Friday, August 29, 2014
Thursday, August 28, 2014
So yeah, we can't park where we want to park because at 3am TV magic is going to be made on that street corner.
We don't have these problems in Arlington.
Still, it's fun to be in New York, right in the middle of the action!
A week or so ago I broke the Galaxy S5 case Shira had bought me. After a few days of carrying the phone around naked (man, is it sexy!), I decided it was time to get a case. Like my Father, I'm a clip-to-the-belt kind of guy (why waste pocket space when you can leverage belt space?!), so that narrowed the field. Additionally, I liked having a built in kickstand for hacking with my Perixx keyboard.
One model I wanted avoid: the i-BLASON Transformer Case. Early on I had ordered this guy, and found that it was absolute junk. The kickstand wouldn't stay in place and the whole case had a flimsy feel to it. The seller, to his credit, refunded my money and didn't even require me to send back the defective case.
After some researching I decided I'd go with the Aduro Shell Holster. Yes, it made me nervous that it looked so much like the i-BLASON, but what can you do?
See, here's the two cases:
I'm delighted to report that the Aduro works great!
The part of the case that wraps around the phone provides easy access to the USB jack and a very usable kickstand. It doesn't add an especially large amount of bulk either. The belt clip side is solid, too. And it didn't cost an arm and a leg.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!
Thanks to Android Authority for the case recommendation.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
This afternoon I finished listening to the audio version of 1984, the classic dystopian novel by George Orwell. I'm still in absolute awe of the book. How could a book be so dark and yet so readable at the same time?
[If you haven't read 1984, then I'd suggest skipping this post. Go borrow it from your library, and come back and see what I have to say. Then let's discuss.]
Where to start?
As I started listening to 1984 I wondered how it was going to compare to the vicious world of the Hunger Games. In short order I got my answer: Orwell makes Katniss and Peeta's world look like Disney Land compared to the warped universe of Winston and Julia, the main characters of 1984. There's just so much depth and detail to 1984. It's less the story of two lovers fighting against the machine, and more a How-To-Guide for creating the ultimate dystopia.
It's absolutely stunning that 1984 was written 66 years ago, in 1948. The terminology, technology and tactics hold up nearly perfectly today. The book could have just as easily been written as a commentary about the War On Terror, the NSA or any number of other popular topics. Everything from the uniforms described to the torture techniques seem completely modern. Heck, many of the concepts seem plausibly futuristic, an even more impressive feat to pull off.
Orwell truly was a genius when it came to architecting the methods used by The Party to maintain its power. From the 24 hour surveillance, to the Thought Police, to continuously rewriting the past, to the development of language that doesn't even allow for out-of-bounds thoughts, to the Big Brother figure head, and so on. Orwell doesn't just take the time to throw these concepts together, but meticulously develops them until you get the sense that they'd actually work. There's no hand waiving here.
Of all the Orwellian concepts I learned from the book, the notion of Continous Warfare seems to hit the closest to home. Sure, we've got the NSA snooping around, but they're playing neighborhood stick-ball compared to the Thought Police of 1984. But, consider this: when I describe a far off war that will never end, and that most of us will never participate in beyond cheering on the troops, I could be describing the war against Eurasia (or was it Eastasia) or the War on Terror. Sure, a complete 'Continuous War' as described in 1984 is far more reaching than this description, but still, the fact that these match up at all is cause for concern.
Finally, what the heck should I make of the book? I mean, what was the point? The most basic reading is that at every step 'The Party' has the upper hand. Even when Winston or Julia thinks they've outsmarted the system, they have in fact, failed. In the end, there's essentially no twist to the book. The characters know that by disobeying the party they'll be punished, and in the end, they are. Without really knowing what the heck I'm talking about, my take away from this is as follows: Orwell has constructed an absolute nightmare. In the end, the Party isn't defeated, and for all intents and purposes can't be defeated. But we, as readers, get to wake up. We're the ones who get to step back and say Wow, when the conditions are right, human kind can not only become entrapped; but entrapped for eternity.
All's lost not only for Winston and Julia, but for the entire human race. But we still have a chance.
And that's where Orwell's How-to-Guide comes into play for me: by giving us such a complete recipe for controlling the population, he's also given us the antidote. Study it. Learn it. Fight it.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
So much cell phone photography advice on the web is, well, blah. So I was impressed when I came across this video that suggested 7 clever cell phone photography tips I'd not used before.
A number of these techniques would actually be quite tricky to pull of using a fancy DSLR. That's actually a trend I've been seeing. HDR, panorama shots, capturing motion and getting macro or fish-eye shots, are all easier on my cell phone than my DSLR. Of course, the DSLR excels in places the cell phone can't compete. But that's the point: they're both useful tools in their own right. The days of the cell phone being just a fallback camera for those times when you have no other choice, are pretty much done.
