its rails sit on the TOP of the bed walls, so they don't interfere with the in-bed trunk lid. But having the rails on top also minimizes your options when it comes to adding other accessories like a bike rack. So it occurred to me...maybe I could make use of the cover's three attachment points on either side both to mount the cover AND to hold the rack.

I played with a few different possible solutions, such as trying to repurpose parts from an old Thule rack as well as trying 1" plumbing pipe, but eventually I found inspiration when someone else on the RL Facebook user group posted an image of a rack they made using extruded aluminum t-track. Bingo! This would give me plenty of flexibility, including the ability to attach other gizmos and doohickeys as time went on. But I was kind of stuck on how to actually mount the t-track to the truck itself.

After playing around with a couple of different ideas involving welding steel plates onto the existing tonneau brackets, a friend and I realized the simple solution. A 3" wide steel plate could lay on top of the existing tonneau brackets and stick out from under the rails of the cover. The plate would have a hole in it to accept a bolt to mount a piece of t-track standing upright, and the rest would be easy. Conveniently that friend I mentioned is one of those "maker" types, and not only does he have all sorts of tools for cutting and shaping the steel, but he also has a powder coating station to put a finish on the plates they don't rust.

So here are some pics of the final product. Overall, I think this is going to be pretty useful. It's unfortunate that the front crossbar is fairly close to the back window, as it would have been better about 8" back, but that's where the attachment points are.

And, to be clear...I'm not a communist. That's a 25-year old rush poster from a fraternity party.

For those of you looking for the details, here you go:

I picked up a piece of 24" x 3" steel plate from Home Depot and cut 4 pieces out of it. The front ones (closer to the cab) needed to be a little longer than the ones toward the tailgate. The front ones are 7-3/8", the rear ones are 6". Each plate has a 3/8" hole  on either end. The inner hole, which goes atop the tonneau bracket, is 1/2" from the edge. The outer hole, where the rack bolts on, is 1-1/8". I used an angle grinder to round the edges and smooth them out before powder coating.

I ordered 1-1/2" square t-track from The verticals are 7-1/2" high, with one end tapped for a 5/16" bolt.

Using the same T-track as the verticals, the front bar is 75-3/4" and the back one is 73-7/8". This allowed for a 2-1/2" overhang past the verticals on either end.

I used standard 2-hole brackets on the outside of each attachment point, and hidden corner brackets (so as not to interfere with the cover) on the inside for extra strength. I may swap those out with another set of 2-hole brackets though, because the hidden ones have these tiny allen wrench bolts that are a pain to get to.

Putting the metal plates underneath the cover rails meant modifying the weatherstripping underneath. I put another layer of weatherstripping underneath to fill the gaps and ensure everything inside stays dry.

I need to order plastic caps for the ends of the crossbars. The ends of the bare bars are kind of sharp.

My next task is to work out what I will use for storage on the rack. I already own a soft rooftop cargo bag - I'll try that out to see how well it fits. Or, I may get a cargo basket to put the bag in. I also need to look at bike racks. I have a couple of old Thule bike holders, but their attachments won't fit these cross bars.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Technology is annoying the crap out of me

After a quick check, it appears that I’ve written quite a bit about bathrooms and plumbing in this blog, along with the ordeals one must go through to avoid having our houses destroy themselves as a result of bad DIY plumbing jobs (anyone remember my own personal Sarlaac?). Well, the good news is this story is NOT about home plumbing. It's about office plumbing, and the convenience brought to us by the wonders of modern technology. Or, more accurately, how that technology has completely failed us.

My place of employment recently relocated to another suburb about twelve miles from the original location. Our old building was a certified "green" building that included many tree-hugging and energy-reducing features, especially in the bathrooms. The new location was built with an equally environmentally conscious mind set, with even later-and-greater technology that brought promises of saving the Arctic ice shelf, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, and making it just that much easier to poop with a clear conscience.

In both cases, the technology implemented to reach these lofty goals has utterly failed.

Let's start with the old building. First, there were the toilets. Above the toilets were two buttons. The buttons were unmarked, but it was pretty clear that pressing one button enacted a weak flush to save water, while the other button launched a torrent of water destined to flush a multitude of golf balls in one shot without clogging (yes, a #1 and a #2 button, as it were) .

The problem was that there were also urinals in the room. Thus no one using the toilets ever hit the #1 button. The #1 button just sat there as an overly expensive but useless feature, like so much gold on a new Apple Watch.

Then there were the sinks. These sinks had motion sensors that were so fickle it was virtually impossible to wash your hands. In some cases you had to wave your hand violently around until it responded, and in other cases the water would come on as soon as you put your hands underneath the faucet, only to shut off a second later. And there were no temperature controls, so the water was always cold. Sure, we saved the environment by using less water, only to destroy humanity by passing along a massive bacterial infection due to poorly washed hands.

And don’t get me started on the motion sensor lights, which usually turned off halfway through a typical visit to the men’s room, leading one to wonder if he should stand up and wave his hands to get the lights on again, or just sit there in the dark and continue catching up on his Facebook feed until someone else walked in. Not that I updated my Facebook feed whilst in the bathroom. I mean, if I did, then my Facebook friends would know EXACTLY what my poop schedule was each day based on the volume of my posts, right? Hey, Mike must be having stomach issues today…he’s commented on fifteen people’s posts this morning! No, I’d never do that.

