Trouble in Gotham

The Bat-Signal as seen in Batman

Image via Wikipedia

So thanks to the recent Snowmageddon that crossed the country and wreaked havoc on the whole eastern seaboard, yours truly was out of power for about a day.

For many of you, that is a laughable number.  I mean some folks are facing six and seven day power outages!  But for the Topsies, I assure you that 24 hours of being disconnected from the matrix is traumatizing in the extreme.

The trauma began even before the power went out.  Poor H-T would jump like a soldier with PSTD every time a branch would snap.  “Oh God!” he would exclaim.  “Do you think THAT one hit the power line??”  Uber and I weren’t so vocal with our concerns…we were too busy looking for every charger in the house and making sure every possible techno-gadget was fully powered up before catastrophe struck.

And strike it did – – right after noon on Friday, as I was making lunch.  Never has there been a more depressed and sorry crew eating lukewarm soup in a dimly shadowed kitchen. 

We definitely tried to make the best of things.  At first, that consisted of basically taking naps near the gas logs to make time go by faster.  But when R-T got home from work, and the power had not returned, we knew it was time to get into survival mode.

Room temperature burritos for supper gave us the fuel we needed to withstand the brutal hours ahead with no tv, internet, or game consoles.  Instead, we lit all the candles we own, and got punchy on lukewarm gatorade.  That, and the obligatory boredom gave us the idea to make some fun crank calls to friends via cell phone.  When that got old, we pulled out the board games, and then tried some word association games to pass the time.  Off and on we also tuned into the local am radio station in hopes of hearing news about the heroic men and women in jumpsuits and hard hats who we like to call “the power company.”  

R-T even got the bright idea to paste a bat-shaped piece of cardboard over the front of his spotlight and shine it up into the clouds in case it would hasten our rescue.

Finally, at 9:00, because unlike Ma and Pa Ingalls, we don’t even own musical instruments that don’t require voltage, we decided to call it a night.  We blew out the candles and prayed for daylight.

Unfortunately, not even the morning sun brought us the electricity we craved, so we forsook our powerless prison, and headed over to the homeless shelter where hubby is the director, and where warmth and light abounded.  As the rest of our friends and neighbors continued to suffer, I’m not too proud to say that we spent the morning playing air hockey and ping-pong and watching the Today show. 

When a call back home was finally greeted with the lovely computerized voice of our answering machine, we knew we were saved and all was right in Gotham again.

Thank you, you wonderful, hard-working, power company employees.

And yes. Thank you Batman.  Wherever you are.

I’m So Excited…And I Just Can’t Hide It…No, No, No No!

You’ve heard, haven’t you??  The great news??  The news to beat all news??


Kindle for the PC is here!!!

Kindle for PC

Ok, perhaps that is CRAPPY news to those of you who shelled out 300 or so smackeroos for the little handheld doodad.  But for the rest of us who either were too skint to splurge, or just knew that if we waited long enough it would come, we are PSYCHED today!!

Today, we feel justified in our reverse snobbery, and are not one bit sorry for rubbing it in the faces of those elite Kindle owners. Nope. Not one bit.

So now that it is here, I find myself just a bit overwhelmed.  I mean there are THOUSANDS of books to choose from.  What do I pick first??  I could really use some input, folks.  What have you read lately that knocked your socks off? 

And please hurry.  My "Click here to Purchase” finger is twitching like crazy!!!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Phonics

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic

So I had a whole other post idea ready for this week’s HHH, but, the Sesame Street 40th anniversary has really done a nostalgic number on me. 

Which number you say?  Well, the number THREE, of course…ah, ah, ahhh!!  (I used to love the Count and be terrified of him all at the same time!!)  I had this Fisher Price Sesame Street playset, and I would always make sure that the little figurine of the Count was poked deep inside the little Sesame Street garbage truck – – with the little plastic doors closed – – before I went to sleep at night. 


