Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MegaRAM Bytes





My wife is not ashamed to admit that she really doesn't have a clue when it comes to anything tech related. She has a healthy appreciation for how technology affects our everyday life, but no real desire to dig any deeper into it than is absolutely necessary to survive. My two little girls, like most kids these days, are the exact opposite. They soak it in like a sponge and keep begging for more. So when my daughters are chomping at the bit for more tech time, my wife just says, "Mega - RAM - Bytes - whatever..."

Earlier this week I was thinking about how knowing your way around a computer or network seems to be the new version of knowing your way around an engine.  Most people have a general understanding of what's going on "under the hood" while others could do a complete rebuild. Personally, I think I'm somewhere in the middle on both counts. I know enough to help others, but that also means I know enough to get in trouble.

I'm glad that I am able to share some of these skills with my daughters. I've heard of many a father who wouldn't let their daughter (or son for that matter) take the car out until they proved they could change a tire by themselves. My daughters will definitely know how to change a tire. They're also going to know their way around a computer. To be honest, both will be equally important when they're learning to drive. Trouble shooting the on-board computer in the car will probably be a more likely scenario than having to change a flat tire.

Ziva, my six year old, has been asking to type on the computer more and more lately. She has begun writing a daily journal and it works out better (for both of us) when she types it on the computer rather than writing it on paper. (For the record, I see value in both written and typed media, but I'm not going to press my luck when she's eager to write.) She has fun typing on the computer and really enjoys the spellcheck and backspace/delete features. I can safely say that my wife and I also appreciate the those features. It helps Ziva try and write on her own and really cuts back on the number of words we have to spell out for her.

Our next training topic will be computer safety. It's already starting with the basics of password protection. I created a profile for her to use my laptop as well as a password to go with her own personal login. I asked her what PIN she would like for her password and she said "911." I told her it had to be four or more numbers or letters - to which she said "1234." I explained to her that "1234" was too common and she should mix it up a bit. She wanted to argue that point by countering that it's the same password they use at the library for the iPads. (Yep, and every person in town over the age of three knows that password.) She finally got the idea and came up with a real password...which she promptly told her mom. I told her a password wasn't any good if you went and told everyone what it was. Her response was, "But mommy asked?!?" So I guess we have a little work to do on the whole Phishing topic then..

In all seriousness though, I can't imagine it's too far around the corner that we'll be having the talk about online safety. I would be pretty dumb to think it's all that far out there. I just recently found out that my two girls (4 & 6 years old) have been downloading games off the app store on our smartphones. If they could do that, it's not a huge step to figuring out some chat app or social media account.

I will leave you with this observation: If my girls and their understanding of technology is any measure of the typical kids these days, we should be alright. It's getting hard to find something that doesn't have a computer in it these days - so it's a good thing they pick up on it so quickly. I'll let you go for now. I've looked at a computer screen long enough for one day. Until next time....

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Part-Time OCD




For those of you who don't have kids of your own, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Kids are messy. You may think that your roommate, co-worker or spouse is a slob, but until you have kids, you won't truly know the potential that exists for making a mess. I will admit that I am a little more impressed by the short amount of time it takes them to make a mess than their overall ability to do so. I may have gotten used to it after 6+ years of parenthood, but something my four year old said to me the other day threw me for a loop.

We recently acquired a five-person cubby and set it out on our porch to try and encourage our girls to organize their things as they come into the house. Prior to this cubby, you would find shoes, jackets and backpacks all over our porch. I am actually impressed with how well they have been doing now that they have a specific place to put their stuff. I didn't realize just how much it was affecting their organizational skills until my four year old threw me for that loop I spoke of.

I found one of her shoes on the floor in the living room, rather than in her cubby, and told her I would put it away where it belongs for her. I thought I was doing her a favor, but apparently I needed some supervision and instruction. She followed me out to the porch and proceeded to show me EXACTLY how that shoe had to be placed in her cubby. As you can see on the left side of the photo above, her shoes are lines up neatly with the toes to the front edge. I have to say I was impressed. She put a lot of work into organizing her cubby and she didn't want good ol' dad messing things up.

