Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eye of the Tiger

I recently spent some time talking to someone about being a dad. He's not one. As far as I know he's planning on putting it off for a long time. He suggested that my assertion that our experiences as children, with our parents, shape us as parents, indicated that we're only carbon copies of our parents. We are in a way, Carbon (C) copies.

Really though, if you look at your life as a summation of experiences that influence your decisions, being a young parent could bias you. I consider myself a young parent, having a two year old at 24. I spent the first 19 years of my life under my parents' roof. That means that all the parenting (well, 99%) that I observed up to that point was my parents. So, when put into those tough parenting situations, when I'm closest to my primitive brain, all I can draw on is the experiences of my childhood.

My daughter, Red 2, was a pretty excellent sleeper from the get go. However, there was a two week period where she wouldn't sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time. I was not operating in my best frame of mind, nor was Red Leader. At times like those we rely heavily on the parenting/coping techniques ingrained in us by years of our parents, parenting us and/or our siblings.

It is a well known fact: "Your child does not come with a manual." You can read all the parenting guides in the world and none of them will hold a candle to all that training you received as a child.

That's what we do as parents. It's what our parents did for us, their parent's did for them, their parent's parent's did the same, ad infinitum. We train our children to be adults. We love our children as our parents love(d) us. So as adults, our parents can't make all of our decisions for us. Hopefully, they've taught us well enough and we've absorbed enough that we can function well. Certainly though, all of our decisions are influenced by them. Even if that influence is to consciously not do what they would support. So, as adults, we fumble around (or not, as the case may be) trying to find the right answer.

Even if you don't have kids your parents still trained you to be who you are. Even if you hate your parents, their actions still have huge bearing on all of your decisions. They may have caused you to radically alter decisions that you make because you "don't want to be like them."

No, we're not all carbon copies of our parents, but to deny their influence in your everyday life is foolish.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Some Pens Are Mightier Than Others

I've developed some relatively strong opinions about certain things. These opinions could be considered odd by many observers. Take for example, my choice of writing instruments. I very often draft my writing on paper before typing it up. I use both pen and pencil for this. The paper I use is not often extremely important however, it must be college rule and thick enough to absorb a little ink, but not cardstock. I'm far too cheap for that. I typically use your standard spiral notebook. Although with the holidays coming up I may try to acquire a nice moleskine dedicated to any creative pursuits.

Beyond my ramblings on paper quality, are the far more important choices in instruments. I've never had particularly legible penmanship. I have however always valued a nice sharp pencil tip. I hate using those wooden atrocities and instead favor the less environmentally friendly disposable mechanical pencil. Not the refillables, especially the cheap refillables. My favorites are of a specific design, .7 mm, twist-tip Papermates. Much to Red Leader's disdain I demand this specific pencil. The wonderfully sharp point is just not something that other pencils replicate well. It writes nice and dark when you want it to, and is still very erasable. I love this pencil.

Oh Sharpwriter, I do love you.

I have an equally strong opinion about my choice of pen, or ink-pen as I have often heard. (side rant: whenever anyone says 'ink-pen' in my presence, I'm always quick to ask them if they regularly use 'blood-pens' or 'hat-pens' for their writing. Yes, I try to pronounce 'pen' and 'pin' differently.) My personal pen preference is the Pilot G2 pen. Someone introduced these pens when I was in high school debate. I just love how smoothly they write. 

So smooth. Oh so smooth.
There's an interesting feeling that writing on paper gives me. For some reason writing on paper often inspires me to write more than I had otherwise intended. I often find myself just staring at that screen void of anything but a blinking cursor. So I guess this means I've outed myself as a killer of trees and polluter of environments. Before you judge me, know that I do recycle. Alright, let the stone throwing commence!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Out of Italy

