Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Zone of Parental Illiteracy

My kids' school is about five miles from our home. Walking is not really an option, especially if you don't want to listen to kids whining about how tired they are after walking about 2.4 seconds. So, twice a day, I brave the mini-van jungle surrounding school at the beginning and end of the day. You've never seen 'mad' until you've seen the reaction of a mom who's been cut in line by another mom. It's not pretty. All I have to say is 'Thank God for the Police'.

I've discovered something odd, however. Surrounding this wonderful institution of learning (the teachers and staff rock!) is this invisible zone that somehow zaps parents' ability to read street signs. I call it the Zone of Parental Illiteracy. It's particularly strong in the morning, and its strength is directly proportional to the number of minutes late the parent is when dropping off his or her child. Otherwise brilliant parents somehow have their brains sucked out of their heads when they arrive at the school at 7:41 am. The fact that we're frequently several minutes late ourselves means I see this peculiar condition pretty much every day.

Now, Geeks tend to Follow the Rules rather closely. That's because if we fail to follow rules when coding HTML or installing a DVD drive, Bad Things Happen. This is usually followed shortly thereafter by the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. The BSOD is the computer's way of giving us 'the bird'. We Geeks are a little sensitive about that kind of thing, so we try to prevent it as much as possible by following rules and instructions carefully.

It also drives us nuts when others do not follow the rules, especially in a school zone. I mean, we're supposed to be examples on rule-keeping for the kids, not rule-breaking, unless you're going for the goal of having your child live in prison from age 18 to whenever the warden's tired of seeing his face. It's bad enough that kids test our brake-stomping reflex by running across the street from between parked SUVs that block any view of tell-tale kid movement. It's a zillion times worse when a parent does the same thing, because you expect parents to behave like, well, adults.

We were running a little late this morning, and apparently the planets were all aligned in some kind of weird conjunction. This, of course, made the Zone of Parental Illiteracy particularly strong. I had to drive around a car parked without its owner in the zone marked "No Parking: Pick up and Drop Off Only." The owner could have parked just 50 feet back instead of taking up one of the spots closest to the school. I'll be generous and think that maybe this parent had to drop off two dozen brownies and had a sprained ankle that forced her to park there rather than an illiterate brain. It worked out all right anyway, because I ended up in the very front drop-off spot, which all mini-van moms know is The Prime Spot. As I pulled out of the Prime Spot, another mom passed me. She, apparently under the influence of a particularly strong dose of the Parental Illiteracy Zone, abruptly stopped in the "No Stopping" Zone. I'm not entirely sure what part of "No Stopping" is unclear, but it was. Anyway, she screeched to a halt and threw open her doors so quickly that I had to swerve to avoid making her a permanent addition to the front of my van. I've got lots of bugs decorating the front grille. I don't need people parts cluttering it up. Fortunately, I was able to avoid her and the oncoming van that had the foresight to anticipate my swerve by swerving out of my way. It was rather coordinated-looking, actually. If minivans could do the Macarena, that's probably what it would have looked like.

Maybe we need talking signs for the Parental Illiteracy Zones. It could say something like "Hey, you!! Yes, you, stopping in the 'No Stopping' zone. What, can't you read? If they wanted to make you the exception, they would have put your name on the damn sign!! Now get your minivan out of there before I call the cops!" That certainly would get a parent's attention.

The worst thing is that if this mom had waited like .3 seconds, she could have had the Prime Spot. Not only is this spot closest to the school, it also is a zillion times safer because the kids then don't have to run between parked cars and across a driveway busy with school buses. Apparently the Zone of Parental Illiteracy shared space with the Zone of Parental Stupidity today.

What I find curious is that the Zone of Parental Illiteracy appears to evaporate when a police officer drives around the school. Suddenly, everyone knows how to read. No one double parks, and no one parks in the 'No Parking' sections. The 'No Stopping' zones are blissfully free of stopped cars. Maybe the cops could just leave a squad car or two parked around the school block to keep the Zone of Parental Illiteracy at bay. That is, as long as they don't park in the Prime Spot.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Happy Memorial Day!!

