Archive for January, 2013

His First Real Test

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This week is Stripe Testing week at the boy’s martial arts school. The school has these evaluations at the end of each month to give the students a chance to progress through the belt levels. The boy currently is at the red level and needed only 1 more stripe to qualify to graduate to the next belt level- his last prior to becoming an apprentice. So he’s getting real close.

He went on Monday and after testing the instructors said they’d be giving him his stripe but that he needed to get an “Intent to Promote” form filled out. This is a supplemental form they use to solicit feedback from the parents and even school teachers to make sure that they are applying things they learn to other aspects of their lives such as being a good student, helping around the house and so forth.

So I took him to class again last night (he’s supposed to go, minimally, twice a week). That’s when things took a little detour.

On Monday, the instructors running the class were the usual Monday crew, but their are also not the head instructors. The head instructors were there for Wednesday and they essentially re-evaluated him and, to cut to the chase, they did not promote him to the next level. They had him perform his belt level form several times- twice with a group and then a final time on his own, and they deemed it not up to par yet. Being familiar with the form, I couldn’t disagree with their assessment (I’ll have to do the same one to attain my next belt level.)

To his credit, he did it as well as I’ve seen him. I don’t know what happened with the other red belts whom tested on the same form.

When he came out, the boy was, unsurprisingly, upset. Not to the point of tears, but unhappy because he thought after Monday that he’d be graduating. He was blabbering about how he would be stuck at the red level forever and ever and I decided I’d just let him blow off steam without commenting. We’ve all been disappointed before and sometimes we just need to vent frustrations. I realized the boy is no different, so I let him vent. So long as he didn’t get out of hand.

When we got home and the boy informed her about the results, the Wife was also upset about how it turned out.

I was initially disappointed for him as well. That said, I also felt it was an opportunity to test the boy’s mettle. To this point, he had advanced on time through every belt level. As his belt level increased, I began wondering when the lack of crispness and body control would start to catch up to him.

One thing I’ve tried to maintain with both kids is the ability to honestly evaluate their abilities. I don’t know that I always succeed, particularly with schooling, but with the martial arts stuff I feel I’m a decent judge. I thought on more than one occasion that he could stand to be held back a bit at previous belt levels, but they continued to move him along. I had refrained from interfering with them because I realize the instructors have seen 100’s, if not 1000’s, of different kids go through their school at this point and many had made it to black belt. I’ve also seen the quality of their adult and teen black belts and can say that they are well taught and skilled practitioners. In other words, they know what they are doing. And here now, finally, was a moment where they basically told him “It’s not good enough.” He will have to work to improve himself and his technique.

On the way home, while he continued to vent he lamented that he didn’t even know what he’d done wrong or what he should do to improve it. I took a chance and explained three different parts of the form that would make it significantly better. He listened quietly to them. When I was done he complained “That’s a lot…” I didn’t think so, though. He had already learned the whole form, which was a lot more than 3 things, and he did more of the form correctly than not. He seemed to calm down a bit after that. Perhaps the idea of a direction helped to comfort him.

Neither the Wife nor I ever felt that attaining his black belt should be a pro forma matter. Indeed, part of the reason for signing him up was to give him something challenging to attain to. So that he might be given the opportunity to learn that success takes work. Here, now, he will finally begin to receive that lesson.

Whether he learns it remains to be seen.

Setting a Good Example

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In this case, it was what I didn’t do that hopefully left an impression.

But first, a little back story.

At the boy’s Cub Scout meeting, I came up with the notion of making some kind of home made rocket. Not just one to build, but one that would actually launch. I didn’t have any bright ideas off the top of my head, but a little googling about revealed a clever design: building a rocket around an old 35-mm film cannister and using an Alka Selzer and water to fuel it.

I was in luck, because the Wife happened to have a bunch of old cannisters. Unfortunately, the caps were the type that fit over the edges, rather than a plug-style cap that pushed down inside the cannister. But I was resourceful and fashioned several “corks” out of oak. I managed to get them to a pretty good fit and my test with one of them allowed for a pretty good pop. That seemed promising, so I went with it.

I assembled the other things I needed and then at the end of our Den meeting, I had them start building their rockets. I explained what we’d be doing and they were all quite excited. Unfortunately, the reality didn’t live up to the hype. The wood was too slick and wouldn’t hold well enough to build up some good pressure to really launch the rockets.

This annoyed me.

So I kind of set my mind to thinking about it in the background- how could I increase the friction of the cork with the cannister while still maintaining a decent seal? The idea that occurred was to coat the cork with a few layers of polyurethane. I’ve noticed in the past the poly has a kind of tacky quality to it and doesn’t slide well on plastic, so perhaps this would give the desired result.

