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|Saturday, August 27th, 2016|
|New and "Improved"
Apparently, since sometime last June, the company that Meg's school uses for health record management (Magnus Health - since I'm perfectly willing to name and shame companies which don't provide good customer service) has made changes to their system. Last year, when I electronically "signed" one of the forms, I typed my first name, middle initial with a period, and full last name. This year, I went to do that, and the system wouldn't let me sign because of 'invalid characters'.
|Thursday, August 4th, 2016|
Yesterday afternoon, I spent a couple hours putting together Bella's new trail-a-bike. In the evening, we took it out for a spin. She enjoyed it, and I could definitely feel the boost provided by her pedaling - even when riding up the steep (10% grade) hill near our house.
She complained that the seat wasn't very comfortable (and was right to do so - the thing feels like a rock with a vinyl cover over it), so I replaced it with the seat off Meg's old bike. On our ride this morning, she decided that the seat is too small, so I need to figure out what to do about that.
This morning, we took our first long ride with it. It's almost 6 miles to the camp she's going to this week. Most of that distance is along a major commuting corridor, so we took the sidewalk most of the way, and I brought our Metro cards in case I decided that it wasn't working and we needed to hop on a bus to get the rest of the way. It took about 15 minutes longer than usual, which was unsurprising in retrospect, when I thought about all the people waiting for busses that we had to weave around. Tomorrow, we'll ride on the outbound side of the street, which is what we've done the other days this week. I didn't do it this morning, because I didn't see any point in crossing a major commuter street, just to cross it again 4 miles later. Now I see the point, so tomorrow, we'll see how much time that saves us.
In figuring out our time savings, I'll have to take into account that Bella didn't do much pedaling, because while waiting for a light a few minutes away from the house, Bella experienced a hazard that anybody who bikes with any frequency gets to 'enjoy'. For non-cyclists (and for those experienced cyclists who don't remember the time before they had clipless pedals) , I'll explain that bike pedals have little teeth on them, to keep your feet from sliding off them when you pedal. Unfortunately, one's leg will inevitably wind up contacting those teeth, resulting in those teeth taking a bite out of one's leg. So while we were waiting for the light, I was surprised when she let out a large yowl and started complaining about her leg hurting and that she couldn't explain why. She had a long, superficial scrape on her left shin. Because of it, she didn't much feel like pedaling.
On the way home, I encountered a problem which was as inexplicable to me as her leg scrape was to her. I heard a scraping sound coming from behind me and looked back to see what it was. I hadn't run into anything, but somehow, the fiberglass pole that is supposed to hold an orange flag about 3 feet above the rear wheel had broken, resulting in a 110 degree bend at about wheel-top height, and the flag dragging on the ground 3 feet behind the bike. I called the company, and they're going to send us a new one. Fortunately, our bike trailer has a similar flag, which I can fly off the back until it arrives.
|Monday, July 25th, 2016|
|Nothing Like a Little Self-Confidence
This evening, as Bella was getting ready for bed, Jess asked, "How are you doing?"
Bella replied, somewhat vaguely, "Good."
Jess followed up, since she actually was interested in something more responsive to the implied question of what progress Bella was making toward being ready, asking, "I was hoping for something a little more specific."
Bella answered, "I'm awesome!"
|Tuesday, July 5th, 2016|
|The Things We Don't Say (or, No, I Don't Want to Explain This to My 7-Year-Old Today)
Today, Bella was reading a book about planets. One that was mentioned was the dwarf planet Eris. She pronounced it with a long E, and I pointed out that some people pronounce it with a short E. She replied EEris, Airis, whatever.