I hope you had a good time today with family and friends. The family and I spent the day sleeping in, and then doing some yardwork to get ready to plant our petunias and sweet william. We also grilled out like every American does, and then played some D&D as a family in the evening. We had a happy geeky time advancing through our game and killing off hobgoblins and other monsters.

Doing yardwork, of course, meant that I went on a weed search-and-destroy mission. I loathe, despise, hate, and otherwise bear negative sentiments towards creeping charlie, and I gleefully sprayed Round-up all over the obnoxious little viney things. I couldn't decide today which was more evil--the creeping charlie or Trusty Nemesis (and Friend) Emperor Devon from Lucasforums. I bet Emperor Devon will send me a pot of creeping charlie just because he's ornery that way. He makes an excellent Nemesis. :D

While I was busy being the one-woman hunter-killer unit in the backyard theater employing my weapons of destruction upon the weeds, I thought about all the people in my family who are serving or have served in the military. Jimbo, of course, is in the Reserves and has been called up in the past (stateside thank goodness). My dad spent four years in the Navy. My great-uncle Fred, both my grandfathers, and Jimbo's father, who had passed away before Jimbo and I met, all served in World War II. My great-uncle Kenneth was killed in action in April 1945 fighting against the Germans. He was awarded the Silver Star posthumously to go with the many other medals he'd earned in that war. I think about him every Memorial Day. I hope you remember our men and women in uniform, past and present, too.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Online purchasing

I am officially in love with online purchasing. That's saying a lot because I'm geeky enough to just about hate shopping. My sisters don't understand how I can go into a store, look at two things, try them on if they're clothes, and leave, preferably in under 12 minutes. Meandering around browsing through racks of items drives me crazy. Every time I go shopping with them, I take a bunch of clothes into the changing room and stay there for about a half hour or so. They think I'm having quality mirror time admiring all those blouses, skirts, and slacks, and they beam at me when I finally emerge with something new on. I can virtually hear them thinking "Ah, we'll make her less geeky yet!!"

What they don't know is that I take about eight things back with me, only two of which I'll actually try on. I try one on right away in case they come looking for me. After all, they'd be suspicious if I was still in my regular clothes. Then I sit down, pull a book out of my purse, and read for a half hour while they go get their shopping fix. When I think enough time has passed or they come looking for me, I'll say "Oh, just a minute!" and shake some hangers or rearrange a couple of the clothes. I reluctantly leave my temporary haven, making sure the tag on the new clothing shows prominently just so they know that yes, it really is new. They're happy, I'm happy, and no one's the wiser. Until they actually read this, and then I'm hosed. :)

You can buy just about anything online you could ever think of, and some things you probably shouldn't. I don't even have to get out of my jammies to shop, and the stores are open at the ungodly hour of 1:24 am. Plus there's the added benefit of shopping with a computer, which makes my geeky heart very happy.

I recently bought three Lacuna Coil albums and two Evanescence albums from iTunes, and three Within Temptation CDs from amazon because iTunes doesn't have Within Temptation, tragically. Just a few clicks, and boom, insta-music. Only problem is, just a few clicks, and boom, insta-account drain. It's very, very easy to overdo it. It's no sweat to buy if you don't have to enter anything. You don't think about the money disappearing from your account if you just make a few clicks to select items. You only think about it if you actually write a check, swipe your card, or, heaven forbid in this modern age, actually give the clerk (hushed voice) cash. I've determined that to cut my online purchasing I should just delete the cookies on those sites. That way my information isn't stored by the sites 'for my convenience'. If I have to go find my purse, pull out my card, enter 16 credit card digits, a 4 digit expiration date and the 3 digit security code on the back of my card, I'm less likely to actually work that hard to buy something. Of course, this might be a good theory if I didn't have all that stuff memorized anyway. :D Ah well. I'm off to browse amazon now.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy 30th Anniversary of Star Wars

What self-respecting Geeky Mom would not talk about Star Wars on its 30th Anniversary?

I'm old enough to have seen it in 1977 in a movie theater. We only had to wait about half an hour in line for this movie that blew me away. Here was a movie had everything I could want in a movie then--a couple dozen different aliens and droids, lightsaber duels, princess rescues, jumps to hyperspace, space battles, and the good guy winning.

