Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bad Elf

My idea of the perfect elf is something similar to the character played by Will Ferrell in the movie, Elf. A good elf should be full of the Christmas spirit, oozes love and kindness, and wraps the perfect present. I try to be full of the Christmas spirit and ooze love and kindness, but I fail miserably in one important category- present wrapping.

I try to be a good wrapper, I really do. I attempt to carefully estimate the exact amount of wrapping paper needed. I fold the paper with nice little creases; try to make triangles that fold in on themselves to cover the ends, and use just the minimum of tape, but the presents I wrap are easy to spot under the tree. It is like my presents have been dragged behind Santa's sled over all the neighbors’ roofs.

When I wrap presents, the Lorax cries. I often find myself using twice the amount of paper that is needed for some gifts. The ends of the gifts have so much paper bunched up that I feel compelled to get my staple gun and tack down the corners. The seams are angled oddly on the sides, and sometimes on the front of my gifts. On the presents that I don't use too much paper, I don't use nearly enough paper. It is not unusual for my presents to have holes on the sides and on the back of the gifts that must be patched with scraps. The end result is like some sort of patch work wrapping experiment that requires four times the normal amount of tape. The frightening Frankenstein present.

There is no perfectly wrapped gift from me. There are always highly noticeable issues that stand out like neck bolts. It is like I am missing the present wrapping gene.

Last night the marathon of gift wrapping began, but Amy was not feeling well. Hanging out with the kids over the last two days without me left her worn-out, and fighting a bad cold. She totally has my sympathy, but with three kids and two days before the major unwrapping event, the job had to be done.

So, I volunteered to wrap presents and told her to just label the presents as I finish. I had completely forgotten that I cannot do this task without looking like a spaz. How that had escaped me I really don't know because as soon as the present and the wrapping tools are within arm’s length, it all comes rushing back to me.

Amy was watching me align presents and create my Christmas origami mysteries, but I refused to meet her eye. I knew she was ready to burst out laughing and I just couldn't be distracted from the task at hand. There was no time to be mocked.

But there was plenty of time to curse and mutter under my breath about the ridiculous shape of toy packaging- large rectangular cuboids- Stupid!

Tape is another problem for me- sometimes it is too sticky, other times it is not sticky enough, and just when you are on a large, challenging wrapping job and you only have one hand free to seal the deal, you run out. Even though I buy tape three packs at a time, I can never find the other two rolls. I have been known to resort to using duct tape in a pinch.

This year I bought a handy little paper cutter. You just run the tool down the length of the paper and it cuts the perfect straight line. Bull! This thing cannot cut a straight line, and after you have used it a few times, it no longer wants to cut paper at all. It wants to shred paper, making bunched up tears, and jagged ripples that make every cut an adventure.

I was trying to do my present wrapping on my bed. There really couldn't be a more difficult place to wrap things, it is too soft, with pillows and blankets and I always tear holes in the paper by accidently pushing the present through the paper on the reverse side and into the bed. The problem is that my little people are all jacked up on the idea of Christmas presents and the sound of wrapping paper is like the sound of bells to Pavlov's dogs. When you are an elf at my house, you must wrap under the most strict security measures possible- locked door, wait an hour after the kid's bedtime, and you must listen for the sounds of stirring gremlins. There is no wrapping at the dining room table…

For some problems in life there are no solutions, we just do the best we can. The wrapping problem continues, and Amy's cold is worse. I bought lots of extra tape, and few extra 1000 ft rolls of wrapping paper. Later today I will coffee up and do it all. I am a little over halfway through the gifts that I remember needing to wrap, but the job must be done – even if I am a bad elf!

In the spirit of the season, I would like to share this little song with you-

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ninja-Like Reflexes

It is important for me to say that I am against anyone throwing anything at the President. Now that I have said that, I think the video that came out today of the shoe throwing Iraqi is incredible, and in some ways very funny, for a few reasons.

1.) President Bush is standing maybe 20 feet away from the attacker in this video, in a completely relaxed stance, just doing his normal Head of State thing, when this guy whips off his shoe and chucks it at about 90 miles and hour. The aim was precisely for the center of Bush's face yet he slipped it easily. Awesome! Did he have special ninja training to prepare for the job?

2.) Then the second shoe comes and it is within 5 inches of the first throw! Wow! It is really hard to throw a shoe accurately, and within 3 seconds, the second shoe was heading to the same spot! I have been throwing shoes around the house all day, and I can tell you for a fact that is hard to do. Did this guy take lessons? How do you get that good at throwing shoes? It must take a lot of practice time. I mean, seriously, you would have to wear the same shoes all the time to be that consistently good. A different shoe would require a different grip, and it would have different aerodynamic properties. There are just a large number of factors that come together to make me believe the attacker was at least the best shoe thrower on his block.

The speed that he got both of his shoes off and threw them, incredible! He was like Clint Eastwood. He fired both rounds before anyone in the room except Bush could move.

3.) Was the Secret Service on a smoke break? In the movies these guys react like lightning to any threat, and then shot and kill people. How did they miss this? Maybe this was only a minor attack and the President, by rule, must take this one on his own or something- hence the previously mentioned Ninja training. After a couple of guys did jump on the shoe thrower, you see a secret service man comes over to Bush and he waves him off like, "I got this one. My momma throws a shoe harder than that." The secret service guy was a little late after all.