So, I've had issues in the past. My dad was busy when I was young. My parents got divorced when I was about 5 years old. Do not pity me, I am thoroughly convinced that life was better that way. The memories that I have of my parents together is primarily fighting. A pretty large portion of my childhood was spent with my Dad trying to get through school. He ended up getting a PhD. My mom worked three jobs at one point to keep us in house and in clothes. I recall food stamps being an extremely important part of our food budget. She also somehow found time to date. She ended up marrying my step-dad, who I'll refer to as the Godfather, because I think he'd like that. The Godfather is an intimidating man, he's just over six feet tall and weather worn. He's quick with a big grin and a booming laugh. He's got the kind of voice that can silence a crowd, or stop a man dead in his tracks. The Godfather was Satan as far as I was concerned. I spent most of the time he knew me doing things to piss him off purposely. He spent much of his time correcting my behavior to teach me some discipline. I thought that I hated him for years. Yet somehow he kept going to work everyday and working for 12 hours then coming home to me all but spitting on him. Don't get me wrong. My Dad was in the picture. We spent every other weekend with him. He paid his child support. We spent some holidays with him. He just wasn't there all the time, due to the fact that he and my Mom are completely incompatible. Someday I might tell their stories, but this one is kind of taking it's own direction now, so I'm just gonna let it flow.

An Offer You Can't Refuse

The Godfather used to be a doorman at a bar. (Never ever call him a bouncer. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.) He would help suggest people 'get on getting on' when they had exceeded their limits or got a little too rowdy. He was also known to tend bar and DJ on occasion. He rode 'crotch rockets,' owned his own business and generally lived the bachelor lifestyle. I recall when my mom remarried pretty vividly. She was supposed to go on a weekend trip with a man who I'm pretty sure is still in jail for being a coke dealer. (She/we didn't know at the time. It does explain a lot, though.) Instead we come back from my Dad's house to find that she had married the Godfather. Having only met him a couple of times before, my brothers and I were pretty pissed.


Why Are the Drapes Open?

I'm pretty sure that most of the reason that we hated him so much was because he was doing those things that parents do. He was making us eat our vegetables. He was making us treat people with respect. He was punishing us when it was necessary. He had to establish himself as an authority figure in the house. Ultimately, this was a great thing. I truly believe that it was his heavy hand at the time that kept me from ending up in jail or worse. Much of my childhood was spent cursing this guy. His father (who I'll call Vito, for continuity) welcomed us with open arms and heavily accented English.

A Man Who Doesn't Spend Time with His Family Can Never Be A Real Man

Vito was a great man. He came here with nothing from Italy. He pulled himself up to a comfortable life from that. As I knew him, he was a man with many grandchildren. My Mother and the Godfather had a child together and Vito treated us just as well as her. We'd all go to spend the night at his house, and often in the morning we'd all go to the park. It seemed like every time Vito went to the park, he came home talking about all the new grandchildren that he had. Like any man though, sometimes Vito's relationship with his own children was complicated. He surely wasn't a perfect father, but no man is. Vito always seemed to have candy, from what era, I couldn't say, but he always had candy. "You go tell your cousin she has a grande culo." Every time I think about him I smile. He had a sense of humor every day I knew him.  Vito loved to show the videos he had of all his grandchildren. I always hated sitting through them, but his eyes always lit up talking about his family. He loved them all and somehow made us feel like a part of that. I think the Godfather has a streak of that in him as well, I see his eyes light up the same way when he sees my daughter. Towards the end, as men do, his faculties weren't what they once were. I'm told though, that he spent time speaking in several tongues with the priest who came to counsel him in his final days. Vito died awhile back. It was right before Christmas. The day that he was buried was bitterly cold. It didn't seem fair to spend so little time at his graveside, but we all respected and loved Vito.

I've Always Taken Care of You, Fredo

The Godfather is a very important man in my life. He's as much a father to me as my biological father. I've always suspected that he was secretly bearing a massive weight. He had two children before he met my mother, both of them a few years older than me. For whatever reason, he wasn't or couldn't be a father to them. He never went too far into his relationship with his kids. Although one of them came to stay with us for awhile. It was a strange experience not to be the oldest. She was trying to reconnect with her father, it was a strained relationship. It still seems to be. I've maybe only met his son once. From all that I can tell they don't have much contact. I'm afraid that the mistakes that he made with them torture him. When I was younger, it kind of irked me that he always introduced me as his son. These days, I'm proud to say that I am a son with two very different fathers. I didn't always get along with the Godfather. In fact, we only really started to get along when I moved out of the house. I've only recently started to appreciate all the tools he's given me to be a father. I'm sure we'll have disagreements in the future. When you have opinions as strong as the Godfather's there's almost always a disagreement to be had. I've always wanted to say that even though he may have made mistakes in his life, we all do, I think he saved mine. For that, I'll never know how to repay him.

