Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Appalachian Trail Overnight Hike

This past weekend, we took the little guy out for a little overnight backpacking adventure. We did 6 miles in, and 6 miles out in Shenandoah National Park, on the Appalachian Trail. We started at Jenkins Gap, and made camp at Gravel Springs Hut.

While I would have liked to spent more than a night in the woods, I'll take what I can get. We definitely had a blast.

A few random notes from our adventure:

  • The Appalachian Trail continues to be a really fun and family friendly place to backpack. It's well marked, the shelters provide a nice stopping point, and you're typically never to far from civilization if you need to abort the trip.
  • Backpacking with a little one requires one key essential: a Sherpa. Shira carried all our little one's gear (and has a surprisingly large amount of it) and all our food; David carried my sleeping bag, pad and clothes and all shared gear (like the tent and cookware); and I carried some of my own stuff and a 28lb 21 month old. We looked like we were heading out for a week.
  • For 10 days, leading up to, and including the day of the trip, the forecast called for severe thunderstorms. Luckily, the storms never appeared. We got about 15 minutes of rain. Note to self: don't trust 10 day forecasts.
  • We tried out a Pocket Chainsaw, and while it was durable and managed to cut wood - it was absolutely exhausting to use. I'm thinking this is probably a dud.
  • I love my new Fozzils ThinkFLAT dishes. The cup weighs nothing, held up fine with both hot tea and oatmeal, and slid into our child carrier. As far as I'm concerned, it's a winner.
  • For the first time, my brother used a Lightload Towel. I suggested he machine wash it, as I did with mine. Turns out, machine washing his version shredded it. I contacted the good folks at Lightload, and confirmed what I had learned: they no longer recommend you machine wash them. They were nice enough to send me a replacement for my oops.
  • I used my buff both to keep warm at night, and then soaked in a a cold stream to keep cool during the day. I felt a bit like a walking advertisement for Buff Wear, but hey, the product actually works.
  • Our little one did spectacular on the trip. It took him a little longer than usual to go to sleep, as he alternated between loving the tent and fearing it. But, once asleep, he slept the whole night. He ate like a champ, got nice and dirty, and behaved himself around the fire. He even managed to flirt with some of the ladies that were staying at the same campsite. He's such a player.
  • See that photo below of David starting a fire? He did it in one match, to his credit.

Some photos - all in all, a most excellent trip!

Feeling Old, School Edition: All About Filmstrips

This last weekend, while hanging around our campsite, I managed to strike up a conversation with a relatively young teacher. Somehow, I managed to bring up the topic of Filmstrips, and how didn't he remember watching them?

"A what now?", he asked.

A filmstrip. C'mon, you know what I mean. You drag out the little projector, place a cassette player next to it, pop in the tape, and hit play. Of course, there's one poor student who has the critical job of sitting next to the filmstrip projector and advancing it when he hears the Bing! on the tape. I remember distinctly hating this responsibility, as I'd get out of sync and the film would never match the audio. Talk about pressure.

He must have thought I was nuts. But seriously, am I that old? Guess so.

OK, younger generation, here's your lesson of the day. The following is a filmstrip. Note, when you hear the bing, imagine some poor student has to advance the player or nearly all is lost:

(View Video)

Think I'm making this stuff up? Not at all: Syottoys has quite the collection of educational filmstrips. Though, his are even more primitive than what I group on - they just contain subtitles that the teacher would read. Here's an example:

(View Video)

All I can say is, kids today have it so good.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Lubber Grasshopper Defense

I was making my way through the National Zoo when I came to a display panel that talked about aposematism, a phenomena I'd never heard of.

It works like this: suppose you're a Lubber Grasshopper. Your main defense capability is that you can convert plant toxin into a noxious secretion (handy, right?). Rather than attempting to blend in, you do the complete opposite. You develop the equivalent of a hunter's-orange skin pattern. You basically shout, here I am, just try to eat me. Over time predators learn that sure, they can eat you, but in doing so they are going to get a whole lot of nasty in the process. Over time, the predators learn, and you're left alone.