So this afternoon, with the kids home on schedule half-day, I sat down with the corks and a can of polyurethane. To coat the cork I simply drove a drywall screw a turn or so into the wood then, using the screw as a handle, I dipped the cork in the poly. Upon pulling it out, I held it over the can and let it drip and then began rolling the screw in my fingers to try and work off the last bit of the poly.

By this point, both kids had joined me at the table, temporarily interested in what I was doing. I was explaining the basic idea to them when my fingers fumbled the cork and it dropped- PLUNK!– into the can of poly.

I was pissed- but I didn’t say a thing. I just sat there, staring at it. It was just the sort of clumsy thing that drives me crazy.

Then I realized, both kids had fallen completely silent and were just staring at… me. They were waiting. Waiting and watching to see what I was going to do. Would I blow my stack? Would I start swearing like sailor and berate myself for my clumsiness? WHAT WILL DAD DO?

In the end, I let out a sigh. I got up. I went into the garage and found my needle nose pliers. I brought these back into the house and plucked the cork out of the can of poly, then started the whole process over again of trying to get the last bit of drips off it.

PLUNK!

It slipped out of the pliers and fell right back into the can. Again, I just stared at it, and the kids watched me. After a second or so, as I began to reach back into the can with the pliers, at which point the boy observed “Guess it’s a good thing you got those pliers, huh Dad?” I chuckled, and so did both kids.

This time around, I made sure not to do anything over the can and wiped off the excess using a foam brush.

I remember things from when I was growing up that my parents don’t remember. All kinds of things- some impressionable and some not. I don’t know that there’s any particular rhyme or reason to them, they are just scenes that, for whatever reason, stuck with me for all these years. I presume the boy and the lass will be the same. I don’t know if this one in particular will stick with them, though I suspect it might as much as I could anything like that based on their intense observance of the key moments.

We stress to the kids that things don’t always go right or the way you expect them to and that it happens for everyone and in anything. Major things like people getting sick and minor things like Cub Scout corks that get dropped into polyurethane cans. We try to impress upon them that the important thing is not that it happened, but how they react to what happens. Don’t lose your cool; if it’s a problem, think about how to solve it. Don’t get upset, don’t throw tantrums; don’t start crying; don’t get mad. None of that helps.

Maybe, today was an example they’ll remember.

Rush Jobs

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For all of our efforts early on with the boy and homework, they’ve paid off in the respect that he’s diligent about getting his homework done. We rarely, if ever, have to remind him to work on it and he typically has it done well ahead of the required completion date. This is likely more to do with the Wife’s side of the family, as I was more of a last-minute kind-a-guy growing up. But, it’s difference I have no qualms about.

One might expect an “All’s well that end’s well” sort of finish here. Unfortunately, we fall a little short of the mark there. More recently, it’s become apparent that the boy has actually created a competition with several other students in his class to be the first to turn in completed homework. I pretty sure this isn’t a formalized sort of competition; rather, it exists in the boy’s mind.

His emphasis on being first has revealed a tendency towards sloppy work completion. Writing is loaded with punctuation, grammatical and spelling errors. Simple math mistakes are made. In some cases, it’s apparent he didn’t take the time to understand what certain reading comprehension questions were asking.

I suppose all of this might be more tolerable if he accepted our criticisms of his homework and simply made the corrections. But it’s not that simple. First, he has to express his frustration at having so many mistakes pointed out to him. Then, he has to feel sorry for himself because “everything he does is wrong.” If we’re lucky, he fixes things and moves on. If not, we get an extended dose of drama of and he starts to get snippy with the Wife or I. Things don’t end well for him at that point.

So the Wife and I have started trying to retrain his brain about homework. As stated, we don’t mind his desire to be first but we’re trying to teach him to take the time to get things right the first time. As I stated to him at one point “Being first and wrong is worse than being last and right.” (Puts me right up there with Confucius I’d say.) We’ve also pointed out all the extra work he creates for himself when he has to redo so much of it.

Also troubling are the continued fits he throws at the Wife or I when we commit the grave sin of pointing out his mistakes, also known as helping him. If I had a nickel for every time we’ve talked about that tendency, well, I wouldn’t need any nickels.

All part and parcel of growing up I suppose. I’ve long since given up on the notion that raising a kid, or two, is a smooth glide from the hospital to their first job. Anymore, I expect the hiccups to manifest themselves, although it does occasionally surprise where those hiccups crop up. This is his first year with real homework. I’m sure things will improve from here.

It Is Now Only Freezing

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Who doesn’t love them some extreme weather?