This trip down memory lane made me think back to all the wonderful ways we studied phonics when the boys were younger.  We definitely watched our share of Sesame Street episodes, but we also found all kinds of other creative ways to have fun with letter sounds. We created letter sound “hopscotch” on our front sidewalk, listened to phonics songs, and played phonics board games.

Of course now, there are also plenty of great online and software-based phonics helps.  One of my fave of all time is a program called Read Write & Type.  It addresses multiple learning styles at once, by teaching phonics, reading, writing AND keyboarding in one seamless program.

Another terrific site that unfortunately came along after my boys were past the beginning phonics stage was Starfall.  This free program is one of the very best programs I’ve ever seen for introducing phonics in a fun, non-threatening, go-at-your-own-pace kind of way.

And speaking of Sesame Street, one of PBS Kids other flagship shows, Between the Lions, has a terrific website with some really engaging phonics games, activities, and printables.

I can’t forget to mention Time4Learning’s preschool program either, which has been completely revamped and created with all new activities this year.  When I was in FL in July, I even got to read for one of the interactive stories in the new curriculum, so if your kids use the program, don’t be surprised if you hear my southern “twang” from the computer! 

And not to leave out you iPhone’ers, there are of course multiple phonics apps coming out just for your portable needs.  One I think shows real promise for its interactivity is Alphabet Air, which is designed for even the youngest of toddlers who are showing interest in letters and letter sounds.

If you have any favorite phonics software programs, websites, or mobile applications, how about sharing them in the comments?

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Nobody told me it could be like this…

I don’t know what your take on the Blu-Ray players is, but mine has always been…what’s the point?  I mean DVDs work perfectly fine.  They are definitely a step above VHS because of the whole no rewinding thing, and they take up less space in the entertainment cabinet, so I see no reason to change-over to Blu-Ray. 

UNTIL…our DVD went kaput.  Then there was a choice.  Do I plunk down money for another DVD player, OR move with the times and get a Blu-Ray?? Decisions, Decisions.  And with my birthday coming up in just a month, I knew that this new gadget would be attached to the celebration, so I decided it had better be one HECK of a gadget!!

Thus began my search.  After a while I realized that for the most part, a Blu-Ray is a Blu-Ray is a Blu-Ray. 

LG bluray UNTIL…I found it.  A Blu-Ray that was most definitely NOT just a Blu-Ray.  This Blu-Ray had network access.  Which means it connects to your home network, and lets you watch YouTube, Netflix Instant Watch, and even new releases via CinemaNow.  Oh-ho-ho-ho!!  Now that was a Blu-Ray worthy of my last year in my 30’s!!

With one flick of my remote-hovering thumb I have basically TV-on-demand – – especially with YouTube offering more and more network shows, and Netflix having plenty of reruns of stuff I’ve been meaning to catch up on.

This is the way TV was meant to be.  What you want, when you want it.  Sometimes, a techie just can’t resist the temptations and seducements of the “next big thing.” 

I mean have you seen those refrigerators with the internet screen built right into the door?????

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Geography Envy

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic

I stink at geography.  That’s not an exaggeration.  I never laugh at those derisive news stories about children (or adults) who are unable to tell you the capital of Nebraska or figure out whether Slovakia is in Europe or Asia.  For some reason, the geography I was taught in school simply never "took."  Most likely because I never took a personal interest in the subject, but also because it was always taught with so little creativity.  My geography education basically consisted of filling in blank map outlines and memorizing mnemonic devices that would help me remember that People Attack Irritating Stinging Ants (those are the five oceans, by the way: Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern, Arctic). 

When I started homeschooling, I made a pact that my children would never, ever have to fill out a blank map outline or memorize a single acronym.  I decided that the best way to teach geography was by mixing and matching all sorts of devices, activities, and resources that would introduce them to the world in a fun and engaging way.  We started early on by using music.  When my oldest was in first grade, I purchased Kathy Troxel’s Geography Songs , and we sang our way through every country of the world and all fifty states. 

