Techie Girls Can’t Two-Step

I’ve been lax in my Topsy-Techie blog of late, and I deeply apologize, but I warned you I was in a summer funk, didn’t I?  Actually though, I haven’t had time for a funk, even if I had wanted one.  Summer is supposed to a time for rest for homeschooling moms, and it is  – – if by rest you mean working two jobs, helping in Vacation Bible School, writing four blogs, sanding the paint off your front porch, and repainting, helping taking care of elderly family members, and keeping the weeds at bay in your flower garden.  Summer is actually quite refreshing, by those standards.

Anyway, I couldn’t ignore my precious Topsy-Techie blog even one more day, because far too much topsy-techiness has been going on around here that needs to be reported. 

Exhibit A….the StepMania invasion.

Uber has truly enjoyed his summer break thus far, not because of the balmy days, or the trips to the pool, or those lemonade slushes his dear mom happens to be famous for.  No – – Uber has discovered StepMania.  Now for those of you who live under the non-techie rock of cluelessness, StepMania is an open source rhythm video game.  It is the method behind the madness of games like Dance, Dance Revolution, In The Groove, and Pump it Up Pro. 

Now a couple years ago, during the height of the DDR craze, I bought a couple of those crazy dancing mats, and after about two hours of finding that Anglo-Saxon females of a certain age are more likely to be kidnapped by terrorists than learn to dance on cue with flashing lights and arrows, I stuck those things in the back of the closet and never thought of them again.  Until….Uber’s latest new obsession.

Now if any of you have ever been DDR fans, you know the basic gist of the game – – you step on the squares of the dance mat that correspond with the arrows as they come down the screen.  The arrows are timed with the beat of the music, so that if you can keep basic rhythm with the song, you are more likely to hit the arrows in the correct sequence.  For those of you who are not DDR fans, and are looking at the screen with that familiar blank stare, just try to picture a game of Twister, but a lot louder, faster, and with a lot of funky electronica music thrown in for fun.

Stepmania, though, is for the rhythm video game purist … there is none of that canned club music, there are no hypnotic graphics, it is just you and the music – – your music.  That is the key element of StepMania.  Instead of having to play whatever god-forsaken tune Konami decides to give you, you are in control of your own tunes.  You upload your favorite music to the program, and are off and running, literally.  So guess what Uber’s StepMania music queue consists of?  Video game theme songs.  No, I’m not kidding.  There is actually a genre of music out there called “Classic Video Game Music”, and apparently, Uber is a huge fan. 

So there he is, in his room, dancing his techie heart out to….”Plantman Stage from Megaman VI.”  Now you tell me if that isn’t the pinnacle of geek status, then really – – what is??? 

So Uber spends much of his days now stomping and stepping to the music of his generation.  He works his way through the different difficulty levels, unlocks hidden songs, and creates custom rhythm patterns.  And when he wins?  Well he puts in his initials on the virtual scoreboard, of course…by stepping out the letters with his feet! 

Uber invited me into his room one afternoon to try out his favorite new hobby.  He turned it on for me, set it to the easiest level, and started up the music, and off I went.  And guess what?  After a couple more years of maturity under my belt, not much had changed.  I’m expecting the terrorists to drop by for tea just any time now.

Just in case you were under that non-techie rock and missed this
Youtube DDR video, here is your chance  :

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Summer Reading

How about some techie-goodness for Fridays this summer?  Check back here each week for a dose of “Hardwired Homeschool Hints” to get you through till homeschool commences again this Fall….

This week’s theme – – Summer Reading Sites and Tools

I hope you will take an afternoon and drop by your local library to see if they have a summer reading program you and your kids can sign up for.  Many libraries have wonderful clubs, activities, and even prizes for kids who get involved.  There just isn’t anything more “summery” than stretching out in the backyard hammock for an hour or so with a good book.  But for rainy days (check out my wishful thinking there – – we are in quite a drought here in my neck of the woods!) or when the kids are looking for something a little more visually interactive, there are some incredible websites that will inspire even the most reluctant reader to get excited about summer lit.