Maybe there is some sort of threat protocol; for bombs- we cover the president with our bodies, for guns- the guy closest to the president covers him with his body everybody else shoots the guy with the gun, for knives- we get in the way of the attacker and shoot him till he stops moving, for a shoe attack we ???? Maybe no one has ever thought that a shoe could be hurled with such ferocity and accuracy. The split second it took to process what was happening, then running through the protocols and finding nothing, left them paralyzed. I am pretty sure there are some secret agents getting grilled over this attack. And maybe that is a good thing. I do not want anyone to hurt my President.

4.) Bush slipped the first shoe with ease but the second one was partially deflected by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki while Bush was attempting to block the shoe as well. The total effect was that the shoe was harmlessly pushed out of the way. But if you look closely, it seems like Bush was trying to catch the shoe! How awesome would that have been if Bush caught the shoe and, still using his Ninja skills, immediately returned fire with the assailant’s weapon nailing him right between the eyes! I tell you right now it would have been the all time greatest YouTube video ever. I would pay money to own that!

5.) Every culture is entitled to have their own serious insults, and I am not making fun of that guy who threw the shoe or his culture, but does the insult count as much if you don't hit the target?

6.) I realize that this incident makes many people upset. Some people are upset with Bush. Some people are upset with the attacker. I am proud of Bush standing up and facing high velocity loafers at 20 feet. If he had been hit I would be angry at the attacker, angry at the Secret Service for failing to protect our leader, and angry at all of the movies that falsely depict the protection skills of the Secret Service. Instead, in my eyes, Bush saved the day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mr. Quinn

On Monday a co-worker at my school died after a long, valiant fight with brain cancer. I will not be able to attend his life celebration this afternoon, or his memorial service tomorrow due some family scheduling problems. So I thought that I would honor his memory with a story about Mr. Quinn that I will always treasure.

Warning- if you are easily offended you should stop reading now and visit these cute little puppies instead.

I have known Mr. Quinn for a long time, about 18 years. Throughout all that time, one incident stands out above all the others- the day he introduced me to Karaoke Roulette.

Karaoke Roulette is the name I came up with for a game that you can play with or without your friends' knowledge. You usually just need a Karaoke machine, a group of friends, some alcohol, and a variety of songs.

For the longest time, my school used to have end of the year parties. One year an assistant principal let use her house way out in Pungo, which is a place in Virginia Beach that is basically a farming area. Houses are spread out with fields in between and you can get a little loud, if you are into that.

This particular year we had a tent set up with food, a volleyball court, and a DJ that had a Karaoke machine. If you can imagine, after a few hours at the cookout people started to get a little loose.

Then it was Karaoke time. Karaoke always begins with one or two brave people who think they can sing, and then everyone else realizes that it is ok to try because no one else can really sing either. People began to enjoy themselves and roll with it.

This was when Mr. Quinn made his move. Karaoke DJs always pass around the big notebooks full of songs and slips of paper. If you want a song, you write down the number of the song and your name. No one ever says you can’t pick songs for other people. Mr. Quinn picked out a song and wrote my name down.

It is at this time that I am feeling pretty good, standing off to the side running my mouth about something stupid (I am guessing because that is what I usually do at parties) when the DJ announces it is my turn to come up and sing. This threw me into confusion because I knew that I did not put my name in to sing anything.

I protest but the crowd is ignoring me and pushing me up to the microphone. Suddenly, I find myself in front of the monitor when the title and artist rolls across the screen, Big Balls, by ACDC (youtube). Of course this cracked me up, and I look over and Mr. Quinn is rolling around in his beach chair laughing. I know I have been had. No matter what I do at this point I look like an idiot. If I sing the song I will I look stupid, or I can refuse and look like a party pooper.

Never being one to back down from a challenge, I sang my song proudly- "I've got the biggest balls of them all!" -in front of my assistant principals and the rest of the staff that were still hanging out at the party. Luckily, people have short memories when everyone is misbehaving, and the incident was forgotten by everyone- but me.

Thank you for the fun and laughter Mr. Quinn. You will be missed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bean Head

Last week I got a bad haircut. It makes my head look like the shape of one of those chocolate covered goobers. I've come to realize that I'm not comfortable seeing parts of my own scalp.
Sharde', my former hairstylist, has apparently left town. The rumor is that she has run off to Georgia with her boyfriend. Or at least that's what they tell me at the Hair Cuttery up the street.

We had an odd business relationship. She was a student who used to attend the school that I still work at, and while she was an adult, I still saw her as a child.

We would talk about the people that she remembered from school and I would fill her in on the latest news. Sometimes she would tell me how things were going in her life I would have to resist the urge to give advice. Once, she told me about a new tattoo that she was getting to match her boyfriend's tattoo. I smiled and said something like, "That is nice," and hoped she wouldn't. Not that there is anything wrong with tattoos. Matching tattoos just seemed to be something that she might someday regret.

I would always wait for her to cut my hair. One time I waited for an hour. I never wait for anyone or anything, but for her I felt obligated to do that to support her independence. Somehow, seeing her do well made me feel better.

