December 20, 2008

Ice storm = no internet, no cable!

The massive ice storm during the last two days caused our internet to go down and consequently our cable connection. That was certainly not as bad as no heat or electricity, but it did make for an interesting day.

This was a tough day to be a kid or a mom in our house, but not a low tech dad. It was hard to be a kid because Friday was the beginning of the Club Penguin holiday party, which has been highly anticipated in our house. So it was a kid technology withdrawal day. When friends called, kids couldn't talk about being on Club Penguin because only the one with the internet could hang out, virtually. It wasn't quite the same even though they were both hanging out on the phone.

Most of the day was devoted to staying warm and then going outside to de-ice the driveway and sidewalk and picking up the many branches that fell. That's what always happens during a storm -- too much energy goes into handling the storm. Still, school was cancelled and all of us were at home and no one wanted to go very far away from a yard.

Instead, we made penguin cookies, worked on our Christmas cards, played Wii games, and read. I made a great kale and white bean soup that was a hit (even tho everyone agreed it didn't look quite that great).

The cable and internet went on a little during the day, then zipped off again. Finally, late in the evening the tech stuff went on. We were happy bunnies!

December 12, 2008

Is your child's EF more important than IQ?

EF is short for Executive Function. Sounds like a management theory. Nope, it's the newest theory for understanding how children navigate their world, particularly during school. Some experts think it's a more realistic marker than IQ.

Great Schools has a good overall article about EF from October. If you haven't checked out the Great School website before, browse around after reading the article because it's a great wealth of information about schools in general and then drills down to your child's school details.

Executive Function is about how well kids (or any age really) organize, focus, pace themselves, manage time. The better kids are at skills like these the better they'll do in school. Sounds obvious, but it's not quite what it seems.

As it turns out, creative play set up by children themselves is one of the best ways for children to become good at EF. NPR had an interesting series about this

But neuroscientist Adele Diamond and psychologist Deborah Leong have good news: The best kind of play costs nothing and really only has one main requirement — imagination.

When children learn to rely on themselves for playtime — improvising props, making up games and stories — they're actually developing critical cognitive skills, including an important one called "executive function," they say. Essentially, executive function is the ability to regulate one's own behavior — a key skill for controlling emotions, resisting impulses and exerting self control and discipline.

Wow! So all these hours schlepping kids from one mind-enhancing or sports activity to another might not be as good as just letting them run around the yard, fiddling with Legos and Barbies, even daydreaming

December 02, 2008

Study shows teens developing social skills online

When teen-agers are online they use the time to develop friendship and to gain knowledge on subjects that interest them, according to a significant new study funded by the MacArthur Foundation that was released in November.

“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online,” said Mizuko Ito, University of California, Irvine researcher and the report’s lead author. “There are myths about kids spending time online – that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”
While I am still somewhat weirded out by blogging, teens, and those younger, see the internet as an extension of themselves. Marshall McLuhan envisioned this, but even though I thought his idea was cool many years ago, I had difficult understanding it. But now I can see tweens chatting on Club Penguin and playing in much the same way that they do during recess or on a playground. They still interact creatively, but CP and other spaces like it gives them another dimension for hanging out.

I also posted a comment today on ReadWriteWeb about a new book that suggests kids don't have to memorize any more. I noted that kids have to memorize still. Memorization is an integral part of learning; it's one of several parts. To assume that you're always going to have the web handy is to become used to a crutch. You have to know basic math facts, basic history dates, etc. Memorization does not have to be hard. In fact, I have found recently that it's actually pretty easy for kids, especially with good motivation.

Coming back to the MacArthur study, I think it is just the beginning of understanding how technology is changing how kids learn and use new media for pulling together their ideas. But I don't think that, at this point, technology can significantly change how our brains work. They're still good for memorizing. And they're still pliable to try out something new to be used for experiences we're always seeking as humans: friendships, comfort, attainable challenges.

November 30, 2008

50,000 words and counting!

The last two weeks I've been meaning to post several different thoughts. But my writing time has been devoted to focusing on getting to the 50,000 words of NaNoWriMo. And I did it this year, again! Whew!

