Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Kauai

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

I titled the last post “Aloha” because I’m in Kauai with Sammy and Sophie, flying back to California tomorrow. It’s been a great trip:

  • We flew in and landed late Friday night, and basically just crashed in our condo in Poipu since it was around 11pm (2am our time).
  • Saturday we had breakfast at the Grand Hyatt next door, shopped for groceries, and visited the pool and beach.
  • Sunday we used the pool, made reservations, and had a luau.
  • Monday was a raft ride up the Na Pali coast.
  • Tuesday was a kayak and zipline adventure.
  • Wednesday we hiked the Waimea Canyon.
  • Thursday was a pool and beach day, at Salt Pond Beach Park.
  • Today was a helicopter tour, followed by waterfall visits.
  • Tomorrow we’ll visit Poipu one more time, then pack and drive up to Kilauea Lighthouse before red eye home.

Wailua Falls, Kauai, April 10, 2015

Kauai is an amazing island: Laid back, verdant, friendly, and charming. I can’t wait to return here.

Happy Seventh Birthday, Sophie

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Sophie,

Yesterday you turned seven, and each year you are sweeter and more caring. You’ve blossomed in first grade. I have to confess, I was a bit worried about your reading. Unlike your brother, you didn’t seem as interested in learning how to read on your own. I think you enjoyed having me or Sammy read to you a bit too much to drum up the enthusiasm to learn the rules on your own. Until first grade, that is. Thanks in part to your teacher, Mrs. Payne, and to your friends, you found the enthusiasm and focus to really learn. Now in second grade, reading is easy to you. Instead, I see you applying that same energy to learning math. I have no doubt that in a few months’ time, what seems hard to you now will be quite simple. It’s been the same way for swimming these last few months.

You have always been advanced for your age in the social arena. You are warm, friendly, loving, caring. You feel everything so strongly — whether it’s fear or joy. And such an easy-going girl; it’s no wonder you make friends so easily.

I also love how much you love music. Dancing with you is one of my favorite things in life. My love for you grows endlessly each year. I am overjoyed to watch you bloom in front of me. I can’t wait to see how your world grows next.

Much love,
Daddy

Sophie in 2007, being born

2007

Sophie in 2008, crawling around at her uncle Robert's house

2008

Sophie in 2009, in her old room in Mountain View

2009

Sophie in 2010, at a TiVo summer company party

2010

Sophie in 2011, at her pre-school

2011

Sophie in 2012, at the Mountain View Farmer's Market

2012

Sophie in 2013, holding a bead Shannon made

2013

Sophie in 2014, at the Mountain View Farmer's Market again

2014

Happy Ninth Birthday, Samuel

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Sammy, Samuel, Sam —

I know you now wish to be called “Samuel,” and I’m trying, but it’s hard for me to get used to that particular change. I’m sorry in advance for the fact that I’m likely to call you “Sammy” basically for the rest of my life.

The last of your single-digit birthdays is today. In many ways, you’re already looking far ahead: Your reading level was assessed this week to be at the 10th grade level. The subjects you’re most interested in (biology, paleontology, astronomy, Lego construction) are advanced. But although you went through a phase where you were sure you already knew everything, you also are the same inquisitive four-year-old who asked “why” several hundred times a day. You’re not yet bored of asking your dad questions. That makes me profoundly happy. To be honest, I still catch myself staring at you sometimes when you’re talking, dumbstruck that you’re real.

You’re settling into yourself; you’re less moody and volatile. I’ve noticed this year in particular that you’ve become comfortable with what you WANT to do and what you CAN do — and you work each day to bridge the two.

My love for you grows endlessly each year. I can’t wait to see what’s next. I’m already proud of you.

