Archive for October, 2013

The Wife’s New Phone

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About a year ago, I picked up a couple of new phones for the Wife and I. At the time, we wanted access to our email accounts as well as better texting, so I looked into and got a couple of feature phones. At the time, I thought I’d gotten her the better of the two phones. Mine was a flip-style phone with a hardware keyboard while the one I selected for her was a sleeker looking touchscreen based model. It wasn’t a smartphone, but it seemed like a more capable feature phone.

I’ve been regretting that decision ever since.

The Wife came to refer to the phone as the “ultimate stupid phone.” She openly mocked it in front of friends. She sneered at it anytime she went out, wondering how it would piss her off “this time.” The touch keyboard barely worked. She couldn’t reliably check email with it. It had a Facebook application that would connect, but then was miserable to use. Towards the end I’m pretty sure she only brought it with her in the hopes that some catastrophe would befall it, like accidentally falling under the wheels of a bus or something.

She called and found out that she could get a manager’s exception or something that would allow her to upgrade the phone more quickly than normal. She finally placed the order earlier this week and her phone arrived earlier today. She was so happy I think she considered not taking the lass out trick-or-treating with her friends. Luckily, her better sense prevailed.

Hopefully, her new phone brings her all the joy her old one did not.

Wild Kingdom

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Took the dogs outside for their final outing of the night and they almost bolted on me.  My voice interrupted them enough to stop them, but then they were busily sniffing under the car.  As I caught up to them, I heard some rustling under a bush.

My first thought was that the cat was there.  I went over to the bush and heard more rustling and, for some reason I cannot quite explain, I realized that it wasn’t a cat.  Probably because the cat would not have continued moving and risking getting the dog’s further attention.

I looked under the bush, but whatever critter it was had scurried off.  Curiosity had taken over now so I went in the house and grabbed a flashlight.  I figured a quick look around the porch and under the other bushes would be worth the effort.

On the end if the porch, hiding down behind a holly I found the little rascal:

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Not exactly its best side.  Here’s a better one:

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It’s a juvenile, probably only 8 inches or so long.  Must of caught him at a bad time when I let the dogs out.  Wonder if his Mom is looking for him.

All Hail the Smartphone!

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I have a very simple website I’ve setup for use with my Cub Scout Pack. It’s for the parents and I’m able to accomplish things like news items and, most importantly, sign-up forms for various Pack activities. It’s a huge help this time of year because each Fall we have a big popcorn fund raiser.

One of the big activities we do to help boost sales for the boys and the Pack generally is hold “Show-n-Sells.” Various businesses allow Scouts to hang out in front of their store all day and try to sell popcorn to their customers. The generosity of people towards the boys never ceases to amaze me.

The main piece to any Show-n-Sell, aside from the popcorn to sell, is a couple of Scouts each hour to work their magic, as well as a parent to make sure they do work their magic. I’ve found that an online sign-up sheet is the most effective way to get participation. I create a simple page listing the hours and positions available along with a simple form so a parent can choose what slot they want to fill and by the time the day arrives, all the slots are filled and we’re good to go.

With our final Show-n-Sell coming up next week on Election Day, I made the necessary modifications to the online sign-up page this morning and then sent out an email to let everyone know it was good to go and they could begin signing up. I, confident that all was well with the world, headed out to golf my martial arts class.

A couple hours later, after the class, I was cooling down and on a whim decided to check my mail with my phone.

PANIC! I had 6 emails from various parents telling me they could not sign-up, that they’d tried but nothing was working.

So first, I told them it was clearly a heavy traffic issue…

Alright, I didn’t. What I did do was utilize a slick SSH program on my phone called JuiceSSH to get access to the website and figure out what the problem was. It took me about 15 minutes of debugging on the somewhat limited user interface, but I was able to fix the site and have it working again without first having to get home. Once I’d verified it was up, I then used the email app on my phone to notify everyone that things were good to go, just like a good site administrator should.

It’s likely that the fix would have waited just fine until I’d gotten home. But it was pretty cool that when I needed a way, my phone was able to provide a means for me fix a problem. Chalk one up for the smartphone.

Teaching Programming

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Tonight was looking to be a rare quiet Tuesday night. The lass had Brownies right after school and the boy had his karate class. That may seem like the makings of a busy night, but the schedule was such that the Wife and I easily had things covered. I was tempted to attend an extra karate class myself that was scheduled after the boy’s classes were completed. Dinner was all set and both kids had a good jump on their homework.

Then the boy asked “Dad, could you help me write my first program?”

He’s been steadily interested in programming for awhile now. It started with questions about computers and what “code” is and the like. I wrote awhile back about installing Scratch on one of the computers, which is a sort of visual programming language. He’d worked with that, but lost interest in it after a week or so. Since he’s continued probing about programming trying to understand it better. He’s even taken to asking for a computer of his own so he can learn programming using that.

Tonight was the first time where he straight-up asked me to work with him. I realized I wouldn’t be going to a karate class tonight.

It wasn’t until I actually started thinking about how to teach him that I realized there were some unfortunate hurdles that are necessary for the act of programming, but have little to do with learning to program. Understanding files and executables and how to work an editor are a few.

