Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fun with Tyvek: a CPR essentials pouch

A while back Shira I were certified in CPR (it's a requirement if you're a foster parent). During the course, using a face shield was emphasized. We picked up a package of single use face shields, and they're actually quite pretty small - the package is about the same size as a condom package. And while I could toss one of these guys in my back pocket, I was curious about a good way to carry a face shield and set of gloves (gloves being the other essential in CPR, according to our training).

Sure, I could buy the face shield + glove + nylon pouch from the Red Cross -- but $5.00 to ship a $2.50 item? Man, you're killing me. Besides, I wasn't sure the pouch would be the most compact way to carry gloves and a mask.

Then it hit me - why not whip up a quick little Tyvek pouch? Having seen the Tyvek wallet hacks, I figured this wouldn't be too hard to do.

Besides, this didn't need to look good - it just needed to hold gloves and mask.

So I grabbed a postal mailer, an x-acto knife, a scissors and some clear packing tape. I cut and taped my way to this:

Hardly impressive, but it does meet my need. It's a super lightweight pouch to hold the essentials.

In the end though, I found a more compact way to carry a set of gloves and face shield: just stick them between two of my business cards and wrap clear tape around them:

You can't quite tell it, but I left part of the business card exposed from tape. The idea being that I can easily tear the paper and pull out the contents, without having to mess around with the tape.

So, in the end, I probably won't use the Tyvek pouch. But, it's good to know how easy and fun it is to craft with it. It sure would be a fun activity for kids on a rainy day.

Oh - and I really shouldn't recommend carrying life saving supplies like this. I, of course, have no idea what I'm talking about. I can't see how this is any different than the nylon pouch that the Red Cross sells - but still, take my experience above as a starting point, not as a hard and fast set of rules.

Separating Fluff from Substance - What Political Mistakes Matter?

From my left leaning friends over at BuzzFeed:

Michele Bachmann's First Campaign Promise Is A Killer!

Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign is already a fiasco. In an interview with Fox News today, she claims to possess the spirit of another Waterloo, IA native - John Wayne. Problem is that John Wayne isn't from Waterloo, IA (he's from Winterset, IA, nearly three hours away). However, serial killer John Wayne Gacy spent some time in Waterloo, where he was convicted of homosexual assault and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

From my right leaning friends over at SurivalistBoards.com:

Jared Monti: Obama forgets soldier's heroic death
[Full Story Here]

How in the H**l can you make a mistake like this?
Forgetting that the medal was given to his parents.

Disrespect - Disdain - Visceral hatred
are all I can come up with to describe how I see his views of our troops.

The press will go bonkers over E-mails, and any conservatives gaffe, but wont touch this.

Bachmann's campaign is a total "fiasco" -- really? Because she no doubt repeated some town lore that actually has some basis? And Obama, arguably one of the busiest men on the planet, misspeaks about a soldier(which he apologized for), and he hates the troops?

I can't help but see misstatements like these as what they are: real people making reasonable errors. And yet, both sides treat them as evidence of a much deeper problems.

As the 2012 election season heats up, I'd given anything for a concrete way to tease apart these oopses these from actual issues. Politifact is an ideal resource for this. If BuzzFeed wants to hammer Bachmann on something, they've got plenty of statements to choose from. And the folks on the right can do the same with Obama's press conference from today, as he's made some misstatements there.

In an ideal world, Obama and Bachmann would march their behinds out in front of cameras and revise/correct/strike their original statements. Not unlike what Jon Stewart just did.

Beyond that, I'm not quite sure how to separate the fluff from the substance. But, I'm really hoping someone figures something out, it's going to be a long 2012 election at this rate.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Unstoppable

Check out the trailer for the movie Unstoppable - it's almost too simplistic to believe it's a real movie, and not some internet invention.

The premise of the movie, like I said, is drop dead simple: there's a run away train, and Denzel Washington needs to stop it before it slams into town (would you believe the train is carrying toxic chemicals? Oh, you would). Given this description, you already know how the movie will turn out, how the corporate heads of the train company will be portrayed and probably what the body count of the movie will be.

And that's the thing - even with the predictable plot, it was an enjoyable hour and a half of movie watching time. I actually kept thinking to myself: this is really what this movie is all about? And yet, I enjoyed it.

So go ahead, pop in the disk (or rent it from Amazon like we did - which was an amazingly impressive experience) and just enjoy a little action movie fun. No cuss'ing. No excessive violence and sex. Just a man versus a train.