As loyal as I was to her, even lining up my family to get hair cuts just from her, she didn't give the greatest haircut ever. I didn't mind that my oldest son's hair line in the back was cut at a 10 degree angle. I didn't care that my hair was not always uniformly cut and had spots that were obviously longer than all of the neighboring hairs. I was happy just knowing that she was still doing ok.

Last week, I got a hair cut that I am just not happy with, I mean it is short and relatively uniform, but it is weird. I think that it is strange because someone new cut my hair and I am a tougher critic of her work.

The family was all out of the house and everyone was still under control, so I decided to go to a new place- still cheap, but I had never been there before. The girl seemed nice enough, but she used the number four clipper straight up the side of my head. It is like a long buzz cut or something. The bad thing about a haircut is that often by the time you know things are wrong; it is way too late to say anything. She left sideburns on me. Sure, I have always toyed with the idea of some Captain Kirk side burns that come to a point, and giggled about possibly growing some fat 70's Elvis styled side burns, but as a rule, I opt out of that kind of facial hair.

While this girl (and I really don't use that term in a negative way- she was young, but definitely an adult) was cutting my hair, my daughter was watching very closely, and standing 2 to 3 feet away. This really seemed to distract my new hairstylist. At the time she was working on the over the ears part and the back hairline. It seems that she looked away at some point while working on my left side because it is higher than the other side and has a little knick in it. So I can't really fix the sideburns without drawing attention the larger nicked up gap on the left side.

So now I am out there in the giant hair grooming world trying to find someone who understands what I want. I just want my hair shorter and I really don't want to talk about it. I know that I don't want it to look stupid but I also know that there are some things that other people need to help me with- that is why I am not trying to cut my own hair in front of a mirror. I know that normally Sharde' would use a number 4 clipper cover and kind of taper it up from the bottom. All the rest of the hair would get trimmed and she would never say something like, "Do you want me to trim your eyebrows?" - I was furious when I heard that! I also don't want anyone to bring attention the fact that my hair is pulling back from my face like the tide. If a bald spot is forming where I can't see it, my hair person should not ask me, "When did the aliens land?"

I think it is also important to talk to me, and to laugh at half of any jokes that I tell. When I say that my hair is turning blond again, just like when I was a child, my hair stylist should laugh like it is the funniest thing they have ever heard, and say, "Yes, it is getting more blond!" I feel better about tipping when my stupid jokes get laughs.

Until my next haircut, I am just going to keep a low profile. Really, how close do people get to you to see all of the little imperfections of your hair? If you stay far away, no one can even tell that your hair looks bad. I will just try to stay at least 20 yards from everyone for about 3 more weeks.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Burn My Shorts

My lucky Redskins underwear failed me- yet again! In order to equalize the karma in the world, and please the football overlords, I must cleanse my underwear with purifying flame.
This year I will only be able to attend one Redskins game. The game was this past Monday night's defeat at the hands of the Steelers.

In many ways this game was very different from the other Redskins games I have attended. This one cost me almost nothing! Technically that is not true because I had to use my credit card for 8 years to build up the points, and then I traded the points for the tickets. Getting two tickets that way is a lot less expensive than getting the same tickets from scalpers or from Stub Hub. The face value for the two tickets I got was $99 a ticket. The same tickets on Stub Hub would have gone for $325 or more a ticket.

This is far better than the other things you can get for the Redskins points on my credit card. Redskins clothes and things are priced at stadium prices, which is more than online prices and means a t-shirt (at bottom left $19.99) can cost you more than a similar shirt at Kohl's ($11.20) or some other more reasonable retail outlet. Then there is the strange conversion that they use for dollars to points. For every dollar you spend you get a point, but turning the points back into dollars is not something that can be easily understood. I am not a math person but there seems to be an obvious fluctuation in how items are valued with points. If a $20 t-shirt costs 3,300 pts, why does a pair of good $200 tickets to a game cost 25,000 pts.? Shouldn't the tickets cost 33,000 pts.? Please don't tell Daniel Snyder. The tickets are already too expensive.
I am not complaining, as the the difference seems to have worked out to my benefit, but I did learn something important. Don't buy the t-shirts and the crap you can get anywhere! Hold out for the tickets.

Over the past few years, I have become spoiled by the tickets my friend PR and I have normally been able to get. We have been able to enjoy the luxury of the club level seats. Oh yes, we paid for the difference (in the neighborhood of $300 a ticket including parking pass) but there is something to be said about having an enclosed area on the club level with marble floors and a higher toilet to patron ratio. I was reminded of this sometime in the middle of the 1st half.

The seats we were able to get were in the lower bowl in the last row Section 239. Great seats on the Redskins side of the field staring straight down the five yard line.

I am in the middle with a beer. the Steelers fan with BO is on the right in the white shirt.

People are also more polite and less drunk in the club level seats. It is rare to hear cursing screamed in any area of the club level. I had forgotten how common that is in other seats. People are falling down, incoherently drunk before they even get into the stadium. I remember those days!

Perhaps the fact that I only had a couple of beers all night contributed to me noticing more at my most recent visit to FedEx field. I have to say it was difficult not to notice the swarm of Steelers fans at the game. It was embarrassing. The stadium holds 90,000 people. I am guessing that 30,000 were Steelers fans. They have a right to buy available tickets, but the fans that own the tickets should be ashamed. I did travel with a Steelers fan on Monday night and I have nothing against any other fans (except the guy I was seated next to who had serious body odor and kept sticking his armpit in my face. Next to that, getting towel whipped every 30 seconds was nothing- which he also also did.), but there is something very wrong with allowing your home field to become a neutral site.