  • Lookybook – this website is brand new and still in Beta form, but it is chock full of reading goodness.  If your kids love picture books, then let them have their book and read it too at this incredible site that lets kids view the entire books from cover to cover just by clicking their mouse!
  • Book Adventure – if the Library Summer Reading program isn’t enough of an incentive to read, how about a motivational program that lets parents put in their own rewards – – such as a trip to the local arcade for taking quizzes on books they read.  There are also book suggestions based on your reading interests, as well as online prizes for their efforts.
  • No Flying, No Tights – If you have a preteen or teen in your house, then you probably have more than a couple graphic novels lying around your coffee table.  This website is the all-graphic-novel-all-the-time hub for everything to do with those adolescent reading faves.
  • Family Education Reading List – before you head to the library to pick out your next book, you might want to check out this expansive list of great books by age and grade.
  • MightyBook – subscription based site where children get over 500 stories, games, music, puzzles, etc. to increase reading skills
  • Big Universe Book Creator – So what if you and your kids are feeling really creative and want to create your own picture book.  Big Universe offers the software to make and share your very own e-book creation!

These suggestions are just a few of the incredibly motivational reading websites out there…I hope you have some super techie-fun checking them out this summer!  Have a great weekend everyone!

The Next Jacques Cousteau ??

I had promised to post some pics of H-T’s marine adventure to Florida, and we finally got the CD, so I’m following through (for once)… how many points do I get???

71  Scuba Diving in Weeki Wachee



This was their underwater signal to each other that everything was okey-dokey





116  With his group leader




H-T’s underwater version of “Home Alone”






OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA            Swimming near some eel grass…H-T told me that this stuff traps dirt in it, and helps purify the water…cool, huh?


Up close and personal with a manatee







belly  They roll over to get their bellies scratched

Sometimes, You Just Need A Break

I’m writing this blog entry on pencil and paper because we are on a break.  No, no Kit-Kat’s are involved here.  The break I’m referring to is the Techie family “Screen Break.”  We all sat down as rational (hee) family members and discussed the fact that we have nearly three entire months of summer vacation ahead of us, and we needed a plan.  One that would include staying away from our computer screens for a set amount of time each day in order that our familial hunchback syndrome doesn’t worsen, and so that our neighbors will stop collecting our mail for us “in our absence.”

So, at this family meeting, we discussed the types of activities that we could do during our screen breaks.  My first suggestion was yard work.  I knew the boys had probably spent a little too much quality time with their PC’s when they both looked at me wide-eyed.  We had a yard???!!!

It was obviously time to introduce Uber and H-T to Mr. Trowel and Mrs. Shears.  After about an hour of good hard work, they were actually getting the hang of it.  Especially when Uber stopped trying to hold the trowel like a joystick.  The backside of my front flower garden is virtually weed free, and the bush that I have tried to kill for the past three years looks like it may have actually given up the ghost after H-T went after it like Rambo in an Afghan desert.  The boys were pretty good sports about their first day of screen break (aka manual labor).  I was quite proud.

I thought I’d make our next screen break a little more teen friendly, so I suggested we head to the pool this time.  Interestingly, it was very easy to get them to part from their ‘puters for a few hours when there was water and bikini-clad sunbathers involved.  The screen-free time fairly flew that day as they happened across some friends and plenty of eye-candy.

So I got to thinking.  What if I invited a few of those gals in their summer skivvies to come help with the yard work next time?  I’m figuring if I turn on the hose every once in a while, it will be almost the same experience.  And who wouldn’t give up a few hours of multiplayer online games for such good clean family fun?