Just don't expect much more than this and you'll be happy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

13 Years

From this:

To this:

Not a day goes by that I don't thank G-d that I married this fantastic woman.

Here's to many, many, many more years.

Monday, June 27, 2011

PSA: Compression Only CPR

My brother, The Doctor (no, not the PhD one, one of the Real doctors in the family), sent me over this video. Entertaining and and useful - what else can you ask for?

Shira and I got certified in CPR a few weeks ago, and as the video suggests, compression only CPR is now recommended. During the class we always practiced with a face shield, something we really didn't consider back when I got trained as a Boy Scout. Perhaps that's because we took it in a community context, or maybe their being more careful in what they teach these days.

East Potomac Park - The Perfect 5 Mile Loop

Hard to believe that this little chunk of an island, East Potomac Park, is only a few minutes drive from our house. We took a walk around the park, which contains the Jefferson Memorial at one end, and a clear view of National Airport at the other.

Thanks to our 22 month old, we were able to get be up and walking around the park easily by 7:30am. (Ahhh, the joys of having a child who gets up at 6am on the weekends).

The perimeter of the park is essentially 5 miles, which made for an ideal and scenic walk.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Maryland Adventure - Blueberries, Cherries and Unplanned Detours

Today we left the comfort of Virginia for a little outdoorsy adventure in Maryland. We did blueberry and cherry picking at Butler's Orchard, and then a hike at nearby Senaca Creek park.

I was expecting to be the only people out this morning picking berries, but that was definitely not the case. Even with the little crowding though, it was quite a bit of fun. And the blueberries were absolutely perfect - not too sweat, and not tart at all. The cherries were apparently the tart variety and they definitely lived up to their name.

After picking berries, we still had a little oomph in us, so I used Google Maps to find a park nearby. Seneca park came up and got good reviews. We were supposed to do a 2 mile loop, but took a little unplanned detour and turned it into a 3.5 miler.

The park was gorgeous and as the reviews suggested, there's lush cover, so it wasn't too hot.

As I type this, we're safely back on Virginia soil. Whew. Good times though, very good times.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Garden's First Harvest

OK, a single pepper might not be considered a "harvest" - but, I can proudly say we grew it. I'll try not think of how much money this single pepper cost. At least we got to eat it before the local animal life.

There's still plenty of life left in our pepper and cucumber plants - so maybe there's still hope for more!

Photo taken with the fish eye SmartLENS on my G2. Not too shabby considering the cruddy indoor lighting.

The Myth of the Clean UI

I've probably said it myself before: "You know, just make the UI clean." These days, that statement is usually followed by, "just like an iPhone." When you dig deeper, you find out that the iPhone is just such a simple UI, why can't we make our UI look like that. You know, it's just icons. How hard can that be design?

And if you look at an iPhone, there's no argument to this - it's a thing of beauty:

But here's the thing, just putting icons on a screen doesn't automatically give you a beautiful layout. Here's a screeshot of the Symbian OS:

Nowhere near as gorgeous as the iPhone - yet, given the definition of "clean" you'd think it would be.

It's only when you have these two examples do you appreciate that the iPhone, while appearing to be sparse, has a whole of bucket load of design decisions behind it to make it work. There's the shape of the phone, the color of the phone, the color of the background, the size of the icons, the style of the icons, the size of the text below the icons, the font used, etc.

One could probably rattle off 50 differences in these designs without much effort.

And that's my point: a design that looks simple is actually combination of dozens, or hundreds of small design choices that need to be there to make it work.

In other words, when a design looks easy, it doesn't mean it was easy to design. If anything, it means it was harder.

The Traveler's Philosophy

I'm making my through I Wonder as I wander, a travelogue by Langston Hughes, and I've just been blown away by how good it is. Today, I came across this quote:

I never knew why the desk clerk or the floormaid let Natasha into my room when I was away. They never let anyone else in, and what Natasha told them, I don't know. I suppose she was like me—if she decided to get somewhere, or go someplace, she went. I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go. You might have to squeeze through a knothole, humble yourself, drink muddy tea from consumptive bowls or eat camel sausage, pass for Mexican, or take that last chance, but—well, if you really want to get there, that's the way it is. If you want to see the world, or eat steaks in fine restaurants with white tablecloths, write honest books, or get in to see your sweetheart, you do such things by taking a chance. Of course, a boom may fall and break your neck at any moment, your books may be barred from libraries, or the camel sausage may lead to a prescription of arsenic. It's a chance you take. (p. 224)

Well, said, no?