Right now, as I type this, the thermometer reads 32 degrees. That’s the first time it’s reached that threshold since last Sunday, January 20th. Since then, it hasn’t managed to got out of the 20’s. The only bummer, as it were, is that we never had any negative lows. We did have one night where it was 0, though. We’re supposed to hit 50 tomorrow, according the to the last local forecast I’d seen.

I have no ulterior motive behind this post. I just wanted to note the extent of a pretty cool patch of weather. Cool both figuratively, for me, and literally for everyone.

Credit When It’s Due

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The lass’ birthday is upcoming, thus this past weekend served as a her big celebration.

Saturday she had a party with friends at local pottery store. Don’t roll your eyes- by all accounts it was well done. She had a small group of friends and they all got to paint pieces of pottery. There was an instructor who showed them what they needed to know and the Wife provided the cake and other party favors while her friends provided some gifts. Towards the end, the instructor even demonstrated how to make vases and bowls using a pottery wheel. He wowed the girls, and the Moms, by effortlessly transforming a lump of clay into various vases and bowls.

Yesterday was family day as her Grandparents and Aunt spent the afternoon and she got the dinner of her choice, which was pasta. She got a few more gifts and then watched How to Train Your Dragon. Twice- because Memere didn’t see it the first time it showed.

Through it all, the boy was present. Through it all, the boy sat patiently and quietly by and didn’t try to interfere with his sister’s temporary spotlight. He played games with her and didn’t pick fights with her or, at least, much fewer than usual. He was, in short, the sort of brother most parents would like their son to be on a sibling’s birthday. Conversely, as many parents, I think, will tell you, he was the sort of sibling they don’t get.

So tonight, When I said my “Goodnights” to him, I made sure to let him know he’d done well. Seeing as I’m alway sure to tell him when he isn’t, it was the proper thing to do.

Site Mods

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I’ve made a few modifications to the site this morning, some visible and some not.

As for the image change, How to Train Your Dragon is just a fantastic movie and the kids have been going back to it lately when they get their random movie night. This particular image is the climax of my favorite scene in the movie and, while watching last time, the thought occurred that it would make a great background for the blog. A little bit of googling revealed this fella’s work which I’ve borrowed, resized and fit right up there. I even made it the new background for my desktop. Somehow, it seems appropriate.

As for other mods, I’d noticed that the tabbed widget thingy over there in the sidebar wasn’t working anymore. I was able to trace it back to a single errant'#' character in thephp` code for the theme. Also, in an effort to reduce blog clutter I removed a plugin that I realized I wasn’t using and also deactivated another with an eye towards eliminating it. Just drop me a note in the comments if the site seems overly sluggish when loading.

Otherwise, blogging as usual. Oh, and uh, if you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it. If you have seen the movie, well, go watch it again!

UPDATE:
The kids saw my changes to the site and became inspired. They’re watching it again right now. No objection from your’s truly or the Wife.

UPDATE 1/28/2013:
I’ve modified the color of post titles both on the main page and when viewed singly. Additionally, the Next and Previous post links were not very visible so that too has been corrected.

Things to Think About

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A couple of interesting links for a Sunday morning, both football related but with political overtones.

First up, we have this item about future stadium concepts. The basic idea is to create a stadium with a massive bar, and by massive I mean massive- standing room for 20,000.

Given the current state of the economy, it’s not unreasonable for the NFL to think about ways to give fans their monies worth. Even this year, localized TV blackouts have been something of an issue for several teams, including the Cincinatti Bengals and the San Diego Chargers. The teams avoided the blackouts by purchasing the remaining tickets. Considering that the purpose of blackouts is to essentially “punish” fans for not purchasing tickets so they can’t watch from the comfort of their home, I’d say that’s a pretty extraordinary circumstance.

I’m not a fan of the current trend whereby NFL owners build new stadiums with giant public loans. Essentially, the NFL takes people’s current money in ticket prices, then their future earnings through taxes. They then have the gall to over charge for food and drink once a fan is in the stadium, plus they ban anyone from bringing in their own food. In all likelihood, they’re probably trying to figure out a way to monetize tailgating- probably by limiting the practice to a certain fee based area.

In summary, football is expensive for fans. These proposed changes to stadiums are an attempt to give fans value for their money. It’ll be interesting to see if it works.

Next up, we have political meddling. I don’t have much more to offer here other than a general observation that it’s getting hard to go anywhere and avoid politics, or more specifically government interest. It’s possible my view is skewed by my reading habits, but it still seems right. Just about any topic comes back to politics it seems: education, cars, jobs, parenting, heating, relationships, health, and now sports. If I missed it, I’m willing to bet politics is still involved.