Much love,
Your papa

Sammy in 2006, catching bubbles

2006

Sammy in 2007, at the Children's Discovery Museum

2007

Sammy in 2008, at a NASA display at the Mountain View Art and Wine Festival

2008

Sammy in 2009, eating a smore at the Seascape beach

2009

Sammy in 2010, at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

2010

Sammy in 2011, at a birthday party in Mountain View

2011

Sammy in 2012, at the Mountain View Farmer's Market

2012

Sammy in 2013, holding a bead Shannon made

2013

Sammy in 2014, at the Santa Clara County Fair with a snake around his neck

2014

My niece, Amelia

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Born Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 1:51 am, at 8.1 pounds and 20 inches, I had the privilege of meeting her that evening. Congratulations, Rob and Kelly. Such a beautiful girl.

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FitBit, Aria, and me: A life update — weight loss goal achieved!

Friday, August 24th, 2012

A year ago, a bit before Kimi and I separated, my weight had gone up from 165 in 2009 to 179 by the summer of 2011. This was mostly due to bad eating habits and a distinct lack of exercise.

I’m 5’8″, and in order for my BMI to be “normal,” my weight should be under 164. So I knew I needed to lose 15 pounds.

(I should say explicitly right here: Everyone is different, and everyone has different goals. I don’t expect my goals to be applicable to others, or that things that work for me would work for anyone else.)

It was actually easy to begin losing weight, but the way I did it wasn’t healthy: The stress of the separation led me to lose my appetite, and I started skipping a lot of meals. Then I went to Burning Man last year to process the separation, and going there also helped me drop off some weight. (In the desert, you have even less appetite than normal, due to the heat. And even better, you’re walking, bike riding, and dancing, at all hours of day and night.)

When I came back from Burning Man, there were some other changes. At work, my team and cube location changed. While I missed working closely with the individuals on that larger team, there was one thing that had been quite unhealthy about where I was: Many team members were constantly bringing in dessert items and putting them on a snack table in the middle of our cube area. I should have been able to use more willpower to resist, but I really didn’t do a good job there. While many of the desserts were homemade, and all were delicious, there were many items that were store-bought or particularly unhealthy, like chocolate donuts, that I should have been able to refuse, but didn’t. Once I was out of that physical area and stopped eating so many snacks, my weight started dropping quickly.

In addition, on those days when I had custody of the kids, I started to cook a lot more for them and for me, mostly using fresh ingredients we would buy together from the Mountain View farmers’ market. I cut out 99% of the fast food that I had previously eaten. That produced excellent results. (We also try to eat fish once a week, to help out with the good cholesterol.)

Controversially, I think skipping breakfast was something that also worked for me. I stopped fighting against using caffeine, and I now have coffee with a lot of milk for breakfast, and some days I’ll have a few bites of cereal or some fruit — but other than that, I no longer eat a big breakfast. My portion sizes at other meals are smaller now, too. I don’t often snack between meals anymore.

Starting from May/June of 2011 (when I weighed between 176 and 179), I made my way down to 170 in October just with those changes. Starting in October, I began working out more as well, mostly walking. I began dating and feeling more confident in myself, and was down to 166 in November. I was comfortable at 165 — I’d been at that weight for most of my adult life. I stayed at that weight for the next few months, but the trouble was, I was still officially “overweight” per the BMI scale, and I wanted to be healthier. My body fat was somewhere around 25%. So, I started using LoseIt to track my food eaten and to set a new goal of hitting 160 pounds by June of 2012.

I was proud when I accomplished that. My body fat went down from 25% to 22%.

After hitting that goal, my new goal was to lose 5 more pounds and get to 155 pounds and 20% body fat by August 26, in time for Burning Man. The next five pounds seemed much more challenging. To accomplish it, I bought and started using a Fitbit, and later an Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale.

I’d seen some friends use a Fitbit previously, but my main inspiration was seeing my friend Louis Gray use his and extol its virtues.

Just in case you haven’t seen a Fitbit before: It’s basically a step counter. But it’s far more accurate at counting steps than any pedometer I’ve previously used. In addition, it counts how many flights of steps you make each day, tracks distance traveled, calculates calories burned, and it can analyze your sleep to show how long you sleep and how many times you’re awakened. It can also work as a stopwatch to record workouts, runs, and other activities. It automatically syncs its data to your computer and to the Fitbit website. It then introduces a social aspect: You’re rewarded badges for accomplishments (such as steps traveled and flights climbed in a day or over your lifetime), and you can compare your activity to that of your friends, to encourage each other to move more. (Friend me!)