His adventures with camel sausage and muddy bows of tea are as remarkable as you'd hope they would be.

I should have a full review of the book when I finish it. But for now, I'll just say it rocks.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What-I-Carry-Wednesday: A Minimalist Mobile Office

One of the great parts about my job is that I can work from nearly anywhere. As you can imagine, this means I take my mobile office needs quite seriously. My ideal setup is:

  • Lightweight and easy to take along. I like to be available to help customers no matter where I am, which means that I'll often bring along my setup even if I'm not planning to do any work. Smaller is better.
  • Should be capable of doing heavy duty work. Sure, my G2's ssh terminal app could be considered a mobile office in and of itself, but I need a setup that can allow me to get serious programming done.
  • Should be worry free and easy to replace. The last thing I want to do is lose a major asset if a laptop gets dropped or left somewhere.
  • Be a gateway to the cloud. I've got various remote servers I can and do work off of, and all my documents live in Google Docs. Bottom line: as long as I've got a web connection, I'm good to go.

The second point is especially important, and I keep myself honest by using my mobile setup as my computer of choice over the weekend. While I wouldn't want to use this compact setup exclusively, it's good to know that it works for getting real work done.

OK, enough talk, here's what's in my kit:

  • Samsung N150 - it's lightweight, has great battery power and is dirt cheap to replace. With the RAM upgrade, hosts Chrome well and servers as an excellent cloud platform.
  • Etymotic Research headphones - headphones are absolutely key. With a little chill music playing, even the noisiest of environments can become a good workplace. From airplanes, bars, casinos, you name it - they can all be excellent places to work once the noise has been masked. I'm hardly an audiophile, but I've enjoyed Etymotic Researche's headphones enough to buy a second pair. I find them compact and comfortable. Tip: these days I plug the headphones into my cell phone and listen to Pandora there, rather than on my laptop. That takes a little load off the netbook, which is always a good thing..
  • USB cable - let's me charge my cell phone off my netbook. The N100 has a charging friendly USB port, so you can use it to charge a device even when the laptop is off.
  • USB wall adapter - let's me plug cell phone right into a wall without bothering to schelp out the laptop.
  • USB car adapter - haven't tried this yet, so I'm not sure how long it will remain in my little bag of goodies. However, whenever I travel my G2 totally gets run down and being able to charge it in the car should be a big win.
  • 3 prong to 2 prong adapter - The N100's AC adapter is small (and d'oh, not pictured above!), but it requires a 3 prong outlet. So far, this hasn't been a problem, but I've been carrying this orange 2 prong adapter to avoid a gotcha.
  • Audio splitter - this little gem allows two people (the wife and myself, typically) to be listening to the same laptop. Perfect for watching a movie on the plane, or in the hotel room with a sleeping baby. While not really an office essential, it's definitely an essential.
  • T-mobile USB Stick - this little do-dad gets me internet access anywhere I get cell signal (we're talking T-mobile here, so that's not exactly everywhere). It's been more than a lifesaver. On our most recent trip, I found cellular more reliable than the hotel's WiFi. In theory I could tether my G2 to my laptop, and avoid the extra piece of hardware. However, I frequently need to use my phone and laptop at the same time, so having multiple devices seems to work well.

Not shown: the AC adapter for the laptop.

The above may not be much, but for a programming, blogging and general web surfing system goes, it works.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to watch my Dad's brain melt

A little late for a Father's Day post - but I saw this one, and couldn't help but think of my Dad. See, he's a Biology professor, and is fond of something something to the effect of: "Darwin is always in the room." That is, evolution isn't just some isolated theory - it's a pillar on which all science is built.

(Oy, I hope I'm not putting words in my Dad's mouth - that would be bad.)

Anyway, if he has the courage to watch this video I expect his brain would melt. The video consists of Miss USA 2011 candidates answering the question: should evolution be taught in school.

Holy. Smokes.

The overwhelming consensus opinion is that evolution should be taught along side creationism to allow students to make their own informed decision.