So for tonight, I worked on my little laptop with him. I took care of the non-programming-but-necessary stuff and let him do the typing and actual coding. At least, as much as I could. We started with the classic Hello World program and went from there. A little anyway. After he played with the print statement in python for a bit, I started showing him the for loop. After printing out a series of numbers, I then showed him how to use nested loops to print multiplication tables. He played with that but wanted more.

The “more” is where I’ll need to do some work. The vast majority of my programming has been relegated to the command line. The choice has been somewhat deliberate- graphical stuff is pretty demanding and more finicky when it comes to design. It’s one thing to read and process files, quite another to define a graphical interface and process user input.

Naturally, the boy wants to learn how to manipulate graphics, which I’d say is equivalent to learning to run before learning to walk. That said, there are code samples available that should suffice as an example, so perhaps he and I will do some learning together. For tonight, however, I was saved by bed time.

Homework Torture

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One thing the Wife and I consistently when correcting the kids’ homework is we tell them something is wrong, but not what exactly it is. This tactic is most effective with math, but certain other homework that involves multiple choice or simple question and answer formats are fair game.

Of the two, the boy is the more easily provoked when we do this. Unfortunately for himself, he doesn’t have anyone else to blame but himself. He’ll take the homework back and quickly gloss over all of his answers and declare “There’s nothing wrong.” He’ll then start a game of trying to tease some detail out of us. He’ll want a hint or he’ll just feign that he doesn’t care and say he’s turning it in. He’s never followed through on that, which is bad for bluffing.

Often times, he’ll go to the other parent for confirmation that he does, in fact, have some errors. Mostly, he’s hoping the other parent will spill the beans.

The great irony of all the effort he goes through is that all the time he wastes trying to get us to tell him could be spent searching it out. In fact, most times he could figure it out in little more time than it took him to complete that portion of homework himself. We typically point this out to him, and receive annoyed grunts in return.

The lass, too, will get frustrated. But she doesn’t typically go through all the shenanigans attempting to get us to tell her exactly what is wrong. Her homework assignments are short enough that she doesn’t feel the need yet I guess.

I’m Turning in My Cowboys Fan Card

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Dear Jerry Jones-

I can’t be a Cowboys fan anymore.

I do not make this decision lightly. Oh hell, yes I do.

Look, I’ve been a fan of the Cowboys for many a year now. Way back to when Dwight Clark and Joe Montana teamed up to kill Cowboys fans with The Catch. I was a fan when they were 1-15 and the one win came against a bad Redskins team. I was a fan after the Aikman-Irvin-Smith dynasty finally crumbled into oblivion. I was a fan when Barry Switzer was coach, Wade Phillips was coach, Chan Gailey and a couple other forgettable coaches. I was a fan this season.

Right up until today.

Today is exactly the type of stuff this version of the Cowboys is known for. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched this team lose games in the final quarter. Or, fashion a great comeback and only to squander it on a final drive. For all the promise this team seems to have, they just never live up to it. They’ve been to the playoffs a hand full of times (none recently) and won 1 game. They’ve lost the others and looked terrible doing so.

The worst thing is, on paper, this team seems like it should be good. They have some great talent at many of the key positions, certainly on offense. But defensively as well, there is some solid personnel with guys like Ware, Lee.

Yet time and again, this team finds a way to lose games. I won’t say they should win against teams like Detroit. The point is they could have won today. They were in position to win today. Rather than finish, they inexplicably found a way to lose. I don’t even care that Calvin Johnson torched the secondary for 300+ yards receiving. I disagree that Dez Bryant’s comments served as motivation- the media blew that way out of proportion. The point is, today’s game was winnable and they ‘Boys lost.

If this were the first time, I could swallow this bitter pill. Just as I’ve swallowed many bitter pills in the past. But this isn’t the first time. It isn’t even the second time. I can’t count how many times this has happened. Which makes it almost certain that it won’t be the last either. Personally, I think its time to blow this team up and start again. Find a new offensive team of the future. Perhaps then I’ll return to being a fan.

But for now, I just can’t. It’s too painful.

Art Lessons

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We did our annual town Trick-or-Treat night thing with the kids this evening. A neighboring town has all the businesses in the downtown area setup candy so kids can walk the street and get some candy. It works well for us since we don’t have a ready neighborhood to traipse around. The kids get to dress up, get some candy and satisfy their sweet tooth for a bit.

There were a couple of differences between this year’s rendition and past years. The first is that it was cold. Not bone-chilling but with temps in the low 40’s and the Sun basically hidden in the downtown area, it was a bit uncomfortable. In the past couple of years, the cold hadn’t really settled in until close to Thanksgiving.

The other difference is that when it was all done, the lass and the Wife met up with some friends to take an art class at one of the shops. The Wife had set it up awhile back. This art shop supplies all the materials, instruction and food! They went through all the steps for how to paint a cat and a pumpkin. The Wife explained how they started with a pumpkin shape, then added the cat’s head above it. The instruction continued in this way and included mixing colors as well as adding in shading and texture. By the end of the night, the lass and the Wife both had paintings that were recognizable as a cat with a pumpkin.