The part that threw me for a loop is that the living room and her bedroom both looked like the right side of the photo above. How can she show OCD tendencies with her cubby when everything else she touches looks like a tornado went through? After a minute, I realized that maybe it's not really all that strange. It got me thinking there might be a little part-time OCD in all of us. (For the record, my wife completely agreed when I gave her the 30 second overview of this blog post - so it must be true.)

Using myself as an example (so I don't throw anyone else under the bus), I realized I had some glaringly obvious part-time OCD in my life. If you were to look at my closet, you would see all my clothes are hanging neatly with like items and the clothes on the shelves are stacked neatly. On the other hand, if you were to look at the floor, your would see my shoes in one massive pile (yes - for a guy, I have a lot of shoes). You would see the same thing at the dresser. In the drawers, everything is folded and organized nice and neat. However, on top of the dresser is a pile of paperwork and bills that would spill off the dresser if I were to turn the ceiling fan up one notch.

I think my organizational skills in the garage are more seasonal OCD than part-time OCD. Taking a peek at my workbench from mid-Spring to early Fall would show you a work space that is neat and tidy with everything in its place. Having never been in my garage, I could safely say you would have no problem walking in and grabbing what you needed with minimal effort searching for it. Once the colder months of winter set in, you will find the polar opposite. Anyone who has had the pleasure of running out to the garage to grab something when it's 20 below zero outside knows that you don't like to spend a lot of time out there. That's a great reason to have a tidy work space that saves you time searching. The problem is with the "return the item to the garage" stage. In sub-zero temps, it's really easy to pop into the garage and just toss the tool somewhere near the workbench and "deal with it later." (Later means mid-Spring.)

I could go on and on with examples in my own personal life, but I will spare you tonight. I think it really comes down to the inner feeling of wanting to keep our lives organized and in order, but not having the time, or desire to spend the time to keep it that way. We pick our battles. We maintain order where we feel it is most important and let the others slide until Spring cleaning rolls around. (Not true of those who are actually diagnosed as OCD, but my point wasn't to compare typical everyday organizational habits with an anxiety disorder.)

I'm just going to sit back and be happy that my four year old has found at least one area where she chooses to make an effort to be neat. My great hope is that she will realize how easy it is to find stuff that is put "in its proper place" and will begin using that technique elsewhere. Having been a parent for a few years now tells me that the reality is probably not going to play out like that. You would think that not being able to find your toys would be reason enough to organize them, but that's apparently not the case. I'm sure the short attention span and the ability to just choose to play with a different toy that you can find has something to do with it too. Who knows? Maybe it's just something they don't comprehend until they reach the 7-8 year old age range??

I'm going to leave you with that. I just realized I have a bunch of things I have been meaning to organize for a while now and I should do it while I'm thinking about it. Then again, it's almost 9 pm on a Sunday night and winter is just around the corner. Maybe I could just let it slide until Spring cleaning rolls around. Until next time....

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Dangers of Exercise




A lot of people seem to think that exercise is good for you. Well, I'm here to set the record straight. Besides making you tired, sweaty and smelly, exercise is downright dangerous. The desire to exercise and the reason behind it varies depending upon who you ask. I am going to focus on the most common reason - to be healthy. I am curious where the line is drawn between being healthy and not being injured or killed though. It may sound like a stretch, but hear me out. Remember, the longer I talk about it - the less time I have to spend exercising.

I am going to start out with the poster child of exercise as an example. One of my old Marine Corps buddies is an exercising guru. I honestly don't know how much of his daily workouts are due to a desire to be healthy versus just liking to be outside and active. Before you get the idea that this buddy of mine is your typical "go out for a jog" kind of guy, let me set the record straight. This guy is nuts. He's the kind of guy who will run a marathon to warm up for an Iron Man competition.

The point I'm getting at is even he gets hurt. This seemingly invisible machine in a man's body gets hurt while working out. He's probably going to be mad at me for saying this because this year has been good to him in the "not getting hurt" department and I hope I didn't jinx him. It did get me thinking about how dangerous exercise really is. So, after this long winded introduction, here's the proof you need if you're looking for a reason to skip tomorrow morning's workout.

Running is Hazardous
My wife goes running most mornings as a way to start her day. She tries to convince me that it makes her feel better and actually gives her more energy to start her day, but she's not fooling anyone. I know she goes running because I snore really loud and she can't sleep anyway. Well, she got injured while running a few months back.