Even I, with my relatively limited knowledge of science, no that this approach is flawed. Why? Here's a few reasons that come to mind:

  • Creationism/Intelligent Design (ID) isn't science. Science is predicated on the ability to run experiments to show results. ID involves an intelligent creator who can't be tested for.
  • Science class isn't giving students some information and allowing them to make their own decisions. You don't show them a picture of Jupiter and say, hey, we think this ball of gas 2.5 times the mass of all other planets in the solar system. Believe it if you want, or not.
  • Evolution doesn't explain how the world came to be, nor does it imply there isn't a G-d. In fact, thinking of evolution as a tool with which G-d works is perfectly legitimate.
  • Evolution isn't just about humans and apes. As Darwin showed, evolution is all around us.

Still, it must mean something that you can produce such a video. Looks like my Dad and other professors have their work cut out for them.

Update: After a little reflection, it seems to me that the contestants in the video were effectively answering another question than the one posed. Most of them appeared to be answering something along the lines of: "in science class, should the teacher be allowed to teach that G-d doesn't exist?" When viewed in that context, many of the responses make sense - sure, teach the evidence, and let students decide this very personal decision.

But, as I stated above, evolution doesn't determine your stance on G-d. Implying that teaching evolution is code for teaching that religion isn't of value is just plain wrong.

Why buy a private island, when you can own your own town

Man, this is a steal:

Town of Gulnare for sale
$299,000.00


The town of Gulnare is a popular place and is ready for a new owner and mayor if you like. The possiblities are as big as your imagination. All the utilities are in and ready to go in this small little town in the foothills of Southern Colorado.

There you have it - for less than a single home in Arlington, you can own your own town.

Doesn't look like a hoax, but can this really be for real? It's a got a school, store and dance hall. Honestly, what else could ask for?

Or, you could have this gem right off Columbia Pike in Arlington for a mere $590,000. Sure, it doesn't have much curb appeal, but it makes up for that with the inclusion of a fireplace. No dance hall, school or store included.

I don't know which real estate offering is more whacky.

Via: surivalistboards.com.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review: The Old Man and The Sea

Key West, where a little over a week ago we spent a little vacation at, is Ernest Hemingway's former digs. Alas, with a very active 21 month old, visiting Hemingway's house just wasn't a possibility. But, Shira had a brilliant idea: why not actually read something he wrote, instead.

So, for the last few days I've been making my way through the audio version of The Old Man and The Sea. As books go, it has that remarkable I feel like I'm in English class feel to it. Sure, the story is entertaining, but you can tell there's a whole lot going on beneath the surface (if you'll pardon bad fishing pun).

What exactly that is, I'm not sure. I do know that the SparkNotes (whatever those are - just found them on the web) appear to be longer than the book itself.

There's definitely plenty of Christian imagery presented throughout the book - enough so that even a good Jewish boy like myself can recognize it. But who the fish, sharks, Sea, Old Man and the Boy are, I can't quite say.

But, I can say this: the book has a brevity to it that allows me to roll it over in my head easily enough. Perhaps a few days from now, I'll sit up and bed and say - Aha! I've got it. In the mean time, I suppose I'll just enjoy the subtle bragging rights I'll be able to accrue by dropping Hemingway as a recently read author.

What do you think the book is all about? Is it Hemingway's best or do you prefer another one of his works?

Here's a gallery produced by Life Magazine which is related to the book - it'll get you in the mood if you decide to read the book.

Best Cell Phone Commerical Ever - Or why I want a Nokia E07

Here, watch this video and tell me you don't want to buy a mythical Nokia E07 (a model that doesn't appear to exist)?

Ahhh, the joy of the days when having Snake on your phone made it exciting.

Watch Video

It really is kind of tempting to pick up some ancient, battery-life-lasts-forever, handset is bullet-proof, just-makes-phone-calls phone, but alas, it would probably never be put to use. Still, every time I wander by a $9.99 tracphone, I wonder if it wouldn't be useful.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Brand New Set Of Wheels

Tonight I put together the Radio Flyer Tricycle my Mother-In-Law bought our 21 month old.

Man, this is the real deal! This thing is all metal. Heck, it probably has more metal in it than my Acura TSX. He's going to love it.

The photo of the completed bike and of course, the extra part:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Some Statistical Modeling Inspiration

The other day, I was checking weather.com when I noticed that "Chance of Rain" was a hyperlink. See:

I was curious, so I clicked on it and read their explanation:

The 'Chance of Precip' describes the likelihood of precipitation (maybe not even measurable) in your forecast area. The chance is based upon a series of 100 instances of identical weather conditions.

For example, a 40% Chance of Precip means that precipitation occurred 40 out of 100 days with the same type of conditions expected in your area.