I was browsing through When Violence Erupts: A Survival Guide for Emergency Responders (I can't for the life of me, find the original mention of this book) and I came across this self defense technique:
While conducting drills at the Maryland State Police Glen Burnie Barracks, Trooper First Class (TFC) Raymond J. Beard taught a technique that successfully disrupted the chain of events in an intended shooting incident 12 out of 12 times (Maryland State Police In-Service Training School for Trooper First Class, 1983. Maryland State Police In-Service Training School for Officer Survival, 1987). A state police instructor sat in the driver': seat of a stopped vehicle. When asked for a driver's license, the instructor drew a weapon and squeezed the trigger in a simulation of shooting the approaching trooper. TFC Beard told the troopers participating in the exercise that if something came out of the vehicle at them, they were to take off their Stetson' with their left hand (driver-side approach) and throw it at the eyes of the person behind the wheel of the stopped vehicle. The intent of this action was to make the armed person blink or flinch. Throwing the hat was 100% effective—in each case the person with the weapon either misfired or misaimed. When something is coming at you, your initial instinct is to blink or flinch.
Consider what happens when you are driving during a heavy rain and a passing vehicle throws water on your cart windshield. Even though you know the water is not going to hit you, you still blink or flinch when the water strikes the windshield. This is the reaction you want to provoke in your assailant. Throwing your vitals pad at the person provides the same distraction as the water hitting the windshield or the troopers throwing their hats. It interrupts the chain of events long enough to permit you to get out of the line of fire and run to safety. Carry the pad In your left hand when you make a driver-side approach. When in position behind the Back Seat column, raise the pad to your left shoulder. If the vehicle occupant takes aggressive action during your initial interview, be prepared to throw the pad directly at the aggressor nose.
Use only a soft pad of paper for this technique. A hard object such as an aluminum report book or clip-board may cause needless injuries to the occupant of the vehicle. The soft pad will not cause undue harm. If the person is reaching for a lighter instead of a weapon and you react by throwing the vitals pad, you only have to apologize and explain. Exaggerate if necessary; say you just returned from a call where the patient took aggressive action toward you, and you thought it was going to happen again. After you throw the pad, do not wait for a reaction. As soon as it is out of your hand, turn to your right (toward the unit), get out of the possible line of fire, and run to safety. (p26-27)
Pretty clever, no?
The above technique talks about pretty specific conditions: approaching a vehicle and either being a police officer or an EMT, and triggering a distraction with either a hat or a vitals pad (which is effectively a spiral notebook). But, I'm thinking this approach could be generalized in any number of ways. It's certainly one worth having in the back of your mind, when you find yourself in an encounter your not 100% comfortable with.
After the Boston Kids were safely delivered to their parents, it was time to get our lives back in order. On the list of things to do was to return the books and videos we had rented from the library. Among them was an audio version of Meet Rebecca, an American Girl story. When I deposited the items on the librarians desk, she asked me how I liked the audio book? Actually, I explained, I loved it and started to explain why. After a moment, I realized that I had surprised her; she was expecting to razz me about the book, and here I was, heaping praise on it.
So what's so good about a book that one would think was nothing more than marketing material for a toy?
Rebecca is a Jewish child growing up in 1914, who's dealing with the life of as an immigrant. Like Kaya, the other American Girl story I've listened to, the book manages to get a number of important things right. First off, the story covers both Kid Problems as well as Real Problems. Rebecca is struggling with the fact that her older sisters get to do more than she does, and she's searching out her independence. At the same time, we here talk about the strain Russian Jews are under, the fears that young men will be conscripted into the army, and the real possibility that one of Rebecca's cousins will be too sick to survive the Russian winter. These are heavy topics. This blend of challenges give kids something they can relate to, yet introduce them to some important real world problems.
Another area the book gets right is the way they portray a turn of the century Jewish Family. Again, they hit on the very real topics of assimilation (changing names, working on Shabbat), but also make it clear that Rebecca's Judaism is more than just lip service. The description of Shabbat preparation and Rebecca's yearning to light the Sabbath candles is spot on. And the moment where Rebecca's father, a shoes salesman, deftly gives an immigrant a free pair of shoes--explaining to his daughter that this is a Mitvah--was one that actually invoked real pride for me.