Listen to this to complete the experience:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Small Selection of iPhone Apps to Keep Your Toddler Busy

My daughter, Red 2, is two years old. Things like going to the store can be hit or miss with her. Sometimes she's just as wonderful and as cute as can be, and other times she'll scream loud enough that I'm concerned that I'll be dragged out of the grocery store and arrested on the spot for child abuse. Of course, there are always factors that you can consider when making a trip to the store, to try and mitigate the dangers of a meltdown. Sometimes, just telling her 'no, you cannot eat a Dora Popsicle right now' is enough to bring on the tantrums. So! As an iPhone owner, I have sought to provide some distractions. I tried using Netflix and streaming 'Go Diego Go!' However, I am cheap, and since I use T-Mobile, my edge connection just couldn't do it. (I knew that it would happen, but I thought I'd try, I was desperate at the time.) So I've decided to compile a little advice for you iPhone toting Mommies and Daddies.

Or as it's affectionately known to Red 2 - 'HEXAGON?!?!'
Red 2 looooooves this app. It's proper name is 'Toddler Teasers Shapes.' This app has a lot going for it. It's free. It is simple enough for kids to work it, yet it keeps their attention. It's free. The voice work isn't grating. It's free. It's educational. Oh, I almost forgot: IT'S FREE!!! This is a great app and it doesn't have to cost you a dime. They've got little add on packs for colors and the like, which are worth it, in this Dad's humble opinion. This app has saved me a number of times from a screaming child in the Dairy section. I still don't get tired of hearing 'Daddy, play shapes? Daddy, itsa itsa Hexagon?'

I also use Glow Draw and the Wooo! Button to lesser effect. They're alright, but Shapes is the only excellent kids app I've found. (Granted I haven't looked super-hard either.) Warning: 'Wooo! Button' is annoying as hell.

It's also extremely important to have a backup video of some kind on your iPhone. An episode of Dora or a Care Bears Movie or something. If you're too cheap to re-buy a kids video through iTunes or they don't have your kids favorite, check out Handbrake. Rip the dvd yourself and know that you've always got that ace in the hole.

Bottom Line: It's always best to mitigate your risk factors beforehand, make sure that bellies are full, drinks are tended to, and that naps have been had before getting in the car. Beyond that, with a little luck,  'Shapes,' and a backup video hopefully you're well prepared for any assault your toddler can launch.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Rise of the Tablet

I had a talk with my wife the other night. (For simplicity's sake I'll refer to her as 'Red Leader' from now on.) Red Leader is not big on getting new gadgets all the time. Take it as pragmatism, not as technophobia. (She's almost always online, I've been unable to convince Red Leader to start blogging as of yet though.) Usually Red Leader just nods and says 'mmhmm' as wives do when their husbands insist on spouting off tech specs of this, that or the other. Tonight however, Red Leader was on point as soon as I started blathering on about tablet computing. I mentioned the iPad and how it was likely future models would be able to do Facetime. Quoth Red Leader, 'The iPad doesn't even do Flash, besides, your arms would get tired and you'd look stupid holding it up.' She went on to say that Android tablets were currently underdeveloped and all current tablets are over-priced. After I wiped a tear from my eye (she does listen to me!) I got to thinking about the role of tablets in the future. Tablets are gonna be a pretty big deal. (As a side note: I know that there is a difference between tablets, slates and e-readers, but for simplicity's sake I'm going to refer to them all together here.)

The Home

Tablets will make a big splash in the home. A few things will have to happen: the interfaces must be simple, any syncing must be wireless, ebooks must be supported well, and the must be rugged.

The thing about tablets is that they can be many different things to the same person. To one person it could be a TV remote, an e-reader, a gaming device, a web browser, a calculator, a social media platform, a recipe card database and editor, a media player, a home indexer and on and on. What to take away from that is that someone may be using it as a remote, then go into the kitchen get flour all over it, wipe it off and watch an episode of Good Eats while the cake bakes. Beyond all that it's not inconceivable that the same device will be made off with by a two year old when you're not looking.