In a sense, to predict whether or not it's going to rain you don't really need to know anything about meteorology. You just need enough past data. And bam, you've got your answer.

I've learned this lesson before, but every time I see statistics used to solve a problem that a brute force solution would fail on, I'm in awe.

A promise to myself: keep my eyes open for how this same pattern can be applied to future projects and challenges.

Worst Feature Ever: WiFi Toggle Switch On Your Laptop

I get a phone call from my Mother-in-Law a few hours ago: her Internet is down. It was up yesterday, but now her computer won't connect. To her credit she's done an impressive amount of debugging before calling me: checked the router, rebooted twice, etc.

I was about to suggest she call her ISP, when I thought I better confirm that she can at least see her local WiFi gateway. Alas, she can't.

Which brings me to the worst feature of any hardware device ever: the WiFi toggle switch on laptops.

After some experimenting, we find the switch, she presses it and she's back in business. Hours of tech support averted because of a single button press.

This all has me wondering:

  1. Why, why, WHY! do I need a switch on my laptop dedicated to disabling WiFi? Of all the things I need to do, why make this so that simply handling the laptop in the wrong way triggers it? I feel like it has some sort of security ramifications behind it, or maybe for that airline flight. But still, even without the button, you could offer this capability.
  2. OK, I'll buy the argument that *need* this button. Then why the heck don't you standardize on it?! I've got 4 laptops in view, and each of them use a different switch in a different location to control the same thing. My Mother-in-Law told me she had an HP Pavilion, which I found a manual for on the web. When I described to her where the button was, it wasn't even close. Her model is apparently different.
  3. OK, fine, you need the ability to customize the button and hide it in a new location for every model you make. Why the heck can't you put a huge screen on message: "WiFi isn't working because you flipped the switch to turn it off." Even I've accidentally hit the WiFi disabling button (it's a push button on my Dell Vostro, right on the front panel), and had to spend 15 minutes debugging the problem. As far as Windows is concerned, there are no WiFi points to connect to. Yeah, not exactly.

OK, so it was a bad idea. But why the heck do they keep putting on on laptops?!

It's like the numeric keypad overlaid the regular keypad on a laptop - I'm sure it seemed like a good idea to someone, but does anyone, seriously, anyone, actually use it?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Two Web Design Finds: 960 Grid System and Browser Grading

While working on a relatively new project today, I managed to trip over two cool concepts.

960 Grid System - this is a sophisticated sounding name for a relatively simple concept. When you're working with a CSS layout, inevitably, you'll want to lay stuff out in a grid format. In the bad old days, this meant tables. These days, it means floating stuff around, which is just fine. But, I've been at this long enough to know that there had to be a better way of laying out boxes in a grid than developing purely custom CSS. The 960 Grid System tackles just this.

You might have code like this:

<div class='left-col'>Foo</div>
<div class='center-col'>Bar</div>
<div class='right-col'>Baz</div>

That's not terrible, but it's not particularly clear, and when you start to vary the number of columns and what can sit where, this method gets old quickly. I've tried hard coding the width directly as an inline style, and that works, but I really like the 960 approach. Using that approach, you could say:

<div class='container_12'>
 <div class='grid_3'>Foo</div>
 <div class='grid_2'>Bar</div>
 <div class='grid_7'>Baz</div>
</div>

That is, you're dealing with a 12 column grid, and the 3 columns are split into 3/12'ths, 2/12'ths and 7/12ths respectively. Using a CSS generator you can have the 12 column grid correspond to any actual pixel size.

This approach seems to find a nice balance between expressive code and clean code.

I'm really not doing the facility justice - check it out at: 960.gs and view their presentation.

My second find relates to Graded Browser Support. This is more a conceptual idea rather than a tool. They explain in their What and Why section:

n the first 10 years of professional web development, back in the early ‘90s, browser support was binary: Do you — or don’t you — support a given browser? When the answer was “No”, user access to the site was often actively prevented. In the years following IE5’s release in 1998, professional web designers and developers have become accustomed to asking at the outset of any new undertaking, “Do I have to support Netscape 4.x browsers for this project?”

By contrast, in modern web development we must support all browsers. Choosing to exclude a segment of users is inappropriate, and, with a “Graded Browser Support” strategy, unnecessary.

It goes on to clearly explain why all browsers should be supported, yet the definition of supported may need to be modified. Given the outrageous number of browser combinations you can code for, any approach to taming this challenge is appreciated.