When we moved to the new building, we had high hopes for improvement. The building committee was well aware of the past struggles, and we expected something that worked better. And, at first, everything seemed to be vastly improved. But then reality set in.

The sinks were fine. They had hospital-style handles, which could be turned on or off at our leisure. Great. But the sensor soap pumps…oh, the sensor soap pumps. There were three sinks, each with one of these motion sensor pumps:

One spits out nothing but a small soap bubble. The second spits a good wad of soap, but will time it’s spurt to the precise moment where you THINK it’s broken and take your hand away, so that the soap ends up in the sink. The third spits at just the right time to get a good dollop of soap on your hand, only to spit a SECOND dollop as soon as you take your hand away. Sigh.

And then we get back to the toilets. Motion sensor toilets. Why, oh why, are toilets made with motion sensors?

Let’s think about this. You sit down. You do your business. You stand up. It flushes. Umm…how about the rest of what you gotta do in there? As a result you have to flush a second time once you’re completely done, wasting twice as much water as expected. 

And then there’s the low-tech toilet paper rolls. They look kind of like this:

And they are mounted six inches off the floor. SIX INCHES OFF THE FLOOR! How exactly, are we supposed to get toilet paper out of that?

Yes, all this technology, put in place to make it easier to wipe our own butts while saving the Earth at the same time. And ironically all it makes us want to do is drown a harp seal in frustration. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m gonna go pee outside behind a bush.

Monday, November 10, 2014

When Black Friday Comes...

So, Black Friday is almost upon us once more. I remember, back in my younger days, I once partook in the Black Friday cluster bomb, getting up at five in the morning and venturing out alone (my family had no interest in such madness) in search of the great white deal. There, in the darkness of the outside world, I encountered a zombie-like horde of un-showered, over-caffeinated zealots waiting in long lines with their newspaper circulars rolled into saber-like tubes, ready to fend off evildoers and line skippers. That year, I had planned to go to Best Buy and Home Depot, but ended up only at OfficeMax (or maybe it was Staples, or Office Depot....All I remember was it was an office supply store with red and white signage) due to the lines around the block at the other two locations. I was looking to pick up a dirt-cheap computer monitor, but once I got into the store there were none to be had. That's when I learned the first trick of Black Friday...the Unrealistically Low Supply of Doorbuster Items.

I didn't leave empty-handed, however. Instead, I ended up with the following items. 

1. An office chair. We still use it, but we never really liked it. It's uncomfortable and crappy. And it isn't like you can toss it in the closet  to get it out of the way. So until the dog successfully rips the fake leather to shreds with her untrimmed claws, it's ours, and it's a constant reminder of my previous folly.

2. A laminator. Why? Because it was free. I didn't have any NEED for a laminator. I had nothing to laminate. And I soon discovered that a package of lamination sheets cost the same as your average above-ground swimming pool. The laminator is still in the original, sealed box somewhere in my attic. 

3. A spindle of CDs. Remember CD's? I still have about 75% of them left. I will probably never use them. 

I mean really...were any of these items worth waking up for? I love a good deal as much as the next cheap bastard. I drive my family nuts by refusing to go out to a restaurant without a coupon. Ask either of my children what daddy says when they ask to buy a bag of chips at a Turnpike rest stop for $1.25 when there are perfectly good snacks in the car, and they will respond by explaining that they aren't allowed to talk about the days when Angry Dad comes to visit.

The more I read about Black Friday hysteria, the more I think it is a conspiracy hatched by the media in conjunction with the government and retailers to suck every last ounce of soul out of every last American. I mean seriously, what idiot sets up a tent outside an electronics store, skips three days of work and Thanksgiving dinner with their family, with the end goal of picking up a $250 laptop that will likely catch fire the first time it has to save a file to PDF format?

I think it's a fine time to modify a classic cliche. You will never regret buying the best. You will, however, regret buying the cheap crap you find searching out the best Black Friday deals. 

This Friday after Thanksgiving, I'm sleeping in.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Apple Versus Android and the Gridiron of Life

Recently, over the dinner table, Thing #1 filled me in on a schoolyard conversation she had with a friend about smartphones. It went something like this:

Thing#1: Hey, what kind of phone is that?

Mean little boy who doesn't worship my daughter like he should: It's a Samsung running Android. Something you wouldn't know anything about, Apple Fangirl.

This left my daughter flustered and confused. Did she do something wrong? Did she somehow show off a lack of basic human knowledge? Did she just get bullied and not even realize it?

As she told me about this, I realized that she'd fallen into the same trap that I, as a kid, constantly fell into - just a trap with different subject matter. Stay with me here.

In my humble opinion, young sports fans are made, not born. And they are made through the careful cultivation, marination, and indoctrination by adult sports fans bringing their offspring into the fold. A kid is introduced to the Red Sox because his dad is a Sox fan, as was his dad before him. It's a rare occurrence that a kid will be born into a Sox family and have a thing for the Mariners. I suppose it
happens, but it's rare. It's really all about the parents' influence. A non-sports fan myself, I often found myself, as a kid, being somewhat picked on for my lack of sports-related current events. "Dude, did you see Dwight Evans last night? Oh wait, I forgot, you were probably working on some science project last night while the rest of us were watching the game. Too bad, so sad." (books promptly thrown into mud).

Well, times have changed. Apple, Google, and the like have created armies of fans and scores of opposing forces. Do a web search for "Apple versus Android" and get over 5.4 million hits. Look at the comments of any tech site, and trolls will be everywhere, inciting verbal violence between like-minded individuals.