There were several great things about this year's experience. The first was that I started a new region. We started with just me and turned into a group of 70 people. We had Write-in every week and I met several interesting people. Just having this group get together seems to be a success.

I had better control of pacing this year. Writing a couple thousand words a day, to make up for days that I didn't write, seemed more doable this year. It was a relief to be able to have a social life, organize the NaNo group, and enjoy Thanksgiving. I'm now motivated to edit some previous work, and keep going on other writing projects.

November 18, 2008

The President-elect belongs to 57th St. books

The weekend after the huge victory party for Barak Obama in Grant Park, we were in Chicago for a big party in the suburbs. But we worked out our travel plans so we would have most of Saturday to hang out downtown. A few of the tents from the victory event the previous Tuesday night were still up. The tents seemed similar to ones we had seen a few weeks earlier for the Chicago marathon.

Chicagoans seemed elated and a little dazed. As a former Chicagolander, the impact of Obama's victory was just sinking in. Suddenly, we were not in the Second City, but the first city in a way. We were now in Crawford, Texas; Martha's Vineyard; Abilene, Kansas. The world had changed in a wonderful new way. People around the world would see how proud Chicagoans are of not just the sports teams, but the culture, the museums, the gourmet restaurants, the music from Lollapalooza to the Symphony, the art, the beautiful parks along the Lake.

I was working in The Loop when Harold Washington won his mayoral race and I remember the mood in Chicago as being very different. As my friends probably correctly observed later in the weekend, the feeling after Washington won was the power each ethnic group feels as one of its own takes over the city. Personally, as a young white woman, I found it intimidating. The mood literally changed overnight from a city that was kind of working together to one group looking down on the others with sneers of pride. It was not a particularly pleasant time in Chicago, which I am sorry to say. In These Times remembers it differently. Race relations eventually took a big leap forward in the city as a result of Washington's election and leadership.

But the elated atmosphere after Obama's win felt very different. The entire city seemed to swell with pride. Many of the faces of the people in Grant Park that Tuesday night looked beatific and hopeful. This is a moment that seems to be bringing people together, bridging over past differences and seeing a way that maybe people can work together. After so many years of Bush 43 telling us 'you're either with us or against us,' people seemed to feel relief that we could be proud of our diversity but yet find that to be a great strength of the country. Our optimism, another important element of the national psyche, was being invited back.

Still, I think if you talk with most people these days, our optimism is tempered with reality. The financial collapse and spiraling mess means that the future is complicated no matter who would be president. At least we finally have a president-elect that speaks in complete sentences, reads books, has a nice core family, and listens to a wide variety of people's ideas before making decisions. Those basics seem like a decent place to start.

The photo was taken by the great graphic novelist Alison Bechdel on her recent book signing trip to Chicago. It's of the 57th Street Bookstore in Hyde Park, a few blocks from Obama's home. The bookstore is one of my family's favorites. It feels fine that it's also a frequently visited place by the Obamas. Here's a link to their weblog and the latest books they are promoting.

November 04, 2008

Elementary Students Voting

Yesterday (Monday, Nov. 3), elementary students across the country had their own voting experience. Studies Weekly and Woogi World set up a safe way for students to vote in class on the Internet for the Democrat and Republican choice for President. This press release explains a few more details.

"We have no AARP to lobby for us. We have not voice at all," explains kids talking to one of the President's advisor in the TV series "West Wing." The clip is shown on the Woogi World page explaining the benefits of why it's important to get children at least interested in the election process. It's a stirring clip when you think about how much children are effected by the government and how little a voice they have in what happens to them.

According to the children's reports from yesterday's votes, Obama won over McCain in a similar electoral college vote split that has been predicting for the last month or so. This gives some credence to the polls, but who knows? The weather is beautiful, but the lines are supposed to be long.

Children have been fascinated by this election along with their parents. It's been in the news for nearly two years, so if their parents talk at all about current events, the presidential and local elections have to be in the conversation mix. Obama's young daughters have also probably drawn in elementary school children.

I'm glad that there are processes this year for kids to have a way to vote. I've always thought that this is one of the greatest social studies lessons for school kids. And it's an interesting intersection of high tech and teaching.