It's sort of reverse camouflage.

I find it to be completely unintuitive, and brilliant.

I'm not sure how this information will be useful to me - but it just seems like a strategy worth knowing about.

The National Zoo Through A 21 Month Old Eye's

We took our little guy to the zoo today (along with about half the Tourists in DC). A few of his insights included:

  • "Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla!!!" -- our little guy wasn't quite sure what to make of the zoo when we first arrived. All he saw were big, confusing looking, crowds. And then we made it to the primate house, where he got to see a real live Gorilla, just like one in his book. He was instantly sold on the place.
  • The small mammal house can be summarized in a single world: squirrel. Everything in there looks pretty much like the critters that run around our yard. Oh, and when can we see more gorillas?!
  • "Ball!" -- that's what our little guy shouted when we got to the elephant enclosure. True, there was a large concrete ball-like structure to be seen - but I might have thought he'd found the elephants themselves more interesting. I would be wrong. Balls rock.
  • "Teddy Bear" - that's what our little guy shouted when he saw his first glimpse of a giant panda sitting around munching on bamboo. Pretty good description, if you ask me.

All in all, we had a really fun time. I can't believe we're only a 20 minute drive from the place. Next time our little one can't do day care because he's waiting for antibiotics to kick in, we're so going to the zoo.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pampers Makes You Go Awwww

I'm not ashamed to admit it, this Pampers ad got me a little misty-eyed. Give it a watch and tell me if you can resist an Awww...:

Watch Video

Via: AdWeek

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What-I-Carry-Wednesday: The Minimalist Diaper Bag

Oh, the diaper bag. So full of opportunities for an Eagle Scout who can't justify carrying around a man-purse filled with gear. Yet, after 16 months, I've learned just how valuable a streamlined diaper bag can be. By keeping the contents to a minimum, we can stash it in the mesh pocket under our stroller or other out of the way places, and aren't tempted to leave it behind.

One bit of hard earned diaper bag advice: never, never, never put the diaper bag in the trunk. Always, make sure it's accessible from the front seat of the car. Once it's locked in the trunk, and you're cruising along at 65Mph, you'll find that you desperately need the bottle, toy, whatever securely stored in the diaper bag.

On to the contents...

  • A Hammock Bliss day pack - I prefer a day pack to a over the should bag because it's easier to carry and multitask. I like the lightweight Hammock Bliss bag because it takes up minimal space, and as I mentioned above, can be stuffed in the bottom of our compact stroller.
  • An extra change of clothes (that fits!). I've been tempted before to leave these out. And then I've had various diaper disasters that have caused me to re-evaluate my thinking. Eventually you'll have a diaper blowout and you'll be ever so thankful for these.
  • My Emergency Toddler Entertainment Kit
  • My Urban Survival Kit (and of course, my other EDC items)
  • A container of crackers, including a small container of peanut butter. Of all items in the bag, the crackers are probably the most frequently used.
  • Baby Tylenol. Only the best drugs ever invented, thank you very much. It's amazing how a miserable child can be transformed with just a dropper full of this cherry goodness. We used to carry a thermometer, but I found I could live without it.
  • First Years Diapering Kit - rolled up in this sucker, I've got 3 diapers, a container of wipes, 3 ziplock bags, a kitchen trash bag, a wet wipe and our little one's medical records. If I need one essential item, I can grab the kit, and I know I'm all set.

Not shown: usually, I've got some sort of water bottle or sippy cup to keep the little guy hydrated.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Must Try: Silly Dogs

If you know the Simons, you know that we take hot dogs very seriously. Like, eat on Thanksgiving and Rosh Hashanah seriously. So you could imagine how psyched I was to learn about: Silly Dogs - looks great, don't they?

The best part is that they look pretty dang easy to make.