Which got me to thinking- the Wife voluntarily spent money to get an art lesson with the lass. So there’s some kind of market for that service. What if schools had to slim down and chose to axe the art department in an effort to focus on more core material? Does this serve as an indicator that art could continue to flourish? What if the school system is taking money away from people like this because most parents assume their kids get their fill of art at school? Sure, the Wife found this opportunity and took advantage of it but how many others don’t bother?

I doubt I’ll ever be around to see something like that given an opportunity, but it does serve as food for thought about what other disciplines this could apply to. How about gym classes? Parents could sign their kids up for gymnastics or karate or dance to satisfy a physical activity need.

Broadening our scope significantly, what if “school” was less formal and more a matter of what parents chose to educate their kids in? Perhaps governments could establish rules related to kids needing to get certain educational needs, but it would be up to the parents to figure out how to supply them? Thus, a whole industry could be born whereby knowledgeable people supply instruction in various disciplines. Ideally, in this situation, taxes could be reduced since there is no longer a physical school to maintain. Then, parents would have the spare income to spend on their kids.

The cynic in my realizes that therein lies the rub. Without taxes, the opportunity for graft is greatly reduced. Thus, this sort of arrangement would be widely panned. Still, I kind of like it.

UPDATE: Here are the two paintings. The picture has been cropped to protect the innocent…

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Patience

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I’ve been working with the boy on his multiplication and division techniques the past few days. I’ve generally been less than impressed with the pace of the math program here. I’ve also been flabbergasted as to some of the techniques they are teaching kids which, in my view, add unnecessary extra steps that make arriving at the correct answer error prone.

Tonight I was working with him on division. My approach was to show him how to do it while explaining each step. Then, started involving him more and more on subsequent problems. Finally, I started giving him the problems to work on his own.

He struggled with it. He’d forget a step, or get confused by a step, or make a calculation error. Then he’d start to get frustrated with himself.

And that’s where I realized that I was the one who had to exercise patience. Here, the math is easy for me, while he’s the one trying to learn it. Just because I can do division easily doesn’t mean he’ll figure it out in a few minutes. It takes time for him to master the steps involved and it isn’t going to happen in a single night with 30 minutes of instruction.

Another mistake I find myself making trying to think back to what I might have been doing at his particular age. But it’s irrelevant what I was doing because he’s not me. It seems such an obvious point, but I’ve found it’s an easy one for me to miss.

So for all the times I’ve told the kids to be patient, it turns out that I must practice what I preach. Just because I’m grown up doesn’t mean I can’t benefit from the same lessons the kids do.

This is NOT Bullying

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A Texas high school football teams wins 91-0, and then the coach is accused of bullying. Reading the article and being rational about it, it’s hard to see this as having merit.

To begin, the coach pulled his starters after the 1st quarter. Then, the article isn’t specific about timing, he eventually worked all his 3rd stringers in to finish the game. The game was played with a continuously running clock after the half. I’m not going to fault him for letting his 3rd stringers play the game rather than having them take a knee on every offensive possession. (Frankly, as a competitor I think that would have been insulting- there’s nothing more humiliating in sports than knowing you’re being toyed with.) It’s obvious that this coach did everything he could to keep things from getting completely out of hand. Given all that, I think it’s more accurate to say those two teams don’t belong on the same field together.

Bullying is an individual form of terrorism. It’s all about an individual, or a group, exerting power over another individual for the enjoyment of it. Bullying is about cruelty for it’s own sake. Sticking two totally mismatched teams on the field of play and watching the logical conclusion doesn’t come close to that mental dynamic.

I don’t know what the complaining parent is hoping to achieve. His son’s team just got beat by far superior competition. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be upset about getting beat like that, but there’s no shame in admitting to you got beat by a superior opponent.

It’s Not You

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We had a Halloween themed Pack meeting for our Cubbies today. It was a very active meeting. After the opening flags, we got right into a series of games consisting of bobbing for apples, pumpkin bowling and a candy corn relay race. The numbers and timing were such that when the relay race completed, we rotated the kids around to the next activity. From there, I handed out awards to the boys and then we finished the meeting with pumpkin carving. The meeting ran late and, for all the activity and stimulation, all the kids hung in well and behaved. They even helped clean up when it was over.

During the meeting, one of the Mom’s was given some grief by her daughter. To me, it was a familiar act since I’ve watched the lass run the same game on the Wife and I many a time. The daughter was trying to lay a guilt trip on her Mother for spending more time with brother, who’s a Bear Scout, during the meeting. The Mom was, in fact, there with 3 kids and did an admirable job of managing all three through the evening. It was during the pumpkin carving that the little tiff presented itself. At one point, the Mom looked up at me with an expression like “You see what I have to put up with?”

Later, during the cleanup, this Mom was stating that she was embarrassed by the way her daughter behaved. She thought she was the only one with those problems. Clearly, she doesn’t read this blog enough. I told her there was nothing her kids were doing that any other parent hadn’t had their kid do to them. Another Mom piped in with her own horror story of embarrassing child misbehavior. The original Mom seemed to be genuinely surprised that other people had these issues.