Definitely worth a read and I expect it will come in handy next time I get a bug report from someone explaining to me that a web app won't work on their Brother-in-Law's Windows ME, Internet Explorer 5 browser.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lessons from a Steganography Example

ProgrammingPraxis is still going strong, and I just love their most recent exercise:

In his book Dead or Alive, Tom Clancy describes a cryptographic system used by terrorists. His description is incomplete, but it seems to be a two-stage system, with a hand-operable cipher hidden by steganography inside images on a web site. Clancy talks about a one-time pad that doesn’t really seem to be a one-time pad and creates a stream of two-digit numbers using the middle-square method; it may sound good to his readers, but even my limited knowledge of cryptography suggests it’s bad crypto. Or, on one crypto forum where I asked about it, “really really awful” crypto.

Let’s see if we can do better than Clancy. We have four objectives: The system must be hand-operable by terrorists in similar situations to Clancy’s. The system must use both cryptography and steganography, as Clancy’s did. The system must be easily explainable in the context of a novel such as Clancy’s. And the system must be reasonably secure, certainly better than Clancy’s “really, really, really awful” system.

Even if you're not a programmer, taking a few minutes to read the overview and then the solution is worth it.

The lessons to be learned here are many:

  • Programming examples can be fun, realistic and related to current events
  • Steganography isn't limited to images, any heap of information can be used
  • Encrypted communication doesn't depend solely on expensive and complicated hardware

This is definitely a fun programming puzzle to play around with.

Monday, June 13, 2011

New Padlock Combo Hack

Quick: you're at the gym, about to use a new padlock. You think you've got the combo memorized, but you'd like a little backup. You could write the combination on the inside of your shoe, but you don't have a permanent marker with you. What do you do?

Earlier tonight, Shira solved this little quandary in what I thought was a clever way: she SMS'ed me the digits.

That way, I'd have a copy of the combo in my phone, she would have one in her phone (which might come in handy months from now, when she can't recall what the combo is), and this was all done nearly automatically.

Like I said, clever move.

The Statue of Liberty and Jerry Springer

Recently, Sarah Palin explained the statue of liberty. Which of course, got me thinking about Jerry Springer. Really, it did.

Seriously, take a few minutes to head over to: This American Life, episode 258, and click on the Act 1, which is the story of Jerry Springer's career. Of course, I had no idea that there was more to the guy than trash TV - but, turns out, there is.

And sure enough, at about 33 minutes in, he talks briefly about the Statue of Liberty. It's powerful stuff.

For another twist on the history of the Statue of Liberty, check out this article by Paul Schwietering (whom I know nothing about, and just stumbled on thanks to Google).

I guess I have to give credit to Palin for her bizarre answer: without it, I'd never had thought to dig up these items to learn and share.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Florida Keys Adventure - Day 6

Day 6 was supposed to be nice and simple: get up, drive from Key West to Miami, get on the airplane, and return to normal life. Alas, it wasn't meant to be that simple. At US 1 mile marker 15 (we started at mile marker 0) we hit a traffic jam. Turned out, there was a massive accident which ate up our 1 hour buffer time. (Could have been much worse - traffic was effected for 4 hours). Combine that with the fact that apparently Key West drivers like to go *under* the posted speed limit, and our rental car experience wasn't exactly super fast, and you could appreciate that we were getting a bit nervous about making our flight.

Luckily, TSA rescued us - they rushed us through security (apparently having a stroller and baby will get you this treatment) and we made the flight with no problems.

All in all, it was an outstanding vacation and I can't recommend the Keys enough. It's definitely a family friendly location, with plenty for our 21 month old to do.

A few photos from the last day: (1) the lighthouse we didn't get to climb. (2) Fluffy clouds as seen from our departing flight. (3) Photos taken while waiting for the big wreck to be dealt with - at least we had beautiful scenery while we waited around.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Florida Keys Adventure - Day 5

Day 5's kid friendly activities included the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory as well as the aquarium. Both turned to be excellent choices. The butterflies, as we expected, were gorgeous and the conservatory presents them in a wonderful habitat. And the aquarium is an old school aquarium - no fancy computer terminals and overdone exhibits. Just fish in tanks, sharks, a couple of huge turtles and most importantly a touch tank. Oh, the touch tank, that alone was worth the price of admission for our little guy to play with.