Sick

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Finally succumbed to, well, something anyway. I can’t say it’s what’s been going around because it’s only been about 24 hours; whereas most of what I’ve heard about lasts for a few days.

And while I’m on this topic, let me just get a little graphic here and say that vomiting has to be the most miserable bodily function experience there is. First off, there’s that funny feeling in your stomach where you know something isn’t quite right and you think “Maybe I shouldn’t have put horseradish on my eggs and sausage this morning along with 3 cups of coffee.” But denial sets in and you figure “I’ll just sip on water and give it some time, I’ll be right as rain in a couple hours.”

A couple hours later, things haven’t improved and, gee, maybe you I shouldn’t have gone to the gym for a workout after all. No lunch and now things are starting to get a little bloated down there. At this point, the thought occurs that toilet hugging is in your future.

After a another hour or so, you get that first confirmation. The sensation is almost imperceptible, certainly indescribable, and unfortunately undeniable- something in your gut just kicked in. It’s T-minus time, and Mount Vesuvius will have nothing on you in a few moments.

When the moment finally does arrive, the only good thing is you’ve located yourself over the toilet so you won’t have to clean up anything more than absolutely necessary. Mainly yourself. The spasms rip through you. Snot seeps out your nose and down you cheeks, but you could care less about that because the past couple of meals is pouring out of you. You close your eyes and hang on because, really, there’s nothing else you can do. To add further insult, chunks of food are getting stuffed up your nose.

Finally, that first break comes where it could be over. But it’s not. There’s still a thimble-full of something down there that has to be purged. Somehow, this part is even worse than the previous waves. Your mouth tastes like 4-day old socks that saw double-shifts in coal plant. Liquid is dripping off your face- some God-awful combination of stomach goop, snot and spit. You don’t dare open your eyes, lest you’ll be staring at your stomach contents. You reach out for the toilet handle and then the heaves start. Your body spasms and now things hurt.

Finally, it’s over. Your stomach feels better, but there’s that taste in your mouth and all that stuff dripping off your face. And, when did your nose get all clogged up? Oh yeah…

So now the cleanup phase begins. Rinse your mouth out with some water, but don’t dare swallow. Wash your face off with cool water- that feels good. Then blow your nose, once, twice, three times. Chunks of food are still coming out. Finally, brush your teeth. Then, back to the toilet to clean up whatever didn’t make it into the toilet. Finally, you go to a couch, maybe with a little water.

Really, is there anything worse that your body can throw at you?

Readability Bookmarklet for Dolphin

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I’ve been using Readability more and more recently. I’m not exactly an early adopter in this case, but I’m glad I found it. It’s an app and service that reformats an article into a very easy to read format. It eliminates all the cruft like ads, banners and so forth that accompanies the typical web article.

There are a couple of way it can be used. One is as a “Read Later” service, where an article is saved to a Readability account. The idea being that the article can be accessed through the Readability application on a smartphone or tablet or computer browser.

The other way to use it is as a “Read Now” service, where the article of interest reformatted on the push of a button. These buttons are available easily enough from their website for desktop browsers like IE, Chrome or Safari. Unfortunately, they don’t have anything for mobile browsers.

Fortunately, someone figured out how to create a bookmarklet for a mobile browser to achieve the same affect.

I’ve been using the Dolphin Browser on my Nook and I am happy to report that the steps explained at the link work perfectly. Basically, go to the link using Dolphin; copy the Javascript code; create a new bookmark and paste the code into the URL box; finally, save it as a “Read Now” or some other suitable name. To use it, simply tap the bookmark when an article comes up in the browser that you’d like to read.

Trust me, you’ll be happy you did.

Drama

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I was bringing the boy to school from an orthodontist appointment. He had braces when he was young because his adult teeth came in so early. The braces were removed awhile ago, but the orthodontist (is there a short version of that? “Ortho” sounds like weed killer…) has him come back every 3 months to make sure the adjustment is holding. So far, it has.

About 5 minutes from the school, he sniffled. Again. He’s been doing it constantly for the past couple of days. Earlier, while waiting at the orthodontist’s, he’d asked me what he could do to unclog his nose. Since it was still single digits outside, I suggested going outside and breathing in the cold air for a few minutes. Hey, it’s worked for me in the past.

He’d come back in and said it didn’t work. When I asked him if he’d taken deep slow breaths in through his nose, he replied “OOOOOOOOOH…” Apparently, he’d been breathing through his mouth. So he went back out, then came back in. Still didn’t work. Oh well, I’m not a doctor.