The School

Students could use the heck out of tablets. They'd need a few things too though: everything from the home list, stylus input, palm rejection, e-textbooks, mic-in for recording lectures, et. al. As a student you juggle a lot, keeping track of class materials is no small part of that. Another issue is mobility. Get a few books in your bag and it starts to feel like a ton, in addition to being bulky. To me, replacing all that with a single tablet is a very very exciting proposition.

The Workplace

Carrying a lot of student requirements over like palm rejection is crucial. Throwing in PDF reading and note-taking sweetens the pot. With this though, wireless syncing becomes critical. Device backups are incredibly important. Mobile e-mail and calender alerts and updating are important too. I recently read about a hospital giving doctors iPads recently, to use for accessing patient's charts etc.

Red Leader's the one that really needs to be sold on tablets. When you can make them cheap enough and functional enough that everyone has to have them. That's when I'll know that tablet computing has really arrived.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Way Our Kids Will See Tech

One generation always seems to lament the direction of the next.

Those damn kids and their telegraph.
This is the way we age. We see the world slip away from our influence and call the next generation 'self-entitled.'

I bet he printed this himself
I think about this as it relates to my daughter. Mostly I'm excited fr her. I grew up in a time when tech adoption was on the rise. People had computers, not everybody, but it wasn't unheard of. Some people even had the internet. I remember the excitement when my Dad got cable internet. Being one of the lucky few with 'Roadrunner.' Playing 'Warcraft,' Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.

I remember the first time orcs invaded.
You won't see any naked female trolls dancing on mailboxes in this world.

I saw the rise and fall of Napster, the rise of the iPod, the ubiquity of the cell phone. I'm really excited for what my daughter will see in her lifetime. I grew up less information saturated than my daughter will. I used encyclopedias in grade school. My daughter will grow up with an entire world's worth of information at her fingertips. Obviously, how it will affect this generation will depend a ot on how they're taught to treat it.  I fully expect to not understand her thought process.

hurr durr derp face - HURRRR
see more Durr

Yep, that's me.

With the rise of tablet computing on the horizon, all this information will literally be at her fingertips. That combined with coming advances in biotechnology make for a very exciting future.

If we can cram a hard drive into sad Keanu's head,
imagine what we could do with someone happy.
All in all the future is looking pretty exciting. When I get old, I'll try and keep my mouth shut about how the next generation is screwing everything up.

Edit: Thanks to Jeremy for the updated Warcraft image.

The Reason Tech Support Insults Your Intelligence

Anyone who's ever called tech support for anything has been frustrated to the point of introducing your phone to the nearest solid object or a relatively innocent sounding young woman to colorful American swear words. Sometimes it's the long hold times, sometimes it's the inane questions the support people ask you. "Have you tried pressing the power button?" I've heard this question send people into a murderous rage.

Why the hell would they ask you a question like that? Do they really think that you are that stupid?

Short answer: Yes. Yes, they do think you're that stupid.

Unfortunately, most of the time when a user reports something as 'broken,' it's not actually broken. They're just using it wrong. Yeah, yeah, that might sound crass and elitist, but it's true. You could say that if the engineers designed it better so that using the latest gadget was more intuitive then people wouldn't have so many issues. You'd be right. Taking it out on your low level, low paid tech support person won't help the issue though.

Ok, so they ask me if I turned it on because that's often the problem?


This is an example of just that.

Getting Ready to Call Tech Support

So how can I make this process smoother?

It's pretty easy most of the time. The first thing ou should do is consult the troubleshooting flowchart.

That is the process that all your local geeks will go through if they don't have experience with the device your asking about. It never hurts to consult this cheat sheet. 

The next step is to ask your local geek for help, that friend or family member who you go to in times of trouble. If they can't figure it out it's time to call tech support.

Before we actually call, it's best to do a little reconnaissance. Gather the name of your gadget, serial number, tag number, model number and any other identifying markings.

It's also not a bad idea to go ahead and write down a description of the problem beforehand. Of course, double check all your cables too. Just to make sure they're tight and plugged into the right places. It's surprising how often a cable inexplicably gets loose. Once you have the phone number give tech support a call. Often they have a script to go through before they can escalate your call to a more experienced tech. At least this way you've eliminated the simple stuff like loose cords and unpressed power buttons, so you don't waste twenty minutes on hold.

Hopefully this will save you a little time in the future and maybe even a little hair.