We made a beach visit on Day 5, too. The beaches here, as we were promised, are nothing special. And the one at Fort Taylor was no different. But, our little guy didn't mind one bit. He got sand everywhere - in his hair, mouth, you name it. A sure sign he was having a blast. So yes, the beaches can be fun - just make sure to bring water shoes, there are rocks everywhere.

View Photos

Florida Keys Adventure - Day 4

One of the joys of traveling with a 21 month old is that our days start early. Day 4 started even earlier than expected - around 5:30am to be exact. So, we thought we'd take advantage of the fact that we beat the sun up and try to catch a sunrise. As you can see from the photos below, we managed to accomplish just this.

The theme of Day 4 turned out to be Walking - Shira logged about 10 miles on her pedometer. Up and down Duval street, the Southern Most point in Continental US, Fort Zachary Taylor - if you could walk it, we found it.

One unexpected find was the Key West Eco Discovery center. It had interesting exhibits to capture both my and our little one's attention, and plenty of AC to cool down after all our walking. It didn't hurt that it was free, too, which was a nice plus.

View Photos

Florida Keys Adventure - Day 3

Day 3's goal was to make the 100 mile or so trip from Key Largo to Key West. We decided to take it nice and slow, stopping wherever possible.

We spent a few hours at the Dolphin Research center, which turned out to be a nice and kid friendly stop. We tried listening in on a movie/lecture about baby dolphins. Our little one sat still for about 30 seconds, and then kindly started repeating whatever word he heard the presenter say (there were 2 other people in the room, so nobody was really bothered). When he started repeating the word "ovulation" we knew it was time to go.

Our guidebook mentioned something about a Natural Aquarium around mile marker 33, which we pulled off to find. I'm not sure I'd call it an aquarium, but I'd definitely call it breathtakingly beautiful.

All in all, the trip took us from 7:30am to 4:00pm, and went really well.

View Photos

Monday, June 06, 2011

Florida Keys Adventure - Days 1 and 2

After an uneventful flight, we made our way from the Miami airport to our first adventure of the trip: Monkey Jungle. We wanted an activity that both I and our 21 month old would enjoy - and monkeys seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

As jungles go, Monkey Jungle is a pretty cool one. The highlight is the presence of small metal dishes hanging by chains throughout the park. You drop a little food into the dishes, and woosh, the monkeys pull up the chains to get their bounty. It's really quite fascinating to see.

Considering we were at a zoo a few weeks ago, this was a nice variation on the theme.

The main gotcha is that the place seems overprice for what you get. $30/per person for the thrill of observing primates seems a bit much. Still, we did have fun and our little guy was entertained, so I'd say Mission Accomplished.

Day 2 started with a small trip into the Everglades National Park to hike the short Anhinga Trail. Wow, that trail did not disappoint. We saw exotic birds, one seriously decked out grasshopper and alligators. Yes, alligators!! They were just lounging in the swamp a few feet below us. No doubt, eye'ing our little one as the perfect mid afternoon snack.

We made it out of there with only bug bites, and I definitely got a most excellent appreciation for the Everglades.

To Shira's credit, she put up with even more hiking after that experience. We made our way to Key Largo and the Dagny Johnson Botanical State Park. There, we did another few miles of hiking among a variety of ecosystems. We seemed to have the park completely to ourselves, which was also a treat.

We then made our way to our hotel and then to the beach. The water was absolutely, 100% perfect. I can't recall the last time I went swimming in such perfect conditions. We splashed around, and tried out my new Aquapac case for my Android G2. Shira actually ended up using her MyTouch 4G in it, and it worked quite well. As promised, the phone stayed totally dry, even when fully submerged, and I was able to capture both photos and video. The audio on the video isn't great, and the picture quality isn't perfect - but as a beach camera, it did great.

We finished up the evening with dinner at the Bayside Grill. The restaurant overlooks the water, and while we didn't catch a sunset there, I'm sure it would be the perfect place to watch one. The food was good - nothing too fancy, which is excatly what we were looking for.

Tomorrow we head down to Key West. And our adventure continues!

Photos for Day 1. Photos for Day 2.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Looking for Shavuot / Yizkor Services in Arlington, VA?

As usual, my shul is having Shavuot and Yizkor services. If you're in the area and need a place to go, you're definitely welcome to attend.

We're asking folks to let us know if you're going to be at services, so we can confirm we're going to have a minyan (which won't be a problem for Yizkor). If you know you can make it, or want to be the one to make the minyan if needed, let us know (oy, think of the miztvah points for doing that!).