So perhaps I'm making an assumption here, but I picture that this kid who confronted my daughter on her poor lack of smartphone knowledge at one time or another had "the talk" with his dad, which went something like this:

Kid: Dad, can I get an iphone?

Dad: Son, you can have any phone you want. But if you're going to live in this house, it's gotta be Android. In this house, we're all about the Green and White.

Kid: Dad, what's Android?

Dad: Only the best freaking OS in the big leagues.

Kid: Why? What makes it better than Apple?

Dad: Cuz Android's got the experience and the power to get things done. It's got the best development team in the industry, and they move the goal line forward constantly. Oh sure, Apple makes a pretty phone. but you don't win games by being pretty. You want your phone to look pretty and have a pretty little case with sparkles on it, get yourself a girly little iPhone. But if you wanna be a real man, you have to get Android.

Kid: Why?

Dad: Cuz you can do whatever you want with it. Root the OS. multitask. Download stuff from wherever you want.

Kid: I like the iPhone. It's got cool black and gray colors.

Dad: Son, I don't even know who you are anymore. Listen kid....if you want to be a sheep like the rest of them, get yourself an iPhone, but no son of MINE will be doing that.

Kid: Dad, it's just a phone. I just need it to text.

Dad: JUST A PHONE? Is Google Maps just a map? Is HTTPS just a protocol? The Android team has sweated their life away to bring you this thing of beauty. Come on son...get your game face on, we're headed to the store. Time for you to be indoctrinated.

So, apparently some of this rubbed off on the kid. Once happy with whatever shiny object was put in front of him, he now developed a finely tuned opinion, forced upon him by the intense pressure and fandom of his forefathers.

So, this is where we are as a society. Ebola is spreading. ISIS is attacking. The weather is getting more and more freakish on a daily basis. But at least we have our beloved teams to worship, every first Tuesday of the third month before the next tech industry financial results announcements come out, that time when new products are released. We can grab a beer, sit back in our easy chair, and watch the latest keynote presentation by an ubernerd who was never really trained to perform in from of a live audience as he demonstrates the latest in tech positioned to save the world from real productivity. And somewhere, out there, like-minded fans are rejoicing, because the latest Samsung now has a curved screen.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Does this make me a FitWit?

I'd like to take a moment and wax technological about the new trend in fitness technology. I know very little about this subject, and therefore feel fully qualified to write a blog post about it.

My company's health plan has a fitness program wrapped around it and, as part of the deal, I was provided with a shiny new FitBit Flex. Well, not shiny - actually more of a pale blue rubber thing. The idea is that I would use it to track my daily activity, sync that activity with my health plan website along with my thousands of coworkers, and somehow magically keep the planet in its proper rotation just by all of us walking a few extra steps each day.

So far, I've been less than impressed by this gadget, the technology, and the purpose behind it.

Let's start with the "fit" of this FitBit Flex. Take your favorite wristwatch, the one with the nicely worn-in leather band, the one that fits so perfectly that you never even notice it's there. Now, remove the leather band, and replace it with a non-slip rubber strip. and replace the watch face with a solid rectangle that, while thin, is about the size of one square from a Hershey bar and twice as thick, thus making the gadget stick out from your wrist like a pale blue tumor. Now, replace than nice buckle from your wristwatch band with this odd fastener that you must squeeze with all of your might in order to get one end of the band to attach to the other side and stay on your wrist. but make sure the doohicky is loose enough that the whole thing pops off your wrist the first time you accidentally brush your arm against a countertop. Yeah, they aren't winning any fans with the physical design of this thing. It took me only an hour to temporarily lose it when it popped off without me noticing, and another 45 minutes until I took it off and vowed never to wear it on my wrist again. For one thing, it makes using a computer mouse impossible, because it fails to slide across the desk as you move your mousing hand. Try putting a bunch of elastic bands around your wrist, and then try using the mouse for a little while. Annoying, ain't it? Luckily the thing works just was well if kept in your pants pocket.

Now for the tech. It's sole purpose in life is to track the steps you take. Big f'ing deal. I rarely sit still. I'm four paragraphs into this blog post and I already got up from my desk three times. If I'm going to increase my exercise level I'm not going to do it by taking an additional walk around the block. I'm going to do it by going to a fitness club. Or by taking a bike ride. Or by running. Or rowing. Or playing volleyball. But, with the exception of running, the FitBit doesn't take any of those aforementioned items into account when calculating your risk of death from a heart valve blockage next Thursday after dinner.

Yesterday my FitBit app on my iPhone informed me that I "blew past today's goal", with 1032 extra steps taken. That's nice, since a)I have no idea what my "goal" is, and b)I apparently blew past the goal as a result of mowing the lawn last night. Whoop Dee Do. My FitBit didn't care about the spinning class I went to early yesterday morning, or the hour of stretching and weight lifting I did after spinning. It congratulated me for mowing the lawn.

I'm on a crew team that rows Tuesday nights on the Allegheny river. My team and I rowed a solid five miles at race-level intensity for much of it, but my Fitbit didn't care. However, during the post-row barbecue, it made sure to measure every step I took as I walked around the boathouse wolfing down two hamburgers and a couple bottles of Corona.

