Nostalgia Rears Its Geeky Head

If you were asked to measure a person’ geekiness on a scale, what criteria would you use?  How much Dungeons & Dragons paraphernalia adorned their walls? How many times they had attended an official Star Trek convention – – in costume?  How much money they had spent on comic books in their lifetime?  Maybe those would be benchmarks from my generation, but I realized that the times – – they are a changin’.

Yesterday was H-T’s 12th birthday, and no one in the universe could have been more excited about surviving yet another year than H-T.  Besides consistently shouting out “Tomorrow is my birthday!” at least 141 times on Wednesday (including one time I overheard outside the men’s restroom at Taco Bell), he also woke up at 6:00 yesterday morning loudly reminding me, in case I had forgotten the 31 hours of labor it took to wrench him out into the world 12 years ago, that today was the day!

You’re probably thinking that he must have had some incredible party plans to get him so psyched over this particular birthday, but that would mean you don’t know my H-T well enough yet.  Nope, there is no big party planned, no clowns, no bowling outing, not even a piñata.  The thing that had H-T up with the roosters, with saliva dripping down his chin?  A $100 Star Wars M.T.T. Lego Set.  Yep…building blocks.  Thousands of them.  Took him two hours yesterday morning just to separate them into color piles (and that wasn’t even his OCD kicking in…the instruction book actually advised this – – FYI).

At 11:30, he reluctantly left these blocks of bliss, and only for a couple of hours, so that he might partake of a secondary obsession – – video games.  No birthday for either of my children feels complete without two uninterrupted hours of game time at Virtual Ambush, a gaming parlor  with 25-30 big screen TV’s with various gaming systems hooked to them with kids & teens of various ages playing various games at various volumes.  In other words – – kid Nirvana.

H-T in Kid Nirvana

We left Nirvana and headed back home, making one more stop along the way – – a trip to the movie store, where H-T was allowed to pick out whatever Sci-Fi flick flipped his fancy.  Once home, he gleefully spent the afternoon and evening watching aliens destroy the world as he built the Lego spaceship that will finally rid the universe of any such threats in the future.

Bedtime for H-T came grudgingly, but peacefully, with various b-day presents laid carefully out on his bedside table – – his Spiderman graphic novel, his Alien vs Predator action figures, and his Anakin Skywalker light saber.

As his eyes closed softly, I leaned against his door and thought back to that incredible, joyous morning 12 years ago, and the promise that his life held.  Little could I have known then that I was raising a new species…ushering in a new era…a whole new generation of geekdom.  Kinda chokes you up, doesn’t it? 

**jst not bf materL**

 Uber came to a conclusion this week.  During our morning prayer and discussion time, he announced that he wasn’t really “boyfriend material.”  A bit perplexed by this sudden revelation, I probed further to see what had spurred him toward such a conclusion about himself.  He replied that it was because he “just couldn’t make it work” with this girl in his class.

Keep in mind, here, that Uber goes to a virtual school.  This girl, that he was referring to, is his on-again, off-again cyber-crush, who also happens to attend the same school.  Now normally, I try to take my boys pretty seriously when they reveal a deep insight about themselves.  But just between us…I’m not sure Uber, at 13, should be throwing in the towel just yet.

So far as I know, Uber and Uber-Crush’s relationship has subsisted up to now of whispering in class (that’s where they send each other private messages via the school communication system), IM’ing after class, and checking out each other’s avatars (which I’m taking for granted have been fully clothed at all times).

So in this humble mom’s opinion, not “being able to make it work” under these circumstances hardly seems reason enough to decide you aren’t boyfriend material. Shouldn’t there at least be an accidental email sent to the wrong girl’s address?  Or forgetting to meet her in the chat room at 8:00?  Maybe even ignoring her IM messages while he plays a video game?

Now THAT would assure you top billing on the bad “cyber-boyfriend material” checklist.  But my Uber is prompt with his emails, considerate with his chat dates, and always answers his incoming IM’s in a timely manner.  So far as I’m concerned, it’s the girl who is the problem.  I always thought her avatar looked like she was trying too hard. 

Don’t worry Uber…the right gal for you is out there…she just may not have you on her friend’s list yet. 

I’m Sorry If This Blog Has Been Blurred Out

If you have a child at home under the age of 18, and your child has access to the web, you probably subscribe to, or have at least considered subscribing to an internet filtering service. We have had at least seven different filters over the years. You would think that they would all be pretty similar, and that any one of them would work as well as another one, but that’s really not the case.