Of all the things I’ve learned during my time as a parent, this was easily the most surprising and also the biggest help: we are not the only ones. Any given parent is not the only one who has had their child throw temper tantrums in public. That parent is not the only one that has experienced their child answering back to them. That parent is not the only one that has had a meal ruined by their kids bickering and arguing. Even parents of children with special needs aren’t alone, I’d wager. Within that community I’m sure that there are many common parenting experiences and frustrations as well.

I’d say an overwhelming majority of parents try to do right by their kids. We don’t want to have to yell and scream at them. We don’t want to fight with them. We don’t want to be treated as the enemy. We’re trying to help them grow up. I think the natural tendency is to blame ourselves when our kids misbehave or “embarrass” us.

But kids have their own minds and keep their own counsel. They are immature and selfish. They want what they want, when they want in a way of their choosing. That they exhibit these traits doesn’t make us bad parents. It doesn’t even make them bad kids- it just make them normal kids and it’s up to the parents to push back, to deny, to fight, and even to scream to teach them and guide them as to what is appropriate behavior.

Realizing this removes a huge burden from parents because, suddenly, it’s not something that we are doing to our kids. It’s something- a phase, a part of growing up, whatever- that every kids has to go through. Viewed in this way, the problem to worry about isn’t “what we did,” it’s “what we do.” Parenting with the realization that you have not screwed your child up is a lot less stressful.

A Thought About the Redskins Name

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I’ll start by stating I hate the Redskins. I hope they lose every game they play. With the possible exception of their games against the Giants. If the Giants have a better record, that’s the one time I’ll root for Redskins since they can at least do some good in that instance by marring another hated team’s record. Such is life as a Cowboys fan.

Look, I need something to look forward to. With the current state of the Cowboys, looking through the scores and seeing a Redskins loss can at least make me feel a bit better as a football fan.

That said, I’ve been really put off by the renewed attempts this year by folks, such as Mike Florio, to get the Redskins to change their name. In general, I view it as bullying. The Florio’s of the world believe they have the better of the argument mostly because everyone they deem as important agrees with the basic premise: the name is a racial slur against Native Americans.

This morning, I came across the first article I’ve read that attempts to defend the name. The point made by the author is that there is no offense intended in the use of the name. Quite the opposite in fact- the team name has been a source of pride for a storied sports franchise. From what I’ve seen, this is generally acknowledged by the Bob Costas’ of the world, but they don’t find it convincing.

The argument always circles back to the most recent usage of the “redskin” outside of the NFL world- as a pejorative against Native Americans.

I’ve stayed out of the argument because I haven’t had anything useful to say or offer that I thought was unique. After reading the Reason article, I finally had an inspiration.

According to Wikipedia, the term “redskin” did not begin life as a pejorative. I won’t rehash the etymology here, other than to note that it eventually became perceived as a slur. It then occurred to me: if the word could change from a non-slur to a slur, why can’t it change back?

While the pro-name-changers have a fair point arguing the dubious past of “redskins” as a slur, they fail to account for what the word could become. I’d refer back to the Reason article’s exposition on how the word “yid” was appropriated by a soccer team’s fans. “Yid” is a slur for Jewish people, yet these fans embraced the term as an unofficial term for their team. Doing so robs the term of it’s sting and power, I think.

Anyone who has faced down bullies will also note that the quickest way to defuse a verbal assault is to not allow it to affect you. When the mob starts calling names meant to offend and hurt, the best defense is to turn it around and make a joke of it. Not allowing the words to offend robs them of their power.

I’m not sure what power the term “redskin” as a slur has left in it at this point since it’s not in common usage anymore. So why not use the moment to change the usage of the term? If the English language isn’t dead, then surely this is possible- though the method isn’t exactly obvious to me. Perhaps a sustained campaign by the Redskins organization to honor Native American culture.

Still, the point is that the word “redskin” only has power if it’s allowed to. To ban it would go a long way to augment it’s power. By forcing the name change, it would join the ranks of other “forbidden” words. This is currently a conscious choice the Costas-Florio’s of the world are trying to force upon the rest of the world- to cement the word Redskin as a slur for the future.

It needn’t be so.

Perhaps, in the end, the way to change its perception is simply for every time someone is told “You shouldn’t use that word because it’s a slur” the response should be “I don’t use it as a slur, and you think of it that way because you choose to.” If intent is what got it started down the road towards becoming a slur, then surely intent can be used to change course.

I Shot an Arrow Into the Air…

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After spending most of today in the service of the kids, we got home and I went outside to spend a little time practicing my archery. Our neighbor had visited yesterday and he’d suggested I might want to figure out a way to raise my target block so I didn’t have to aim down so much. I think the idea is to be able to practice technique without concern for aiming right now- just practice the draw, anchor and release stages of the shot to develop some muscle memory.

So when I went out I took my 2 arrows and the shooting block and scanned around a bit to determine if I had any simple options for elevating the block. After ruling out a few options, I looked at the kid’s play gym. It has an elevated platform which the monkey bars are attached to. From the platform, there is a slide down to a sandbox. There is also a short rock wall climb on one side and a rope ladder climb on the other. The platform is open from one side to the other along it’s length, with a roof made of the old tent material covering it. I went and measured my shoulder height against it.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was close. If I set the target on the platform, I judged I could stand about 5 yards away and fire away at it with a straight arm and little aiming to worry about. Just to be sure, I nocked an arrow and raised my arm into drawing position and it lined up with the lower half of the target.