When that got old (and our voices got hoarse) we moved over to learning geography through literature.  The Beautiful Feet Books company offers a wonderful "Geography through Literature " pack that includes maps, a teacher’s guide, and four lovely children’s books by Holling Clancy Holling.  We spent an entire school year of their late elementary education reading the books together and marking the journeys of the characters on the provided maps.

As the boys edged toward their double digit years, electronics were their passion.  If it didn’t beep, flash, or buzz, then it wasn’t worth it’s salt.  So I didn’t try to beat ’em – – I joined ’em by purchasing the Oregon Scientific Smart Globe.  This learning tool had a pen/wand that let you just touch a country or state on the globe and hear all kinds of interesting information about the climate, language, history, and culture of that particular spot.  And as if that weren’t enough, you could attach the pen to your computer via the provided cable and download daily updated news stories.  Then, when you touched the next country, you could hear up-to-the-minute reports of the major events happening in that country that day.  Very, very cool!

But alas, even portable electronics gave way in teenagedom to the all-powerful internet.  The Google universe now reigns supreme, and my young men are not above reminding me that if Google doesn’t know it, it probably didn’t exist.  So again, I dare not fight a losing battle, and I’ve done my research to find the best geography tools and sites on the web.  Thankfully, there are a host of them to choose from.

Because my younger son uses the Time4Learning online homeschool curriculum, he is already getting some wonderful daily multimedia lessons on world and national geography.  But we also enjoy playing the geography matching games at LearningGamesforKids , and using Spelling City to practice those difficult state and country spellings.  One of our other favorite online geography tools is the New York Times Learning Network.  When reading the days chosen top story, students have the option to have all of the geographical places mentioned in the article highlighted.  Clicking on any of these highlighted names takes the student to a page about that place including maps, flag, and pertinent facts.

Other favorite online geography sites include: GeoBeats (a place to see the world from the comfort of your living room), the Traveler IQ Challenge , Where’s George (fun game to see where your money has been and where it is going), and of course Google Earth with its endless overlays and possibilities. 

Maybe all this focus on geography is a bit of overcompensation on my part, but my children have been immersed in the locations, people, and cultures of the world from every possible angle and with every available learning style.  They may never remember that People Attack Irritating Stinging Ants, but they have sung, read, played and explored this planet with a curiosity and enjoyment that I wish I had experienced at their age.  I guess you could say I have geography envy. 


The Great Dilemmas Of Life

Uber has recently come into some money.  Well, (if Obama can quote scripture, then so can I) the truth is that he has “put off childish things” (1 Cor. 13), and has decided he doesn’t want most of his video games anymore.  He even cancelled his video game rental subscription!  Even though the Video Game Freeze of 2008 came on kind of gradually, I’m still not sure I was completely prepared for the Great Video Game Chuck-Off of 2009.

This was a kid who when he was five years old, could beat his dad at several Sega Genesis games. ( Good times, good times)  This was a kid whose online nickname was always something that involved the word ‘videogamer’ in between some random numbers.  Who used to ask for stuffed animal replicas of his favorite gaming characters. 

Where did that kid go???

These days, it’s all about social networking and portable applications.  If it can’t “Friend” you or let you send text messages while you pee, then what the heck good is it??!!  So after successfully selling most of his massive collection to the future “Videogamer66775”s of the world, he has pocketed some serious bucks, and is poring over iTouch websites and books. 

The good news is that Uber has kindly offered to let me go halvsies with him on the iTouch.  You see, I recently put off a couple childish things myself, and came into a few George Washington’s of my own.  And therein lies the dilemma…

I have been doing a bit of research on one of those handy dandy Roku devices that let you stream your Netflix and Amazon movies and tv shows right to your television.  I had almost put down my payment on the puppy when Uber offered me this alternative way to burn my bundle of clams. 

“You seriously would rather have some device that just lets you sit on the couch and watch movies once in a while rather than this cool portable gadget that lets you not only watch movies, but update your Facebook, help you find cool restaurants when you are out, and keep up with your RSS feeds??” he taunted.