I was in sci-fi heaven from the moment the horns proclaimed the start of the movie and the intro crawled until the final notes of the credits. For those of you who weren't alive during that time, I can't begin to tell you how it felt to be sitting down near the front when the Millenium Falcon (finally) made it to hyperspace, or Luke dodged TiE fighters during the dogfight around Yavin. No one had ever seen anything remotely like it--the closest movie to Star Wars was Logan's Run the year before. The special effects are still stunning today, 30 years later, though DVDs do it about as much justice as eating fake chocolate.

Star Wars let us escape a scary world for a bit. While America suffered through double-digit inflation, the oil crisis, post-Vietnam angst, and the Cold War, George Lucas created magic in that galaxy far, far away. For those 121 all-too-brief minutes, we were transported to an epic space fantasy where we could be Jedi, princesses, scoundrels, and saviors. The movie reminded us during a difficult time that Princesses could be saved, Force-sensitive Jedi could use lightsabers , crusty scoundrels had hearts, and the Good Guy triumphed over evil in the end.

This was the first movie ever where people would camp out on the sidewalk just to get tickets. In a time when people went to movies twice at the most, people went to see the movie 10, 15, 20 times to see the jump to hyperspace, the lightsaber duel, or the final battle. Nothing ever had come close to creating that kind of fan devotion. It was in the news for months, and books, toys, and a host of other items filled store shelves. Much to the chagrin of etiquette experts, our traditional greeting changed from 'Hello, how are you?" to "Hi, have you seen Star Wars yet?" The movie reminded us during a difficult time that Princesses could be saved, Jedi could use the mystical Force, crusty scoundrels had hearts, and the Good Guy triumphed over evil in the end.

Thanks, George, for giving us A New Hope.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Electronics Packaging--Hermetically Sealed for Your Protection

I was on IRC yesterday, one of the Star Wars gaming ones of course. There were discussions of Pearl and Diamond Pokemon that day (which I am assured by my Trusty IRC Friends is supposed to be spelled 'Pokeymans'). They were talking about the combos that will pwn others, how to make them have eggs, and the fact that at some point during their life-cycle, you have to take them to a daycare. I should do really well with that part of the game when we finally get a Nintendo DS, because I have almost 10 years' experience taking things to a daycare. I am a daycare pro, and I'm psyched that there's finally a kid's game that includes something a Geeky Mom can totally relate to. Of course, it's not my son's birthday yet, which means I haven't yet bought him the Nintendo, which also means I haven't had the chance to 'fully test it out for my children's safety'.

Anyway, in the middle of that discussion, Trusty Friend StarWarsPhreak mentioned something about electronics packaging. This reminded me of the cigarette adapter charger I had bought for my iPod in case I should be traveling somewhere long enough to exhaust 6 hours of battery life. With gas prices being so insanely high, that's not going to happen any time soon, but I deemed a cigarette adapter charger A Necessary Item, so I bought one along with the iPod. I finally tried to open the package a couple days ago, and discovered it was 'Hermetically Sealed for Eternity for My Protection'.

In the Mists of Time (tm), electronics came in nice cardboard boxes with easy-to-open flaps, which meant you could get into the package quickly to get your item out and enjoy it. This changed awhile back because the Evil Packagers decided it'd be fun to see Real People like me try to open their creation. I think they sit in the back room of their company thinking up ways to torture us.

Evil Packager 1: "Hey, if we make the packaging out of 3 inch thick rigid plastic, people with arthritis will never be able to get it open! Bwa-ha-ha!!!"
Evil Packager 2: "Even better--let's make the edges really sharp when we blow-torch the package together. That way Real People will slice themselves trying to open it!! That'll show them that they shouldn't try to get inside the package!!"

You could use the edge of these packages as razors in a pinch. Obviously the packagers have missed the point that it's the thing inside the package that's important, not the package itself.

Even my kids had trouble getting the package open, which is saying quite a lot. We all know that the way to get just about anything open, such as nuclear containment devices, is to hand it to a child, and it'll be open in approximately .000054 seconds.