Perfect.

So I paced off 5 yards and turned towards the target. I set my other arrow down on the ground next to me and then began my shot progression. I placed my fingers on the string. I set the string into the first joint of my index finger just above the arrow. My middle and ring finger go below the arrow and curl around the string allowing me to take the weight of the bow off my bow hand. I then relax my grip on the bow. At this point, I look up and stare at the center of the target, then raised my bow arm into position. As I raised the bow into position I brought my draw arm elbow parallel with the ground and began my draw, rotating my body then transferring the draw to my back (at least, that’s what I’m trying to do.)

I anchored my string hand under my chin with the string touching my nose and the corner of my mouth. I paused a moment, made sure my bow hand was relaxed and my arm was straight out from my shoulders. I felt the tension in my back as the weight of the draw pulled against my fingers. I then relaxed my fingers…

The string sang and the arrow flew.

There are those moments when something goes awry where our mind takes a moment to fully comprehend what happened. When the mind recognizes that something went amiss, but can’t quite put the whole picture together. In my case, I distinctly remember thinking “Where’s the THOCK?” That satisfying sound every archer knows as their arrows strikes a target.

Full understanding came quickly from there. I’d missed the target. High. The arrow has sailed through the opening in the play gym’s platform. It had hit nothing and passed unimpeded into the woods behind the house. Beyond our yard, there is a drop off of about 15 feet into wetlands. The arrow had flown somewhere into there, with barely a whisper.

And where it landed, I know not where.

The Crankies

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“The Crankies” visited the boy this morning. He has to go do a fundraiser with me this morning for Scouts and he didn’t want to. “WHAT?!? You mean I have to go and do fundraisers every day for the rest of my life!?!” he exclaimed when the Wife reminded him. Prior to that, he’d been engaging in other favorite cranky behavior, needlessly antagonizing his sister.

As for the fundraiser, never mind that we do it for about a month-and-a-half out of the year. Never mind that he actually enjoys doing it. Never mind that I’ll spend the remainder of the year trying to make his Scouting experience fun fruitful. Never mind that he only has to work for an hour today (THE HORROR!!) All that seems to matter is it interferes with his busy Saturday and weekend schedule consisting of… nothing.

He loves to poke at the lass when he’s cranky. He’ll intentionally poke her, (nothing hard- just enough to be annoying like only a brother can manage) until she’s literally screaming at him to stop. When he’s called out he accuses her of being a baby and always making a big deal of out nothing. If she gets up, he’ll slide over into her spot on the couch, which he knows will infuriate her when she returns. He also tends to make lots of snide comments about her- subtle put-downs and such that individually aren’t a big deal. But taken together with the steady drip-drip-drip of a leaky faucet add up to more than their constituent parts.

If it isn’t the boy, then it’s the lass who gets “The Crankies.” She tends to exhibit different behaviors. Namely, an out-of-control defiance for everything. Tell her to make her breakfast and she’ll put on a frown, fold her arms across her chest and say “Hmmmph. I’m not hungry.” Ask her to feed the dogs and she’ll repeat the above with the modification that she “always feed the stupid dogs. Why doesn’t my brother ever feed them?” Never mind that he fed them just yesterday.

There is no cure for “The Crankies.” At least, no sure fire cure. Depending on the severity of the affliction, distractions or redirection can work. Sometimes, feigning excitement for something they like can snap them out of it. Other times, getting some food in them fixes things.

Just as often as not, however, nothing works and the only saving grace is that they get dumped at school for the day and we get a reprieve from them for 6 hours or so. It’s a crap shoot whether “The Crankies” are gone by the time they get home.

It’s almost enough to be willing to use them as collateral for renting an iPhone. Although in all likelihood, Apple would be demanding their phone back well before the rental was up.

On Pushing Your Kids

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A few years back, we started the boy on his martial arts lessons. I say a few years… I guess it would be a bit over 3 years now. As it stands, he’s well on his way to earning a junior black belt, an interim belt level that pre-teen kids can earn at the school. The instructors very rarely award full black belts to pre-teen kids because the curriculum is much more advanced and challenging, including self-defense techniques against weapons. The boy is at the point now in his training where he’s looking forward to classes and practice and even voluntarily practices outside of class.

It was not always so.

In fact, when he first started out there were many a tearful day where he didn’t want to go. He was too tired he’d say, or he just didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t infrequent that he claimed he didn’t like martial arts.

Yet the Wife and I persisted and struggled with him and kept getting him to his classes. Often times, when he put up the biggest stinks about going, he would get into class and clearly enjoy himself. Just as often, when the class ended he’d quickly change to a grousing demeanor. But if we asked him if he’d enjoyed the class, he would begrudgingly admit he had. So we continued to push him along.

We were always on the lookout for a point where it was clear he was not enjoying the classes. Had it become clearly evident, I like to think we would have ceased making him go to fulfill his obligations.

When he was in 1st grade, the boy was involved in something all year long. He started with Scouts and martial arts in the fall. Then moved on to hockey through the Winter. Finally, he concluded with baseball in the Spring. By the end of the Spring, he was doing something all but one day of the week.