I suppose I'm being a bit of a negative nelly here. The whole industry of fitness tracking is still in its infancy. Some day we will have a gadget that will warn us in advance when we're going to have a case of the hiccups, or remind us that the extra bag of peanut butter M&M's you're about to eat is going to get you .08% closer to becoming a diabetic. So until that time comes I will dutifully track my steps as I walk from my parked car to the office, as I wander through Costco in search of a great deal on thiry-eight pounds of muenster cheese, or as I mow the lawn. And in this way, perhaps I'll get us all .08% closer to saving the world.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Wolverines are dangerous creatures, after all.

As the token male of the family, It would appear that I am responsible for a number of key tasks around the house. One might say too many tasks. I'm sure that my fellow dads have the same issue in their own household. Here, I'm the grill master. The bug squasher. The closet purger. The handyman. The only one who will go within ten feet of a drain so clogged by toothpaste and hair gunk that it actually laughs at you if you dare threaten it with a dose of Draino and a drain snake.

We've gotten into a pattern around this house. It sounds something like this. Note that "her" pretty much refers to any member of the family that isn't me:

Her: Dad! Spider!
Me: Yeah? So?
Her: Kill it!
Me: You kill it!
Her: Uh uh. That's your job. I'm not going near no scary spider nuh uh.
(dad begrudgingly gets up from couch, squishes spider, and returns to couch)
Her: Did you wash your hands?
Me: Why would I do that? I used a tissue to squish it.
Her: You HAVE to wash your hands! Please dad, for god's sake, you're touching the couch after squishing an ooky spider!
Me: You don't seem to have a problem lying right where Daisy spent the last hour licking her own crotch.
Her: DAD!!!!!!
Me: Sigh...fine....if it will make you go away....

Basically, any time I hear someone in the house yell something that starts with "Dad!", I immediately cringe, realizing it means more work for me.

I started giving this a little thought and, frankly, I'm doing my children a great disservice by taking care of many of the tasks around the house that they could should be doing themselves. Tasks that they will need to know how to do in their later years if only to avoid blowing up the house or getting attacked by hungry wolverines. I mean, when will my kids learn to change their own batteries, for goodness sake?

So, I've decided it's time for a little survival boot camp.

After a modicum of consideration and perhaps a Sam Adams or two, I've come up with a list of practical, everyday tasks that Things #1 and #2 need to learn if they are ever to avoid that wolverine attack. Here's what I've come up with so far. Please feel free to suggest others.

  • How to run the lawn mower without losing a toe
  • How to use the leaf blower AND get the leaves to successfully form a pile
  • How to run the dishwasher. Wait - how to LOAD and run the dishwasher. There's an art to it properly, so you don't end up with bowls full of water and that one fork with the rice stuck in it, after all.
  • How to push that little red button on the GFCI outlet after attempting to run the hair dryer at the same time as the hair straightener and tripping the breaker.
  • How to stop the toilet from overflowing
  • How to use the plunger on a clogged toilet
  • How to clean the plunger after use
  • How to use a shovel
  • How to sweep the floor and not make it look worse than when you started
  • How to get dad another Sam Adams. Wait - how to get a Sam Adams AND pop the top
  • How to light the gas stove without blowing up the house.
  • How to turn off the gas stove so as not to blow up the house
  • How to call the fire department after you've blown up the house
  • How to use the vacuum cleaner
  • How to unclog the hair from the vacuum cleaner
  • How to unclog the hair from the drain
  • How to untangle the hair from the ceiling fan (don't's a thing)
  • How to clean that backside of the hairdryer, where all the dust collects
  • Yeah, there's issues with hair around this place.
  • How hanging a 5 lb. picture on a wall should involve a nail, not an entire roll of scotch tape.
  • How to hammer a nail
  • How to change a light bulb
  • How to close the freaking door behind you, what do you live in a barn?
  • How to put the vegetable drawer back on it's track in the fridge after you've pulled it out too far, rather than just jamming it in there with the refrigerator door half closed.
  • How to read an error message on the computer screen and remember what it said just before the computer ignited, rather than just telling me, "dad, something's wrong with the computer".
  • How to squish your own damned spider.
It seems I have a lot of work ahead of me. I'd better get another beer first.

I've made a huge mistake.

Back in my formative years, back before pudding was handed to you in a disposal plastic cup and its only protection from the elements was that deliciously rubbery skin, I had a bike.

This bike had a banana seat, sparkly green paint (it was a MANLY sparkly green), and a three-speed shifter on the down-tube that looked like it was cribbed from an Iroc-Z.

Back in those days, bikes were tough and made for abuse.  Like the other boys in my neighborhood with their banana-seat bikes, I would grab a scrap of plywood from dad's workshop to use as a makeshift ramp for jumping curbs. No helmets. No parents following closely behind. This led to my eventual enjoyment of single-track mountain biking as a young adult, something I still like to do when I'm not at the chiropractors office nursing a slipped disk. But rarely was there a day during the summer where I didn't just take the bike out on the street and ride back and forth for hours with little supervision and dreams that the banana seat was actually the driver's seat of that Iroc-Z, and Iroc-Z with one badass suspension made for jumping over curbs.

The mistake I've made is to teach my children how to ride a bike using current 21st century methods.

I remember getting them started on their little "Foxy" bike. 

Things #1 and #2 were taught how to coast and pedal carefully back and forth in the cul de sac. When a daughter fell off, dad was there to give her moral support and nurse the bleeding. They were taught to be so paranoid about helmets that they would refuse to be within ten feet of the bike without one. They were never taught what it was like to jump a curb. To build a ramp. To even stand up on the pedals. 