I’m considering signing him up for the debate team.  He can be seriously persuasive when he wants to be.  So, I’ve given myself a one week cool-down period to decide where my pretty pennies will finally end up. 

Half of an iTouch or a whole Roku?  I may not sleep for a week.

itouch vs roku


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“The Talk”

Well, Uber and I had “the talk” this week.  I know its strange, but up until now, he hasn’t shown much interest.  And at 14, I was kind of hoping maybe his friends had filled him in on most of the details already.  I don’t care how many public service announcements you see, you still don’t think it applies to your kid.

I’m talking, of course, about illegally downloading music.  (You people jump to way too many conclusions, you know?)

Uber got his first MP3 player this past week as a cool gift at a Christmas party he attended.  I know that some kids probably have MP3 players built into their cribs, but Uber has just never shown much interest in music until now.  As music obsessed as I am, I’m footsies thinking maybe he was accidentally switched with some other kid in the hospital nursery.  There was this one baby who looked like he was tapping his toe in time to the heart monitor.  Poor kid.  He’s probably trying to figure out how the heck he got stuck with a family that doesn’t even know who U2 is.

Nevertheless, I’m kinda attached to the sprawling teenage geekling now, so . . . no hard feelings.  

But in the past couple of months, even Uber has started taking a bigger interest in bands, musical genres, and the like.  And strangely enough, right at the crux of his burgeoning interest, an MP3 player magically appears.  You would have thought he had gotten the golden ticket.  He was beside himself with excitement, and by the next morning he was exclaiming over all the great music he had found online, and how cool the bands were, and how easy it was to download, and how frustrated he had been at first when he realized his player wouldn’t play certain songs because they had this stupid DRM-thingie on them, but that thankfully he had discovered this awesome free online program that removed the DRM from the files, and…

In my morning fog, it took me a minute to register that last bit.  Dang.  Can’t a girl even finish her bagel before she has to go into full parent-mode?? 

Uber was crushed when I explained that music doesn’t just grow on trees.  He was mortified to discover that this brand new hobby of his was actually going to tug at his purse strings.   It was very hard for him to comprehend that artists don’t offer their music on a sliding scale, with 14 year old jobless teens being in the most desperately needy category.

But after long philosophical discussions with both myself and his dad (Uber’s very favorite kind!), he gets it now.  He said it makes sense that if you really like a band, you are willing to support their efforts to continue making music.  I’m very proud of him.  He has learned something really important this week, and has matured yet a little more.  He is changing daily, right before my eyes.

I’m definitely planning to keep him.  Now that he’s finally “got rhythm”, that other stupid U2-free family probably wouldn’t want him anyway.

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You Weren’t Using That Were You?

We are a four computer family.  I know.  Shameful.  Wasteful.  Over the top.  But the truth is we really do use four computers.  At least most of the time.  The boys each cyberschool, so they need to haveH-Ts room 003 individual access to a computer during school days.  I work at home from my laptop, so it is basically just an extra appendage sticking out from my fingers at all times. And even R-T likes to know that the computer is there when he needs it.  His blog, for instance, has really taken off, and he has also discovered the addictive properties of Facebook. 

This computer consumerist mentality in Topsy-Techieland, however, creates its own set of challenges.  We tend to find that the grass is greener over on the other family member’s computer.

H-T’s computer is the oldest, and the graphics card just wasn’t designed to handle the latest games.  So when Dad isn’t home, he lays claim to the “man of the family’s” title and benefits.  In other words, finders keepers.

Now H-T’s computer happens to have all the finance software loaded on it.  So when H-T latches on to dad’s computer, I take the golden opportunity to hijack his desktop long enough to balance the checkbooks and find out how much deeper in debt we are than we were last week. 