November 02, 2008

Remembering Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel died over the weekend. Legendery as an interviewer, radio personality, writer, political activist, signer of petitions, agitator, champion of the working guy. A chapter in Chicago's history has closed.

The photo above was taken when Studs was speaking at his annual gig at the Printer's Row Book Fair in Chicago this past June. He was accompanied by Rick Kogan and Elizabeth Taylor, both of the Chicago Tribune. Since Studs was deaf, they were there mostly as support and to get him started at the beginning. Many in the audience in the Chicago Public Library auditorium came each year to the Book Fair just to hear Studs regale them with his stories about the old days. But he always had an amazing passion for politics, for keeping politicians on their toes, reminding them of the little guy, reminding everyone that we had to keep standing up for what we believed in, even if the idea was unpopular at first.

This was the second time we heard Studs at the Book Fair, but it was especially interesting as we had created a project on Studs Terkel during the spring for a third grade project on famous Illinoisians. My mother had asked, why Studs Terkel? And I said that well, for one we had heard him speak, he had lived for nearly a century so that we could learn about a lot of history, he was definitely rooted in Chicago, and because he was someone with many admirable traits. Yes, he was also known for being a bit stubborn. But that made him human.

Studs had an amazing ability to interview people. Maybe his style was not orthodox objective journalism style. But he was never very orthodox and he came of age before objective journalism became the norm in the 1950s. Reading through books such as Working or listening to his interviews of famous people on WFMT shows what a skilled listener and observer Studs was. He had an innate ability to show his interviewees that he could stumble, that somehow opened up an avenue for them to be human as well. A professor I knew was interviewed by both Studs Terkel and Larry King. King is notorious for not doing any homework before interviewing his subjects and that was the professor's experience as well, which he found rather rude. But Studs, he said, had underlined his book, highlighted specific passages, and, consequently asked better questions and conducted the interview in a more enlightened way.

I frequently don't get as involved in politics as perhaps I could. But Studs Terkel, even in June, was always standing up for what he believed. Even though he was knocked out by NBC in the 1950s for his controversial opinions and signing petitions the upper brass thought were not politically correct, Studs kept signing the petitions and voicing his views. He did not let other people stop him from being who he was, wrinkles and all.

We don't have so many people left who tell it like it is any more. Chicago isn't as gritty or as gutsy as it was even ten years ago. It's now more high gloss and varnish, less substance.

Studs was a great writer, a great champion of important and diverse causes and people. He was the real thing and he will be missed by many.

A great place to start researching Studs Terkel is the Chicago Historical Society's Studs Terkel page. We enjoyed watching segments from his 1950s TV show from Chicago "Stud's Place" which also starred Win Stracke.

October 31, 2008

Halloween Legos

In the spirit of combining high tech and parenting, here's an interesting site for making Legos celebrate Halloween.
Standard LED lights fit into the heads of Lego guys. You have to carve out their eyes and mouth to get the light to shine through. Cool

October 29, 2008

Pie Pumpkins

We were out a pumpkin farm a few weeks ago. The farm grows pumpkins that turn into the canned pumpkins that Libby sells. I was surprised how different the pumpkins are than the ones we associate with Halloween. These are very light orange, almost white. They are cylindrical in shape, not stout and round.

We were able to take a few home. So I will be fascinated to taste how they turn into a pumpkin pie at home.

In the fall, when the weather is beautiful, sometimes it's more fun to be outside, enjoy the weather, rather than think of anything high tech.

October 15, 2008

Importance of Handwashing and Remembering those in Poverty

Today people around the world are being asked to consider the importance of handwashing and to remember those in poverty.

Here's the info about handwashing

The practice of handwashing with soap tops the international hygiene agenda this year with the first-ever Global Handwashing Day, slated for Wednesday 15 October 2008. With 2008 as the UN International Year of Sanitation, the Global Handwashing Day will echo and reinforce its call for improved hygiene practices.

The agencies leading the Global Handwashing Day efforts are part of the Global PPPHW and include the Water and Sanitation Program, UNICEF, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USAID through the Hygiene Improvement Project, Procter and Gamble and Unilever.