But here, in the car, after this sniffle he let out a long exasperated sigh and whined “Why do I always get this stuffy nose for 2 months?”

First, he doesn’t always get a stuffy nose. Seconds, it’s been 2 days, maybe. Third, what’s with the random precision of “2 months”? Why not something more general like “for so long”? It was remarkable the amount of emotion his nose had unleashed.

I corrected his exaggerations, which he grudgingly admitted to. Regarding the “2 months” thing, he retorted “Either way, it’s been too long.”


The lass got up a bit late this morning as is her wont. When she got downstairs, she huffed around and grunted a bit and offered no civilized courtesies like “Good morning.”

Then she sat down to put on her shoes.

Words would fail to truly capture the spectacle. Well, no- that’s not entirely true. I just can’t remember the steady torrent of frustration that she verbalized as she struggled with her “stupid shoes.”

Too listen to her, one could be totally convinced that her shoes were sentient beings with the sole purpose of thwarting her every attempt to get them on properly. Every time she pulled them on, something was wrong- a sock was messed up, it didn’t feel right, the shoe’s tongue got bound up. Her frustration level grew as the minutes passed and the shoes continued to frustrate her. By the end, she was screaming at the top of her lungs at her stupid shoes.

The dogs had retreated to the far corners of the house. The Wife looked on with bemused astonishment. I drank coffee, then counted the minutes to 8 o’clock- far too many.

When finally she succeeded, breakfast became her next challenge. She’s never sure what to have in th mornings because “It’s always the same thing.” Never mind that this circumstance has as much to do with her own finickiness as it does with the fact that there are only so many things that can be prepared in a timely manner for breakfast. She finally settled on syrup with waffles, which she’d had yesterday.


Upon returning home from dropping off the boy, the house was quiet. The dogs made a brief fuss upon my entry, but quickly settled down as I went about a few chores this morning. I took care of a little laundry. Then, I finished tidying up the kitchen. I restocked the wood by the fireplace in an attempt to keep the house warm- it’s remarkable how difficult single digit temps can make that task.

When I was done, I walked over to the couch, sat down and picked up my Nook and started perusing through the news and other goings on via the web. I let out a deep breath, relaxed and thought “That wasn’t so bad.”

Waffles with Her Syrup

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Watching the lass eat waffles this morning, I realized she might not actually like the waffles. Rather, she just likes the pool of syrup that the waffles are drowning in along with the butter (or butter substitute) that melts and combines to form slicks in the syrup.

From this perspective, she’s basically performing a rescue operation for each piece of syrup-drizzling waffle she picks up from the plate. Poor thing gets tortured as she deliberates over which part she’ll rescue next, then she hacks away at it with her fork or knife. The syrup slopping over the sides of the plate in the mean time. The Perfect Storm on a breakfast plate.

I wonder, if we made her pour the leftover syrup back into the bottle, would that moderate her syrup usage? Not likely- the Wife or myself would need a wet-dry vac to clean up the syrup off the floor afterwards.

Cold

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Today is Day 2 of the most recent cold snap, or deep freeze or whatever it’s called. It occurs that a “heat wave” is defined as 3 consecutive days with highs of 90 degrees (F) or higher, but as a far as I’m aware there is no equivalent for stretches of cold.

According to the short range forecast, temps won’t get above freezing again until next Monday- meaning 7 consecutive days with highs below freezing. Should this be a “cold wave”? Or perhaps we can come up with something catchier sounding for at least 3 days with temps below freezing, like…well, nothing clever comes to mind at the moment.

But surely consecutive days below freezing are worthy of some kind of moniker, right? I mean, water phase changes! That doesn’t even happen in a “heat wave.” Arguably, it’s more impressive.

The Difference a Few Years Can Make

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I don’t know if I was a typical new-parent when the boy was small. I tend to think I was, but mostly I just know that I’ve learned a lot in those years about parenting.

As least, I think I have.

I was one of those that, initially, saw every little thing the boy did, or didn’t do, as a predictor of what he would grow up to be. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, there was always a way to rationalize it into something important about the person he’d become. The way he walked, the toys he played with, the words he used, how much he whined or didn’t, which food he ate, what his favorite color was, whatever. I recall that I wasn’t sleeping much either at the time, so that might have had something to do with it.

Sometime, I’d talk to my parents about it and the conversation would go something like this:

Me: Hey, he just ate a bug. What’s that mean?

Mom: OH. MY. GOD. Do you know how many bugs you ate at that age? If I had a nickel for every bug…

Or if I talked to my Dad:

Me: Hey, he just ate a bug. What’s going to happen?

Dad: A bug, huh? What kind was it?