It was a calm and peaceful morning. I'm sure the bird's were chirping and the sun was just getting ready to pop on the horizon too. Unfortunately, it was still too dark to see the two inch trip hazard in the sidewalk caused by the years of freeze and thaw that throws the sidewalk off level. As you have probably guessed, she caught that trip hazard and  face planted on the sidewalk. On the bright side, it was too dark for anyone to see her perfectly choreographed sidewalk-kissing maneuver. On the darker side, I refused to go out in public with her for a week because it looked like somebody had been smacking her around pretty bad - and I didn't want anyone to think it was me.

Walking is Worse
If you think running sounds hazardous, you'll be surprised to hear that walking is even worse for your health....and I even have facts to back it up. According to the CDC, there were 76,000 injuries in the US sustained from pedestrian accidents in 2012. Even worse, there were 4,743 deaths. I realize the report is three years old, but I doubt it's changed all that much since then. Something as simple as going out for a walk is likely to get you injured by a passing motorist....if not killed.

Think about it. A pedestrian is injured every 7 minutes...and killed every 2 hours. If that's not enough reason to avoid going out for a walk - I don't know what is. At the very least, it's good reason to keep your morning workout under seven minutes in length. At least you'll be safe then.

Biking and Bears
You're probably wondering what the photo attached to this post has to do with working out. Well, bears are the most dangerous part of exercising. You never know when a bear is going to jump out and attack you. Just look at the photo above - the bear is clearly just hiding in wait for some unsuspecting workout nut to come along. Since you probably think I'm a little out in left field with this one, I'll give you an example.

My father-in-law is a feeble old man in his 70's. By "feeble" I mean he only puts about 75 miles a week on his bike...in addition to his workouts at Vic Tanny. (By "man" I mean it in every sense of the word.) Anyway, here's where the bear comes into play.... My wife's side of the family has been going up to a resort near Eagle River, WI, every year for nearly 40 years. Part of the fun of being up there for dad is that he has many miles of piney woods to ride his bike. (A nice change of pace from city "trails.") We never thought much about him being out for a few hours on a ride, but this one particular day he was gone for the better part of the day. About the time we started to get concerned, he rolled into camp.

It turns out he got cornered in a dead end cul-de-sac having passed between some bear cubs and their mama. Apparently, man or not, cruising back between a mama bear and her cubs didn't seem all that appealing. (Did I mention that he's a smart man too?) For any of you daring folks out there, here's a few more facts for you... According to an extremely reliable Google search, a competent rider on a racing bike can ride about 25 mph for "brief" periods of time...on flat ground. According to the North American Bear Center, a black bear can run 30 mph on flat ground (or uphill for that matter).

I don't know about you, but I don't like those odds. I definitely don't blame dad for chilling out until mama bear and her cubs skedaddled. (For the record: Kudos to my wife for telling me how to spell "skedaddled" properly - off the top of her head - on the first try.) I'm thinking maybe there is something to the whole "bear hiding in wait" thing. They must have something against exercise too??

I'm going to leave it at that for now. For the record, I do actually understand the benefits of exercise. Sometimes it's just good to have a few excuses...I mean, reasons not to get out of bed to exercise some mornings. I felt this post was my own little public service announcement to help anyone looking for a reason to relax in the morning rather than exercise. If you want, you can sleep in tomorrow because reading this entire post was a workout in itself. Until next time....

Friday, September 11, 2015

Going South Does Not Have To Be Bad




This week as my older daughter was starting to spiral into a meltdown, I said something about getting things back under control before it all "goes South." I hadn't intended to confuse her, but in that moment it actually had the unintended (but good) outcome of snapping her out of her funk. I have mentioned in earlier posts that sometimes a little misdirection helps during a verbal battle with the kids. She stopped her meltdown and shifted her attention and curiosity towards trying to understand what a direction had to do with her attitude. I couldn't answer her question other than to say it's just an expression we sometimes use....so I Googled it and gathered some information - primarily from wisegeek.com.

I learned that "going South" is primarily an American expression. One site I visited mentioned a possible post Civil War connotation in referencing things in the South be bad, negative and/or "not the situation you want to be in." A more commonly accepted origin is from sales performance charts. Typically on a performance chart or graph, up is positive and down is negative. If that chart was a map on the wall, up/positive would be North and down/negative would be South.