I had to conduct major surgery on the package before I could finally get it open.
Me: "Scissors!"
(son hands me scissors and I cut the packaging, trying to make sure I don't cut something important)
Me: "Pliers!"
(son hands me pliers, which I use to try to pry open the packaging)
Me: "Pipe wrench!"
Son: Mom! Don't smash it!"
(I put down the pipe wrench)
Me: "Spiderman bandaid!"
Son (looking at me like I'm crazy): "Mom, iPod chargers don't need bandaids."
Me: "Not for the charger, for me! I cut myself on the edge of this stupid package!"

We finally succeeded in our quest to Remove the Item from The Package, and charger is now sitting in my glove compartment where it'll get ignored until the oil companies finally decide that we've achieved bloodless turnip status and lower gas prices.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Rest in Peace, Deputy Fabiano

I was actually running on time to pick up my kids from school today, which is something of a miracle because, well, let's just say I'm not known for showing up on time regularly for most things. I'm working on that. I still ended up at the school 20 minutes late for what is normally an 11 minute ride (assuming I hit the lights right and I don't go more than 10 over the speed limit).

I was late because I was stopped by Deputy Frank Fabiano's funeral procession.

Deputy Fabiano was shot on the 17th in what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. The man who shot him was an illegal alien who apparently had been arrested in the past but had not been deported. Police caught him about three hours later, still armed, in a parking lot of an apartment complex filled with college students.

The fire trucks were blocking off the intersection that I approached in order to allow the procession to pass in safety and honor the slain deputy. I arrived just as the procession started, so I was able to watch as hundreds of police cars from across the country formed the honor guard that accompanied the hearse. Police lights flashed, and American flags fluttered as they drove by. Several helicopters flew up and down the route, following the huge stream of cars. I had seen this on TV when a Chicago officer had been killed in the line of duty, but I never saw anything like it up close like this. It was a heart-breaking, solemn honor.

It was a beautiful, warm day for such a sad occasion. It seems to me funerals should always be accompanied by rain, like angels are shedding tears for the departed one. Instead, God smiled and the sun shone joyfully, as if to let the the family know that heaven was brightened by Fabiano coming home.

People crowded the corners and sidewalks to pay their respects. The police officers and firemen controlling the intersection stood at attention in their dark dress uniforms as the long line of vehicles passed. Some of the people in the cars that were stopped around me actually got out to honor the deputy. It took 25 minutes for the entire procession to go by, a testament to just how special people thought this man was.

He left behind a wife and seven-year-old daughter. I'm glad that so many officers, family, and friends came from so many different places to show them how much his--and their--sacrifice means to all of us.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A few things I've learned on a forum

I thought I was relatively tech-savvy prior to joining Lucasforums. After all, I knew my RAM from my ROM, had learned some Basic and Fortran in high school, knew how to update a sound card, and was on a three-person team that revised a 75 page policy manual entirely through email. I had figured out how to get the wireless going on all our home computers and had even got some games going on a laptop with only a 32Mb video card, which I learned later was something of a minor miracle.

Well, this all came about as a result of a search for a fix to a very simple problem: how to put rancor scent into the pile of bones in the PC game "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic." This is a seriously cool game, and considering I had not played much in the way of video games since my Atari days, mainly because we didn't have the money during the college years to spend on a console or a decent PC, I thought (in 2005) that this had to be one of the greatest looking games I'd seen, not to mention Jolee Bindo's dialog is hilarious. In the game, though, the only way to get through this one particular section is to put rancor scent into the pile of bones along with a grenade in order to make a tasty (and explosive) treat for said rancor, which looks a lot like a giant brown drooling Godzilla minus the scales for those of you who missed Return of the Jedi. Throughout the entire game, anytime you open a storage chest, you click 'take item', and the storage chest gladly complies, offering you items like healing kits, stimulants to boost your speed and stamina, Jedi robes, and the occasional Baragwin Assault Rifle. There is also a 'give item' button to press, but who wants to give up a Baragwin Assault Rifle? I mean, those things do some serious damage.