Found via: ParentHacks.

My Rules

Inspired by mnmal.org's 40 rules, I give you Ben Simon's rules for life:

Rule 0: Love your wife.

Rule 1: You're going to die. (In other words: life is short, cherish every minute of it.)

Rule 2: Everything but death is fixable. (Not exactly true, but a solid rule of thumb.)

Rule 3: Time is the most precious resource. (See Rule #1.)

Rule 4: Consider the 1 year test. (Will this event/activity/item be important in a year? If not, consider Rule #3.)

Rule 5: Be Honest. (If you broke it, admit it. If you don't understand it, admit.)

Rule 6: Consider contribution, not blame. (Not "who's fault is it?" but, "how did each of us contribute to this problem?")

Rule 7: Your taste will exceed your skills. (So, practice, practice, practice.)

Rule 8: Go to bed angry. (A crisis often shrinks to nothing when considered on a full night's sleep.)

Rule 9: Find Flow and you'll find happiness.

Rule 10: When communicating with others, prefer pictures over spoken words. Prefer a working model over pictures.

Rule 11: Make a list. Prioritize. Work on the first item. Forget about the rest until the first one is complete.

Rule 12: Be Prepared.

Rule 13: Smile.

Rule 14: Consider it an experiment. (There's no failure with experiments, just more data.)

Rule 15: Always completely pay off your credit cards at the end of the month.

Rule 16: Live your best life. (Don't lament that you can't hike the full Appalachian Trail. Do a weekend backpacking trip or overnight or even camp out in the backyard with the kids.)

Rule 17: If you want to understand a subject, teach it to someone. If you want to completely and relentlessly understand a subject, teach it to a computer. (That is, program it. Computers make now allowance for gray areas.)

Rule 18: my advice to budding programmers: read a lot of code, write a lot of code. Repeat.

Rule 19: The universe owes you nothing. The things you've worked hard for in your life aren't guaranteed. They could be gone next year, next week or later this afternoon. Don't fear this, just know this.

What are your rules for life?

Parent Hack: Keep a clone of your diaper bag in the trunk of your car

Not sure this qualifies as a hack - it's probably just obvious advice.

A few months back, I tossed a Ziploc bag with a couple of clean diapers in the trunk of the car. Tonight, due to an odd confluence of events (running w/ the little guy to meet Shira at the gym, a spilled water bottle, our interest in eating dinner out), I had a toddler with a soaked diaper, and no diaper bag. Luckily, the car had some extra diapers ready to go.

I would have gotten more points had I taken my own advice and had a fully clone of the diaper bag (something I keep meaning to blog about), which would have included an extra change of clothes.

Plan B was to hit Rite-Aide and buy some diapers and other supplies. But in this case, the trunk stash was faster and more convenient.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Keeping up with R7RS

What do you know, the new Scheme standard is taking shape! I've taken a quick look through the R7RS first draft, and I'm impressed.

Rather than scramble at the end of the process to figure out what went into the spec, I figured it would be ideal if I could attempt to follow along with the discussions. I could subscribe to the e-mail list, but these days I find keeping up with e-mail to be just too much headache.

Instead, I've been tracking changes to the Wiki they are maintaining. Specifically, I've got Google Reader pointed to: http://trac.sacrideo.us/wg/timeline.

The result is a little chit-chat to keep R7RS in my head, but not so much that I go into information overload and end up ignoring it.

Clemyjontri Playground - The Ultimate NoVa Playground

Months ago, our friends and super parents Erin and Ryan mentioned Clemyjontri Playground, located in McLean, VA. I was a little skeptical of making a special trip out to a playground when we've got a handful right around our house. This last Sunday, we all met up there for some serious play time. Man, was I glad I made the trip.

Here's what the grounds look like from above:

The playground is 2 acre and consists of 4 sections and a carousel. It's got all your usual swings and slides, but also a whole bunch of apparatus that are crying out for kids to use their imagination with. There's a little track to actually encourage running.