I have to blame Daniel Snyder because he dictates the cost of the seats. The ticket prices go up every year and you must purchase seat licenses to go with your seats. All total, if you were to buy 3 season tickets in the club level section, it would cost you $25,000 for 8 regular season games and 3 preseason games. There is no price fixing, so the price goes up next year.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Snyder graciously allowed seats to be sold on Stub Hub. Before then, you could lose your seat if you were found to be giving your tickets to anyone else. Bad behavior or supporting the wrong team could cost you your seats. Now the price of the seats is such that the vast majority of people can not afford to lose the money that the tickets represent, and they are encouraged to pass them on. By the way, how can Stub Hub not be seen as a glorified scalper? They are the middle man that makes the transaction happen. Must be a legal loophole that gives Snyder even more money.

I think the days of me spending my hard earned teaching salary on travel, and as many games as I can get tickets for, is forever over. I am too financially challenged for such extravagant living. Besides, HD TV is awesome (sour grapes)!

The most interesting/frustrating part of the trip was the 16 mile excursion to the stadium that took 2 and half hours. We didn't travel on the beltway because I was told that it would take too long. What? Seriously? If the trip took any longer we could have just walked. I was told that the traffic that we went through was normal, everyday traffic at that time of the day. The only thing I could think is- why do you live here?

The important thing is that I really did have a good time. If I had the chance, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Spending time with my friends and going to sports heaven, it doesn't get much better than that. The Redskins did lose, but the loss didn't really hurt them that badly- it was out of the division and conference so it counted less. The Skins are on a bye this week and should come back healthier and hungrier for their next opponent- Dallas at Fed Ex.

Too bad I am going to have to buy new lucky underwear.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Behold, The Silver Surfer

Silver Surfer and Galactus from

I have loved to read ever since I was very young. I first mastered One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss, in the first grade and became completely hooked on reading.

I encountered comic books long before I could read. I had a few children's books, but comic books were much easier to come by. Older kids always had some laying around and comic books could be found at every drug store, 7-11 and all of the finer grocery stores.

I loved the pictures. The action packed illustrations told a story all by themselves. When I was able to put the words and the pictures together it made the experience so much richer. I could feel the action and sense the emotions of the characters in a way that even television could not match.

I would save my allowance up every week and hit the comic book racks. I knew what day the new issues would come out and I would eagerly give all my money up so that I could buy four comic books. I would run out of the store and search for a nice quiet place to devour every last page of the comics I bought. Balancing the desire to savor every word and image while simultaneously attempting to read as fast as I could, was a unique form of bliss.

All good things must come to an end, and in no time I would be finished with my new comics and plotting my next series of purchases. This went on for a quite a few years of my youth.

In December, 1979, I was 13 years old. My awkward teenage years had begun and I felt the normal isolation that sets in at that fun time of life. I was still reading my comic books, but I hid that piece of information from my friends who did not share my interest in such kid stuff. This was when the re-issue of the Origin of the Sliver Surfer series came out.

Fantasy Masterpieces Re-issue Number 1, from -
I had heard of the Silver Surfer before, but as a superhero, he was hard to figure out. He made very few appearances and he was kind of a loner.

Once, when I was going to a summer camp, my mom told a counselor that I was a loner. You know, in that way that adults speak in front of children like they are not present. There was no malice in what she said, only a desire for another adult to understand me.

I identified with this character. I couldn't resist this new comic book. I paid 75¢ for that comic, which was more costly than my normal 50¢ comic book. Soon after, I found my favorite superhero.

There are many reasons why I have been drawn to the Silver Surfer. What color is cooler than chrome? The Surfer can fly through the cosmos on a surfboard faster than the speed of light. And we should not forget that the Surfer can shoot cosmic rays from his hands. Awesome!

In 1987, I was a in college when Joe Satriani's disc Surfing with the Alien came out. It is safe to say that I may have listened to it a couple of times.

This is the cover art for Joe Satrini's Surfing with the Alien disc, from

Marvel has a fairly complete biography of the Silver Surfer. Of course, Youtube has a video, or two (part 2 of the same episode) starring the Silver Surfer.

Perhaps it is clearer now why I would attempt to create such a costume for Halloween. It is not as appropriate as it might have been when I was younger, but it was a challenge. I like challenges- even if they make me look completely ridiculous.

My Silver Surfer costume has been in the works for over a year. It is now complete. I wore the costume Saturday to a neighbor's Halloween party, and even engaged in some Karaoke as the Surfer.

This is me in my Silver Surfer Costume.

My Mother-in-Law cut the face portion out of the silver Zentai suit, so I could breathe. I purchased silver running shoes, silver socks, and a silver mask. I also bought silver basketball shorts because the skin tight costume left nothing to the imagination. Amy was very pleased that I wore the shorts.

I made a large surf board out of cardboard (4 layers) and spray painted the entire thing silver. Then I purchased silver duct tape and taped the edges up so you don't see all of the layers of cardboard when looking at the board from the side.