I mainly listened to this book with Tzipora, who's 3, as we drove to and from camp every day. I think she was enjoying the narration more than anything else, and certainly wasn't taking in the big concepts. But I know she took in something. After listening for a few days, Shira caught her doing some "reading time" with a book. As she ran her finger across the words, she was talking out loud about Rebecca and her sisters being at dinner (which is where a climatic scene takes place). So, it definitely impacted her. (Tzipora and Rebecca both have older siblings who are twins - so it was the perfect story for her.)
Is this great literature? No, not really. But for a kid of the right age, this should be excellent reading. And sharing the book on CD, means that you can experience and discuss some of the tougher topics together. I'm skeptical about the whole commercial side of American Girl, something I know nothing about. But, I can tell you this book is a winner.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Saturday, August 23, 2014
What an amazing last two days it's been!
Yesterday, my Dad, Brother, Sister-in-Law and I went out for 4 hours of fishing on the boat Island Girl. As we headed out of the harbor, the seas got rougher and rougher. As we zipped along to the location where we'd be fishing (about 10 miles off shore), it became excruciatingly clear that I'm not quitting my job to run away with the Navy. As the boat skipped over and crashed into the waves, I held on for dear life. Rationally, I knew we were safe, but irrationally, I was terrified (of what, I'm not exactly sure - it felt like airplane turbulence). David, for his part, became sea sick almost immediately. My Dad and Maryn weren't phased by the trip out.
Once we arrived at the location we'd be fishing, the boat continued to rock back and forth. ("Rocking back and forth" doesn't really capture the scene. Think more: every few seconds, I felt like the boat was going to be capsized. Yeah, that was it.) Again, I knew we were safe (the captain and mate were completely unphased by the conditions), but for me, I was anything but comfortable. Still, we came to fish and fish I would!
We were fishing for fluke, and my Dad (naturally) caught the first one. A keeper at over 18 inches long. Maryn caught the second. I had no luck for a while until I pulled up not one, but two bluefish! (One on each of the two hooks I had baited). What they lacked in size, I made up for with style.
We continued to catch flukes (I must have brought in 5 of them), but the vast majority of them were too small to keep (usually only by an inch or two).
I did eventually get something resembling sea legs, and by the end of the trip the gentle but steep rocking motion of the boat didn't phase me all that much. Still, the photos on the boat are quite basic, as I had to hold on with a death grip at all times.
Fortunately, the ride in was way calmer than the ride out. By the time we stepped off the boat, I was ready to do it all over again. (But 4 hours on a boat is plenty, thank you very much).
After boating we hit the beach and did a little geocaching. Lots of fun, and way more in my comfort zone.
We started off today with some shore fishing. We had some bait my Dad picked up earlier in the week, and we stopped by the supermarket to pick up some raw fish and seafood as backup. Naturally, my Dad landed the first fish of the day. Except it wasn't a fish! He caught a baby shark. In fact, he'd end up catching two during the morning fishing session. David also caught a shark, and I managed to pull in a Fluke (as luck would have it, it was too small to keep). It was a terrific fishing session. It didn't hurt that I could skip the panic attack, and David could skip the seasickness.
The rest of today was spent making our way to and from the lighthouse located at Cape May point. While there, we caught an hour long nature walk, which was absolutely riveting.
I'm telling you, these were two very packed, and very fun days.
Note: I didn't take any of the pictures from Saturday. The ones below are from Maryn and David (the awesome photos of the butterfly, spider and frog were all Maryn!).
Friday, August 22, 2014
I arrived with my family in Cape May for a weekend of fishing, fun and sun. Our first order of business was to head out to Sunset Beach. While the walk along the beach was perfect, and the ceremony honoring a veteran to lower the flag was moving, there wasn't exactly a sunset. Technically, the sun did set, but the overcast sky never gave way to brilliant colors. Oh well, the experience was still a terrific one.
Add to that a wonderful meal at Ugly Mug (good lord those are huge salads!) and the delicious ice cream, and it was a perfect night.
Tomorrow we head out for 4 hours of fishing. Should be an adventure!
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Yes, it's essentially link bait. And yes, it's probably illegal. But these chalk quotes were just too clever, and dare I admit it, inspiring, to not stop and photograph while out on a run yesterday with David:
When I posted about a local improvised library my cousin, an urban planner, gave me a new term to describe that project: Tactical Urbanism. I've been waiting for an opportunity to use the term, and happily, the above photos just gave me permission to do so.
#inspirearlington #probablyanadcampaign #imokwiththat
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
OK, it's not disarming a bomb with a paper clip, but it's still awfully impressive. And who knows, maybe it could save (or impress) your date!
A few months back I picked up a copy of Daniel, The Man and His Visions from the library's freebie cart. A few pages in, I learned that the book is written from a very Christian perspective. After reading an introductory chapter, I put the book aside. It just didn't hold my interest.