Our little one was so elated at the sight of the carousel that upon sight he started yelling "horsey, horsey," pushed his was through folks standing in line and stormed the ride. The operator had to stop the ride for fear that he'd get to the horseys before we got to him.

The playground has a special emphasis on handicap accessibility, so there's something for everyone to do.

The adults definitely got tired before the kids did.

If you're looking for a fun place to take young kids, Clemyjontri should definitely be at the top of the list. I'm convinced that if Disney built the operation, you'd have to pay $30/kid to get in. Luckily, it's a county park and free for all.

Thanks Erin and Ryan for the tip!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Parent Hack: Trim That Straw

Super Mom Erin shared this hack at breakfast: trim the long straw that comes with the kid size cups to make it easier for little ones to drink from (and avoid poking the back of their mouth).


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tool of the Day: Houdini for Mac

It's a little ironic that one of the most important tools I've used today is for the Mac, considering I don't actually own a Mac. What I do have are clients who have Macs and who have the need to edit files like .htaccess and ~/.subversion/config.

As far as the Mac Finder is concerned (look at me throwing out the lingo!) these files don't exist. They're hidden because they have a dot as the first character.

Fair enough. But how does one see them? In a couple of instances, I walked folks through using terminal and ls -a, but that was a bit excessive.

Turns out, the answer is simple: download and run Houdini, a free app. It seems to have a variety of features, but the main one I needed was the ability to turn off and on the showing of hidden files.

Bam. Clicked the turned off button, and the eyes of my Mac friends are truly opened for the first time.

Windows may be crufty, but it has been using the same arcane facility for years for enabling and disabling hidden files. I'll give it that.

Twitter Sparklines

Oh how I love sparklines. Not that I get to use them frequently, but as a concept for compactly representing information goes, I love it. I've known for some time that you can fairly trivially generate them using the Google Graph API. And last night I learned another unexpected use: for displaying information in twitter.

See a handful of examples here. Such as:

Twitter, which is obsessed with squeezing large amounts of information into a 140 characters, seems like the perfect place to leverage sparklines.

I should really poke around for a Blogger module that let's me include sparklines somehow. Hmmm....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sleep, Precious Sleep. A Bedtime Story for Adults

Oh, to get our little one to sleep. I've hoped for it, begged for it, bargained for it, prayed for it, walked miles around in circles for it, counted out loud to 100 thousands of times for it, read Good Night Moon over and over for it, listened to white noise for it, babbling brooks for it, chill music for it, walked the streets of our neighborhood at 3am with a child strapped to my chest for it, carried the whole frigg'n stroller inside for it, WD 40'd door hinges for it, laid my head down at 4am and been woke up at 4:05am for it, bounced for it and would have paid nearly any sum of money for it. Sleep. To this day, I consider a toddler that falls asleep to be a precious little miracle. And now, there's a childrens book that captures this yearning of mine.

I'm not one who usually goes in for profanity, but in this case, I'm willing to make an exception. I give you: Go The F**k To Sleep. Sure, it feels like a kids book, but the story is 100% adult.

If you look around you can find a PDF version of the book. It's worth taking a few minutes to read it and chuckle.

Lately, our 21 month old has upped the ante. Before, as a last resort, we could always leave a wide awake child in his crib to regroup (or pray that he falls asleep). As of last Friday, he's figured out how to climb out of his crib. So, yeah, he's mobile. Sleep. I'll never take it for granted again.

Found via: kottke.org.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gardening Inspiration - AFAC Plot Against Hunger

While stopping by the Arlington Central Library, I couldn't help but notice the exhibit on container and square foot gardening. Here are some quick snapshots:

Dang, they make it look so easy.

I love that they are encouraging folks to turn the now-defunct yellow recycle bin into a planter. Unfortunately, we already have a use for ours.

The exhibit is described here and is part of a most impressive program.