It’s quite profound how much of an influence it’s had on me. I work hard to make sure I put in at least 10,000 steps (roughly 5 miles) a day. I run more. I climb more stairs. Now I find that when I go to the store or work, I don’t park close by — I usually park at the back to get in some extra steps. If it’s near the end of the day and I haven’t hit my goal, I put in an extra run or walk to make sure I do hit that goal. So far in August, I’ve exceeded 10,000 steps every single day.

The Fitbit isn’t perfect. While it’s amazing at how accurately it counts steps, it sometimes includes some bogus steps when I’m driving somewhere. When I run up stairs, it’s not great at counting the flights accurately (although when walking up stairs, the accuracy is very good). The calorie burn assumptions it makes seem dubious. The site has a food tracking function, but its UI for that is, frankly, terrible. (LoseIt’s system for tracking food eaten is much better, and fortunately you can sync between LoseIt and Fitbit.)

Much worse, however, is that Fitbit’s measurement of distance traveled is pathetic — it’s not a GPS at all, so it’s just multiplying your steps by your stride length to show distance traveled. For me, the default stride length for running was way off, and no matter how I adjust it, it still doesn’t accurately capture the length of my runs. I’m running a 2.2 mile circuit, and Fitbit records it as under a mile, no matter how I set it.

While Fitbit customer support gets rave reviews, I didn’t get a reply at all to a case I opened about this issue. (It turns out a good friend of mine has just started working as FitBit’s director of customer support, so I’ll bug Jay about that issue.)

So, I’ve given up on using Fitbit to measure distance. For my runs, I’ve now started using the RunKeeper app on my iPhone.

(I want to give credit to my friend Ken G. here: He introduced me to both LoseIt and RunKeeper, and he’s lost an inspiring amount of weight by using these apps and through hard work.)

RunKeeper is a free app that uses your smart phone’s GPS to accurately record distance and display your pace. It keeps track of my runs over time, and gives me a lot better insight into my pace, plus real-time feedback during the run. It also has a social function too, with your friends able to see your activity and provide inspiring comments, but I’m not as impressed by that part.

Yes, it’s a bit unusual and inconvenient to carry a phone with me strapped to my arm while running — but, in addition to allowing me to track details of my runs, it gives me some peace of mind that in case of an emergency I have a way to communicate. I bought a relatively cheap velcro strap from Target designed for holding an iPhone, and it works well.

So, the Fitbit tracker is great, and RunKeeper is great.

How about the Aria scale, is that great too? Unfortunately, not so much. My previous digital scale (an “Elite” by My Weigh) is very accurate. I’ve tested it by taking my weight several times over the course of a half hour, and it always returns consistent results. If I pick up an item with a known weight (like a one or ten pound barbell) and then weigh myself, it always shows the correct result of my previous weight plus the exact amount of the item I’m carrying.

In contrast, the Aria scale seems very arbitrary. First off, it inconsistently shows me as being between half a pound and one pound heavier than what I get from the Elite. Second, if I weigh myself five times over five minutes, I’ll get five different results, plus or minus anywhere up to half a pound. If I pick up a one pound book, the Elite shows me as exactly one pound heavier, just as I’d expect. But, depending on its mood, the Aria might show me as one pound heavier, two pounds heavier, half a pound heavier, half a pound lighter, or the exact same weight.

There were two reasons why I bought the Aria: First, to wirelessly and automatically sync my weight with fitbit.com. Second, to measure my body fat. For the first task, the Aria works. I never have to manually enter my weight. I get that 5 seconds back to live my life. I should therefore be able to pay off the investment in the Aria sometime in the next 43 years. Win!