This screen break idea is genius.  Pure genius.  lonely computer

Summer Funk

So, we finished our homeschool year, and something weird happened. My brain went on vacation.  I’m not kidding.  I could blame it on the recent blonde dye job I got, I guess.  Or the unusually high temps we’re having here in the South right now.  But it doesn’t matter how it happened, it just happened.  I have been in a funk for the better part of a week now.  I don’t remember much that has happened in the last several days.  The last thing I remember was attending my 20th high school reunion on Saturday night.  That’s where things start to get fuzzy.  I’m pretty sure I was stunningly clever and ageless, as I always knew I would be when I saw my classmates again.  I said all the right things at the right time, erasing all memories of my geeky high school persona, and negating my reigning “Most Likely to Stalk Bill Gates” superlative.

But the rest of this week has been a blur.  I haven’t blogged.  I haven’t watched TV.   Worst of all, I haven’t gotten started on the umpteen summer projects I have lined up for myself.  I’m not sure what I’ve done except check my email and catch up on some sleep.  I’ve heard of SAD – – Seasonal Affective Disorder, but that’s supposed to hit you in the middle of winter, right?  When you haven’t gotten your daily allotment of Vitamin K from the sun, and your emotions start to go all depressed and gloomy?  Maybe I have PRAD – – Post Reunion Affective Disorder.  When you finally realize you have been out of high school for twenty years and the only thing you have to show for it are those really deep lines around your eyes. 

Thank God no one at the reunion noticed my eyes because I was too busy charming them with my witty conversation. Sigh….so far, summer is kind of sub-par.  Not to worry…I’m sure the summer funk can’t last all summer…right?  Right??!!


Here is my group photo from the reunion.  We were a private Christian school, with only 16 in our graduating class, so only nine of us, and our spouses were in attendance Saturday.  But it was a great night!  I am the fourth person from the left in the front row in the green sweater – – the one who looks like she is about to say something incredibly clever. R-T is just behind me. 

But Does Your PC Have Rabbit Ears ?

Generally, we think of one-upmanship as something relegated to the elementary school yard.  “My dad could beat up your dad.”  Or in the case of schoolyards around here in the south…”My dad has a bigger beer gut than your dad.”  But I’ve been seeing it a lot lately in many other venues…including my youth group at church, where comparing video game scores always seems to take precedence over applying spiritual principles.

Down at the Homeless Shelter where my hubby is the director, one-upmanship takes many forms – – one of the most interesting being that of comparing addictions.  “Yeah, I may be an alcoholic, but at least I don’t pop pills like some people around here.”  “Oh yeah, well call me a pill popper if you want, but at least I ain’t no crack ho.”  The conversation always ends there, because as of right now, there is currently no lower status on the streets than a ‘crack ho.’ 

My boys aren’t immune either.  They feel the need to contend for all sorts of horrific imaginary titles.  Stinkiest feet. Greasiest hair.  Most palpitating zit.  Just listening to them from the next room can bring on an unexpected case of the dry heaves. 

Of course you don’t have to look farther than your nearest gossip rag to see competition in its most unhealthy form – – the race to see who can be the thinnest celebrity.  Every time I open a magazine, another beautiful girl seems to have wasted away into a shadow of her former self.  I picture them all with forks nearing their mouths, and just as they are about to put that mouthful of low-fat tofu in, they spot the cover of Angelina Jolie on Vanity Fair, and put their fork down.  “If she can go without food and still save the world, then so can I,” they conclude. Thank heavens for role models!

I’ll admit I’ve been feeling a little left out of the rivalries around me.  I look around me for something to brag on, and see the same old stuff I’ve always had.  There’s my Tony Bennett CD collection.  Who wants to tell the world how utterly old fashioned they are??  My two dogs.  So sweet, but utterly dunderheaded.  They won’t be getting me into the record books anytime soon, I assure you.  I still have my Fisher Price Sesame Street playhouse from the 1970’s.  It even has all the chunky little characters – – Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird whose circular base fits perfectly into its perch in his little plastic nest.  I’m very proud of my keepsake, but if I were to go on Ebay, I imagine I would probably find at least fourteen other SS sets in mint condition.  Mine still has the red streaks across the roof from when I went through my experimental nail polish stage.  I simply don’t have one thing worth boasting about.