The guiding vision of Global Handwashing Day is a local and global culture of handwashing with soap. Although people around the world wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at the critical occasions.

The fascinating thing is that handwashing is easy, but not everyone does it. Or we don't all do it quite right. But handwashing can help reduce disease and save lives.

Also today's topic for annual Blog Action Day is to talk about poverty. This is a great link at Momcrats which poignantly shows the importance of personalizing poverty and show how important it is to help everyone. The Bridge Community in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, is a group a friend used to work for. I think its worthwhile to highlight local groups, as well as those helping out on the big picture.

I have also been impressed with the organization and distribution of the Midwest Food Bank. They do great things for people throughout the center of the country, from New Orleans up and now for people in poverty around the world.

October 14, 2008

NaNoWriMo Kick Off

The first meeting of the Bloomington-Normal regional forum is tomorrow -- Wednesday -- Oct 15. Yeah! Hope to see a lot of writers there.

October 09, 2008


Well, I'm new Municipal Liaison for a new municipal forum on NaNoWriMo. I've spent the last two days going to coffeehouses, bookstores, and libraries around town putting up fliers about upcoming events. It's a nice excuse to compare all the coffeehouses around here -- so many more than when I first came to town.

Last year, I did NaNoWriMo without a local region, but did go to many of the events on the Second Life NaNoWriMo group. That really helped motivate me. But this year I'm hoping it will be good to be around other writers who are pounding out so many words. It's hard to comprehend how all those words get written. I would really like to start writing now, but that's not allowed. I am putting together my ideas.

I'm glad the Presidential elections come at the beginning of the month. Otherwise, I might let that consume too much psychic energy. Maybe I will have my characters participate in some kind of political event while I'm watching TV Nov. 4.

October 07, 2008

How mean will people become as they loose in the financial crisis?

One of the reasons that I don't want a Republican in the White House is that the current President has modeled behavior that encourages meanness and inflexibility. His arrogance at telling people "It's My Way or the Highway" has created a culture that celebrates this style of behavior. It is not the kind of behavior that is allowed in almost any elementary school. Children are taught respect and responsibility.

But children must see the discrepancy between what they are being taught and how leaders are behaving. Greed is Good! Spending Money is Good! My Way is Best!

For example, last week my family went out to the local PUBLIC tennis courts that are nearest to our home. We wanted to show DH how much DS has progressed from tennis lessons. We had been practicing on the courts during the week. On a Friday at around 5 p.m., we thought we'd show Dad. The courts, in fact the park, had been empty during the week. Well, the high school cross-country team had been practicing on the tiny park hills. But kids were not playing on the playground equipment and no one had been on the courts. In fact, the courts seemed to have been empty for a long time because we had to spend five minutes on each visit clearing away the green, decaying black walnuts, looking like shriveled tennis balls, that littered the courts.

Unfortunately, the Friday we went was at the end of the first week of Congress debates about the financial bailout. The stock market was beginning to plummet. The depth of despair over bad times was beginning to sink in everywhere, even in our little city.

The couple -- late 50s -- were hitting balls back-and-forth, not serving. We watched them play and I noted how nicely they were at keeping the ball going. We carefully walked over to the other court.

When the guy was collecting his balls, I mentioned that we were still learning, as a way to warn him of DS's skills. The guy then launched into a tirade, very angry, about how we should not have walked behind him while he was playing. He said something about how we would not walk into his living room, so we shouldn't walk near him when he was playing. This was on a public court.

Maybe the guy had a point, that we should've been more careful. But I was watching carefully and did walk in the back of the court.

But the guy spoke to us in such an obnoxious, angry manner, never really looking at us, just yelling, that whatever his message might have been was obscured by his emotions. His wife seemed embarrassed. She was also the better player.

We decided to leave. I yelled at him about how he obviously wasn't good at sportsmanship.

The guy made us all mad. He took away some of the fun we were having with tennis and instead showed the part that I hate about sports: the anger, the one-up-manship, the ugliness.

I think the guy was also coming off a bad week. He had probably lost a lot of money in his stock portfolio. He was not in as good a shape as he might have been when he was younger and his wife was obviously playing better. The world didn't seem as good as it might have a few Septembers ago.