For the second task of measuring body fat, I give the Aria a D-. Its results seem ridiculously unreliable. When I first got it, it told me my body fat was 15%. That climbed up to 20% over the course of the first 5 days I used it. (I didn’t actually gain five percent body fat in five days.) I can get anywhere between 17% and 22% at any given time. I can get a result that’s more than 3% different just a few seconds later. I judge that I’m probably at 20% overall since that’s the most frequent result, but I honestly have no idea if it’s accurate at all.

So, sadly, I don’t recommend the Aria.

While I have my quibbles about the Fitbit Ultra, that is something that I do highly recommend overall. And using it has paid off. This morning, two days before my deadline, I weighed in at 153.9, beating my weight goal of 155.

FitBit screenshot: Goal achieved!

Woohoo! 153.9!

RunKeeper goal achieved

Goal achieved!

Scale showing 153.9 pounds

I have seen some excellent improvement in my health over the last year:

  • I’m more than 25 pounds lighter, now weighing less than I’ve weighed in more than 10 years.
  • I’ve lost more than 5% of my body fat (probably!).
  • My bad cholesterol is much lower.
  • On my run last night, I broke the 7.5 minute mark for the first mile, and ran my 2.2 mile course in under 16:45.
  • I feel healthier and more confident.
  • I’ve lost at least two pants sizes (moving from a tight fit for a size 34 waist to fitting comfortably in a size 32).
  • I’ve moved in 4 belt notches and then started using a new belt.
  • I’m no longer self-conscious taking off my shirt to go swimming.
  • I can run 10 flights of steps without breaking a sweat.
  • I’m comfortably in the “normal” section of the BMI chart, and I feel that I can accurately portray myself as “fit” on a dating profile.
  • I’m proud of how my legs look now.
  • My guild’s raid beat Heroic Spine in Dragon Soul for the first time last night, and we’re now 12th-best on the server. (This may be unrelated.)
  • I plan on getting a new health assessment for my life insurance and hope to lower my rates.

FitBit: 25 pounds lost

I’ve started doing some weight and ab training as well, and plan to continue that.

My old belt, and my new belt

I’ve set a new weight goal of 150 by October, and a new body fat percent of 17. I’d like to break the 7 minute mile mark. (I could run a six minute mile in high school, maybe I could do that again at 45?) Those are, honestly, all stretch goals; I’d be very happy if I could maintain what I’ve accomplished.

I’d also like to run a 5k in the next month.

Made it this far? I’m now intentionally burying at the bottom of the post a bit about my marital status. Even though it’s now almost exactly a year since Kimi told me that she thought we should separate, I never managed to write about that here. (I posted about it briefly on FriendFeed instead.) I couldn’t really bring myself to blog about it; it was too painful. So I told my immediate family when it happened, and then told a couple of my co-workers and a few friends, and over time alluded to it here and there, and eventually updated my Facebook status to say “separated.” I failed to tell my cousins and aunts and uncles about it until a few months ago, and many of my friends and co-workers still don’t know.

It’s still painful. Kimi and I are on speaking terms, and trying to work it out, and at the moment that I write this, we’re actually sharing a house in Sunnyvale and trying to arrange mediation and the best approach for making our kids happy and safe.

We’re having some good talks, and I’m optimistic about the future. Not having to worry about my health — and the endorphins I get from a good run or walk — make it easier for me to work on what’s next for me, her, and the kids.

Beach day #1, 2012

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Last day of Spring Break = first day of Summer, right?

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Welcome to Lego City

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Sammy holding up a Lego creation (Sophie in background); Sunnyvale, CA, Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Photo of Sammy and Sophie's Lego creations; Sunnyvale, CA, Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another photo of Sammy with Lego; Sunnyvale, CA, Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Both Sophie and Sammy love building. The fun begins after the sets are broken up and they start getting creative.

I have to give Lego credit: The new “Friends” set aimed at girls has worked well for my daughter. She loves the fiddly pink accessories.