Now that the kids are 10 and 13, they should just want to pull their bikes out and disappear down the street, enjoying the sunshine. Instead a typical bike ride involves dad getting up early to strap everything to the car, fill water bottles, and pump up tires, then driving to the nearest rail trail, unstrapping everything, and leading the family in a ride. A STRAIGHT ride. No hills, no curbs, no crazy flying down a grassy hill only to flip over the handlebars, suck up the pain, and try it again. That's not biking. That's riding a monorail. 

I sense now that the kids view biking as a means to an end - dad means to get everyone outdoors and away from screens, and the kids mean to ride just long enough to make it to the nearest lunch place halfway down the rail trail. And in the end, dad drives home, the kids disappear into the house, and dad's stuck unstrapping those bikes again and storing them in the garage, to remain there until he, and only he, demands the next family bike ride.

I've made a huge mistake.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Child De-griming process

I recall one morning, a few years ago, when thing #1 woke up and announced that she still had shampoo in her hair, left over from the previous night's shower. She also announced that this was entirely her father's fault, because said father should have checked her hair before she got out of the shower.

Okay, let's back up a moment.

Thing #1 is ten years old at the time. For the previous three years before that, kid-degriming process in this household was as follows:

1. Parent tells child to get undressed for shower.
2. Parent turns on water and adjusts temperature.
3. Child takes off socks, but gets distracted by dog/ipod/dust bunny during undressing period.
4. Parents investigates whereabouts of child, and finds child mostly dressed, on floor playing with dog/ipod/dust bunny.
5. Parent announces child is wasting water, and to get butt undressed and into the bathroom.
6. Child finishes undressing, runs into bathroom, and decides she needs to pee.
7. Child accidentally flushes, causing shower to be too hot to use for next two minutes.
8. Parent adjusts water again.
9. Child enters shower, proceeds to slowly and gently soap various areas of body for next 18 minutes, eventually entering a hot-water induced zombie-like trance.
10. Parent asks, "Are you done yet?"
11. Child returns to reality, announces, "not yet!" and puts head partially under water.
12. Child shampoos partially wet hair, missing three quarters of it.
13. Child moves head partially under water again, re-entering trance and failing to remove 90% of shampoo, standing there for another 18 minutes. Front of hair remains dry.
14. Parent asks, "what in gods name is taking so long," opens curtain, grabs shower nozzle, and hoses off child's head while child ducks for cover and screams due to the possible risk of getting water in her ear or eyes. Parent switches shower massage output to "shotgun mode" in hopes of getting more shampoo out and distracting child from her fears through silliness of water spray. Water collects on floor and leaks to ceiling below, causing stain on kitchen ceiling to become ever-larger.
15. Parent shuts water, removes child from shower, and dries floor with available hand towels.
16. Parent complains to spouse, asking why, in ten years, child hasn't figured out how to shower herself yet.
17. Spouse says "see above."

Now let's fast-forward three years. Thing #1 is well entrenched in her early teen years, and as a result of a home renovation now has her own shower. At this age and in this situation, the kid-degriming process seems to be as follows:

1. Child announces she's going up for a shower.
2. Parents see child disappear upstairs, and hear shower turn on
3. A half hour elapses, and sound of shower is still heard. Parent trudges up the steps and opens bathroom door, hearing the distinctive sound of a child sitting in a tub filled several inches with water, swishing her body back and forth to create a small wave pool.
4. Parent startles the bejeebers out of kid by exclaiming, "why the heck are you still in the shower???"
5. Child finishes shower, then spends next half hour in parents' bathroom with the flatiron, getting her hair as Marcia Brady-flat as possible.
6. A few hours elapse, and parent enters master bathroom as part of bedtime ritual, promptly burning his or her hand upon discovery that child never unplugged the flatiron.
7. Repeat daily.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014


Many thanks to those of you who were able to come to the funeral and shiva for my mother this week, and thanks as well to those who could support and help us out in other ways during this difficult time. The outpouring of help, emotion and good wishes has been tremendous.

For those of you unable to make it to the funeral, I thought I would share the eulogy I gave, as well as the one from my dad. Grab a tissue for his.....

Life does not cease to be funny when people die, any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh. A quote by George Bernard Shaw, I feel that this is our family's credo

When I form a picture of my mom in my head from when I was growing up. I see her in the kitchen. Around her she has a stack of newspapers, three handwritten lists containing the phone numbers of people she needs to call every day, a checkbook-sized calendar, and a carefully organized box of coupons. 

The kitchen was mom's control center, her bridge. From there she managed the family, stayed in touch with her world around her, planned her grocery lists and told people what to do. She was always cooking, usually something for the next visit from a large crew of relatives, or the "Mongolian hoard" as she like to call them. A couple of weeks ago, I found a mysterious container of Tupperware in my freezer in Pittsburgh. I took it out and let it thaw, and discovered it was left over stuffed cabbage she brought on a previous trip out to visit. Even as six-month old leftovers, they tasted so good. I will miss that stuffed cabbage. 

As the strong and all-knowing matriarch of the family, mom served as the central processor for all information. She was Facebook, Google, WebMd, and the Hartford Courant all rolled into one, despite stubbornly refusing to even be in the same room as a computer. I will miss getting those cut outs from the Bristol Press with news about childhood teachers and friends whom I barely remember and could have looked up on the internet. 

Mom was always the martyr. When my wife and kids and I would come to visit, she would send dad out to join us to do whatever we had planned for the day, but would stay home herself so she could continue the cooking process and to be sure she wouldn't miss an important phone call.