Sure makes me want to go out buy a bunch of containers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ben's 3 Step Plan for Making Your Android G2 Run Really Fast

For weeks (maybe even months) I've been frustrated with how slow my G2 has been running. Here's how I got it running quickly today:

  1. Logged into my App Brain Account
  2. Copied all the apps from my current list to a new list I called G2 Snapshot - 5/16/2011
  3. Deleted everything on the phone that I could except a few absolute bare minimum essentials. This was actually painful to do, because my phone really was filled with all sorts of useful apps. The ones I absolutely couldn't live without include: Pandora, Xmarks Premium, Visual Voicemail, ProfileChanger, Qik and ConnectBot

And now my phone is super fast.

My plan is to add in apps either as need them, or as the occasion arises (say, my next trip, I'll install the items on my travel apps list).

Sure does feel good to have a super fast phone again.

*You do use appbrain, right? Cause you should. Really. It's essential.

A Little Lyndon - A Run To Lyndon Johnson Memorial Grove

Yesterday, Shira and I took a jog to the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove - which is yet another little gem tucked away in Arlington. We accessed it from the Pentagon parking lot, which doesn't exactly seem like the kind of place you'd want to be loitering around.

The sun was out, the shade in the grove was delicious, and the view across the way to DC was perfect. Here's a few snapshots. I don't quite understand what the big rock was all about - but, it too, was looking quite fine in the sunshine.

The grove is relatively small - but it's a great place for a picnic or to just chill.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Trial and Error Gardening, 2011 Edition

Shira and I took a few hours off this morning to do our yearly Trial and Error gardening.

Last year seemed to be more error than anything else - but I suppose, that's all part of the process.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Review: O Jerusalem!

For years now, my brother has been suggesting I read O Jerusalem!, and for years I've been putting it off. At 656 pages, it just looks like it's going to be a painful read.

And then my brother picked up the audio version of the book. Still, I resisted.

Then a few weeks ago, I finally broke down and loaded the first 6 of 22 disks into my CD disk changer and hoped for the best. I figured I was going to be in for a long dry read that I'd just suffer through.

Oh, how wrong I was. I found all 22 disks, from the opening introduction to the epilogue to be absolutely riveting.

The story follows the fate of Jerusalem, from the UN vote to partition the country of Israel through the war that followed. It's absolutely packed with unbelievable story, after unbelievable story. If this were a novel, you would write it off as being too out there to be true. And yet, it's all real.

Unlike, say, A Case for Isreal, by Alan Dershowitz, the book doesn't take a purely positive view of Isreal. Both Arabs and the Jews have events in the book that evoke both condemnation and praise. Without any points of reference, it's hard for me to say the book is balanced - but that's how it felt to me.

Equal to the entertaining stories was the amazing historical lessons it had to teach me. The lessons and conflict from 1948, in many respects, are still present in the current Israeli and Palestinian conflict. Heck, while I was reading the book, my brother pointed me to this current op-ed, which directly discusses events that happened in 48. And after reading the book, I can see both the truth of what the author is saying, as well as the points that he's conveniently leaving out.

My brother was right to keep on me about reading this book. And now, I'll go around, nudging people to do the same. You won't be sorry.

Move Over Elmo, There's a New Mouse In Town

To date, our little one has pretty much been infatuated with Elmo and the Sesame Street crowd (that, and slightly off Indian TV). But, over the last couple weeks, his world has expanded. It's official, our little guy is now a Mickey Mouse man.

His gateway drug to Disney: a sing along CD with Mickey Mouse and friends that my mother-in-law bought him. What makes the CD special, is the fact that it's personalized. Integrated in with the music and dialog is his name, which he just finds thrilling.

Literally, the first thing he asked for this morning when I went into his room, was to listen to this CD (the request sounds something like: "mooooosic puhleees"). And how could I argue? Any activity that keeps him entertained for 30'ish minutes is a winner in my book.