Four

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

My daughter,

You turn four today. What a wonderful presence you bring to the world! I love your joy, your good nature, your sense of humor, your boundless energy, how uniquely you see the world, and how much you’ve created your own persona. You can be stubborn about the small things (like what to wear in the morning), but you’re so easy-going and resilient about the big things.

As I told your brother, we have rough waters ahead, and I know how deeply you’re already feeling the changes that are happening. But you’ve already proven yourself to be so good at adapting to the complex world around you. Look at how easily you’ve adjusted to your new room at school, and how you jump right in to tell your friends what to do. With your family’s help, you will thrive and grow, endlessly.

I love you, Sophie. I’m proud to be your father.

Sophie demonstrating her unique style
(click to enlarge)

Six

Friday, September 16th, 2011

My son,

You turn six today. How we’ve both grown over that time. I love seeing how fully you experience the world: An ice cream cone on a hot day or a fascinating creature at the aquarium can captivate you and fill you with joy. A 3am itch attack or finding a dead snail can overwhelm you. You are so interested in everything around you, so creative with stories and turns of phrase, and I admire how drawn you are to the sciences — geologist, paleontologist, biologist, and museum owner are all things you’ve said you want to be when you grow up.

We have rough waters ahead, but you say you’re ready to captain them, and I believe you. You make friends easily, you learned to read and write well ahead of your peers, you’re curious and adaptable. You’re well equipped to continue to explore and develop.

I love you, Sammy. I’m proud to be your father.

[Sammy, eating a cupcake, in Mountain View, Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bleach vs. eczema: Bleach wins

Monday, February 28th, 2011

I have eczema, a very common skin irritation. Unfortunately, both Sammy and Sophie inherited it from me. For a time last year, their skin condition was truly terrible. While once they slept through the night, for a while every single night either one of them or both of them woke up multiple times, usually with itch attacks.

Our pediatrician recommended a dermatologist, and the dermatologist recommended something that I had previously read about but hadn’t actually tried: Bleach baths.

With eczema, there’s a skin condition (a disease, mostly genetic), and it’s made worse by all the scratching, which causes infections due to the bacteria entering the open wound (mostly Staph Aureus), which causes the eczema to get worse, which causes more scratching, making a vicious cycle.

By putting bleach in the bath, you kill the bacteria on the skin, sterilizing it, which reduces the number of infections, thus helping control the itching.

The dermatologist recommends the following (taken verbatim from their handout):

  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup of bleach (like Clorox) in a bathtub that is at least half full of water. Measure the bleach and put it in the tub first, then add lukewarm water to fill the tub to ensure that the bleach is diluted completely in the water.
  • For a baby bathtub, you can add just a capful or tablespoon of bleach to the water
  • These baths should be performed 3 times per week to cut down on the bacteria on the skin
  • As soon as the bath is over, pat dry, and immediately apply your favorite emollient, such as Vaseline, Aquaphor, Cerave, etc.

Remember, undiluted bleach is dangerous to the skin, so be sure to mix the bleach.

How well does it work? After a low point in August of last year when I was at wit’s end, we began trying this in September. It took about two weeks to really see the difference. Since then their skin has been in much better shape (mine too). We give baths to our kids every other night. If we slack off on the every-other-night bleach in the bath routine, we notice the flareups return.

Happy 3, Sophie

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Dear Sophie,
Three today, but in many ways you’ve been a three year old for a while, with your big heart and endless energy and general good nature. You’re a wonderful, beautiful girl, and we love you very much.

Happy 5, Sammy

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Dear Sammy,

Today you turn five. I can’t believe those words are true: It seems impossibly fast. As I type this, you’re building “a machine to blow out dust” using your new Tinkertoys, and you were thoughtful enough to make sure that we didn’t get dust on my phone. Earlier today, as we spent the day together with you home sick from school, you surprised me with your wide range of knowledge and interests, from Mickey Mouse to bugs to stars to sushi. You always make me proud.
Love eternally,
Your dad

Learning to Surf

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

The four of us spent a week in Maui with Georgia, Nathan and Penny. It was a wonderful trip, with highlights that included rainbows, a trip to the aquarium, a luau, a glass-bottom boat ride, some amazing meals, poke tasting, and (on our last full day) a surf lesson. Kimi arranged for a sitter for Sammy and Sophie, and Georgia dropped us off at Lahaina at the Royal Hawaiian Surf Academy to meet Josh, our instructor for two hours. After reviewing the basics on the sand, we took our 11-foot longboards out to the water, in a gentle, shallow spot right behind King Kamemeha’s elementary school — the bunny slope of Hawaiian surfing.