Oh, wait!  Maybe there is something!  The other day, I tried to figure out how to get a television signal through R-T’s new computer.  We had to take the TV out of the bedroom to make room for his new gadget, and I knew we would probably miss falling asleep to the two most monotone local news reporters on earth each night at 11:00.  So I decided to figure out a way to make hubby’s snazzy new Vista with Windows Media Center double as our boob tube.  I got the TV Tuner hooked up, loaded all the software, and everything was going a-ok until I remembered we dropped our satellite feed.  Now what?  As usual, I was not to be deterred from my plan.  I went out and got a good ole amplified antenna, and plugged it into the tuner.  Voila!  Our local channels in all their free hi-def glory!  I challenge Bill Gates himself to be so techie on so little dime.  Anybody out there got one to top that?  I double dog dare you….


A room for 8,000, please.

If you have a phobia of bugs, as my youngest son does, then I suggest you move onto the next blog in your blogroll today, because I am about to rant…about ants.  (I love rhyming words!!)  Unbeknownst to us, the little black ant population of the world decided to have their annual convention at our house this year.  We didn’t get the memo. 

We’ve been trying to explain, as civilly as possible, that the granddaddy long legs convention was held here last year, and the ladybug convention the year before that, and we are just too stretched to accommodate them right now.  But each time they vacate one room of the house, they simply take up residence in another.  They will go anywhere there is anything wet, sticky, or sugary.  Not being the queen of clean, that pretty much describes every crack and cranny around here.

I’m afraid civility isn’t working very well with these ants.  These are a tough bunch.  So far, they haven’t trashed any ant16 of our stuff, or stolen any towels, but we fear it may just be a matter of time.  They have definitely upset our   schedule, since it takes me fifteen extra minutes every meal time to scour down the kitchen countertop before I feel it is ant-free enough to cook on.  And R-T is on his belly on the kitchen floor as I write this trying to put chemical eviction notices in all the places the ants frequent.  He seems to run into ant troubles everywhere these days.

Last Saturday, H-T went to work with his dad.  He loves it when his dad lets him come to the Rescue Mission and help out for the day.  ESPECIALLY when his dad lets him hang out in the Security Room.  Because the Rescue Mission is located in a poverty-stricken area, it is not unusual to have criminal activity taking place just outside, so they were forced to install security cameras in various locations around the building.  The cameras are always recording, so that if something unfortunate happens, the Mission staff and police can rewind the footage and find out exactly what went down.  The security room is where the feed for the cameras goes, and you can watch all 14 cameras at once on the monitor.  H-T feels incredibly powerful sitting in that room keeping an eye on things and giving his dad a buzz on the beeper when he thinks he sees something worth sharing.

This past Saturday was an especially busy day at the Mission, and so H-T was thrilled to get to be stationed in the security room while his dad handled lots of odds and ends going on with the residents.  Unfortunately, H-T felt the need to buzz R-T quite often with news of unsavory characters loitering on camera four, or someone dumping out litter from their car on camera two.  R-T tried to be patient with all H-T’s interruptions on the buzzer, and kept his cool quite well until, at a particularly hectic moment, H-T buzzed in. 

“Dad, there’s an U-C-A on Camera Eight!”

R-T stopped what he was doing. “A  U-C-A ??  What’s that, son?”

“An Unidentified Crawling Ant moving across the camera!”

Needless to say, H-T lost his security room privileges for the rest of the day. Even his bug phobia wasn’t getting him off the hook this time.

Ok folks, I kid you not – – an ant just crawled across my keyboard!!!!!!!      You think it was searching for the Sticky Keys button??  I always knew that thing had to have SOME worthwhile purpose.

Stay tuned for updates on the Great Ant Convention of 08.  You ANT seen nothin’ yet!  (sorry, ant invasions make me corny)