Although I found multiple sites saying you won't hear the opposite "North being positive or more" phrase, I have to disagree. I've heard people use phrases like how something will cost "North of $1000." I've even hear statements like expecting the the casualty count following a string of tornadoes to be somewhere "North of 20 casualties." In that case, the word North is positive in numbers, but negative in outcome.

I think it all comes down to perspective. I recently learned that in London the term "going West" is used negatively like America's "going South". Apparently in London, it was a westward walk from the prison to the gallows. That leaves you with a pretty clear cut negative thought in regards to going West. In contrast, going West has a positive connotation in America stemming from the westward move by early American settlers. That got me thinking about the different perceptions we may have of going South (or North) today.

As a Texan living in Minnesota, going South to me is a good thing. It means going home. To many northerners, going South may be a positive idea of wintering or retiring in the warmer and sunnier climate of the South.

Depending on your perspective, the same could be said about going North. Growing up in Texas, the majority of my relatives lived in Wisconsin. That meant that going up North meant getting to see my extended family. I know a number of people who enjoy going up North to Canada for fishing, camping and canoeing. That leads me to a very distinct difference of North and South perceptions that is quite dependent on where you live - hunting.

Living in Southern Minnesota, I often hear friends talk about going up North to go hunting. My basic understanding of this is that the rifle zones are up North. I would assume the terrain and deer population also has something to do with it. My experience was the exact opposite when I lived in North Texas. All the major properties for deer leases were down in South Texas. Because of that, everyone headed South for hunting season.

I suppose I could go on and on with examples of North vs. South and how no two perspectives are identical, but that would probably just rile up my readers. The moral of the story today is that if you have enough background information on the phrases you use, you will be able to satisfy the curiosity of a six year old. More importantly than that, by the time I finished explaining all this to my "borderline meltdown" daughter, she was so bored and tired that she couldn't put up much of a fight anymore. I will leave you with those words and let you drift off to sleep. Until next time....

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mom in training




One of the many things I have learned being the father of two young girls is that they seem to be pre-wired for mommy duty. That is, when they're not pretending to be princesses. I've made a few observations this week alone that I thought I would take a few minutes of your time to share. Maybe it's because the mommy-to-be theme is stuck in my head after writing "There must be something in the water" a couple weeks ago. Or, maybe it's just because my girls were being a little "extra cute" this week. One of the things they have not yet learned is the difference between the dream and the reality....or the similarities.

Diaper changing is fun
One of my girls' favorite activities seems to be changing the diapers on their dolls. To them, it's a fun activity to pretend that they are moms taking care of their children. The dream of one day caring for your own child is a wonderful dream to have. After a few weeks with your very own newborn, you know how to change a diaper in your sleep, with one hand and apparently without even waking up completely....because you've already changed a few hundred by then. That's actually one thing they are close to reality on - since they change their dolls' diapers every twenty minutes.

For those of you yet to experience diaper duty, there really is a lot of fun involved. At least, you better hope you learn to laugh about it. The shear velocity of a baby's poop during a "blowout" is amazing....out the diaper and up their back. If you're really lucky, you'll get to experience the real excitement of a rapid bowel cleansing during a diaper change. If you can't appreciate the distance from which a newborn is capable of painting a wall with poo, you just don't understand basic baby physics. If you can't laugh it off while scrubbing said wall at three o'clock in the morning, you're gonna break real quick.

I should point out that this post is talking about mommy training. Not that there's anything wrong with a dad changing diapers - they are definitely just as responsible. I just felt I should point out that I can sleep through anything (and often did), so the "middle of the night, diaper changing in your sleep" was completed by my wife 99.9% of the time. I believe she said it was a lot less work to clean poo off the wall at 3am than it was to actually wake me up to go change a diaper.

Cleaning is fun
There's just something magically appealing to my girls about a mop, broom and dustpan. I have to say I have taken full advantage of that lately. They have been quite the little helpers with yard work lately. It's kind of fun as a dad to make a mess edging or raking and have your little girls clean it up for you. The outside cleaning is a new passion of theirs that I hope they still remember next Spring when the snow melts.