Perhaps it was the gentle waves, or the length of the longboard, or Josh’s prowess as an instructor, but both Kimi and I managed to get to our feet on the first attempt. It looked a little something like this.

(All photographs by Ric Larsenfull set is up on Flickr. Music by Slang, “Field Guide To Snapping,” off their album The Bellwether Project. This is my first time using Microsoft Movie Maker, so there are five or six effects and transitions that I should have passed on…)

Canadian Corn Pops are better

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

We’re in Canada to visit my brother Harry, staying at cabins on Purdy Lake.

We had Corn Pops for breakfast. The American ones are smaller, less tasty, and completely unnatural in color. Well done, Canada. No one needs to eat phosphorescent yellow cereal.

What’s with milk in a bag, though?

Home for a sweet and smart cat (EDIT: no longer) needed

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Update: Our neighbor has adopted Stormy, which is the best solution I can imagine. Thanks Tony! Original post continues below.


Two Fridays ago I took Sammy in for an appointment with an allergist. His eczema was really bad and he was waking up frequently with itch attacks. We knew about his nut, peanut and salmon allergies (which I share), but wanted to find out what else was causing him trouble. He was very brave during the scratch test, which I’m sure was uncomfortable for him.

The results surprised me: Strong reactions to wheat, rice, corn, sesame, shrimp, cats, grass, and one of the tree groups.

On the doctor’s advice, we started an elimination diet, and for 11 days Sammy focused on avoiding the foods on the list, which meant he ate a lot of meat and potatoes and vegetables but not a lot of starch. (Breakfast was the hardest.)

Thing was, he was still breaking out. Kimi took him in today for a follow-up test, and the allergist suggested his reaction to these foods was mild. She suggested the most likely cause for his eczema flare-ups and midnight itch attacks was the cat.

Stormy is 9 years old and a beloved part of the family. But if it’s her or Sammy, there’s no choice. She has to go.

She’s soft, clean, sweet and patient, affectionate but independent, and (in my opinion) very beautiful. She loves being an indoor-outdoor cat but could probably adjust to one or the other. She used to have a brother, Mourny, who she would fight with a bit, so she’s probably happiest as a single cat. She’s also a bit of a genius: When she wants to come in, she rings the doorbell. (Video to follow.)

It breaks my heart to kick her out, but maybe we can find a home for her nearby. Anyone want a doorbell-ringing cat?

Little kids review iPhone apps: Doodle Buddy

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Doodle Buddy screenshotWhen you’re taking two little kids on a plane for 2 hours, after you’ve read them four books, worked with the Play-Doh, let them annoy nearby passengers by standing up and playing peek-a-boo, spent a few minutes talking with the flight attendant about available drinks and the lack of lids for cups before settling on half a cup of apple juice each, watched one kid spill said half a cup of said apple juice all over themself, cleaned up said spill, read them another three books, exhausted the questions related to oxygen masks and other pictograms in the safety card, and then checked your watch to find that there’s still another hour in the flight, what do you do to pass the time and keep your kids occupied?

You pull out your iPhone and start having them play around with different apps, of course. If you’re exceptionally fortunate, you may even be prepared in advance by having an iPhone for each of them. (Both iPhones in Airplane mode, of course.)

There are a range of apps my kids like, including apps related to bubbles and apps related to noise making, but their favorites (that is, the most distracting) are the different sketch apps that let them draw.