So, what to do with it? One day, after a missionary (if that's the term) came knocking on my door, a solution occurred to me: I'd just give it to the next person to stop by my house who wanted to talk Christianity (it doesn't happen often, but one of the joys of working from home, is that it does indeed happen). Today, I finally had my opportunity.
A nice lady and her son knocked on my door and offered me a Jehovah's Witness pamphlet. As she was preparing to walk away, I told her that I actually had something for her.
I explained the conundrum: I had picked up the book, but it wasn't for me. But maybe it would be for her?
She kindly told me she couldn't accept it. Oh, why is that? Is it because you're not allowed to accept gifts?
Nope, it's because she doesn't know the content of the book. She can't just take a random book and start reading it.
The irony was almost too rich: she goes around handing out pamphlets, asking for people to just take a few minutes to read something new, and she herself can't do the same thing.
That, my friends, is chutzpah.
I certainly don't mean any disrespect with the above story. And I've got no problem with nice old ladies knocking on my door to talk about the Bible. If anything, it's a wonderful exercise in Freedom of Religion and Speech.
Monday, August 18, 2014
I was leafing through some books from my Father-in-Law's z"l teaching days, when I came across a fun one: Science Activities With Simple Things by Howard R. Munson. It's a relatively short lab guide offering teachers dozens experiments for their students to try. As the name suggests, each experiment requires only 'simple things' such as paper cups, needles, milk cartons and other easy to find objects. Rather than being organized by subject area the book is organized by the materials themselves.
What does all this have to do with the greatest TV show ever produced? Well, as you know because you've watched MacGyver (wait, what? You haven't watched all the episodes? Stop what you're doing and do so now!), the premise of the show is that the hero saves the day using odds and ends he finds lying around. Exactly the kinds of odds and ends that this book puts to work.
Need to craft a scale? You'll need a rubber band and paper clip. Need a barometer? Collect up a straw, jar and balloon, and you're good to go. Thermometer? That just requires a jar, tube, and colored liquid. How about a steam engine or magnet powered motor? There are recipes for building those. Not to mention one for a record player and various musical instruments. And then there's my favorite: an astrolabe, which is intended by to used by students to share the locations of specific stars in the night sky.
And did you know a column of cups was stronger than a single cup? Or that you can boil water in a paper bag (this I did actually know).
Isn't science awesome?!
If you can master these experiments, you'll be pulling off hacks worthy of MacGyver himself.
And if I ever decided to write MacGyver fan fiction, I can totally see putting some of these experiments to use. Rubber bands and paper clips, here we come!
Sunday, August 17, 2014
From the farm, we went home, regrouped, and then headed out again. This time, we picked up our friend's 3 kids, and the 8 of us headed to Annapolis. Our first stop was ice cream. Yum! And then on to the main attraction: Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake. The 'Adventure' is an hour and 15 minute boat cruise that promised to turn the kids into pirates and the adults into deck loungers. Now we had quite a range of ages, from 3 up to 15, and I've got to say, it really worked!
The whole pirate experience was like an hour and a half of pirate improv. Before the kids even step foot on the boat, the experience begins. They get dressed up, get tattoos and have a talk-like-a-pirate short course. The adults who run the operation are as kid friendly as can be. They keep the script moving along, so nobody gets bored. The kids got to find a map and treasure, use water cannons against Pirate Pete and even found some Pirate Grog. The boat setup is such that the kids just have fun, and don't even know that they are following any safety procedures. There's basically one rule: no climbing. As long as the kids keep their feet on the deck, nothing too bad can happen to them.
I was amazed that the parents really could sit back and watch their kids play. For the right ages, this is definitely an outstanding thing to do.
On Saturday, I took the kids to shul, which they did great at. For Shabbat lunch we had my brother and sister-in-law come over, which let us have a breather while they played with the kids. Earlier in the week, I had produced a bag of spinach and asked if the kids wanted any. The answer was a resounding yes, because they had seen Popeye and knew the strength inducing properties of said green. At lunch, Dovid refused to eat the last two bites of his pasta salad. I asked if he'd eat it as a Popeye Sandwich, that is, wrapped up in spinach? For sure! And thus it was the first and only time in recorded history that spinach was used to get a kid to eat pasta, versus the other way around.