I’ll never forget the night he came home with about 2 weeks to go in the baseball season and basically cried uncle. At that point, he had a coach pitch game to attend and he flat out didn’t want to do it. He lamented “I never have any time to do anything I want because I’m always doing either karate, baseball or Scouts.”

That was the last year he played organized baseball. We’ve offered to let him do it every year since. Every year since, he’s declined. He underwent a similar trajectory with soccer. After having played in the Fall leagues for the past couple of years, he chose to stop this year and the Wife and I let him.

It’s hard for me to say what the difference is between karate and baseball and soccer in this context. I suppose part of it is, at the time, he had more invested in karate (even if he couldn’t understand that). Another part of it is, frankly, I’m not a baseball or soccer guy so I wasn’t going to be heart broken about him not wanting to play.

But another part is that he was, and is, still young. So how hard were we going to push him to be doing things and going places and committing himself to activities if he really didn’t want to be doing them? On the one hand, we want to instill in him the need to work and practice to hone and develop skills so he can be accomplished at a skill. In that consideration, allowing him to quit seems counter productive. On the other hand, why run the risk of burning him out when he still has so much mental and physical growth to undergo?

Where are the lines drawn? And how much do we let him draw them?

The Wife and I both only have our own experiences growing up to inform our choices: the things we like and the things we didn’t like. But still, that experience is of limited utility because our kids are not us and we are not our parents. Parallels and patterns may present themselves, but there are no rules, no hard and fast lessons to be applied.

Ultimately, we’ve tried to walk a balance. We try encourage and push him in things that we think are important. We try and instill a sense of drive and obligation to complete a task that isn’t easily completed with those things. And we give him options for things to explore and pursue so that he might eventually find something he is truly passionate about.

I have my doubts that he’ll become a lifelong martial artist and I have my doubts that he’ll want to become an Eagle Scout. But I like to think that when he finally does find a passion, he’ll know how to go about fulfilling it.

For All the Know-it-Alls Out There

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Considering I’ve embraced my inner radical, and now that the government showdown is all but over, I have some questions for all the political know-it-alls out there. Particularly the ones that claim they want smaller government.

First, what has any of the current crop of “good” Republicans done to reduce the size of government? I suppose the smart-allecky ones will say “the sequester.” I’d answer we still have multi-hundred-billion dollar deficits. That’s not shrinking government.

Second, what proposals have you put forward that actually shrinks government? What ideas have you mentioned? Whom have you backed that’s willing to go after entitlements? (Alright, that’s 3 questions…)

Third, what level of debt will finally get your attention? If $17,000,000,000,000.00 and counting doesn’t, what will? $20,000,000,000,000? $25,000,000,000,000? $35,000,000,000,000? $50,000,000,000,000? Seriously, what is that magic number? What’s the point where you’ll finally say “Holy crap, we can’t possibly ever pay that amount of money back!”? While you’re at it, do you really think we should set our debt ceiling at a level where “Holy crap, we can’t possibly ever pay that off”?

What’s insane? People who don’t believe that we should have $17 trillion in debt and decide to take a stand and say “No more.” Or the people who think $17 trillion in debt is no big deal and it’s just business as usual? Please explain to me your definition of insane.

Do you think the music will play forever and that none of the seats will be removed? Or do you just want to make sure you get yours before the music stops and that it’s some other generation left standing when it does?

Twitget Improvement Addendum

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Awhile back, I posted a modification to the Twitget Twitter widget I’m now using to display my tweets over there on the side bar. I’ve now made some further improvements since my original changes made an erroneous assumption about processing the tweet information.

First, hashtag links were losing the leading space when being displayed in the sidebar. The fix here was trivial, as it simply requires adding a space to the to preg_replace function calls in the process_links function that deal with generating the hashtag links.

The second fix is slightly more significant. Basically, if there are no URL entities in the tweet metadata, then the code needs to find link text within the tweet and turn it into a link. Here’s the new batch of code:

function process_links($text, $new, $urls) {
        if($new) {
                $linkmarkup = '<a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="';
                $text = preg_replace('/@(\w+)/', '<a href="http://twitter.com/$1" target="_blank">@$1</a>', $text);
                $text = preg_replace('/\s#(\w+)/', ' <a href="http://twitter.com/search?q=%23$1&src=hash" target="_blank">#$1</a>', $text);
        }
        else {
                $linkmarkup = '<a rel="nofollow" href="';
                $text = preg_replace('/@(\w+)/', '<a href="http://twitter.com/$1">@$1</a>', $text);
                $text = preg_replace('/\s#(\w+)/', ' <a href="http://twitter.com/search?q=%23$1&src=hash">#$1</a>', $text);
        }

        if (!empty($urls))
                foreach($urls as $url) {  
                        $find = $url['url'];
                        $replace = $linkmarkup.$find.'">'.$url['expanded_url'].'</a>';
                        $text = str_replace($find, $replace, $text);
                }
        else {
            if ($new) {
                $text = preg_replace('@(https?://([-\w\.]+)+(d+)?(/([\w/_\.]*(\?\S+)?)?)?)@', '<a href="$1" target="_blank">$1</a>',  $text);
            }
            else {
                $text = preg_replace('@(https?://([-\w\.]+)+(d+)?(/([\w/_\.]*(\?\S+)?)?)?)@', '<a href="$1">$1</a>',  $text);
            }
        }

        return $text;
}

The framework here is pretty much identical as before. The main addition is the else clause in the if(!empty($urls)). The code after that is actually the previous link code- regexes like that are too persnickety to reinvent.