Today, we’ll be reviewing one free sketch app, Doodle Buddy, which as far as my kids are concerned is the best thing about daddy’s phone. (That opinion will probably last another week. When it changes, I’ll post another app review.)

I could talk about Doodle Buddy’s ability to let two users collaborate on drawings (which I’ve never tried), or how it has basic sketching options (in 24 colors, with variable width, plus a smudge tool and eraser), multi-level undo, lets you take a photo or use an existing photo for a background, and has several other background choices, and — its key feature — has 24 stamps (smileys, a couple of animals, and some basic symbols) that make sounds when you put them on your drawing. I could mention it lacks basic shape drawing — no circles or lines or squares. I could talk about all that. But let’s instead let my kids review this app.

Sophie (age 2): “Doodle buddy! Doodle buddy! Doodle buddy!”

I take a photo of her as the background, have her draw over it in various colors, then have her use the eraser tool to reveal her picture.

Sophie: “There’s Sophie! There’s my NOSE!”

With the multi-level undo, you can undo the erasing, letting her play peek-a-boo with her picture again. For a two-year-old, repetition is the soul of amusement.

Sophie: “There’s Sophie!”

Me: “Sophie, do you like Doodle Buddy? Is it good?”

Sophie: “Um. Yes. Um. It’s good. Doodle Buddy. Doodle Buddy!”

Me: “What’s your favorite feature?”

Sophie: (quietly doodles)

My son Sammy, age 4, has a more sophisticated review.

Sammy: “Well, it’s a game that you play with drawing. It has yellow. And there’s blue. And more colors. So that’s pretty good. It has snow and fire. And a basketball. It does NOT have dinosaurs.”

He was reluctant to make more observations because he was busy drawing something that looked just as good to me as your average Jackson Pollack masterpiece.

Demerits that I could see: The shake-to-clear feature is sometimes a misfeature, and can’t be switched off, and you can’t undo it. As a free app it has some ads, which is fine, but if you touch them it will naturally take you out of the app. So the kids will do that from time to time, and then you’ll need to close the Safari window and go back to the app. The app should be smart enough to know if it’s in Airplane mode and that the ads won’t work.

All in all this app is worth about 20 minutes of blissful silence per child on an airplane ride, so its worth is approximately $25. At the price of free, it’s a total steal.

Doodle Buddy, by Pinger, Inc. App Store Link
Also available with a holiday theme for $0.99

We ate up there

Friday, January 1st, 2010

A photograph of the Space Needle in Seattle at nighttimeThere’s a maxim my dad told me when I was a kid, after dragging us into some tourist trap of a restaurant by some beach somewhere: “The better the view, the worse the food.”

There’s another rule of thumb engineers talk about also: “Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick two.” (Meaning you can’t have everything — there’s always a compromise that has to be made with either the schedule, the budget, or the quality.)

Well, the Sky City restaurant rotates at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, where we ate this evening. It seems to defy both rules: The view is truly magnificent yet the food was good too. I had the clam chowder followed by Dungeness crab mac and cheese, and it was sublime. The other entrees chosen by our group (my wife and my sister-in-law, plus my two kids) all seemed delicious as well, if not especially gourmet. Kimi’s crab cakes were perfect, and Tomi’s French toast with espresso creme was wonderful.

As for that second maxim: The food was good, but it wasn’t fast or cheap. The speed didn’t bother us — more time to enjoy the view. We were planning on riding up to the top of the needle regardless, and since no restaurants were open nearby on New Year’s Day, it seemed prudent to eat there.

The maxim I will pass onto my kids is this: “The better the view, the more you’ll pay for it.”

Great treat to start the new year, though! Happy New Year, Zeigen.com readers. (Both of you.)

The CDC says I should presume my kids have swine flu (plus graph update)

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
Sophie rests with her mom

Sophie rests with her mom

Sammy, sick with the flu, rests on the couch

Sammy, sick with the flu, rests on the couch

My daughter, Sophie, who turns two in September, woke up on Sunday morning with a 101-degree temperature, low energy, runny nose, and a cough. This was the return of a fever she had beaten a week before.