Thanks!

Meeting Aurora Emma

Last Friday, we had the wonderful opportunity to meet our newest friend: Aurora Emma. Aurora's life isn't being measured in years, months, weeks or days - we're still referring to it in hours. She was under 48 hours old when I snapped these photos.

We're so happy for our friends and the adventure they are just beginning. And of course, hoping they'll need us to babysit soon ;-).

Baby Aurora: can't wait to watch you grow!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Phone Friday: My Tracks get chatty, and using AndroidLost

My Tracks

I've used Google My Tracks on my Android forever as the easiest way to map any outdoor activity. Today, I got a little surprise as after a minute, the app started talking to me. Apparently, the latest version announces your time, distance and speed at an interval you set. I set it to 10 minutes, and found it to be an unusually effective motivator.

AndroidLost

I stumbled on AndroidLost.com and the companion app, and so far, I'm impressed. Android Lost allows you to remotely communicate with your phone to get its location, sound the alarm and perform other tricks.

For years, I've been hearing about these apps, but whenever I check them out, I always feel that they are kind of sketchy. AndroidLost seems a little on the Spartan side, but I kind of like that. It's a geek's tool that Just Works.

What oh crap! I lost my phone, now what?! app do you use?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

RSAnimate - Using Cartoons To Amplify Ideas

ParentHacks posted some thoughts on education which include a talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Sure, the talk is good. But what I found just as remarkable was the animation being drawn as the talk is given. That description probably doesn't make sense, you've got to see it for yourself:

(Watch Video)

Impressive, no?

Apparently these style of videos are created by RSA.org and they are known as an RSAnimate. You can view more of them here. Here's another example:

(Watch Video)

I think this approach to storytelling really works. And the creativity behind it is just remarkable. I can't imagine how much effort goes into producing a single video.

As the Simpsons has shown, when you want to really speak truth, do it through cartoons. There's no better medium.

How far can they push the joke?

First, it was a satirical article published by The Onion: Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex.

Then there's was the blog that catalogs the reaction to this and other Onion stories that people mistakenly think are true: LiterralyUnbelievable.org.

Then, someone created an entry for the Abortionplex on Yelp, a local business directory. And, as you might imagine, hundreds of people have stopped by to leave "reviews" - many of them wickedly funny. Here's a relatively tame one:

Come for the abortions, stay for the delicious baked goods!

My kids loved the waterslide. They also have an AARP discount, which is great.
- John M., San Francisco, CA

Ouch! (Read more here.)

It's actually fairly impressive how consistent the comments are given that the business doesn't exactly exist.

Perhaps the scariest part of all this is that people would believe the Onion article in the first place. But, I suppose, on the web it's notoriously difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Still, as goofy distractions go, I'm impressed by this one.

Shamelessly Plugging My Friend Erin

A few weeks back, we were at Clemyjontri Playground with our friends Erin and Ryan, and Erin offered to take a few photos of our family. I cringe at the thought of getting family portraits done, but I figured we were already out, so why the heck not?

Erin went to her car, grabbed her camera, and spent about 15 minutes shooting photos of us. During those 15 minutes I did little more than goof around with our 21 month old. It certainly didn't feel like a photo shoot to me. She promised she'd have some photos to us later that afternoon.

The results were nothing short of breathtaking. I have no idea how she did it. The smiles, the emotion, wow.

Man, I wish I could share these photos with - but alas, that's against the rules.

Now, why I am sharing all this with you, you might ask? Good question.

Today I got a note from our friend Erin: She's officially launched Erin Kelly Photography, and is now open for business. You can check out her work here.

If you're looking for a high quality photographer, you should check her out.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The $30 Netbook Turbo-Charging Purchase

OK, you can't exactly turbo-charge a Netbook - but for me, getting the $30 RAM upgrade for my Samsung N150 has been a definite win.

I continue to use my N150 as both my traveling computer of choice, as well as my work laptop on weekends. While I've been really picky about what I install on it, I noticed that nearly half the standard 1GB of RAM is used up just by booting Windows 7. I didn't want to pour lots of cash into a device I got for $200, so I was delighted to learn that the upgrade was only $30.00.

Performing the upgrade couldn't have been more painless: 1 click purchase over Amazon, followed by using the instructions here.

If you've got an N150, you need to do this upgrade today.

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