What I didn't say at that point is "To a Discordian, those would be fighting words... Of course, to a Discordian, 'What color is your car?' could be fighting words." I don't think I want to explain Illuminati groups until she's old enough to play the game.
|Wednesday, May 25th, 2016|
|Another Reward for Virtue
This time, my reward was for doing something I wanted to do anyway, and really didn't have any reason to avoid. Last Friday was Bike to Work Day. Because the weather was beautiful, I wanted to hop on the bike and ride around a bit, and might have done so even if it biking wasn't in the name of the day. So I got the kids on the bike and took them to school, and then headed for my first pit stop. The night before, I had looked at the locations of pit stops and their closing times to figure out which ones I might be able to make it to.
At the first pit stop, I got my t-shirt, but they had already run out of everything but XL. There was some free food, including a big bowl of very tasty mixed nuts from Nando's Peri-Peri. The woman from Nando's encouraged me to take as much as I wanted, since they would be closing up soon, so I filled a coffee cup and put it in my basket to eat on my way to the next pit stop. There were a few small freebies besides that, but nothing of significance beyond the t-shirt. Then I headed down Wisconsin Avenue to the Georgetown waterfront stop. As I was zooming down Wisconsin, I hit a small pothole which sprayed mixed-nut-confetti everywhere. Definitely a moment when it would have been fun to have a chest-mounted GoPro.
In Georgetown, there was some food, but no freebies worth writing about. Then I headed to Franklin Square, where I was able to trade in my XL t-shirt for something that actually fit me. I signed up for the drawing they were having, and got three water bottles, since they were closing up in 10 minutes and they had at least 4 dozen water bottles left, all of which were very nicely printed with BTWD 2016, so the nice woman didn't see any point in saving them. Since the kids lose at least a couple water bottles at every summer camp they go to, I thought it would be nice to get ahead of the game a bit.
That brings me to the item that prompted my post. I opened up my email today to discover that I had won an item in the raffle I entered - a $100 gift card to Bobby Van's Steakhouse. I'm pretty happy to eat free food in honor of Bike to Work Day.
|Wednesday, May 4th, 2016|
|15% Off Anything in the Store (Except the Things You Might Actually Want)
In this afternoon's mail, I got a promotional mailing from Crate & Barrel. Apparently, they think I just moved in, because it included a discount card good for 15% off things "for your new home". My first thought was that 15% off would be great, but I don't remember there being anything I really liked the last time I was in Crate & Barrel (which was probably about 10 years ago).
But then I thought, "well, tastes change, and there's one about 10 minutes from home, so maybe I should go up and take a look around." So I read the fine print, and in doing so, found out that they actually do carry some brands of items that we like. Unfortunately, the brands in question were listed in "Card is not applicable toward items made by... Breville, Le Creuset, Miele, simplehuman, or Wusthof." Gee thanks, Crate & Barrel!
|Tuesday, April 26th, 2016|
Lately, Meg has been complaining about how heavy her backpack is. Having picked it up a few times to hand it to her as we've been headed out the door to school, I agree with her assessment. She mentioned looking for a plastic turtle that I last saw in her backpack, while she was in an appointment, so this afternoon, while she was in an appointment, I searched through her backpack to find it.
I didn't find the turtle. But in one of the mesh water-bottle pockets on the side, I found a pair of plum-sized rocks. I pointed out to her that these were probably a contributing factor in how heavy her backpack feels.
|Friday, April 22nd, 2016|
|And Thus is Virtue Rewarded
The kids have both been home sick for a couple of days, and one result of their illness is that I've had to do a lot of extra laundry. So this morning, even though Jess stayed home from work to help deal with sick kids, I still had a good excuse to skip going to school for my volunteer shift to help sort books for the Flower Mart book sale. But the kids were being pretty easy, and we had a box of children's books to donate, so I decided to go.
I set to sorting and very early on in the process had a couple books to throw in the Travel box. As I did, I spotted a Federal Writers Project guide to Pennsylvania. Some of you may be aware that I have a collection of Federal Writers Project guides. I recalled that the email calling for extra volunteer help had mentioned, as a perk of helping, said that volunteers get first pick from the donated books. I didn't remember whether I had one, but rather than setting it aside and hoping I'd be able to find it after I came back, I decided to get it and bring it back if I didn't actually need it.