The single solitary time that you ever are required to utilize this 'give item' button is to 'give' the rancor scent and a grenade or two to the pile of bones. Why you can't just drop them there and run like the wind, I don't know, but that's how the devs made the game. Needless to say, if you haven't played a video game in several years, this is not immediately obvious. I got stuck trying to figure this out, and was not yet familiar with the concept of game walkthroughs (how much walkthrough do you need to destroy Asteroids or pop balloons in Circus Atari, after all?). However, Google and I are on a first name basis in the search department, so I googled Kotor and 'rancor scent'. Up popped a thread in the Kotor section of Lucasforums. Here were a bunch of people who geeked out about Star Wars as much (if not more) as me, and I was right at home. So I signed up, read the rules (a novel concept, I know), and lurked a bit to figure out who was who and what was what.

I quickly discovered that an entire gaming language had developed in my sabbatical from playing games. I was hit with LOL, FTW, pwn, 1337, emo, "11one!!one!111eleventy-one!!111"and the ever-popular WTF, which was obvious even to this n00b. Mind you, Jimbo's in the military reserves, so we are no strangers to speaking in acronyms. Thank God for urbandictionary.com. Without that, I'd have looked like a complete idiot rather than merely totally n00by. I have actually managed to learn to say "Orlando Bloom is teh hawt, and I lurv Jimbo". IM speak is right out, though. I can type the words normally faster than I can think of the IM codes and intentionally misspell things. So, don't ask me to IM speak, plzkthx.

There was also the concept of three levels of moderators, with varying degrees of God-like powers over The Editing and Deleting of Posts and Banning of Members. Up until this point, I'd only seen a moderator or two on e-lists, and they didn't have to do anything except tell people maybe once a year or two that the conversation was getting a little too heated and to play nice. Of course, they weren't moderating a bunch of post-pubescent teens, either, so maybe the lists didn't need as much watching.

One thing I learned was not to post when under the influence of medications. My first post in LF was momentously awful--I had had knee surgery earlier that week and was taking Vicodin. I discovered that week that writing anything while taking Vicodin is A Bad Idea, but I was bored to death, so what can I say? I'd go and delete it now, but Trusty Friend Niner would probably undelete it just to torture me. :D

I've also learned how to make a mod for a game, make my own custom avatars and signatures, find a nemesis, moderate the forum (I'll never know what possessed them to think they should turn me loose with demi-god powers, but they did), and how to use GIMP, among many other things. Not bad for a Star Wars gaming site. :)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Good minivan speakers--an oxymoron

One of the ways I knew I'd hit "True Mom" status was the day we (Jimbo and I) bought our minivan. That was six years ago. Today, you can find our van in a row of other vans by looking for the one with all the shopping cart dents and dings where other Minivan Moms accidentally hit it when opening their doors. If that wasn't enough, you could also look inside our minivan. Ours is the one with the stale french fries, melted crayons, and scattered cookie crumbs artfully decorating the carpet. That all goes along nicely with the hot pink stain where my daughter, Mini-Jae, accidentally dropped a full cup of fruit punch, which I promptly attempted to wipe up with the small stack of McDonald's napkins I've collected for just such occasions. I'm hoping the artificial Mixed Fruit Scent (which I think I synthesized in organic chemistry 20 years ago) goes away before the summer heat transforms it to Rotting Fruit Stench.

While I love the minivan (fruit punch smell notwithstanding), I have recently discovered one very important thing: van speakers suck.

I can just imagine the speaker installation guys at the car factory.
Frank: "Hey, Joe!! You brought me the wrong speakers!"
Joe (yelling from two seats down): "I brought the good ones!"
Frank: "No, man! The good ones go in the sexy cars. This is a minivan, for goodness' sake. Get me the speakers marked "Optimized for lullabies and AM talk radio!"

Minivan speakers just are not designed for anything remotely resembling Real Music. I guess the car manufacturers think we Geeky Moms won't notice with screaming kids in the car. Now, mind you, it took me awhile to decide that minivan speakers suck, because, as you may have guessed, I was investing in Geeky Things like a laptop, wireless mouse, and the National Geographic Tornado! mousepad before moving on to something that could do the same thing as the van's tape deck.