Speaking of meals, the last time we had the kids in town we gave them a sticker if they finished everything on their plate. We figured that they had outgrown this, but after our first meal, they wanted to know where their stickers were. Fine, we'll give them a sticker, but they'd have to do more than just finish their plate. Over time, the routine was enhanced until we had a theme song, yes an actual song, that the kids could recite to remember what they had to do to get their sticker (they had to help set the table, eat all gone, wait for everyone to finish before getting up and help clean up). Man, putting things to a song makes it so much more official, not to mention fun (instead of nudging, we just need to sing). I'm going to have to remember that. I should really record the song, so I can remember how it goes for next year. Chances are, they're going to want to hear it. (Side note: yes, we know making a kid eat everything on his plate can be a bad habit. However, the song didn't allow for "eat a sensible portion size" or "eat until you feel full." So we had to go simple.)
After lunch, we took a walk to the 'spikes' -- that's what the kids call the Air Force Memorial near our house. They watched airplanes, ran around and before we knew it, it was time to go home and get ready for bed.
Arrrrrrr matey, a fun couple of days for all!
The three kiddies are officially back with their Mommy and Daddy in Boston! The flight home was painless, especially considering we weren't on JetBlue, with their kid friendly TV screens.
Dovid played with Legos, Chana played with her parachute man and Tzipora caught up on her Skymall shopping.
What a week this has been! I've got more photos and stories to post. But for now, I'd like to focus on catching up on a week of lost sleep.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
In truth, we spent a lot more time running with the kite than actually flying it.
Not enough wind? Not the right kind of kite? Poor flying skills?
Don't know and doesn't matter. We had fun and the kids were exhausted when we finally called it a day. Still, I'm going to have to step up my kite flying skills.
Last night, during some late night hacking, I hit SoundCloud to find something new and different to listen to. A search for 'Opera' eventually brought me to this interview with Speight Jenkins. At the time of the interview, Jenkins was leaving the Seattle Opera company, after having served as director there for 31 years.
As the interview played on, I realized I was finding it quite riveting. Jenkins has the voice and the stories to make his career really come alive.
Along with a number of entertaining anecdotes, there were a couple of points that really hit me: (1) I'd always assumed that Opera was a static art form. Surely the way a performance is done now is the same way it would have been done 100 years ago. Not so; Jenkins does a great job of explaining how the art form has evolved. And (2) his strategy for dealing with difficult actors is pretty simple: he makes it clear to his team that while they are visiting the opera company, everyone needs to put up with and try to satisfy this individual. But, he also promises that this person won't be invited back. I think that's a simple strategy that can be applied to all sorts of difficult people and tasks.
Give the interview a listen. Perhaps like me you'll be sucked in, and be impressed with the (surprisingly?) lively world of running an Opera company.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Last night we got an unexpected text message from Tzipora's baby sitter's parents. They were terribly sorry they had missed wishing Shira a happy birthday. Only, it's not Shira's birthday. What happened?
Well, I'm partially to blame for this one. Tzipora and I had 45 minutes to kill before I took her to camp, so we cooked up a batch of bannock. Tzipora did most of the work. When we were done, she pronounced that we hadn't made bread, but instead had made cake. Fair enough.
Apparently, Tzipora decided to make the story a bit more elaborate, and explained to her baby sitter that she and I had made Shira a surprise birthday cake, because it was her birthday. (Not an altogether terrible idea, by the way). She explained this so earnestly, you just had to believe her.
I fear this morning I didn't help my case much. Again, having an hour to kill before dropping Tzipora off at camp, we did some geocaching in a park on the way to her camp. She was delighted to discover the cache hidden in a big 'ol tree stump. As I dropped her off at camp, I heard her explaining to another camper that she had just gotten back from treasuring hunting, and had found treasure. Again, really not far off from the truth.
That's right, it only *looks* like they are sitting still. In another moment, the three kids were back in motion. Such are the wonders of still photography.
So glad we can have our newphew and nieces visiting us.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Every once in a while, advice I give pays off. So it was the case when I told my brother not to give up hope on the hundreds of photos he lost because of an accidental delete incident. Computers (and computer programmers) are lazy. Just because they say something is deleted, doesn't make it so. I warned him that he'd probably pay a steep price for getting the photos back, but it should be possible.
Shows you what I know. A few days later he reports in: the answer is Pandora Recovery! He downloaded this free utility, let it churn for a few hours, and it gave him the chance to recover hundreds of photos. In the end, he got back all the photos he had accidentally deleted.
Crisis averted. And I learned about a new tool I hope I'll never need to use.
Monday, August 11, 2014
It's Day 2 of having our nephew and nieces in town. I assume at some point I'll slow down with the photos of them, but this hasn't happened yet. They continue to be adorable, even when they are digging through Shira's gym bag without her permission (ahem, Miss Tzipora).
Special thanks to our good friends who came over and literally ran the kids ragged. We should hire you guys out as a service to other parents. The kids collapsed at bedtime. Well done!