A tiny part of me does think that having his name injected in there doesn't exactly teach him the best lesson (that he's the center of the universe). But, at 20 months, I say, let the boy enjoy. And like any other media, moderation is key.

You might want to check out the site -- apparently it's Little Guy approved.

Zappos.com - The Ultimate Guys Shoe Store

For years, I've been impressed with Zappos.com. If you're a shoe lover, how can you not love the massive selection and details (like 275 reviews of a shoe - a shoe I tell you!).

But today, as I opened up a box of running shoes that I had ordered from them, it occurred to me they are the ultimate guys shoe store.

And why is this? Because, they allow me to trivially replace my running shoes with exactly the same make, model and size I have now. All it takes is a few clicks of the mouse, and two days later, my replacements show up. No worrying about shopping around. No fears that the new shoes won't fit as well as the old ones.

If you care deeply about shoes, Zappos is for you. If you couldn't care less about shoes, Zappos apparently is also for you.

Now, if they offered an automatic buying program where ever N months a fresh pair of shoes (of the same exact model I've been buying, of course) just magically appeared on my doorstep, well, that would simply be perfect.

Amazon offers this service with some products, and I use it for razor blades. No more running out and then having to go buy them at some overpriced store.

Hmmm, random thought: what if you had a business that offered the service of this automatic buying program? It wouldn't need to be limited to shoes, or any other product. The company would make any purchase off the web for you on a regular basis (from shoes, to sending flowers to your wife). You just set it, and forget it. They'd need to be experts in handling cases like when stuff goes out of stock. But that shouldn't be too difficult to handle.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

FosterParentsRock.com - Well Said.

I stumbled on this ad for FosterParentsRock.com at adrants. Check it out. I think it's really well done:

Watch the video

Of course, I may be a little biased.

On a related note: you can learn more about Arlington County's foster care services here. I know they are always looking for volunteers. (fosterparentsrock.com is apparently a Wisconsin based group.)

Monday, May 09, 2011

Review: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

There's no question in my mind, David Sederis is an amazing writer. His book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is proof. Somehow he effortlessly creates stories that let animals be animals, yet also give them human powers and concerns.

Take the first story: it's about a cat getting a pruning from a baboon. Which, of course, the cat is doing because he has a party coming up. And the poor baboon, every time he tries to strike up conversation with the cat, he steps in big time (Baboon: was at this wedding, and the couples wrote their own vows - yuck! Cat: Uh, we wrote our own vows -- that sort of thing). You wouldn't think this would work. Certainly my description doesn't do it justice. And yet, I found that I couldn't put the book down. Seceris' animal world is just too quirky.

There's only one itty bitty problem with the book: the stories are awful. Alright, awful is probably being too harsh. Sederis may have been going for dark humor - and I think he may have just hit dark. Each story seems more depressing than the last one.

I certainly have to give credit to Sederis - he's managed to find a clever way to poke fun at us humans, all while not making us the center of attention. But still, couldn't there have been at least a couple up beat stories?

For a book I didn't enjoy, I sure couldn't put it down. So, I guess I'd have to recommend it. If only to see the magic that Sederis can pull off. Just don't expect anything warm and fuzzy.

I Always Knew Biden Would Save Us All

Here's a fake trailer played during the White House Correspondents Dinner. It's classic stuff. Me, I never had any doubt that Biden can save us all.

View The Video

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Almost A Proper Dinner On The Deck.

The plan was coming together perfectly: our friends Nick and Lauren were able to pick up the deck furniture with their truck, Shira had a thank you dinner prepared and David was manning the grilling churning out perfect burgers, hot dogs and portabello mushrooms. Nick and I even managed to assemble the table and a couple of the chairs quickly enough that we were going to be able to eat on it.*

It was looking like our first meal on our deck with real deck furniture was really going to happen.

And then Mother-Nature stepped in, and the rain began. D'oh.