So this will suffice until the next problems surfaces.

Why I Don’t “Like” Anything

1

Doug Mataconis alerts us to a way to opt out of the new Google user endorsement regime.  While useful, I have an easier way:  don’t “+1” or “like” anything,  anywhere, ever.

If companies like Google are going to insist on playing these games, then the best option is not to play.  It may not be as fun, but it beats the privacy headaches that inevitably result.

Really?

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I’m sitting here on the couch with the kids.  It’s halftime now so they are getting a little bored.   The lass sticks her tongue out.

The boy takes this as an invitation.  He starts squeezing her head so her jaw clamps down on her tongue.   The lass is mildly amused by this which encourages the boy to take the next step.

He starts bumping the underside of her jaw with one hand while pushing down on the top of her head with the other.  He tries it once, twice, three times.

At which point I’ve had enough.  “What do you think you’re doing?” I start with.

He looks at me, unsure what to say.  He’s got a deer-in-the-headlights look that confirms he was not thinking at all.

“What do you think is going to happen if you keep doing that?” I then asked.

“Ummm, I don’t know.  You’re going to yell at me?”

He’s not wrong.  I suspect, however, he still doesn’t get it.

“Will that be before or after you successfully get her to bite her tongue?” I ask.

“Oh, well I knew that woud happen…”

“So wait,” I cut him off.  “You mean you know that you’ll eventually hurt her and that you’ll get in trouble for it but you’re doing it anyway?  That’s sooo much better.  I mean, that’s just brilliant.”  I turned up the sarcasm to 11.

Now he got it.  His face fell and he stopped.  There were no snappy comebacks or attempts to laugh it off.  He fully comprehended the foolishness of what he was doing.

I don’t know when either of them will start demonstrating the ability to think about what they are doing and the likely consequences.   It won’t come soon enough.

Hello?

1

The Wife and I are raking the yard today.  While we’ve been working, the boy is walking around with a rake in his hands.  He keeps asking random questions about school and books he’s read.  The rake in his hands voes unused.

Finally, I ask him “So are you going to use that rake in your hands or just wander around with it?”  I was a touch accusatory with my tone.

He replied, just a little sheepishly, “Well, I’m not sure where you want me to start.”

This is what the yard looks like:

image

image

I simply spread my arms and motioned in the general vicinity of the yard.  It’s hard to figure them out sometimes.

A Walk in the Woods

1

I’d finished up a little archery practice after dinner when the kids cornered me and wanted to know if I’d go on a hike with them. It wasn’t too late, yet. The light was fading fast though as it was close to 6 o’clock. In truth, I really didn’t want to go. I think that, sometimes, I tell them “No” too many times when they want me to do something with them. That’s a funny thing to say considering my situation, but there it is.

Counter-intuitively, that probably makes it easier for me to say it. I’m around them so much that I never want for “kid time.” Most of that time, though, is kind of the family equivalent of “business.” Going to school, picking up from school, meals, going to martial arts, and all the other running around. Doing things that are just fun and frivolous aren’t as frequent anymore.

So, in the end, I took them for a hike.

I grabbed a flashlight and a toothpick (just finished dinner, remember?) and we headed out. There are two ways we could go that don’t involve roads- South and North. South is a short hike that skirts the several neighbors’ backyards and ends near a stream. North takes us to a different part of the stream that we can cross. From there, it’s fields and woods into the next town.

We went North.

“What’s that for?” the boy asked pointing at the flashlight.

“It gets dark quick nowadays,” I replied.

“What’s that for, Dad?” asked the lass about 5 seconds later. She’d lagged behind and caught up. I told her to ask the boy.

The initial part of the hike was through some woods. The path is easy enough to pick out, but there are tall grasses and twiggy brush along the way that is impossible to avoid. There are also downed trees that are easy enough for me to step over. Not so much for the kids. The lass was soon complaining about her legs getting scratched- she’d chosen shorts for her hiking attire. The boy was looking forward to seeing “The Mansion.”

“The Mansion” isn’t really a mansion, but it is a large house. It’s located across the street from us and up a hill. It actually can’t be seen from our house or from the road. But if we hiked far enough the way we were going, we’d be able to get to an elevated point that would allow us to pick out “The Mansion” on the hill. I think I’d mentioned this once before in the boy’s presence. He’d clearly never forgotten and had it in his mind that he’d finally get his chance to see “The Mansion.”

He asked how far we had to go. By this point, we’d come out of the stretch of woods and into our first field. To get to the point where we could see “The Mansion,” we had to cross the stream and continue East. There was a second, longer stretch of woods to pass through and we’d come to another field. Then, we had to go to the other side of that field and we’d be able to view it. I wasn’t so sure it would work out since the light was fading fast, but this was the adventure he had set his mind on. After finishing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. No dragons though.