The suit was very tight. It was almost like wearing a snug blood pressure cuff over your entire body. It was a very strange feeling. Another odd note- drinking while wearing a suit like this- is not a great idea. Going to the bathroom is not easy, or convenient, and it requires help to get into, and out of, the suit.

If you are not doing anything in particular on Halloween and you happen by my neighborhood, you might just see a silver guy walking around with a silver surfboard watching after some kids on their candy collection rounds. The highly reflective nature of silver is perfect for this Halloween duty...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I am happy to say that my recent battle with Post-Birthday Depression (PBD) has officially ended. I just turned 42. It really wasn't that bad this year. It only lasted two days and it started after the big day. Bonus on both counts for me!

When I turned 30 I went into a spiral of depression for about two weeks. I think it was because I knew my childhood was over (maybe chronologically, but not mentally). Now, I am only down to two days of sluggish melancholy - awesome!

It seems so terribly self centered to become depressed over a birthday. What reason could I possibly have to be upset? Because I am a year older if my age should come up in conversation? Or is it because I have gone yet another birthday without receiving my dream gift (a Porsche 911 Turbo- for anyone who might be wishing me a belated birthday with a gift)? As unreasonable as birthday depression seems to me, it was a real experience.

I know I am not the only person who goes through this, am I? I would be interested to hear some feedback about this question...

In any case, it is all over now. Thank goodness! I wonder, what will happen next year?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Saturday, October 4th I ran my first 5k race.

The day before the race, I looked around the house for my new running shorts I bought just for this special occasion. I didn't want to stand out and not look like I belonged. The shorts are made from a very light breathable fabric and they have their own built in underwear. Tight and pinchy- kind of like man's swimming suits. Light, uncomfortable, but what I was sure everyone else would be wearing. I couldn't find them anywhere.

I asked my wife Amy if she had seen them.

"No." she said as she is looking through our first grader's backpack.

"Did you wash them?"

"I haven't seen them." She said with a little bit of attitude.

"Well you had to have seen them because I hung them up on the closet doorknob in the living room. I didn’t move them, so I know you moved them," I said accusingly.

"Al, they were dirty and smelly, and we had people over last Sunday, and yes I moved them! They were disgusting!"

"Ah, ha!" I shouted. "I knew you moved them. So where did you put them?"

"I don't know!" she yelled, and then ever so quietly she followed it up with, "Idiot!"

"What did you say?"

"Nothing," she said as she pretended to have forgotten about the whole thing and dove back into the never-ending book bag.

The next day, at seven in the morning, I am still fixated on the shorts that I can't find. I get out of the shower and see a dark pair of shorts on top of the dirty clothes basket. I grabbed them and ran downstairs.

"See! I told you that you moved the shorts! Because I didn't take them upstairs," I said with triumph like I had just made a major point in a nationally televised debate.

Amy is sipping her morning coffee and watching some cartoon the kids have on the TV. This is where Amy proved, without a doubt, that she is superior to me. "That's great honey. I am glad you found them. Are they dirty or clean?"

I didn't think about where I found them, I just looked at them for a second and went completely blank. "I don't know."

Amy was already two steps ahead of me. She knew that there is only one way to tell if the shorts were clean or not. Without thinking, I did it. I smelled my own dirty shorts. As my own personal funk hit my nose, I knew that she had gotten me good. I could not hide the instant revulsion I felt. I thought Amy was going to hurt herself she was laughing so hard.

I showed up to the race wearing my clean basketball shorts. Not authentic running shorts.

The race itself was hard. I have no hills in my neighborhood, but the race had these slow rolling hills and it made it very difficult. I did not like the sun in my face either. The important thing to me was that I finished the race and I ran the whole way. I did it. I came in 94th place. There were a few hundred people there so I have no idea what that means outside of my personal goal of completing the run.

I may run another 5k someday, but dirty or clean, I will never smell my own shorts again.

Friday, October 3, 2008


It is funny how we go through life kidding ourselves about our true intentions. Today I realized that my recent health kick- exercising, and eating better- has had nothing to do with me wanting to be a healthier person. I am not doing it for my doctor, or my family, or even myself.

I have been driven to this health thing because of Halloween. Funny thing was that I figured it out Twittering. Condensing your thoughts down to 140 characters does have benefits.

That is correct. I have been running and eating salads and doing push ups so I can wear my Halloween costume this year with pride. I am such a dork!

I have always loved Halloween because I can dress up as someone else and get into the character. One year I was Captain Kirk and memorized phrases and mannerisms. I became James T. Kirk for about 4 hours.

Another year, I was a Klingon Warrior and wore the full costume with makeup, and a really funky curved knife that I purchased just for a party and returned the next day. I justified the knife to my wife by explaining that item was a key to the whole costume. After all, what is a Klingon Warrior without a weapon?

I was also one of the Three Amigos for another annual Halloween party. I must admit that this costume was really just an excuse to hang with a couple of friends all night and talk in a really bad Spanish accent (We did not stick to the movie of the same name. We were more like outlaws or something. And we drank tequila.).

Last year I purchased a silver Zentai tie suit so that I could be the Silver Surfer. Zentai is type of skin tight outfit that is a lot more revealing than clothes I normally wear. The only problem was that the suit came way too late.