This guy is just the tip of the iceberg. There's going to be a lot of testosterone (of both males and females) blowing up in many more nastier and evil ways over how the world has changed, the financial markets are a mess, and certainty is gone. I wish that civility would come back, but I think they're a long time gone.

September 10, 2008

SL talk for AWC

Today I'm presenting a talk about Second Life for the local chapter for Association for Women in Communication.

Second Life is great, but wow, rather time consuming I'm always reminded while putting this presentation together with so many different programs open at once.

The one thing that struck me the most while putting this together is that there are now 150 virtual reality places for children, tweens, and teens that are either live, being tested, or in development. And it's still hard for me to convince adults to inhabit SL.

September 04, 2008

Rollercoaster rider

Did you notice that Sarah Palin's teenage daughter was always holding onto her boyfriend in every photo shot at the RNC on Wednesday night? She looked like she was on a roller coaster rider and didn't want to let go.

Here's more observations from my post on -- what a cool site!As I heard Palin's speech, I was struck by the meanness of her tone. What began as spunk turned into "snarky attacks," to quote the Blogher woman on CNN. My husband was particularly turned off by her attack mode with jabs we felt were below the belt punches.

Does anyone really think that Palin's husband is going to move to Washington, D.C. full time? He's a champion snowmobiler, racing since the early 1990s. He needs snow and lots of it. Will he keep his jobs, too, as he has while she's governor of Alaska, because "they need the money"?

Also, to the above commentator, parents are frequently held responsible for their teen children actions. For example, many laws send parents to jail, or fine them, for having under-age drinking at their house, even if the parents are away. Parents of pregnant teens can strongly urge their children to marry, whereas it's harder to do that for those over 18. (Unfortunately, most of the early marriages don't work. Ask Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, etc.) Parents are often legally held accountable... for a variety of kids' actions.

Here's an interesting discussion by self-described "politically incorrect rights" on pregnant teens. I can only imagine how many other red state of minds are debating this. And here's a post from the Guttmacher Institute: Family planning clinics would prevent 1.4 million unplanned pregnancy including reduce teen pregnancies 20 percent.

September 02, 2008

Coming together

Are all socially conservative Evangelicals thrilled about the Sarah Palin choice for VP? That's the impressions that's being pushed through the media, but it's hard for me to believe. Are they really against abortion but support teen pregnancy? Is this the positive role model that they're looking for? Are family values advocates jumping up and down for father with five children who has one job that require him to be away from home one week on/one week off and two others that also require him to be away for long stretches. (It would be different if he was around his kids while working.)

I hope the Obama-Biden campaign keeps chugging away. The photo that I took at rally for them seemed indicative of the broad support the ticket has and why it may succeed.

I posted on the site about my problems with Palin as a mother of five with one special needs child running. I just don't see it as a positive for all the reasons people note there. I want to add, too, that I wondered from the beginning about Barack Obama running with his children so young. School started today in Chicago, so they didn't miss the first days of school for the DNC convention, but I did wonder about what will happen to them with school in the fall. Michelle Obama seemed confident as a mother and I feel pretty good that the children will be ok. But it is fair to hope that both Obamas can balance family and work life effectively.

Also, I saw that Susie Bright posted on She has a short post about Joe Biden's link to the R.A.V.E. Act, a drug law. When I first read about this somewhere else, especially about an interesting documentary on the law, I wasn't even sure this was real. But it is. Biden did tuck in a very tough law that allows law enforcement to go after organizers of raves as well as a few other actions. Can't say these laws endear me to Biden. Maybe he will cool off with influence from Obama.

The documentary, "Generation E," explains on its website: On April 30, 2003, President Bush signed the R.A.V.E. Act, a federal law making it a felony to organize an event or operate any type of space where illicit drug activities would take place. The bill was originally written to punish rave and nightclub promoters who threw parties where young people took ecstasy and other "club drugs." Generation E traces the government's fight against rave and ecstasy culture during the past decade..

People shouldn't be doing illegal drugs, but raves, are also gathering places for people to dance and exchange ideas ... which usually is a good thing. I guess it's not so good if you're a protester at the RNC this week.