Then Uber has a game that only seems to work on his computer, so when H-T wants a turn with that, Uber has to go looking for another device.  God help him if I’m working on the finances, dad is blogging, and my laptop is out of power.  At that point, he usually decides that his little brother doesn’t really deserve to play that game after all.  He will bring up some slight that H-T has never completely atoned for, and kicks him out of his chair and onto his computer-less butt. 

Throw in a little accordian music and you’ve got a geeky version of musical chairs. 

Doesn’t it make you wish you could come play? You’re welcome to visit anytime…just BYOC, of course.

Remember, just two more days to comment and get a chance to win that HP Printer.  If you’ve ever had anything to say in your life, NOW is the time to say it!!!!

Guest Post: When You Fall In Love With A Techie

Well my busy week got stopped in its tracks by a lovely stomach virus, of all things.  Oh, I’m still busy alright, but unfortunately it is the kind of busy that takes you from the couch, to the bathroom, and back to the bed again.  Now that’s busy!

So, my hubby being the bestest of all hubbies, has agreed to fill in for me here at TT today.  Knowing that he is a little long winded, I had better warn you now that this will probably be the LONGEST post ever to grace the Topsy-Techie annals.  But hang in there, cause when my hubby writes something, it is definitely worth reading.  (Just don’t drink Coke at the same time, unless you particularly enjoy that burning sensation when it comes out through your nose).

So without further ado…I give you Resistant Techie…

It was like Romeo and Juliet. I fell in love with a digital techie. She fell in love with someone who was analog. It was a forbidden love, but against all odds(which she could easily calculate with one of her cell phone features) we have been together for two decades. When we first fell in love, everything was in VHS. Fortunately for us, our marriage was digitally remastered, with bonus features included. I am Topsy’s almost Amish husband. I still know what a pencil and paper is, so she keeps me around for nostalgia.

So what is it like being married to a techie goddess?

Well, you can probably already guess that she is in charge of making sure everything electronic works. She focuses in with laser intensity on any technical problem in paradise. Actually, I would call it hyper-focus. We could easily be in the middle of a tornado evacuation and she would still be sitting at the computer with battle-hardened determination to solve the problem or go down with ship trying. I can imagine her shouting, “Take the boys and go to the basement. I will be there as soon as this computer finishes reformatting!” I hate to stop and ask for directions when I am driving, but you should see my Topsy when she is in troubleshooting mode  After spending grueling hours literally taking the whole thing apart, she will finally look up in defeat and say, “I guess I am going to have to call technical support.” Then she will wrinkle her nose and say, “They don’t know anything!” The thought of having to wait on the phone and then defer to someone in India for technical advice only spurs her to renew her digital hunt for the malfunctioning prey.

I also never have to worry about expressing my affection. Most guys struggle to know how to say “I love you.” I have never faced such difficulty. It can be said to my dearest Topsy in a variety of meaningful ways as long as it includes something with many buttons, cool functions and wireless options. Some fellows send flowers, jewelry, perfume or candy. My Topsy simply turns her nose up at such things. They do not flash, beep, whirl or perform twelve amazing functions all at the same time. I once bought her a very expensive bottle of perfume. She smiled and promptly made me return it for a full refund. However, she has never made me return any new gadget. I can count on overcoming her frugality with the simple expression, “But it has all of the latest features…” Her eyes will light up like I just whipped out a diamond necklace. Forget that commercial slogan, “He went to Jareds!” Topsy rolls her eyes at such waste. The real way to her heart is to whisper, “He went to Best Buy!” Forget Victoria’s Secret—if I want to impress her I better find out Bill Gates’ latest secret. Dear Topsy, how do I love thee?  Let me show you the latest program that can count the ways. I love thee to the zip, the byte and the Google Beta heights…