I saved my suit, waiting for this year's Halloween throw down. I just found out that my wife and I will be attending an adult only Halloween party, and a few days later the whole family will be going to a kid friendly party. I am excited that I get to wear my costume twice this year!

The other day as I considered the healthy changes that I made in my life, the first thought that popped in my head was that I will look good in my Silver Surfer suit for Halloween. How wrong is that? I have been rationalizing my behavior at the very least, and at the worst, I have been completely delusional. Somehow the realization of why I have been healthy has made the outcome less meaningful. And I really find that quite funny.

I believed that I was immune to taking myself seriously. Whatever. I should just accept the fact that I am shallow. No matter what, I am going to look like an idiot in my costume and I don't care. I have been waiting over a year to wear this thing. I will not be denied.

Amy is preparing to mock me in a way that she has never attempted before. When I mention the costume her eyes roll back in her head and you can just tell that she is going drop me off on a corner somewhere and leave me standing there all shiny and silver with a big surf board.

Yes, I will post pictures. I am sure Amy will take them whether I want her to or not.

I tried the outfit on. It will be perfect after I cut a hole in it for my face. Then I need to lose 10 lbs., find a silver mask, silver running shorts, some silver shoes, and make a silver surf board...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Freedom Burn

Last Monday, I woke up with my face three shades of red. It was kind of a gradient effect. Dark red on the left, gradually changing over to a milder shade of red on the right side. This was not sun burn. This was a case of Freedom Burn!

If the sound of military aircraft flying is the sound of freedom, then the burn on my skin caused by watching military aircraft fly during the day is Freedom Burn.

Last weekend I took the family, and some friends from out of town, to the Oceana Air Show. I love the planes and the noise! We went on Saturday and Sunday this year. Double your fun!

The first day we got there late, but we did have some excitement. As my friend PR and I were looking for earplugs, we saw a guy get arrested. I have no idea what for, but they shuttled him off pretty quickly.

PR is a tall guy and no sooner than we noticed the ruckus did he blurt out, "Hey what are the doing that for?"

I about freaked out! There are dozens of military police standing around where we were with M16's. You don't question these guys or even make eye contact when you are on base. Regular laws do not apply. So, I quietly told him to shut up, and snapped the picture below as PR posed in front of the B-52 on display.

A minute after this picture was taken, a squad of MPs, and an attack dog, ran from where the first guy was hauled away, to a new group of people. That picture is below.

I have no idea what was going on and I didn't stick around long. I was surprised that I was able to take these photos, but I wasn't the only one taking pictures.

Day two was incredible! We had the best spot out there. VIP tent location with free food and $1 beer. I spent most of my time trying to keep the kids happy while taking pictures and video clips.

I am a terrible photographer/videographer. I take way too many pictures and video clips. Most of them are of my shoe and the tarmac, but every once in a while I do get something that passes for acceptable.
I put some of the better images together in a little movie below. I hope you enjoy the highlights of the the airshow!

I must give a special thank you to my neighbor Don for getting us the most incredible VIP passes in the world. If you looked at the video, you can really see how close we were to the action. After the jets passed by, you could feel the heat blast from their engines.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Jell-O Incident

Mornings, during the school year, are always a little harried around my house. My oldest son stays home to catch the bus to his school, but the rest of us must gather our things and try and be in the minivan by 7:20 am. There are always problems. Sam may not be able to find his Power Ranger motorcycle to take to day care, or Savannah may be angry at the world because she was forced to get up too early. But not today.

Today, everything was great until I opened up Sam's door to get him in his booster seat. Sam is four and while that means he can't find his socks in the middle of the floor, he notices just about everything else.

I hear him yell, "Eeeeww! That's nasty!"

"What?" I say with the exhaustion of a parent that hasn't slept 8 hours in a row since before my first child was born.

"There is Jell-O on the seat."

Sure enough, under the edge of his booster seat is what appears to be an entire cup of orange Jell-O that has escaped the boundaries of the little aluminum foil covered cup that is been mysteriously opened, and tilted. It seems that often a parent's job is to be a detective and discover the culprit to every misdeed. I don't always understand the point of finding out who did something, but being well trained in this aspect of parenting, I automatically queried, "Did you do this Sam?"

"Not me," he answered with the coolness of a chilled cucumber.

"So the cup is under your seat, but you didn't do it?"

"Nope," he said as a halo began to form over his head.

"Ok, who did it? I know your brother didn't do it because he didn't eat his lunch on the way home from daycare in the five minute trip from the YMCA. I didn't do it, and your mom didn't do it. So, who did it?"

"Maybe Savannah did it."

Savannah is now getting into the car and has no idea what we are talking about, but at six, and stuck between the two boys in the family, she doesn't need to know what's going on. She knows the right answer. "It wasn't me."

As a good detective, I had to run down the list of suspects one more time. "I didn't do it. Your mom didn't do it. Calvin didn't do it. Savannah didn't do it, and Sam, you didn't do it. So who dumped the orange Jell-O on the car seat? Wait, I know! Maybe it was an alien."

It is wonderful to see the wheels turning in a child. Sam shouts, “Dad! I know what happened! While you, and mom, and Calvin, and Savannah, and Ducky (the cat), and Kona (the dog), and I were all asleep, a Nightmare snuck out of the closet. He came down the stairs, and went out to the car, and he dumped Jell-O all over the seat."