Me: I don’t know, small, black. Why?

Dad: Hmm. You didn’t eat anything like that that I can recall, so I can’t really help you in this case. Let me check with your Mother first…

By the time the lass came along and started doing all the same things the boy had done, I realized I didn’t have to be so paranoid about every little thing either of them did, or didn’t do. It was a major relief for everyone.

I thought of that today when the boy fell asleep on the way to his martial arts class. The car has always had that effect on him. Early on, I figured he’d grow out of it. Of course, for longer rides it was a blessing. For shorter rides, it drove me nuts because I was worried he’d wake up grumpy after such a short sleep. So I wouldn’t let him sleep, I’d keep waking him or distracting him. But he would be so tired and the car’s effects were so great that he’d be doing the bob-and-weave only seconds later.

The dojang is only a 20 minute ride away and he fell asleep at about the midpoint of the ride. I hadn’t even noticed it when it happened. I didn’t bother waking him. Didn’t even consider it. And I felt more than a bit foolish for all those times I had chosen otherwise.

He woke up like magic when we arrived at the dojang. Literally, the car ignition went off and his eyes opened, like they’re connected somehow. No grumpiness, and no problems going to his class.

After we’d arrived home and he’d eaten, he asked me “Did I fall asleep in the car today?”

I was confused initially- how could he not remember? So I answered “You mean on the way to karate? Yeah, you fell asleep. About halfway there I think.”

“Guess the car still does that to me,” he said kind of sheepishly. Then he added “But it’s no big deal, right?”

“Yep,” I replied nonchalantly. “No big deal at all.”

Pats-Falcons Super Bowl Prediction

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UPDATE:
Couldn’t have been more wrong if I intended it. Maybe then I’d have been right! Well, as they say “Go Big, or Go Home.” I chose Big. Wait ’til I make my Super Bowl pick…

I used to be more interested in the football prognostication game. But nowadays, my football consumption has dropped rather precipitously and with it has gone my interest in predicting games. I actually attribute this to the amount of football I consumed from my early teens into my mid-20’s or so. There just came a point where there was always something else to do come game day and a subconscious realization that, with the exception of the standout play or two, I’d seen about ever scenario that could play out on the football field. So anymore, when presented with a matchup, I can instantly imagine scenarios in which either team can win. It makes predicting seem more than a bit pointless.

So, all throat clearing completed now, I’m predicting that the Patriots and Falcons will advance to the Super Bowl this year.

I don’t think I need to justify much with the Patriots game- that’s a straight up pick-em as far as I’m concerned. Suffice it to say, Joe Flacco is not an elite quarterback. He’s more than a Trent Dilfer style manage-the-game dude, but he isn’t Tom Brady, Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. Heck, he isn’t even a Peyton Manning. So Brady, along with a Pat’s D that reminds me of their earlier Super Bowl teams that on the strength of their defense, give the Patriots all the advantage they need.

As for the Falcons pick, I’m really basing it on one thing- Kaepernick having a bad game. Actually, I think it will be more like the Falcons D manages to force him into a bad game.

You see, I had an epiphany related to the QB position this year. To start, look at Cam Newton, who tore up the league last year. This year, not so much. Why? Defensive coordinators figured out his tendencies, figured out his comfort zone, and forced him to play outside of it. This is what defensive coordinators do. This year, we had a bunch of QB’s, mainly rookies, that the league had never seen before. Obviously, they’re a talented bunch and defensive coordinators simply hadn’t figured out how to game plan for them sufficiently.

I think the reason pocket passers thrive in the NFL is because they are the hardest to plan against because they are most effective at taking advantage of what a defense gives them. With QB’s that run, not so much. They need the ability to run to put a defense on it’s heels. But time has shown that a running QB can be neutralized and the coverage breakdowns that result from his running don’t materialize.

So, to summarize, I think the key to all the success of these young QB’s this year has been their shared newness to the league and for defensive scheming in general.

Last week, the Falcons came pretty close to figuring out Wilson. This week, I think they’ll get the job done on Kaepernick, who has benefited largely from being an unknown commodity. Thus, the Falcons move on and the 49ers come up bridesmaids once again.

Time for a Drink

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After a morning filled with hockey, we had an afternoon filled with Pinewood Derby cars. I’m aware that it’s likely a bit tedious to keep hearing about this stuff, but the Pinewood Derby is the event for Cub Scouts. Every family turns out for it and how well it’s perceived to run is kind of a judgement on the competency of the leadership group. As I stated in my previous post, there’s a lot to account for and, correspondingly, a lot that can go wrong.