We crossed the stream and continued along into the next field. It was a corn field that had already been harvested. Shaved stalks created neat rows and patterns all around us. The lass grabbed the nearest one and proclaimed it “her stalk.” Our first trophy from our adventure, I suppose. The boy was asking questions about how I knew where to go. In spite of her trophy, the lass was getting bored and regretting coming on the hike. She came up and took my hand as we entered the woods on the far side of the field.

I used to bring our oldest dog for walks back here. Back when I still had a normal job and walks in the woods with your dog was a stress relieving adventure. She wood run all over. If I walked 1 mile, she loped 5. She was never out of earshot, though many a time I lost site of her. I’d call and she’d come racing back to check in, then bound off again in search of other things to sniff.

We trudged through the woods. The boy was peppering me with questions about what it was like with the dog back here. Did I have her on a leash? What did she do? Where did she go? Did she come back? Could she follow a scent back to the house? Would she be happy to come back here now?

The trail is over grown from when I used to hike back there. Not so much that it was hard to follow the trail. But enough that the grasses continued to nip at the lass’ legs. The boy’s too. They would take a few steps, then pick a leg up and wipe it with there hand to stop the itching.

The boy was wondering where we were headed now and if we had much farther to go. I told him we were looking for a wall and that we had a ways to go. The field we were heading too is several football fields long, plus the remainder of the hike through the woods. He didn’t complain and the lass just continued to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

The wall we were looking for is an old stone wall. Looking at it now, with my new eyes for stone wall construction, I could appreciate that it was a well built wall. Even spacing between stones, a nice flat face and a flat defined top. Someone, at sometime, had taken some care in assembling it. Trees were slowly wrecking it now, though. Either because of trees falling on it or because of roots coming up under it. Attacked from above and below, it was slowly ceding ground. There were also sections that had clearly been dismantled by people who’d decided they need a way to pass through. But the parts that are still intact are a testament to it’s builder.

We walked along the stone wall for the final leg through the woods. This is a gentle uphill stretch that’s a bit tricky due to roots jutting out from the ground. It’s easy to catch a toe and get tripped up. There were also tree limbs that I had trouble dodging. The lass noted “Sometimes it’s better to be short, huh Dad?” She wasn’t wrong. The boy could see the opening to the field and bounded up to it, buoyed by the realization that he was at the final leg of his journey.

The lass and I emerged and she sighed. The field was looooong. Just like I’d told them. The boy had his hands on his knees about 50 yards in. I think he’d run all the way there before realizing he would never be able to sprint across the entire field. The lass griped again about going home. The complaints about the grass were worst for this stretch. Long and thick, it caused there legs to itch on every step. Even the boy finally admitted he should have worn jeans.

The boy was marvelling at how he didn’t feel tired. The lass was wishing she’d eaten more for dinner. Then she asked whether the dog had been this far back and when I told her she had, it seemed to lift her spirits to think of the dog trotting through the field she now trudged through. She like the thought of her being happy and exploring. She kept asking, trying to flesh out all the details of what the dog had done, where she’d gone.

We finally reached the other side of the field and turned around. I could make out a light on the hill, way back across our street. It was well into dusk now, and without that light it would have been hard to see “The Mansion.” As it was, there was little detail that could be discerned. If I hadn’t told the kids that it was a big house that sat there, they’d never have known based on the view.

We stood and admired the view for a bit. The gray clouds in the sky were streaked red from the sunset. The boy noted what looked like a rainbow next to the clouds. Even though he couldn’t really see the house, he didn’t seem disappointed. The lass too, seemed to be in a better mood. Perhaps it was because she knew the next stop would be home.

Still, with the light almost gone, she took my hand for the walk back. She wanted to hold the flashlight, but I declined. When I wouldn’t pass it to her, she asked me to turn it on. I told her “When we get back to the woods. There’s still enough light to walk through field. You wouldn’t want the batteries to run out, would you?” She didn’t push the matter any further.

The walk back seemed quicker than the walk out, in spite of the darkness that descended up on us through the woods. The boy commented on the difference and I tried to explain that when you don’t know where you’re going, you tend to notice everything and it makes time seem longer. But on the return journey, everything is familiar, so you tend to notice less and the time seems to go by quicker.

Along the way, I’d occasionally shine the light into the woods and scan it around. I did the same in the field. Both kids kept wondering what I thought I’d seen.

“Nothing,” I answered.

“Then why do you keep shining the light into the woods?” the boy asked.

“Because if I don’t stop and look, I won’t see anything. Maybe there’s a deer, or a rabbit, or a coyote out there. If I keep shining the light on the trail, that’s all I’ll see. So I stop and look around every now and again, because you never know.”

We walked together through the night. We detoured from our original path as we neared our house. Rather than passing through the woods to get back to there, we went around to the road. This was to benefit the lass, whom didn’t want to deal with the sticks and bushes nipping at her legs anymore. She’d held my hand the whole way, but let it go at the road. We walked with them in front of me so I could light them up with the flashlight for cars to see.

The lass had held onto her corn stalk all the way back to the house and she now tossed it onto the side of the driveway. The journey was over.

Before heading up to take showers, they both said they liked the walk. The lass added that she’d like it better if it had been during the day. They both wanted to do it again someday, they said.

I’ll have to oblige them.

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