So I took it to the volunteer chairman and asked what the process was for us to buy the books. He told me that I could pay for it at the book sale, at the standard hardcover rate. But later, as I was leaving, when I was filling out my details on the donation receipt, he said that I should just take one book off the total on my donation.
When I got home and looked at my shelf of Federal Writers Project books, I found that I did already have a Pennsylvania, but that it was a rather ratty ex-library copy, so the one I found was an upgrade. Then I noticed that the one I found actually had an intact map in the slot in the back, which my old copy didn't have. Even in a generally good week, this find would be a bright spot, but after the week I've had, this turns what was in the running for the worst week of the year into one of the best.
|Wednesday, December 9th, 2015|
|Empowerment is Time Consuming
After school today, Bella had a meeting of her Brownie troop. The most important order of business was talking about selling Girl Scout Cookies. Since Meg is an experienced cookie seller, she came to the meeting and talked with the younger girls about it. This resulted in a much longer meeting than if I, as the Troop Cookie Manager, had been running the meeting solo.
The length of the meeting was further increased by the fact that, in order to empower the girls, they voted on a number of items, including whether or not they wanted to do booth sales, what their goal for the money they earned would be, whether they would get sales incentives or would rather make more money per box, and which charity would be the recipient of any donated boxes. Some of the choices were done by voice vote, some by secret ballot, and because there are 6 girls in the troop, one decision came down to a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors between their Troop Leader and their Troop Cookie Manager. In the end, things wound up pretty much the way I and their Troop Leader predicted they would.
|Monday, November 23rd, 2015|
I've had occasion to walk past DARPA's new headquarters twice in the past month, and both times, I found myself wondering what organization was located there, because if they have any signs identifying the building, they aren't very visible. I'm guessing that they did that for security reasons. Unfortunately, security doesn't really work that way. I didn't find myself completely wondering about it - all the people in uniform walking in and out, and the military plaques on the walls visible from the street made it clear that it was DOD. And two seconds with Google when I got home this afternoon told me that it was DARPA's new headquarters. So not putting DARPA on a sign in front of the building doesn't make sense from an operational security standpoint.
Of course, this is the same agency that, when they were in their old HQ, would harass people taking pictures of their unmarked building.
|Sunday, November 8th, 2015|
|Drinking the Kool Aid
A few days ago, I was wearing a t-shirt I got from my local bike club. On the back, it has the club logo and says, in big letters, "Ride a Bike" followed by a long list of other things, in diminishing type sizes, including such things as "Save Gas" and "Be A Kid Again". One of the things in fairly small type is "Laugh at Cars". Nicky noticed it and asked why bicyclists would laugh at cars - I explained that when there's a lot of traffic, we can go faster on a bike because bikes can go places that cars can't.
This afternoon, I picked her up from one of the museums on the mall, and traffic was somewhat heavy on the way home. She asked, "How come you didn't pick me up on the bike?" I explained the logistics that made driving the best option and then she said, "I wanted to laugh at cars."
|Thursday, September 17th, 2015|
I was chatting with my friend Tony, who is the school librarian at my younger daughter's school. In previous school years, he was known to the students as Mr. Tony, and there was another faculty member that was referred to as Miss Firstname. Many of the janitorial and kitchen staff, in the rare instances when the students actually knew their names, were referred to by first name as well.
Over the summer, the school decided (rightly so) that the kids referring to teachers and administrators by title and last name and staff by first name wasn't such a good idea. So it was declared that for the new school year, everyone would be referred to by Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms Lastname. This would include Tony and Miss Firstname, for the sake of consistency. I said to Tony, "But remember that Emerson said 'A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.' Surely we don't want to expose a whole school full of little minds to hobgoblins!" Tony was amused, but didn't think my argument would convince the administration to let him continue to be known as Mr. Tony.
|Bad Driver, No Biscuit
To the very clever driver who decided to lecture me about where I *should* be riding my bike:
I note that your hawk-like eyes spotted the bike lane that I *should* be in, but failed to spot the car that was parked in it just prior to where I entered the main lane, and the one that was backing through it into a parking space about 100 yards further on.