For as long as I can remember, they have both loved helping in the house. Sarah can't wash a glass in the sink without one of the girls sliding a chair over to the sink to help. Sweeping the floor, dusting and washing the dishes seems like a lot of fun now, but as you know, the reality is a little different. Once you're a mommy (or daddy), you try and figure out just how many of those basic cleaning joys you can skip without drawing too much attention to it.

I do need to talk to Siri about her cleaning techniques though. She was helping out the other day by washing the glass patio doors. As my wife and I stood there and watched, she leaned in close to the glass door... and licked it. She then used that fresh layer of saliva and a toy mop to "wash" the glass. At first you may think this is just a gross kid thing, but no. it's a real life mom trait. I think after the thousandth time you've licked you finger to wash some smudge off your kid's face there is some risk of actually licking a glass door to clean it. I'm not a 100% sure on this so I will keep our youngest under observation.

Reality is still the dream
In an effort not to scare any soon-to-be parents out there, I intentionally touched on just two examples with diapers and cleaning. There are countless examples of how your dream of being a parent doesn't line up with the reality, but that doesn't mean it's not a dream. The photos above (for example) are from this evening as we were taking a post supper family walk. Although the reality is that you will probably end up pulling them in a wagon while carrying their toys, the experience still exceeds what you would have dreamed. Watching Siri pull her teddy bear and doll in a wagon (while wearing a Minnie Mouse dress no less) while Ziva zipped around on her scooter wearing a Princess Elsa cape is priceless.

Sarah and I even joked about trying to remember their "max level cuteness" later this evening when we knew they would be tired and crabby while fighting the idea of going to bed. (I've had to think of our family walk more than once just while writing this post.) My point is that seeing me with a crying daughter while the other one is screaming at the top of her lungs in anger about some atrocity may not look like a dream....but it is. I wouldn't give up a minute of any of it - for anything. Life is real. Living in the hectic reality of parenthood is still a dream. Until next time....



Saturday, September 5, 2015

Don't judge a burger by its grill marks




With Labor Day just a couple days away, I felt it would probably be best to do a grilling trial run this afternoon. I don't really need the practice, but I can always use an excuse to grill something. The grocery store had a pretty nice deal on hamburger that made it a no-brainer. (You buy eight pre-made hamburger patties for $10 and get eight brats for free.) I don't recall every buying pre-pattied burgers in the past. You would think it was really convenient, but I didn't find that to be completely true.

I had this grand idea in my head that I could open the package and thrown them on the grill. Yeah - not so much. Maybe I just happened to get a bad batch that wasn't packed very well? I had to repack every one of the patties. To top it off, they weren't as big as I would have made them had I been working from a bowl of hamburger and pattying them all up myself. I wasn't going to let that ruin my day though. I fired up the grill and got to work.

When the time came to flip the burgers, I saw what appeared to be "photoshoot-grade grill marks" on the burgers. (The photo about doesn't do it justice.) I even went back into the house and told Sarah that I think I just made the prettiest burgers of my life. By now I was getting hungry for a good meal. I even got the idea to grab a handful of the cherry tomatoes out of our garden to make a pseudo-salsa to put on the burgers. My wife added her two cents worth by suggesting we add some of the Feta cheese we had left over from a meal a couple days ago. We were now in business...

Everything looked amazing, but the flavor was mediocre. If it wasn't for the Feta cheese and salsa concoction we made, the burgers would have been downright bland. This would have been avoided had they not had that sale to lure me in. Crazy schemes to provide more value to my meat purchases?!?! Normally, I would have added a special mix of seasonings and worked it into the hamburger prior to pattying up the burgers. Obviously this step was skipped because they were already pattied up.

For any of you who have eaten my burgers, you know they are phenomenal...even if they don't always look very pretty. (I often make them too thick and they sometimes turn into a big meatball on the grill.) The moral of today's post is that you can't judge the burger by its appearance. Some of the best meals I've eaten looked like a sloppy mess. This weekend as you're firing up the grill for Labor Day, remember to follow whatever your standard procedure normally is for meat preparation. Don't be lured into a great deal and think the convenience factor is worth it. Grilling is a serious thing - not to be taken lightly. That's exactly why we have these grilling trials runs prior to any major holiday. Until next time....