In other news, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman was arrested while trying to do her job interviewing protestors in St. Paul at the RNC. Her perspective on the news is so different than anyone else's. Listen to her podcasts if your local radios stations are too wimpy to air her show.

School's In!

Back to school means that I'm back to finding supplements that work. Yesterday, while visiting with a friend's mother who's also a professor of education, I told her about the many ways that I had found workbooks and online programs to help the education process. In retrospect, it probably sounded like bragging. But I was just so excited to share what I had found that works.

She said that it sounds like I could be homeschooling. Yeah. Maybe I should have.

But that's the point. Parents really do have to supplement more than ever before. Our education system has evolved into a more pressure cooker situation where we're asking schools, parents and children to do more, even as everything costs more, too. Is it too much?

I've been talking to parents of high school seniors about how much they really have to be involved, not just their kids. There are a multitude of deadlines for seniors. Missing one could be fatal. And we all miss deadlines, so it's good to have parents as back-ups.

Or there's the dad who's helping to coach his 10-year-old son's football team. Four nights a week for two hours plus games on the weekends. What kind of time commitment is that?

It's routine around here for kids to practice soccer 2 to 3 night a week and games on Saturday.

And then there are parents, like me, who drag our family to see Obama and Biden because I think seeing the political process in action and watching the media do their job is just as an important educational lesson as anything they'll get in school.

February 23, 2008

Singing toothbrushes

Getting kids to brush their teeth can be a difficult job. They just don't want to take the time. So I'm always buying new toothbrushes that have some sort of gimmick. The one that's working the best in our house right now is Tooth Tunes by Hasbro.

We had tried this last fall, but did not have success. Then my sister said her kids loved it and added that anything to get tweens to brush their teeth is worth it, even if the toothbrushes costs a little more. So Grandma got all the grandchildren a Tooth Tunes.

Grandma also got an education in popular songs with kids. A 10-year-old boy at the Wal-Mart where grandma shopped explained to her the popularity of High School Musical, and suggested that Corbin Bleu's tunes were okay. Weirdly, my mom knew about the song "YMCA" because she had done aerobics to it. Okay.

The music only works when you are physically brushing your teeth. It stops if you stop brushing. The songs play for 2 minutes.

My sister has a pretty good idea for an updated version. She would like to be able to sync the toothbrush up to her computer (maybe via a USB connection) so she could download new songs. The concept of a computerized tooth brush is almost bizarre at first. But I think this could be viable.

In other parenting tech news, we have signed onto the new Build-A-Bearville. So far it is not as elegant as we had hoped. I will write more later.

February 12, 2008

Valentine's Day crafts

Ah, Valentine's Day! Another opportunity for crafting. We are making Valentines that look like cell phones, from an idea in this month's Family Fun magazine. I decided to do the text on the computer using clear and white mailing labels. This saved us time writing in names and signatures and made the card look more authentic.

The best part is that the buttons are actually those candy dots. I think the kids will figure that out. Maybe they look a little homemade, but at least they will be different and interesting to hold. Perhaps they will spark some imaginations.

We all liked the idea that we are giving kids cell phones for Valentine's Day.

I also wanted to make a link to these 1950s Valentines that were originally linked at I think I am going to use the images for something. They bring back a time that's sweeter, perhaps. But then, as one poster noted, the guns on the pirates and cowboys would probably not be appreciated on cards sent among schoolchildren today. Was it a more innocent time then? I never quite thought so. But there is something perhaps a little more imaginative in these cards than the plethora of cartoon-linked cards that are basically all I can find in stores today. That's kind of why we are making our own.

We're also supposed to make a box to put the cards in. Sort of forgot about that until one of the other schoolmates explained that she had already completed hers. And that last year her brother made one that floated around the room, as it was attached to a balloon. Here are some of the most clever Valentine box ideas I've found so far. These boxes were made by second and third graders, supposedly, altho I think that lots of parents helped.