We started back in our naïve years with a wonderful “free” parental filter that came with our DSL service. We were already paying $19.95 a month for internet service, which seemed like a travesty at the beginning of the new millennium, so we were thrilled to have a free filter thrown in as a bonus. Thrilled, that is, until I walked by and found my six year old plonlinepokeraying online poker with presumably more mature strangers who misspelled curse words and probably opened beer bottles with their teeth. Much to Uber’s dismay, the poker game was quickly over, and so was our relationship with our free filter. (I have to admit, I was reluctant to stop the game though…the little guy was beating the pants off poor Git’erdun877)

  Filter #2 was a respectable filter that we purchased at Staples, and installed on our family computer. It had the name of something along the lines of Cyber Alert, and it worked remarkably well. So well, in fact, that my husband and I were no longer able to check the news, our church website, or even an email from R-T’s aunt (who was 78). Apparently there was a crack in the Pentagon security system, a weed problem in the church parking lot, and an issue with dear auntie’s muscle cream, which didn’t seem to penetrate deeply enough to give her any real relief. Needless to say, that program was a bust.

On to other filters. There was the one that my son figured out how to change the administrator password on (when it asked me if I wanted to keep my password as ‘Pokemon’, I started to catch on). There was a filter that froze our computer every time we logged on – – but boy was the security tight on that one. And then there was that terrific filter that recognized “skin” and would blur it out in images to avoid accidentally viewing porn. I don’t know if it frustrated R-T or the boys, but it drove me up the wall. Have you ever tried to buy a swimsuit online when you had to squint sideways to make out the pattern??

Which brings us to our current filter, iProtect You. So far, so good. Not only does it block objectionable sites, but it let’s me know everyone’s surfing habits as well. So, as far as I know, the boys haven’t been able to access bomb blueprints, gambling rings, or Pamela Anderson’s bedroom webcam. It hasn’t, however, blocked me from wasting hours trying to locate a swimsuit that will be slimming and flattering for a pear shaped figure. Well, I guess no filter is perfect.

Just Keepin’ It Real

Have you been following the dead spy satellite story this week?  Right at this moment, there is a broken satellite floating out there in space, carrying about 1,000 pounds of hydrazine fuel, and we are preparing to blow it into smithereens with a heat-seeking missile.  This concerns me greatly.  Not because I’m worried we could miss, and that the thing could soon be hurtling toward earth, ready to toxicate our systems with lethal gas fumes, but rather because of the waste. I mean what a shame that we can’t somehow fix that puppy and put it to good use.I’ve been thinking about this lately because H-T is preparing to go on a field trip.  At 11 years old. Without me.  (did you catch that last bit??)

You see, H-T is a bit obsessed with life science in any form, and is thrilled at the idea of tagging along on an excursion of students who are heading to Florida to swim with and study manatees.  All this would be impressive and even noble if it were someone else’s kid.  But it’s not.  It’s my H-T, who has hardly ever spent a night away from home, much less 10 hours away, with people who can’t possibly know just how he likes his volume on his portable DVD player or how to get the earphones on his Nintendo DS perfectly snug against his ears.

So that brings me to the spy satellite issue.  I can’t figure out why someone hasn’t gotten the bright idea to create a satellite that will track preteens who have the overconfidence to think they can survive five days without their parents.  I mean instead of blowing this thing to high heaven, couldn’t we possibly just tweak it a bit, and adjust it to a specific frequency, and then implant small beacons into the necks of each of our pre-adolescent children so that they could be tracked at every moment on specially made parental radar units?  I mean doesn’t that sound much simpler and less costly? 

And think of all the additional uses.  I mean talk about making things easier for Santa!  Who’s been naughty?  Have the elves check the spy-cam.  End of story. 

I think I’ll phone up the president today, and get this ball rolling.  After all, it’s only a couple months until H-T heads to Florida.  I would imagine the implants might need to be fine-tuned, and that might take a week or two.  And of course we will probably need a second mortgage on the house to be able to afford the parental radar unit.  Resistant-Techie might even have to cough up a kidney to make sure we have enough to pay for the specialized satellite feed. But when I’m seeing H-T take his first dip with a manatee on that fuzzy screen, it will all be worth it…

Guess I better get busy. Anyone have George’s cell phone number?