Mom taught me many things growing up, and shaped me into who I am today. She taught me to be grounded. To feel empathy. To volunteer my time. To show pride on the world around me. She taught me to think for myself and to form my own opinions. 

I think my wife will agree that she also taught me to be frugal. Like mom, I'm never without a coupon. As a kid being dragged to Shop Rite for groceries, whenever I wanted a box of Frosted Flakes she would tell me they were on sale at "the other store". To this day I don't know where "the other store' is, but I use the same tactic on my own children today. 

Mom, and dad also taught me to care for my world around me. To care for others. To help in any way I can. To tirelessly volunteer. In many ways mom and dad have been LIONS first, parents second. But I mean this as a good thing, because the core values that they've learned and displayed throughout their many years as active Lions became their guiding principles when it came to raising kids.

With that, I want to read a portion of a get-well card that mom received in the mail the day she died. It's from Steve, a Lion and former general in the US Army Reserve, now retired to Arizona...
"You have always served as a shining example to me of what "WE SERVE" really means. I can think of no one I've known who so generously gives of themselves as you and Alan.

You and Alan have a depth of character and a strength of spirit that I know sustains you in difficult times. I hope it is of some comfort that you know that you are in the thoughts and prayers of so many people who regard you as very special. True Lions in every sense of the word. And the kind of people we would all do well to emulate."

There are no words that I can say
To tell you of my grief today
And so I write this simple poem
For I cannot take my Judy home
For 50 years we shared a life
For 50 years she was my wife
Together we have traveled wide
Hand in hand, she was my guide
She was my sail for every trip
She was the rudder of my ship
She was my compass and my friend
She lit the way at every bend
We danced, we sang, we laughed, we cried
Together always, side by side
We raised a family, built a home,
And navigated life's unknowns
And always, always she was there
To love, inspire, help and care
Opinions, yes, she had a few
And made them known to me and you,
But I found out more times than not
That she was right and I was not.
And so my friends I will not weep
For I have memories to keep
Memories of 50 years
Memories that need no tears
Sure, there are things we left undone
Things we two would have found fun
But I will do them all alone
While God's hand takes our Judy home.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The speech for my Daughter's Bat Mitzvah

This past weekend was my daughter's Bat Mitzvah. A huge milestone and event, and one of the many, many excuses I've had for not posting anything here in months.

Writing my "dad" speech for the event was a pretty daunting process. As luck would have it searching for "bat mitzvah parent speech" on the Internet resulted in a wealth of ideas, suggestions, and quotes to steal, so I thought I would pay it forward and post mine as well. Enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom! Before I get into this, I want to welcome all our friends and family, especially those who've traveled from afar to experience this big event as well as to get a taste of that infamous Pittsburgh weather. For those of you in from the South, please feel free to take the humidity back with you when you leave.

You know, they say the only certain things in life are death and taxes. Well, I think we can add a couple of things to that list. First, it's an absolute certainty that, no matter how carefully you plan an event like this, sometimes things just don't work out as planned. As many of you know Natalie's grandmother has been sick the past few weeks, and unfortunately was not able to make the trip out here to see her granddaughter today. Mom, we wish you all the best and we know you're going to make a full recovery, ready to drive us all crazy again before we know it.

The other one I'd like to add is the certainty that, Natalie, I've never been so proud of you as I am today seeing you up on this bima. As you make this covenant, this promise, with God and the Jewish people, I would like to make a few promises, myself, for you. But before I do, First a promise to our guests. I PROMISE not to go on and on about how wonderful my daughter is. There will be little to no mention of how Natalie was speaking in full sentences at six months old, about how last year she successfully brought a Boeing 747 in for an emergency landing when the crew suddenly fell ill, or how after singing the Star Spangled Banner at the All-Star Game Barbra Streisand herself was quoted as saying, "Oy, what pipes!". I PROMISE, I've got NONE of that in my speech, All that will be in her mom's speech.

So this is the time that we, your parents, get the opportunity to share our thoughts and prayers with you. I've been looking forward to this moment for quite some time, because I finally have your attention. You can't pretend to pay attention to me while staring at your iPhone checking up on your Instagram feed. For once in your life, you're stuck listening to dad. So deal with it. But I promise to make it worth your while.

I believe it was the great philosopher Winnie The Pooh who once said, "you are braver than you believe, you are stronger than you seem, and you are smarter than you think". Let's break that down for a moment:

Braver: Whether it's going to overnight camp for the first time or finding your future career, for the rest of your life you are going to be challenged more than you ever thought imaginable. I PROMISE that if you continue to tackle these challenges with all the bravery you can muster, you will make it look easy. And don't be afraid to fail, either. Failing at something doesn't matter. It's how you perceive your failure, and how you act on the wisdom gained from that perception, that ultimately define and redefine you, and make you who you are.

Stronger: Don't talk yourself into not being you. I PROMISE that, if you are true to yourself, being YOU will bring out all the good that's inside. Be prepared,stand tall and strong, and you will accomplish anything you set out to do.

Smarter: You're smart enough to know where you are going. Right now you have dreams of stardom. Of acting. Of Hollywood. But your dreams at age 13 may not be the ones you have when you head to college. Or when you leave school. Or when your parents finally kick you out of the house. Your destiny may take a different shape as you grow older, and your interests may change as you experience new things. It wasn't that long ago that you woke up frightened of those big furry guys in Monsters Inc. and demanded that we take the DVD back to the store, even after having watched the movie twelve times. Now, your favorite movie is the Hunger Games. Those big furry monsters are a little less scary now, aren't they? Well, as Mayim Bialik, the actress from Big Bang Theory has demonstrated, you can be a Hollywood star AND a neuroscientist at the same time.