By now, I have finished cleaning up all of the Jell-O mess. Amy turns to me and says, "Do you buy that story?"

"Sounds like a good one to me!"

Case closed.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Running on Empty?

Life has been very busy for me since school started 3 weeks ago, but I have found some time for just me. Well, really my dog and me. We run together every morning. We started out with only a mile everyday before work. This week, we started running two miles. My goal next week is to go for three. I don't think Kona really cares, she just likes to run. She can run forever.

I used to hate running. In middle school we used to have to run 600 yards every so often. I only completed it once without stopping. I saw no purpose to it. I was stubborn and basically refused to do it.When I was a teenager I would run all day while playing basketball, but I still would never run just to run.

Only after I became an adult did I ever run for the health benefits. When I was in my twenties I ran to get in shape for a Taekwondo Tournament. I found out that I really could run, it was all just a mind game that I could play. Unfortunately, it didn't help me win my match. I should have sparred more.

Last week, I decided to enter a 5K after using an online conversion tool so I could picture the length of the race. Jimmy Carter promised that the US would convert to the international standard of measurement, the metric system, but to me, it will never be more than a conversion I need to make before I can understand it. Five kilometers is only a tad over 3 miles.

I am pretty sure that I can run 3 miles without a problem. Just because I haven't done it before, doesn't mean that I can't do it. I'll find out for sure next week.

What I do know about running is that I am like a vampire runner. I don't like to run during daylight. I prefer leaving the sunglasses at home, and I must wear sunglasses during the day. I have also developed a near phobia about having other people see me run. It is strange but the peace of the run is shattered by daylight and people milling about.

Now I am faced with new challenges and odd things to worry about. Obviously running 5k is part of the problem that I face. But the St Mary's 5k will be held during the day! I will also be around other people who will see and hear me. Is it ridiculous to worry that other people might think that I look odd when I run, or that I make way too much noise huffing? I don't even have proper running shorts. Will my dog hate me when she figures out that I ran without her?

I think it is important to have stupid things to worry about- as long as you remember how ridiculous your tiny problems are in the big scheme of things.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


At 41, I decided I had to live healthier. I wasn't really happy about that decision. I mean, really, who can be happy about giving up all of the food they love? I went to the Cheesecake Factory twice this summer and ate- salads! I really didn't mind too much- weird! I love Cheesecake. It is probably my favorite dessert, and I passed it up.

I stopped smoking in February. Surprisingly, that was not hard, but I was never a heavy smoker. I have had a few cigarettes since then, but usually only after I have been drinking alcohol. It makes me feel so bad that there is no danger of falling off the wagon. I don't enjoy smoking any longer.

I don't drink much anymore either. That has pretty much been the case since my oldest son was born. You just can't drink and be a good parent. I learned that the hard way from my father. I only drink socially, and I rarely have the time to be social in that way anymore.

It seems like a sin to have a refrigerator in the garage with a ton of beer in it that never is consumed... I feel an urgent need to check the freshness date on the 2 mixed cases of beer I have.

I don't drink. I don't smoke, and I don't eat anything you set in front of me anymore. That sounds like a terrible existence.

My doctor has been telling me my cholesterol was too high for a couple of years. He told me I should take better care of myself, or he was going to prescribe pills to lower my cholesterol. I decided I was not taking any of that medicine like Lipitor. I don't need any more gas than I already have, and kidney failure does not sound pleasant.

In the future it seems as if we may have exercise in the form of a pill. Didn't we have that before in speed? That didn't work out so well, did it?

I think I have a personal goal of not taking any medicine for as long as possible. I don't count vitamins and fiber pills as medicine, those are dietary supplements. The doctor/pharmaceutical company coalition bothers me, and the speed with which the FDA approves drugs makes me wonder if adequate precautions are in place. I guess that my overall good health means that I have the luxury of being able to doubt the reliability of drugs.

I am eating better. I eat fruits and vegetables, grilled chicken and stick to better, lower fat choices. If we go out to dinner, I eat big salads.

I used to be in pretty good shape, but weren't we all in better shape at one time? In college I lifted weights and got to be pretty strong. After I became a teacher, I decided to get into martial arts because I had always wanted to try it, but never had the time and money. I really loved martial arts, but it made me aggressive. It only makes sense, training for combat should make you aggressive. But the worst part was it was terribly expensive. So after Amy and I began replenishing the population, I found that could no longer afford that hobby. Babies are expensive too, and family comes first.

Now, I have begun to exercise more. The hardest thing about this healthy thing is establishing a new pattern of eating, good exercising behaviors and setting attainable goals. I began by running in the morning with my dog. Nothing major, just a mile every morning before work. I would like to be able to run much further than that, but it is a start. I have set a pattern that I hope to add to later on.

My major problem was that without someone telling me what to do, like a trainer or something, I had a difficult time setting goals. In college working out was easy. My roommate would yell at me and publicly question my manhood while I struggled with large weights. Now my dog gives me a miserable look if I don’t run in the morning. It used to be that rage was my motivator. Now it is guilt.

In June I found a website called 100 pushups. The idea of the website is that if you follow their routine, that after 6 weeks you would be able to do 100 push ups. It took me a tad longer that 6 weeks, but I can now do 100 pushups in one set. I just need to keep it up.