There Are Two ‘T’s in Clutter

The first hour of homeschool this morning threatened to be a disaster.  Hyper-Techie was in his usual morning funk and morning prayer was interrupted twice as neighborhood sirens sent our dogs into two choruses of painful yowls (I try to empathize – – I guess it must be like getting the radio stuck on an Alanis Morissette song.  At least I have opposable thumbs to stick in my ears).  Worst of all, though, we couldn’t find The Writer.  It wasn’t in any of its normal spots-underneath the computer chair, dropped into the hamper, between the cushions of the dog bed—I mean how was I supposed to find it if it obviously wasn’t where it was supposed to be??  

But my search got me thinking about how dependent our homeschool has become on our assistive technology.  The Writer is a portable keyboard that we use for daily journaling and keyboard practice.  It includes built-in word prediction software, so when H-T (who has dyslexia) is journaling, and can’t remember how to spell o-v-e-r-b-e-a-r-i-n-g   m-o-t-h-e-r, all he has to do is type in the first couple of letters of the word he’s looking for, and word options will come up for him to choose from. 

We’ve acquired a good bit of assistive technology over the years.  Some of our favorites have included:

  • As-U-Type – – a computer spellchecker that tracks all your misspellings so you can know what words you need the most work on (and, as a perk, lets you know when hubby has been looking at things he shouldn’t – – honey, voluptuous is spelled with one ‘p’)
  • Audio Books from the Library of the Blind and Physically Handicapped – – people with dyslexia qualify to receive these audio books, which are ordered online and come through the mail.  H-T reads along in the actual book as the cassettes (soon to be digital files) are read aloud by wonderful dramatic voice artists.  The upside of this technology is that I get to catch up on some terrific books as I am busy “lesson planning” on the couch while H-T reads
  • MathPad – – electronic worksheets that help kids line up and solve math problems on a computer screen – – if you have ever tried to do long division or multiplication on scratch paper, you will recognize how invaluable something like this can be…no more forgetting to drop down your zero or writing your number in the wrong column.  For me, it means no more shots of tequila before lunchtime because H-T’s math didn’t come out right, and he wants to know, for the thousandth time, just when he will actually USE this stuff in his lifetime??
  • Inspiration (and Kidspiration for the younger set) – – a graphic organizer software that lets you create reports, projects, and papers the visual way, with diagrams, pictures, and notes.  Perfect for visual learners, and those who like to “see” things before they put them to paper. 
  • Post It Digital Notes – – God’s representatives on earth to help keep a highly distractible family from falling to ruin.  They are little digital versions of the popular stick on reminders that sit on your computer screen and remind you when to take a quiz, when to upload your assignments, and when to tell Mom it’s time for Regis and Kelly.  Well, I mean, sometimes in the business of homeschooling, you can forget the important stuff.

Homeschool got better by mid-morning, by the way.  We finally found The Writer. Someone had the bright idea to put it back up on the school supply shelf.  If people keep putting things back in their proper place around here, I’m never going to be able to find anything.  My house is, and I’m afraid, always will be – – Topsy Techie.  Unfortunately, they don’t seem to make assistive technology for that.  

Anyone Seen My Hacky Sack?

I have lately realized that being “Techie” doesn’t necessarily mean being “Fetch” (which, I am told, means ‘with the times’).   In fact, my boys often accuse me of being out of the loop – – even old fashioned – – about some things.  Fashioned, maybe….but old?  Hmph.

I’ll admit that I just don’t get most of what classifies as “reality” programming.  And it’s not because I haven’t tried to understand it.  I watched quietly as the Osbournes let their dogs poo on every surface of their million dollar home, endured a season of watching the wind from Donald Trump’s helicopter blow his coif every way but off, and even sat patiently by as a couple different bachelors made the difficult decision of which drunken harlot to give away his respectability rose to.  My final impressions?  I much prefer the harsh surrealism of screenwritten drama to the “real” exhibitionism of TV reality.  Outdated?  Check.

I also have antiquated emails.  I don’t mean that I have my inbox stuffed with notes from 1999, I mean I write my emails the way Mrs. Manners would.  My kids get so embarrassed when their friends catch sight of something I’ve sent them via email.  I mean the humiliation of having a mom who still uses capitalization and punctuation is fairly mortifying.  I even have been known to use complete sentences when I write (but please keep that between us – – my boys have reputations to maintain). Once in a long while, just to get their goat, I’ll even throw in a “Sincerely” or a “Respectfully Yours” in an email just for fun.  Archaic?  Check.