Right now you may think you know exactly what you want to do when you grow up, but at some point those dreams are going to change. But whatever happens, I promise there's a reason. And I promise you will figure it out. And, I promise it's going to be good. I also promise that, wherever your dreams take you, your parents are here to support you.

You know, virtually every parent of a B'nai Mitzvah gets up on the bima and states that they can't believe how fast the past 13 years have gone. And, as cliche as it is, in many ways that is absolutely right. Before we know it, one day you're going to DRIVE home after a long day of working and decide to take down all those Harry Potter and Hunger Games posters currently in your bedroom. Maybe you'll want to get rid of the zebra bedspread, or the massive collection of stuffed animals in your closet. But however you choose to redecorate, or whatever you choose to do as you get older, never forget what it's like to be a kid. Being a kid means your biggest concern is that you're running low on tiger print duct tape. When you're a kid, everything is about the journey, not the destination. It's about the story, not the conclusion. You take music lessons without caring whether you could somehow have a job playing the flute. You dress in silly costumes with your friends, simply because it's silly. You drag mom on a roller coaster for the thrill of seeing her scream in terror, without any concern for how she may make your life miserable after we get home from Kennywood. Who cares? Don't worry. Ignore what people think. Keep learning, keep experiencing, and keep being a kid. Just because you're growing up, doesn't mean you have to reach your destination.

Believe it or not, this day, your Bat Mitzvah, is not the experience of a lifetime. Oh sure, it's an achievement being up here on this bima, and this afternoon will be a really fun party, but the truth is this is just the beginning of a lifetime of new experience. The true measure of this experience doesn't come from how you perform here today, but rather how you continue in all the days that follow. I'm not sure where this day is going to take you, but I PROMISE you're going to enjoy the ride.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

One Male....In the House...

Every once in a while Thing#1, who is now 12 years old, will venture down the stairs well after bedtime with that solemn look of "I have an issue" on her face. It used to be the most common cause of this was a stinkbug crawling across the bedroom ceiling. Nowadays, her issues are different. Very different. Lately when I see her descend the stairs with her face in a frowny position and I ask, "what's wrong honey?" the most common response is,"I need mom."

This means the dreaded Female Issues have begun. I have no role here. I'm fine with this. I will be in the workshop.

I don't know what my daughter and wife discuss anymore. I don't want to know. My daughter is changing from a cute little toddler and plaything to an actual human, with opinions, issues, and bumps where there were no bumps before. Suddenly she wants to shower with the door closed. Suddenly dad is no longer allowed to voice an opinion on dress code, except when she's dressed in something too small to cover up a chocolate bar. Suddenly, the subject of "boys" enters the conversation (or so I'm told). Before too long there will be a drawer in her bathroom that is completely off limits to all male residents of the house.

I'm entering uncharted territory here. I have no place in this new world, one where estrogen sets the rules and slowly seeps from the walls like so much Amityville blood. Heck, I'm not even sure what I'm able to write about here, without unleashing the wrath of the womenfolk telling me to delete on threat of divorce and beheading. I'm thinking I need to change the subject of my blog to something safer, something about as far away from the subject of Female Issues as possible. Maybe a blog about iPad apps, men's shoes or perhaps fruit salad recipes.

But where's the challenge in that, really?

Here's what I'm thinking. I have several friends who have been blessed with a gaggle of women in their household, Not an ounce of testosterone to be found in the place outside of dad's own, rapidly shriveling masculinity. They all need help. WE all need help. There's no "Dads With Daughters" support club out there that we can go to for advice, resources, or escape from the madness of femininity. Well, it's time we created one.

Meetings will be once a month, held in a local machine shop, lawn mower repair facility, or auto detailer. Some place where men can return to their base natural instincts and fart hearing only a reply of "dude, nice one!" rather than the usual, "auugghh Dad, you're embarrasing!".

Each meeting will begin with a reminder that all children, boys or girls, healthy or sick, are a true blessing. We need to get that out of the way quickly and move to new business. New business will include such topics as what to do when your daughter clogs the tub drain with her long flowing hair, how to pair her iPhone (the one with the hot pink case with the photo of the guy from Hunger Games on it) to the bluetooth on your car stereo so she can listen to One Direction while you drive her to school, and how to most effectively embarrass her in front of boys she secretly likes. 

Each meeting will of course begin with a pledge of allegiance:

I pledge allegiance
To the flag
Of the Dads With Daughters Support Group
And to the escape
For which it stands
One male
In the house
Where estrogen
And issues

If you would like to become a member of the Dads with Daughters support club, Feel free to contact me any time, day or night. You can find me down in the workshop, door locked, hearing protection on, shop vac running. Just come in through the back don't want to know what's going on upstairs.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Not a remote possibility

Merry Christmas everyone. Okay, if you are reading this blog post, first let me say, "thank you." My last post was about 9 months ago, so you probably figured I'd just abandoned the whole thing. Well, it wasn't so much abandonment as it was being in a creative rut. I really didn't have a whole lot to write about, and the usual comedic fodder (i.e. writing about the antics of my daughters) was problematic. You see, now that they can read and apparently have feelings, I'm not allowed to talk disparagingly like I used to. So, I had to think of other subject matter to cover, and that's been tough. I've decided to get back into blogging in 2013, because I really found it to be a great outlet and stress reliever. So here I am again. I'm going to start small. The next few posts won't amount to a whole lot, I just want to get the juices flowing again.