A day later, on Monday evening, my son Sammy (who turns four in September), began exhibiting the same symptoms.

I kept them home with me on Tuesday and again today. We have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. In the meantime, we’re treating with Tylenol, lots of fluids, rest, and applesauce.

News reports keep quoting CDC officials in saying that we’re well over a million cases of swine flu. But at the official CDC site, there’s still zero data or statement I can find to support that. More recently, the WHO is being quoted as saying that any flu or fever at this time of year can be presumed to be swine flu. This LA Times article (“Just assume it’s swine flu”) is representative, and also suggests that the WHO may discontinue their ongoing reports with the official cases. But at the WHO’s official H1N1 site, again, there is absolutely nothing to support the statements being made to the press.

So, do my children have swine flu? They’re suffering from classic flu and fever symptoms — if anything, milder than what they’ve experienced in the past. But summer flu is not unheard of, so it’s not a given that it’s swine flu.

The latest official H1N1 WHO update, #58, from July 6, reveals 94,512 confirmed cases, from 135 countries, with 429 fatal cases (for a fatality rate of 0.5%). While there was a levelling off between updates 57 and 58, prior to that the number of new cases per week has indeed again doubled, to over 30,000. At this point, if this data means anything, the number of confirmed cases does appear to be approximately doubling in a two week period.

But I find it disheartening to see the massive disconnect between statements made to the press by the CDC and WHO versus what they make available at their own sites. Why even keep up this pretense of the “official” count with ongoing updates if it’s all meaningless?

Official WHO data showing H1N1 (swine flu) case data, including number of cases, deaths, and cases per day. (Click to enlarge.)

Official WHO data showing H1N1 (swine flu) case data, including number of cases, deaths, and cases per day. (Click to enlarge.)

Natural Bridges, Santa Cruz, CA

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Saturday was the beginning of the heat wave, so we head to Santa Cruz for some beach time.

When heading down Highway 17, usually I expect the least traffic at the crack of dawn or after noon. But even waiting until noon didn’t help, and it took over two hours to get there (when normally it’s about 45 minutes). The slowest traffic was on the surface streets in Santa Cruz, and even trying some offbeat routes didn’t help. We stopped downtown to eat the Walnut Street Cafe to give the tangle some time to disperse before heading to Natural Bridges. (It costs $8 to park now! How on earth can it save the state money to close these parks when they charge what should be enough to break even? I was happy to pay if it meant helping out the state during the budget crisis.)

As it turned out, we got there right after the morning fog burned off, and there was a bit of a wind, so it was a great way to cool down.

I experimented a bit with the new video feature of my new iPhone 3GS.

Now that’s after upload to YouTube, and that process seems to introduce a lot of artifacts. On the plus side, iPhone video is convenient — I will amost always be carrying my phone — and it’s not nearly as sensitive as the Flip to shake. But the brightness changes are jarring, and the overall image quality is not as good. (You can view my other video tests on my YouTube channel.)

sammy

^^^^^ Sammy typed that. Pardon the intrusion.

After the sun started to sink, we headed to the wharf for bread-bowl clam chowder and to watch the seals and sea lions and pelicans. Sheets of mist draped the pier, giving the whole scene a surreal and wonderful edge.

Armed with salt water taffy from Marini’s, we headed home at 9, and once again ran into crushing traffic. While everyone else slept in the car, I tried every trick I knew to take the non-beaten path, but wasn’t able to get home until 10:30pm.

Worth it.

This is NOT “doing the laundry”

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Fellow men,

“Laundry” means sorting, folding, and putting away the clothes. Dumping the dirty stuff into the washer, moving it to the dryer — that’s all the easy part.

I have learned this the hard way and hope you profit from my downfall.

How about dem Bears?

Now, please excuse me because I need to go use some power tools.

Your bro,
Stephen

P.S. In other news, “doing the dishes” apparently means doing more than just piling the dirty dishes in the sink. I’m still investigating this one.