Also, your comments on what another road user *should* be doing have less credibility when you cross the centerline at a stop light to lecture the other road user (and in doing so, pull in front of a bus), and also that prior to these interactions, you failed to stop before making a right turn on red, and then while making the turn, failed to yield to the road user you decided to lecture.
Amusingly, he wasn't even the first to pull out in front of me today (he was third), nor was he first to decide to lecture me about where bikes should be after pulling out in front of me (he was second on that one).
|Thursday, July 2nd, 2015|
|Hey Facebook, That's Really Creepy!
A couple days ago, I was on Facebook and the feature where it suggests "People You Might Know" had the picture of a guy who lives on my block. We don't share any mutual Facebook friends. I only have one Facebook friend who lives in the neighborhood, and she doesn't have any other Facebook friends who live in the neighborhood. The guy whose picture they put up and I have nothing significant in common except the block on which we both live. So, despite my not giving Facebook my address, or phone number, it seems to know where I live.
I just had one thought about it, though, that may explain things. I'm pretty sure I've seen a Facebook feature that one allows Facebook to offer friend suggestions based on one's email address book - since the neighbor and I have exchanged email, it's possible that he used that feature and thus Facebook thinks I might know him and want to friend him based on that.
But upon further reflection, I think that the email address that my neighbor uses for me is not the same as the email address that I use with Facebook. So either Facebook knows where I live, or it has associated my email addresses. I'm not sure which of these I would like less.
|Sunday, June 21st, 2015|
|I'll Just Look at the Help Files
I walked into the living room to find Nicky (age 6.9) reading some text on the iPad. Not recognizing what she was looking at, I started reading over her shoulder to see what she was up to. It turns out she had clicked on the Help button of one of her games to look up troubleshooting hints for when the game crashes.
|Wednesday, April 15th, 2015|
|Ace is the Place with the Not-So-Helpful Website
So this afternoon, I tried to order some items at the Ace website for delivery to my local store, since I knew that they didn't have a couple of the items in stock. I needed 3 fluorescent light bulb tubes, a couple of fluorescent light bulb starters, and some 2" brads for my nail gun.
The website worked great, right up until the point where I requested delivery to my local store. At that point, the website decided that I could only order 1 bulb, because that's all they had in stock. So, Ace, let me get this straight: if there aren't *any* fluorescent bulb starters at my local Ace, I can order as many as I want for you to deliver there from the warehouse, but if there's only one bulb at the store, that's all I can order? Apparently, the answer to this question is, yes, of course, why wouldn't it work that way?
|Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015|
|Petraeus Gets His Wrist Slapped
Because my good friend vizsludraugas
hasn't had the best of weeks, and I know he would probably enjoy skewering David Petraeus for the edification of my readers and would do a better job of it than I could, I am going to provide a link to the story and ask him to comment on it, with only one comment of my own after the link: Petraeus reaches plea deal with Justice Dept.
Since it's provable that he mishandled classified information while he was on active duty, I think he should be called back to active duty to face a court martial, to show that it isn't just junior enlisted personnel like Manning who get punished for mishandling classified materials.
|Tuesday, February 17th, 2015|
|Kids and Snow
Having just had 5+" of snow, which where we live counts as a major snow event, caused me to think about my childhood, and how it compares to my kids experience with snow. I feel sad when I think about it, because they won't have even a small fraction of the fun snow experiences I had.
Meg remembers very fondly the snow cave I made for her when she was 2 or 3, and every year she hopes beyond all hope that we'll get enough snow that I can make her another one, and every year she is disappointed. I'll be surprised if we get enough snow for it more than one more time before she's 20.