So TODAY, I'm going to write about the latest piece of technology to enter our house - an internet-enabled Panasonic HD television. While overall there's nothing TOO exciting to report about it, I feel I have to comment on a big FAIL on the part of Panasonic, that rears it's ugly head in the form of an iPhone app. We bought this TV not for its internet capabilities, but for its quality picture at the right price point. The Internet features were just freebies. but I happen to have a network switch behind the TV, so I hooked it up because, frankly, I really wanted to play with Panasonic's iPhone app. We currently have an AppleTV and a Tivo, and I use the Remote app for those all the time and love them. So, I figured if the Panasonic remote app was any good, I could virtually eliminate the need to go hunting around for the remote control and instead use the iPhone for everything.

It was a good theory, but there was one problem. The remote app has no power button, so you can't turn the TV on with it. Panasonic did a great job of hiding the physical button on the back of the TV making it impossible to find, so really the only good solution is to have the physical remote in hand to turn it on. So of course, once you have the regular remote, what's the point of using the iPhone?

Another fine example of technology produced for the masses without real world testing.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Fate of the Comma

From the New York Times Opinion Pages. Fanfare for the Comma Man.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

"There are three commas. The one after “state” would be used today; the one after “arms” would not; the one after “militia” is ambiguous; and all three have caused a world of hurt, confusion and argumentation over the last 223 years."

The Fate of the Human Writer

From The Can the Computers at Narrative Science Replace Paid Writers?

"They claim their technology will reshape our relationship to data, media, and the way we consume information—and, after several hours of interviews, I believe them. The concern in some quarters is that Narrative Science, with its ability to generate reams of cheap, instantaneous content—is going to make human writers obsolete. The truth, however, is more complicated."

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:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Jumping the Shark, and other Happy Days References

Cosmic Lattice of Coincidence

This evening, the dinner table discussion somehow led my wife and me to explaining the show Happy Days to our young children. This, in turn led me to explain the term "Jump The Shark". I said to my ten year old, "Natalie, some day you will hear the term 'Jump The Shark', and you'll be able to impress your friends by telling them exactly what it means and where it comes from.

My wife then decided to see if, by chance, TVLand had a few episodes of Happy Days that we could Tivo. When she turned on the TV it was tuned to some random kids show on NickJr, and, in a frighteningly odd cosmic lattice of coincidence, the very first thing out of the actor's mouth was "Don't ya think that's jumping the shark a little bit?"

Dad IS all-knowing.

Auto Repair

Speaking of all-knowing dads, I scored a point for all the guys out there recently. Okay, so you can imagine the scene...a couple of guys standing around the front of a car with the hood open, staring intently at the engine block and plotting their next move to get this baby running again. Really, we all know it's just an excuse to enjoy a refreshing beverage out of earshot of the usual household din. Then one of the wives leans out of the front door and cracks wise by saying something like, "why dontcha stare at it a little more, maybe you'll just CONVINCE it to work!" Well, darling, I proved yesterday that staring at an automobile's engine is, in fact, an effective tool for driveway automotive repair.

You see, the other day we had to have a cracked windshield replaced on the minivan. The auto glass company came to the house during the day while I was at work. They fixed the glass, and my wife then pulled the car into the garage. The next day, after attempting to head out of the house on an errand, she came up the basement steps and reported to me that the car was dead.

Not interested in removing my butt from its comfy position on the couch, I told her to take mine, and I'd jump start it later, figuring the interior light was probably left on again and the battery was toast.

Now, let me say, right here and now, that I am NOT a car guy. Other than knowing where the engine IS on the car, my automotive repair abilities pretty much end with "hmm, that doesn't sound right", and buying a new car. But three days later, when I remembered to investigate the problem, I discovered the battery in fact wasn't dead, but rather the ignition would churn but the engine wouldn't turn over. I tried it several times, then thought perhaps the repair guys had forgotten to reconnect something after they finished. So, I opened the hood.

After staring at the engine for a solid two minutes and seeing nothing out of place, I began to run through scenarios in my head. Call AAA? Call Honda? Ask the guy next door to stare at it with me for a few minutes? Finally I closed the hood and decided it was definitely time to buy a new car. I got back into the driver's seat, and decided to try it once more. And wouldn't you know it, she started right up. Another successful automotive repair.


On a final note for the day, I would like to express my sympathies to all you dads out there who somehow were conned into getting a Shih-tsu or other similarly dropkick-sized dog as a family pet. I know it wasn't your decision. You really wanted that black lab. You had it all planned were going to name him Johnny Wonder, give him a red bandanna and a collar with spikes, and drive to the town dump every weekend with him hanging his head out the side window of your Dodge Ram. But instead, your 6-year-old girl fell in love with little Fifi and begged and pleaded until you realized you had no recourse but to begrudgingly say yes. Suddenly you're sharing the house with a creature that resembled the main character from the movie Gremlins, wears knit sweaters, and gets carried everywhere in a pink faux Gucci bag. Really I feel for you.

I say this because for the past week I've shared your pain. As part of a holiday trade-off, this week we are watching Muffin, our babysitter's Shih-tsu. Really, there's nothing wrong with the dog, but every time I have to take it for a walk my testicles shrink just a little more.