I’m happy to report that, even though it wasn’t completely smooth sailing, we passed with high marks today. We were ahead of schedule by 20 minutes after the first heat- we allotted 30 minutes for the heat and we were done with it after 15 minutes. The assigned inspection times actually worked out better than expected- all the cars for all of the heats were signed in with time to spare. My guess is the combination of knowing there was a time limit caused people to make sure they were prepared. Couple that with limiting the number of kids for each time slot and it just worked.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few surprises. The first one came during the first inspection. One of the kids had extended the wheel base of their car. The boy was a Tiger Scout, and I didn’t want his car not to run so I opted to allow it to run, but it would automatically be assigned a 3rd place finish- in short it was technically disqualified. I explained it to the Mom and she was OK with it. There really wasn’t an excuse for it as I had sent an extensive email explaining the rules for car design. I was very explicit about this in that email.

There was also the race where I accidentally impeded a car after starting the race. But I immediately declared a do-over, even before the cars finished, so it wasn’t a problem.

We even ended up having 4 qualifiers for our finals this year, instead of 3 like we typically have. Fortunately, I’d already thought of that possibility and we simply included the 4th car in the finals competition. Even though it was a first, it was a non-problem.

When it was all said and done, the boy made the semi-final round with his coffin car. I thought he overachieved, frankly. The lass tied for first in the sibling race with her parrot car. The boy showed signs of maturity, pouting for a bit because he didn’t make the finals, but getting over it pretty quickly and he didn’t snipe at his sister. A bonus was that everybody loved their cars, particularly the boy’s, which was quite unique.

There were some other cool cars as well, including a couple of Batmobiles, a Spiderman car, a Phineas and Pherb car, a salamander car complete with googly eyes, a hum-vee and Herby the Lovebug. For all the unique designs though, the top places were all basic variations on the wedge shape, which is a classic in winning Derby designs.

Our only issue during the race was stopping the cars. When we’d set things up, we used a carpet to with an incline to try and stop the cars. It worked well with our test cars, but not at all with the actual entries, which were much faster than the test cars. That’s something we’ll have to figure out for next year.

But first, I’m going to have a drink.

There Will Be Only One

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So, tomorrow is my first Pinewood Derby that I’m in charge of, responsible for, however it’s best to think about it. I’ve helped out with two in the past, but others took care of all the planning. Right now, looking towards it, I can say I’m looking forward to it being done.

As much as the event itself is basically dropping cars down a ramp, it turns out there’s a lot more that goes into it from a preparation perspective. There are the trophies that have to be ordered. There are room arrangements that have to be made. There are people that have to be coordinated before the event for setup, during the event for running it, and after the event for cleanup. We have to come up with car rules for everyone to build their cars according to. We have to come race rules to handle fuzzy cases like ties or cars jumping their track (it does happen.) I’ve probably missed a few things, but it’s pretty obvious that dropping cars down a ramp is the easiest part of the whole day.

We have a smaller Pack this year, only 20 or so, so I decided to try an experiment that we hadn’t done in the previous Derbies I’d helped out with. We decided to pre-assign the kids to certain heats and then schedule times for them to get their car inspected and when their heat will race. In past years, we’ve simply opened up the event with the inspection and then waited for everyone to complete inspection prior to starting the race. There was a lot of down time with this method, and we still had multiple heats to run.

The goal with pre-assigning heats this year was to reduce the congestion at the inspection line. It’s one thing for a set number of people to weigh their cars and try to tune the weight as close to the 5 ounce limit as possible. It’s another for everyone in the Pack trying to do it. The line gets long and some people go back up multiple times attempting to “make weight.” By limiting the number of people who can submit their cars for inspection, we can limit the line length and, hopefully, keep things moving.

Further, once we get the first heat squared away, the second heat will be able to get their cars inspected and ready for their heat. Thus, we create a diversion of sorts that will serve to make the race day seem shorter because there will be something going on almost constantly.

Aside from that, we’ll also have a DVD running showing Herbie the Lovebug or Cars or something like that. Plus, there will be pizza which is always a hit.

I’m fortunate as well in that I’ve got a core group of people who are all capable and more than willing to help out wherever help is needed. No grousing or complaining. That alone makes my job a helluva lot easier.

Come this time tomorrow night, the Derby will be well over with. At least, it had better be. There will be one very happy Scout with bragging rights over everyone else. And there will be one tired Cubmaster, relieved to have it behind him.

Like a Rock

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Dinner can be a frustrating thing at times around here, mostly due to the lass’ finickiness. And by finicky, I don’t mean she only likes each food a certain way, though there is that to some degree, rather what she likes changes with a rather startling amount of frequency.