This year I'm putting my creative juices into helping out on Valentine's instead of a Pinewood Derby car. I've attempted too many of those cars and find it absolutely frustrating. The whole thing becomes much too competitive, even among the kindest groups. I am not a NASCAR fan. I don't know enough about woodworking to even want to show off any miniscule amount of talent I may have in that area. Why anyone thinks Pinewood Derby cars are fun year after year is beyond me...? Why not every other year?

Valentine's Day still has that wonderful goofiness for elementary school children. Before you have those heart-wrenching crushes, the holiday is about getting a small gift, eating candy, and celebrating in the middle of a freezing cold winter.

February 11, 2008

Sleep-over party materials

Last summer, when we purchased a Nintendo DS very few other children in our neighborhood seemed to own one. A cousin had one, and another cousin had a Sony PSP, but that seemed to be geared to older children. We had been lusting over the DS at the local, independent video game, CD, DVD, magazine store. The owner had been as fascinated as we were at the popularity of the DS games over the PSPs.

But now, not even a year later, many of the boys at the latest slumber party or camp-in events that our family has been involved in have brought their DS players and games. They didn't seem to have planned this. It's just that it happened. They played each other's games, helped some get over difficult hurdles that others could finessed, and text messaged every one in the room. The limited range of the wi-fi-style text messaging baffles me, but it must serve some kind of need.

At school last week, the kids could bring in special items if they donated a $1 a day to the local children's hospital fund. Last Friday was bring a video game or CD player. One girl brought her iDog extreme attached to a CD player. Most of the kids seemed to have DS players. Two of the most unlikeliest kids (a boy and a girl) had PSP players. I label them unlikely because the PSP players are more expensive and the games are more sophisticated. I didn't think the two children quite fit into the typical PSP demographic. But who knows?

Still, the taking over the DS world is fascinating and has been swift.

Even more breathtakingly fast has been the kids' involvement with Webkinz. A typical girl seems to have 10. The latest thing to buy on Webkinz is a bathtub to give your animals a bath. So many online webkinz got baths that I finally decided it was time for a child's Real World shower. Because it would make him "cleaner, happier and healthier, too!"

February 06, 2008

It's nicer to be on the winning side

After we vote here, we get a small oval sticker that says "I Voted" with a flag underneath. I noticed that many people were wearing them as we shopped the bargains early Tuesday morning. They are a kind of badge of honor.

Yet, they look a lot like those stickers that say "I Gave Blood." During the last several years, voting has seemed somewhat like giving blood, putting your hopes and principles into a small black circle with all the pain and dismal frustration that goes into such a decision. Especially when you realize that you'll probably loose. I got queasy every time I looked at the sticker, as I faint around blood easily. (obviously I never had a future in medicine)

But yesterday the voters in my school district passed both a referendum and a .1 tax increase to improve the schools, build new ones, and improve security. I worked a little on promoting a Yes vote. So I feel pretty good that both parts passed. My son is in one of the test classrooms and is thrilled about the Smart Board connected to a computer. The kids seem to respond to it extremely well. The complete overhaul of the classroom has contributed tremendously to a better learning environment.

I hate that taxes have to go up, but I think that investing in the future through children and schools is necessary.

Barack Obama also won my state. Yeah! I worked on helping get on the vote for him, too.

I am thrilled that for once my hopes and beliefs aligned with the greater community.

February 03, 2008

Child-Safe Web Browsers on the Mac

The time has come in our house to find a good child-friendly web browser for the Macintosh. Our choice, so far, is Bumper Car. Is this the best brower for us? Perhaps.

A year ago or so, we tried out "Kid Browser." The idea of it seemed good, but it seemed more limiting than what we were looking for. We had difficulty with just working through all the website we wanted to turn into bookmarks. I notice that there's a new version out, so probably will download it again and see how it works. It also includes an area for math flashcards, Lite Brite-type art, and pixel drawing. I noticed that there are only 988 registered users in the parental chat area. The creators are thinking of adding a kids' social area. This review has good screen shots, and as the writer notes, it's just available for the Macintosh. As this review notes, once Kid Browser is loaded it takes over the entire screen. We found that somewhat limit, altho I'm sure lots of parents would like this aspect.

Looking at the several child oriented browsers listed at Tech Republic, it's clear that there are a lot more options for Windows users. Half way down this article from "The X Lab" is a list of some Mac browsers for kids.