Oh well, the food tasted just as good inside as it would have outside, and the company was still delightful.

Best of all, I got to try out the Aquapak cell phone case my mom bought me for my birthday, to capture a few photos in the rain. I can confirm: (a) the G2 fits perfectly in it, (b) the touch screen works effortlessly through the case, (c) the camera works well too and (d) the whole setup is waterproof.

So, I guess you could say it was a win all around.

*For the record, we had 2 extra washers remaining, as well as 2 spare tiles. So yes, there were extra parts.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Random Nugget Of The Day: A List of Famous Lumberjack Nicknames

Just in case you thought you had seen everything on the Internet, I give you: Famous Lumberjack Nicknames -- filed under "L" in the Dictionary of Wisconsin History, of course.

I'm not sure why I find this list so fascinating. Perhaps I crave a nickname as cool as: Moonlight Pike or Three-fingered Ole.

There, you have your useless information of the day. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Review: Wild Cards: Edible Wild Foods

Learning about edible plants, without the help of a guide, is tricky business. The resources that make identification easy (guidebooks and the web) don't travel particularly well in the wilderness. And then there's a knowledge catch-22: you need a certain base level of knowledge to know what you're looking for, yet the resources available present you with so many possible plants, that it's hard to know where to start.

Enter Wild Cards, a deck of cards, where each card contains a photo and description of an edible plant. My Sister and Brother-in-law picked these cards up for my birthday (thanks guys!!), and so far, I've been really impressed.

First off, the cards are nice and portable (they also feel durable - perhaps water proof?), so I can easily bring them along when I'm out for a hike. They are also small enough that I can grab them and review them while I'm waiting in the doctor's office or if I have some other gray time. Because it's a deck of cards, you can even grab just a few, and focus on learning those. Or, use them as flash cards.

The cards also solve the problem of which of the gagillions of plants to learn first. Most of the 50 or so plants described are available throughout the US, and many are very common. Some, you'll already know, such as dandelions, roses, cat tails - which is a nice feeling.

The cards have a fair amount of information packed on them, including a photo, hand drawing, describing of what parts you can eat, additional identification methods ("small like mustard", for example) and how to prepare it.

Of course these cards don't replace a complete guidebook, or multiple guidebooks. But, as a beginner's tool, it's small enough to go everywhere, comprehensive, yet not overwhelming that you'll just give up on trying to learn all the information.

Incidentally, the weakest part of the cards is the the card part - both sides of the card have unique information on it. So, while the cards are marked like regularly playing cards, they can't be used without some modification (the directions suggest you cover the backs of the card with your hand). I think they'll work for playing card games, but they aren't ideal.

The real test should come in a few weeks, when I hope to spending a bunch of time outdoors. I've got to do some studying before then, and then keep my eyes peeled for possible bounty.

Your Dad Was Cool Before You Were, and Here's The Proof

You've got to love: Dads Are The Original Hipster. Sure, the photos are whacky, but the descriptions rock. Take this one on your dad's outdoor skills:

Your dad was into mother nature before you were and he has the tent popping skills to prove it. He knew that partying in the city was played out, so he stepped his game up and stepped into the great outdoors. With his Igloo cooler filled with sangria and man musk scented flannel, he marched cocksure into the wilderness. He was the Bear Grylls of his generation, but unlike Bear, he drank fragrant wine instead of his fragrant piss.

In an odd way, this may be one of the kindest sites dedicated to dads on the web.

In true Internet fashion, though, I should really dig up some old photos of my grandpa and start: GrandpasAreTheRealOriginalHipsters.com.

Thanks: BuzzFeed.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Review: Traveling Light: On The Road With America's Poor

Traveling Light: On the Road with America's Poor by Kath Weston was not exactly a book I was looking forward to reading (yes, actually reading, not listening to). The topic of America's poor sounded like it was going to make for some seriously depressing reading. But, I figured it was an import read none the less.