It also means that while our old house looks like a classic on the outside, it resembles the bridge of the Starship Enterprise on the inside. The many gables and antique features of the exterior is simply clever camouflage. The decorations on the inside must all match the colors of the computers. And while my crew may appear to be just a normal American family, that myth is quickly shattered when you actually hear them conversing with each other: “Mom, you now you cannot slink the gleeb with the twerper circuit!” or, “I already linked the mozinga to the swalp drive.” Most of the time I have no idea what exotic language they are actually talking to each other in. They could be plotting my slow demise for all I know, or they could be talking about the latest program to bake brownies, or both. I understand their jargon no more that I could understand R2-D2. It also means that every available electrical outlet in the house has something plugged into it. It is a good thing that she is so conscientious about the environment and recycling because surely it somehow offsets some of what must be an enormous carbon footprint left by our massive power consumption. We simply do not have enough power outlets to suffice in a techie household. I fully expect to walk in one day and hear a Scottish voice yelling back up to my wife from the basement, “Aye Cap’n,  the warp reactors are on hyper overload as it is, you will have to lower the shields if you want to go any faster.”

Most of all, it makes my dear Topsy very, very popular. Britney can sing about how everyone wants a piece of her, but my wife has her beat hands down when it comes to technology fame. Everyone wants her to do something. She is a Geek Samaritan when it comes to helping everyone out the digital ditch they have fallen into. We were both at a Diocesan event where I was being examined by a church commission to determine if I should move forward in the process of preparing for Holy Orders. When our Bishop found out that she did technical design work, he suddenly turned his attention to her. Apparently there is no shortage of people who wear clerical collars and labor in theology, but someone who can do techie stuff, now that is a burning bush from God if ever there was one. Of course, Topsy is pretty popular with me as well. She does it all and makes it look easy. In short, she keeps us all recharged and updated. I happen to think that she is the hottest thing since…the latest new gadget that just came out. Just ask Topsy, I  am sure that she can tell you what it is.

The Downsides of Cyberschooling Geeklings

We will make a dress

Image by Brave Heart via Flickr

Yes, of course, everything normally goes picture perfect in Topsy-Techieland.  Our bandwidth speeds remain constant, our ideas come to us in Hi-Def, and little birds and mice dress us and feed us.

But once in a long while there is a cog in the wheel that doesn’t quite get oiled, and all Vista breaks loose.

(Need to tread lightly here, because I might need a certain geekling to guest post for me this week, and I really can’t afford to tick him off at the moment)

Anyhoo – – the unoiled cog can sometimes come in the form of a young man, who shall remain unnamed, who happens to download many, many programs and games into his computer each week.  It is possible – – I suppose – –  that the normal, average, 14-year-old checks thoroughly and completely the authenticity and safety of each and every program downloaded into their computer.  But I darn well doubt it.  So why should I be surprised that, at least in one respect, my 14-year-old is perfectly average??

Cut to … yesterday.

At the hour of his daily online classroom conference, the unnamed young man finds himself completely unable to type anything, navigate the web, or even cut off the computer because it is so dang ill.  Viruses have taken it over and are holding it for a ransom sum that not many 14-yr-olds have access to these days.

Even though I haven’t been in public school for a while, I would imagine that it is something akin to finding out that your school has suddenly burned down.  There is a sense of elation, at first, because you know you will miss tomorrow’s science test.  But when the truth sinks in you realize that your school was actually a pretty cool place, and you are downright bummed that it is gone. Add to this the realization that your school also happens to be your video arcade, your social hall, and your connection to the outside world, and you become more than a little bummed – – you are seriously pissed off.

Add to this frustration a mom who lays on guilt with “I told you that downloading that crap was going to kill your computer one day” and you’ve got an actual teenage meltdown on your hands. 

So, last night, instead of the 3,459 things I really needed to accomplish, I spent the night reformatting a certain young man’s computer.  Much was lost in the fray – – some key documents and programs that meant a lot to him.  But much was gained as well.  I truly believe that this geekling will be a LOT more careful about what and where he downloads from in the future.

I’d share more, but the little birds are getting impatient for me to let them dust the computer screen.  Ah, the life of a Topsy-Techie homeschooler….

Remember, every comment on Topsy-Techie this month gets you an automatic entry into the HP Printer giveaway!!