So while at the grocery store today, I saw they had salmon fillets for $7 a pound, which was just too good to pass up. We hadn’t had salmon in awhile anyway. My only hesitation was I couldn’t remember what the lass’ opinion on salmon was at the moment. My recollection was it was in a “thumbs up” cycle, I just couldn’t be sure. But between the Wife, the boy and myself I figured my odds were good enough.

Well, it turned out I was wrong. Salmon was in a “thumbs down” cycle.

It was obvious from the moment she returned from dance that she wasn’t happy. I mean, sure, she wandered by the salmon fillets on the counter and declared them “gross.” But it was obvious based on how she’d entered that the Wife had informed her that salmon was on the menu and she wasn’t happy about it. She had a sour look on her face, her shoulders were slumped, her general demeanor was that exaggerated fatigue kids do when they aren’t in the mood to cooperate. She was oozing “pain in the ass.”

She actually disappeared just prior to serving the food and I was tempted to not make the effort to find her. Why ruin my own meal? Parental discipline won out though, as I found her in the next room. She slouched towards her chair and I gave her a couple of mouthfuls of salmon on her plate.

Miraculously, about halfway through dinner, her plate still basically untouched and shoved off to the side, the boy convinced her to try a bite of the salmon. He even proposed that I offer her a reward for at least trying it.

She took a bite and finished it.

Then, she took another bite and finished that one as well.

Finally, she begrudgingly reached over to her plate and pulled it in front of her. She picked up her fork, and she began to eat. In between mouthfuls, she muttered “I liked it better than I thought I would.”

And just like that, salmon is back in the “thumbs up” cycle.

My Last Post Ever on Lance Armstrong

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Given his big interview tomorrow, which I won’t watch and don’t have any interest in at this point, I thought I’d just point out that 2-and-a-half years ago I called it correctly regarding his PED usage.

At the time, I also wrote that I’d like to be wrong. I still wish that were the case. I think a world in which a guy with an extraordinary gift who honed it to levels unheard of before him is a better world to live in than the one we are now in, where the guy’s gift was at deception.

One thing I will pay attention to tomorrow is the Manti Te’o press conference where he’ll explain this bizarre girlfriend story. I didn’t follow his final season all that closely, but he seems like a decent kid with a talent for football. I bear him no ill will and thus have no reason to prejudge him. I think it’s perfectly reasonable that he got snookered, badly, and upon realizing it had trouble accepting the humiliating reality. I expect he’ll be owning up to that embarrassment tomorrow as best he can, given his youth and status.

Like Armstrong, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Unlike Armstrong, I’m hopeful that he wasn’t part of this prank. I also think that’s a better world to live in than th alternative.

Finished Cars

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Can Dads Do Anything Right

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Saw this just now and followed the link. It’s related to a recent car commercial where a father and son are tossing a baseball together. The boy has horribly throwing form and the father is being patient and encouraging, only to reveal that he has worse throwing form than his son. So they sit there together tossing it back and forth next to this car.

To be honest, until I read the above links, I had no idea it was for a Passat.

I was actually talking about this commercial with the Wife and a friend yesterday. They both had theories about what the point of the commercial was- linking to the fact that it was a rugged car and people could comfortably throw a baseball next to it with horrible form.

Personally, I think it’s one of the genre of commercials where something amusing happens but you can’t for the life of you remember what the commercial was for. There are tons of these out there with clever little punch-liney setups, but don’t really have anything to do with product being sold. So, while the marketing firm gets an ‘A’ for creating a memorable TV moment, they get an ‘F’ for creating a useless ad- because no one can remember what the heck they’re selling after it’s over.

As for the stereotyping of Dads, well, see my previous post for whether or not we can be useful. For that matter, peruse the bread category or the woodworking category to get a feel for my personal answer. I also remember my own Father’s handiness while we were growing up- it’s the stuff of legend around our family. Not that everything went like clockwork, but “buffoon” is not a word you’d use to describe my Dad. I’ll let my kids judge me when the time comes.

More generally, to be honest, this sort of stuff rarely bothers me and when it does it’s more a fatigue of seeing the same silliness over and over. Everybody Loves Raymond was funny for about 2 episodes for me, then it was tedious, then it was uninteresting. I reckon that show made it’s living on the “Dad as buffoon” theme.

There’s also something a little unseemly about getting all upset about how Hollywood portrays Dads. I mean, do I need Hollywood to reaffirm the fact that I’m not a doofus? Hardly, and I can’t imagine the day will ever come that it does concern me. They need their story material, and apparently there’s a niche for this kind of thing. I think Dads do themselves more good by simply laughing it off, rather than playing an identity politics game.

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