The first few pages left me a little dazed and confused. There was just something about the author's style that was "off."

Luckily, I stuck with it, and boy was I rewarded. While Weston's style may have started off a little disorienting (for reasons she explains an afterward in the book she uses present tense and no formal quotes - both for good reasons), I quickly adjusted and found that I couldn't put the book down.

Weston's approach to tackling the subject of the poor is brilliantly simple: she picks a destination, purchases a Greyhound ticket, and let's the experiences and adventures just happen. Heck, for not much more than the price of an airline ticket you can buy a Discovery Pass, which gives you 30 days unlimited riding anywhere in the US and Canada.

Having done many a marathon bus ride (Buffalo, NY to Philly - 12hrs baby!!), I've got a special affinity for Greyhound. Oh, were memories brought back. Some even good. The Rochester, NY station, where I grew up, did get a mention. Specially, as one of the most dangerous stations in the country. Ahhh, Rochester, we love you.

As for teaching me about the poor - I think Weston did a good job. This is a travelogue, not dissertation on how to handle America's needy. If Weston's goal was to raise awareness more than anything else, I think she's succeeded.

My two big take aways: read the book, it's entertaining and touching; adventure travel doesn't have to mean expensive plane tickets to a far off destination, it can be found as close as your local bus station.

Things I Would Never Do: Rock Climbing Edition

I was telling my brother about this trailer I caught a while back:

Alone on the Wall - First Ascent from Mountainfilm in Telluride on Vimeo.

Seriously, I get sweaty palms just watching it.

And only slightly less terrifying (only because there's at least rope involved) is this video:

Jumping off Cliffs in Utah from Mason Earle on Vimeo.

How people can manage to do these things is beyond me. But they sure are fun feats to watch!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Review: SmartLENS, Photojojo Fisheye, Macro and Wide Angle Camera Phone Lenses

My brother picked up these cell phone camera lenses for my birthday. What first shocked me was just how heavy the lenses are - these are real glass and metal, not some plasticy hack.

They work by magnetically attaching to a metal ring they provide you with. The ring has a bit of adhesive on it to stick to your cell phone.

The ring installed on my G2, and does get awfully close to the flash - but I think the flash should continue to work just fine with the ring installed.

The magnet on on the lens is wonderfully strong - it makes a very satisfying click as it attaches to the ring, and doesn't move unless you forcefully pull it off.

As for the quality of the lenses, there too, I'm impressed. Here's a few hastily shot tests with the fish eye and macro lens:

As you can imagine, I'm really impressed with these lenses. If you're even remotely into photography, they'll be a really fun addition to your camera phone.

RedBox - A Convenient Source For Kid's Road-Tripping Videos

We just got back from a super quick trip to Rochester (in on Friday evening, out Sunday morning - whew). And unlike in the past, we decided we'd drive - a decision we considered a little risky, considering we'd have a 20 month old along for the ride.

He's not old enough to be enamored with TV yet, so while he has his favorite youtube video, he doesn't really have a favorite TV show or DVD.

But, with 16 hours of drive time in the car, we figured now was a good time to find one.

Usually, we'd just rent videos from the library. But, for this trip, we hadn't pick up a movie until the last minute - and the local library branch was closed. That meant a trip to the central library, which could easily have turned into an hour long affair.

Instead, Shira had a brilliant idea: rent some kids videos down the street from RedBox. In fact, using their reservation ability, Shira was able to pick out the movie from home and send me to retrieve them. I swiped my credit card and out popped two movies. It couldn't have been faster. And while they didn't have a huge selection of young kid movies, they had enough for our purposes.

And of course, this being RedBox, we could just return the movies at our destination, and optionally rent new ones for the trip home.

In the end, we only ended up watching one 30 minute episode from The Cat In Hat: Tales About Tails. After 30 minutes, our little one lost interest and was ready for a new form of entertainment. But still, those 30 minutes were precious.