Our household doesn’t have one single HD-compatible item in it. Believe it or not, I’ve never once viewed an HD-DVD.  I’m not sure why I missed that boat, except that maybe I never saw enough late night infomercials about the technology to really be convinced.  Anyway, it looks like my old-fashioned ways might have paid off this time.  Did you see the news story about how HD-DVD’s are being phased out?  Yep…it seems that Blu Ray is sending HD-DVD the way of Beta and Ruben Studdard.  Walmart, Netflix, and Blockbuster are all going to be dropping their HD-DVD’s to make room for more Blu Ray discs.  Behind the times?  You bet your fanny pack! Check!

Gotta admit… I’m feeling a little vindicated in my non-fetchiness at the moment.  All those high-tech mommas who plunked down a few hundred dollars for the most state-of-the-art HD DVD players last year, are feeling a wee bit silly right now aren’t they?  Not Topsy.  Nope, I’m feeling pretty triumphant sitting here listening to my boom box and playing with my Furby.  No one will be calling ME old fashioned anymore, now will they??

I can’t be completely alone out here in the land of the obsolete. What about you….what do you still own or do that makes people think you might not be completely “fetch”? Share in the comments section below…

This Teacher Deserves An Apple (iPhone)

I have a confession to make.  I am a TERRIBLE teacher.  My parents were both teachers at various points in their lives, so you would think that lesson planning and stern disciplinary measures would be somehow engrained in my psyche, but I’m afraid I must have been absent the day they handed out overhead projectors in heaven.  Writing on a chalkboard gives me a feeling much akin to watching people bite off their toenails with their teeth.  The smell of rubber cement makes me unusually nauseated.  And talking in front of a crowd…well…let’s just say the last time that happened willingly I was sitting in my high chair in a local Denny’s reciting the lyrics to Old MacDonald. 

So what in the heck am I doing homeschooling two defenseless children??  Oh, if I had an Itunes download for every time I have asked myself that question over the years.  The truth is that homeschooling was about the furthest thing from my mind when Uber was ready to sign up for kindergarten.  But fate stepped in, and gave our precious little guy a life-threatening illness that turned our life upside down.  His immune system was pretty shot for a while and so homeschooling was about the only option we had.  That, or one of those weirdo bubbles John Travolta used in that 70’s movie. 

So we embarked on our homeschooling journey, my hands trembling at the idea of my impressionable little guy looking to me to teach him about the world.  I mean I figured I could get a few months out of 80’s trivia and the abridged history of U2, but then what?  What more did I have to offer?  I sought help in all the normal places, of course.  Homeschooling guides, curriculum publishers, the web.  I ordered homeschool materials, and they arrived in all their bland, insipid glory. We pulled the stuff from the box, and shudders went down my spine.  But I was determined to meet this challenge.  I would learn to write with red ink and talk in a monotone.  I would stock up on manilla folders, and finally memorize all the words to the Pledge of Allegiance.  I was going to be the best darn homeschooling mom the world had ever seen!

Until I realized I couldn’t teach.  Thank God, some people just have this wonderful ability to impart knowledge to others.  Their words inspire us to be curious – – even excited– about learning.  My words inspire my children to see how many pieces of lint have gathered in their belly buttons since their last bath. Our homeschooling journey might well have been a short one if I hadn’t discovered that I do have an innate talent of sorts.  You could almost say I have educational technology radar. Over time, I have discovered that there is almost no subject that can’t be taught with the right amount of electricity and a good DSL connection.

Want to learn about punctuation? Punctuation Power software is ready to teach you every mark you will ever need to make smiley faces in your emails.  Don’t understand diagramming?  Use this Power Point site to help you understand why it is that the participle goes under the subject (it will not, however, help you figure out why you are forced to learn something you will never, ever use in your life again – – sorry).  Need to dissect a frog, but the smell of formaldehyde makes your stomach go on strike?  Dig into Kermie virtually– – with your mouse!


I have yet to discover a topic that we couldn’t tackle the techie way.  Teaching is way overrated, if you ask me. I think it even gets in the way of learning, sometimes. We have made this homeschooling adventure work because we love the electronic information age. In our house, my boys have learned that if you want to know something…you don’t go to mom for it.  You look it up on Wikipedia.  Unless you need to know Tootie’s real name on the Facts of Life or which came first – – Atari or Intellivision.  In that case, pull up a desk…this class is now in session.