I did try the Parental Controls on Safari. From what I can figure out, the main thing that it does is allow a user only to get onto the sites put on the Bookmark Bar. Since I usually just use the Bar for the sites I visit most frequently, I had to rethink my approach to the Bar. Essentially this limits a user to just a few sites. I just think this is too limiting. It requires a lot of work on the parents' part to put on all the sites in the Bar. After awhile, the Bar gets full. Parental Controls also takes away the Google window.

This leads us to Free Verse software's Bumper Car [BC], which is an overlay on Safari. The name comes from the design in some of its options that looks like a bumper car moving around to different categories. It looks best under Young Child for Home. BC comes with many websites pre-approved on Whitelists. Parents can add to the Whitelists, or add to the Favorites in the Bookmark Menu. Parents can also pre-determine information that a child can put into forms or type in online (I think). This would prevent children from giving out their name, phone number, email, or address.

Another control that can be customized is blocking words on a website. The list of x-rated possible words is rather long. Unfortunately, when we tried to practice this week's spelling list on Wizard Spell, Bumper Car blocked it. I am not sure what was happening because, as you can imagine, the words on a third grade spelling list are not x-rated. But somehow Bumper Car thought there were different words.

Bumper Car can be downloaded for $29.94, or the CD with the same written descriptions as available on the website can be purchased. This seems a fair charge.

Bumper Car only works with OS 10.4 or higher. Bumper Car also recommends and shows how to create a child's account using OS 10.4

I have spent more than an hour customizing Bumper Car so that it includes the popular kid programs in our household. I forsee more time putting in sites, but that is okay.

Another nice aspect is that you can control how far afield child users can link some the original website. You can specify two pages or up to 8. You can also control how long a user can be on Bumper Car and what hours during the day. This works.

I haven't upgraded to the new Mac OS, which has more parental controls. So I'm not quite sure what more I'll be able to do.

So far Bumper Car I seem to be able to customize it more than Kid Browser and seems more geared to older children. I'll be interested how long we use it

February 01, 2008

Snow Day

A huge snowstorm has blasted into the Midwest covering every blemish of mud with a soft, sandy snow. It's like someone went overboard and dumped 7 inches of granulated sugar everywhere. Sometimes it seems rather sad to shovel the snow when it's so beautiful. But responsibility takes over. We know we have to get out of the driveway sooner or later, even though right now the whole town is hunkered down because no one can go anywhere, except for the snow plows and those with all-wheel drive who are desperate to get out.

I haven't been posting a lot lately. During December, the exuberant madness of holiday events always seems to be overwhelming. And then my mother came for a visit at Christmas, the first time in years. So I had to clean up years worth of dust. I bought new furniture over the internet, at and Then I had to put it together, which was more fun than I thought. I still have two pieces for my office I have yet to put together. So far I have been happy with the quality. It's better than anything I could buy around here. Also everything was delivered by the UPS guy, who got to know us pretty well. Consequently, we didn't have to rent a truck. Buying furniture this way has turned out great.

Another reason I haven't posted is that the primary elections have just been too much. ( I know GDAEman is probably upset that I haven't posted about the elections.) I keep thinking I should start a separate blog with my political ideas, as that doesn't seem what this blog is totally about.

Anyway, my main problem is that I cannot understand how so many people can be supporting Hillary Clinton. The more I think about it, the less I can comprehend it. I have read about too many women who are supporting Hillary because they want to see a woman elected president in their lifetime. They feel that their generation of women (i.e. Baby Boomers who believe they are entitled to everything) has conquered everything else, so it's time to climb the mountain and do the presidency, too. They completely neglect that she is running for president because she has gotten this far with help from her husband. I don't see how living in the White House qualifies anyone for 'experience.' How many women out there can jump into their husband's job on 'Day One'? I feel like I am watching a puzzling conundrum.

I think Barack Obama has some kind of sensibility that makes him a motivating leader that can really help lead the U.S. into a better future.

And yet, what will happen if Obama doesn't win the nomination?

But, I continue to remain hopeful that the U.S. can emerge better than it is now, no matter who leads.