While we were building her a snow fort, I realized that I was telling her things that I'd either discovered on my own, or learned from my older siblings. To someone who grew up with as much snow as I did, it almost seems ludicrous that I have to teach her how to pack snow down to make a nice solid fort. But with as little snow as we get, she's not likely to experience one bigger kid yelling "Hey Kool Aid" and another kid crashing through her fort yelling "Oh Yeah!" like happened to me before I learned how to pack snow (yes, Mary and Dan, I still remember you doing this to me), and trying to do the same to a bigger kid's fort and knocking the wind out of herself running into a mini-glacier that they hardened up by spraying with water to partially melt and re-freeze.
Sure, we can spend time at my mother's house and at my brother's house in Vermont, but there's a big difference between having a snow for a week at a time every year or two and having it for 3 or 4 months out of the year. I remember building snow caves and improving them over weeks and still having time to enjoy them, whereas this afternoon, while Meg was building, I pointed out that she had a few days to enjoy what she built, because by this time next week, her snow fort would be a foot high lump of muddy ice.
|Saturday, February 14th, 2015|
|My Little Eco-Nut
We've been slowly replacing incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs as they burn out. It's a slow process, especially for lights that we don't use very often. Not surprisingly, in the kitchen, where we spend most of our time, we've already replaced almost all of the 14 overhead bulbs. Until this morning, I hadn't realized that Nicky even cared about the light bulbs. But a couple minutes ago, Meg switched on the lights in the kitchen, and the last incandescent bulb expired with flash and an audible pop. At that point, Nicky looked up and said "Yay! Now we can replace it!"
|Bad PBS, No Biscuit
In general, I'm OK with the subtle indoctrination that PBS does in the games on their website (wait, did I say subtle? I meant blatant). None of the areas where I might have differences in opinion with the people making their editorial decisions are likely to come up in a children's program (or a children's website). I object, however, to factual errors.
Yesterday, as Nicky was playing a game on EekoWorld, I had to speak up to point out something that was (to me) a pretty obvious error. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the site, the site exists to teach kids about the role they play in taking care of Earth. As such, a couple of their areas of focus are responsible energy use and recycling/garbage reduction. With those areas of focus, one of the things they highlight is using rechargeable batteries when possible. But someone working on content for them goofed. In one of the quizzes, they asked whether you should use a rechargeable drill or one that plugs into the wall. Their preferred answer was that you should use a rechargeable - because rechargeables are good. I immediately interjected to point out that they were wrong.
Battery-powered drills (I'm pretty sure I've never seen one that uses non-rechargeable batteries, but if they're out there, a rechargeable *is* preferable to them) have a couple of significant losses that make them less energy-efficient than corded drills. The first is when you charge the battery - in low voltage applications like rechargeable batteries, the peak loss in the rectifier (which converts AC to DC) is around 10% of available power. The other major loss is battery self-discharge. Battery self-discharge is the reason why your flashlight is weak or dead when you pull it out of the drawer, even though you could have sworn that it had good batteries when you put it in there (because, in fact, you did - but batteries lose charge over time due to self-discharge). For people who use their cordless tools constantly, they suffer less from leakage loss, but even for them, it's still an issue.
There's also the garbage issue involved in rechargeable batteries. If you've had any cordless tool for a significant length of time, you've had to get a new battery for it because they only last so many charge/discharge cycles.
In theory, I could see a couple possible ways that a rechargeable drill could be more energy efficient than a corded drill. If you need an extension cord, you lose some energy to the voltage drop on the extension cord - the longer the extension and the thinner the gauge of the cord, the more energy you lose heating up the extension cord (trust me, this is *not* an energy-efficient way to heat your house). So if you're using a thin-gauge 100 foot extension cord, you might lose enough to make the cordless a better energy efficiency choice. The other way that a rechargeable could be more energy efficient is if you have to generate the electricity yourself. Portable generators are a lot less efficient than the industrial-strength power generation that my father and his co-workers used to do. But if you're working at a site that doesn't have installed power, you'll probably wind up charging your cordless drill from the generator, which means that you get *all* the losses.