Well, that changed when our 15 year old stereo system finally died and our new one didn't have a tape deck. This meant that I had no way to make new tapes when the old ones died (usually from fruit punch getting spilled on them). I never claim to be a music geek, though I suppose the fact that I own greater than zero CDs of medieval motets probably automatically puts me in that category.

Anyway, I was attending a board meeting in Memphis a while back and a friend drove out so we could visit. She and I drove to a couple of functions together, and she had this nifty little cassette tape gadget that hooked up to her iPod. Now, gadgets + 'things that hook up to my computer' = Very Geeky and Thus Appealing, Nay, even Necessary. Off I trekked to Best Buy (always a dangerous place for either Jimbo or me). The young man who helped me was obviously not trained on how to handle Geeky Moms. He took a look at me in my sweatpants and Beale St. t-shirt, obviously having celebrated multiple anniversaries of my 29th birthday, and decided 'completely tech-inept'. He wasn't prepared for a Geeky Mom who destroyed millions of Asteroids before he was ever born. Every now and then, I'll let people make their assumptions and run with it to see what happens when I finally burst their bubble. Yes, it's a bit wicked.... However, I was in a hurry to get over to Barnes and Noble book store so I'd have time to find the latest issue of Dungeon magazine and then have a mocha in the cafe before picking up the kids from school. So I looked him straight in the eye and said "I'd like a Nano in blue--how many songs can the 2 gig and 4 gig hold?" After he installed his eyeballs back in his head, I became the proud owner of a 4 Gb Nano in very short order, along with the cassette adapter and the geeky cigarette lighter adapter.

Which brings me to the van speaker part. While playing Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines (note to moms--definitely a game for mature audiences only), I discovered some songs I really liked. Who knew that I'd suddenly have a mid-life music crisis and discover I liked Goth Metal? Well, I like it as long as they don't scream and swear at me, but that's another topic. So, I cheerfully plugged in the iPod and after installing a lot of our CDs, I checked out iTunes and was soon the proud owner of some Lacuna Coil and Evanescence albums. I dropped the kids off at school (they don't need their hearing damaged by their geeky mom rocking out to some new tune), and tried to crank up the volume. At this point nothing came out of the speakers. iPod instructions (a tiny pamphlet of pictures for the reading-impaired) were less than helpful. I didn't realize you had to turn up the max allowed volume in settings, then the volume on the iPod, and _then_ the volume on the radio. Isn't that just so obvious?

After rejoicing at this momentous discovery, I tried to turn the volume up to a van-rattling level, just to see if I could. I promptly turned it back down to a mere 'vibrate the speakers' level in order to
a. keep from going deaf, and b. because the buzzing/vibrating sound coming out of the overstressed speakers was like fingernails down a chalkboard. I decided not to burn out the speakers, so I just kept the volume down.

I consulted my Trusty Friend spinkle for options on making the speakers stop buzzing at higher volumes. I think he had the good graces not to laugh. :D His brilliant answer? "Get some new speakers."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Confessions of a Geeky Mom.....

I've been a geek most of my life. How many fourth-grade girls do you know collected rocks instead of stuffed animals or wrote a fan letter to the meteorologist on the local news station? Thirty years later, I'm not any better (or worse, depending on your point of view :) ). In fact, I think most of my family thinks I'm weirder than ever. I'm not the black sheep of the family, I'm the tech-silver one. Someday they'll get used to the fact that I think the latest Star Wars EU novel is much cooler than the latest style in open-toed shoes.

I've been married 17 years and been a mom for about 10 years. There are ups and downs like any relationships do, and I love all of it. Okay, maybe not changing the dirty diapers, but that's another subject. My husband is geek enough to be able to do some serious upgrading on our computers (plural, yes) and yet still love non-geeky Manly Tools, like the Table Saw and the Bench Grinder. My kids are in some ways more tech-savvy than I am, and they're definitely 'growing up geek'. Know any nine-year-olds who play computer games with both their parents and love it? Or listen to their mom read the latest chapter she wrote in her Star Wars fanfiction? They're doomed. That's okay, though. The world needs to be spiced up with a few more tech-silver sheep.