Just for fun, I have begun to dust off all of my body builder poses and perform a routine for the family unit. It really annoys them when they are trying to watch TV!

Somehow, I am still not in shape. My shape is looking better. I am better. Stronger. Faster. But I weigh more now than I did in February. So I am not completely happy with my current condition, and I will be adding more to my routine. Supposedly, you can get six pack abs in 6 minutes on your couch. And you can easily build up to running a 5k using a program similar to the 100 pushups site.

Maybe I will clean out my garage and hang up the heavy bag. Clean out the garage! Ha! That was funny…

Whatever I do, it needs to be cheap, at home, and something that doesn't take too long.
Daddy doesn’t get much alone time. Maybe I will modify a disposable camera and make a cheap taser. Electrical impulses do contract all of the muscles at once. Three zaps a day and I should be in awesome shape in no time.

The other day I said, "to hell with it," and ate two pieces of cheesecake. Being healthy is not nearly as much fun as it looks in the media.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Letting Go

Parenting is a verb, like running. You often find yourself doing it without even thinking. This thing must done, and then this other thing, and you end up getting so caught up in all of the things that you must do that suddenly you find yourself faced with a milestone that you hadn’t really thought about.

I was overwhelmed this morning when I suddenly realized that this was the 1st day of school for my little First Grade baby girl. She seems so grown up. When did that happen? More importantly, how was it able to slip by me?

When I know important things are coming, I try to brace myself and picture how wonderful everything will be. I say things to myself like, "It is the natural way of things." But for every beginning, there must be an ending. I just can not break the feeling of loss and mourning as what was, slips away.

Last year was big, but this year is the beginning of the numbered grades. Savannah has been looking forward to this day since last year when she could not understand how far away 5 months was, and insisted that tomorrow she would be in First Grade.

Tomorrow came today.

She had to wear her new “Cute is My Middle Name,” t-shirt today. Her Disney World autograph book was packed away with her “First Visit” Disney World button in her Mickey Mouse back pack, so she could share with her friends all of the fun things she did this summer.

Amy and I took Savannah to her before and after school day care, and I watched her go to the coat rack and hang up her backpack. I wanted to scoop her up and run away. Instead I picked her up and squeezed her so tight she let out a little squeal. I whispered in her ear about how proud I was of her. I told her she was going to have a great day and that I wanted to hear about everything that she did. I thought my heart would break when I put her down.

And then I walked away.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bad Student

I am a miracle of the modern educational system. There really has been little progress in the way that students are taught since I began school in 1970, so that is why I classify my experiences as modern (my kids insist my experiences are ancient). The miracle is that I graduated. From anything.

I should have been left behind. I am one of those students who don't belong in that atmosphere where a teacher stands behind a podium and dispenses knowledge. I am a loner. I think my own thoughts and I am easily distracted. I believe it is called ADD or ADHD now. When I was a kid it was called stupid, rebellious, and sometimes class clown.

I still wake up from nightmares where I must return to high school to take some class that mysteriously slipped under the radar. Other nightmares revolve around a missed semester of college that I must do over as a humiliated adult. College is not for everybody. I am just lucky they had the best parties there.

Oddly enough, I became a teacher. I prefer to think that my career choice was a response to not liking the way the I was taught and thinking that I could do better. I did not become a teacher so that I could return to an educational system that allows me to punish today's students as some sort of payback to society. I don't understand teachers that teach angry. Shouldn't learning be fun and not some sort of experiment in torture?

When I was a young student, I would doodle while pretending to take notes, and think my own amusing thoughts. Sometimes I would play the game where I try to figure out what famous person the speaker looks like. Other times I would plan out my response if a rogue band of ninjas attacked. Of course, in my fantasies I always won, but they would have needed to be really bad ninjas.

As an adult learner I have the same issues that I did when I was a child, except now they are worse. I still must be trained and have "professional development." I am still the guy who sits in the back and can not focus on the person lecturing for very long. It is only the exceptional speaker that can hold my attention. Information is still presented in the same way to me. Lecture style- sage on the stage. It makes me want to scream! I simply can't learn that way. I need hands on, interactive environments that encourage play. This is when I am at my best. Or, if that is not possible, give me a goal, the tools I will need, and let me find my own path to knowledge. Be the cheerleader -encourage me along the way.

When I find myself in a lecture and I have a computer in front of me, I will back channel- using Instant Messenger and Email to talk with others about what is going on. I will Google things being discussed, or just post to Twitter. I have tried to force myself to focus and collect the information that is flung at me from the podium, like poo from the monkey cage, but my instincts force me to duck. If the speaker can not entertain and inform, they have probably lost me. I have always thought that there was something wrong with me, but lately I have stopped fighting my natural inclinations and accepted that this is the way I am.

I try very hard to do the things that are expected of me as an adult, but I can't escape from my lack of focus. I know I am not the only person who feels this way. I can spot the rest of you. It is easy from the back of the room. So my question is- how long do we put up with a teaching style that doesn't meet our needs?

Friday, August 15, 2008


Fourteen years ago today, I took my then girlfriend, Amy, to Alexander's on the Bay. I had spent a lot of time planning, or I should say worrying, about that night. I was very nervous. I was so nervous that I couldn't eat all day.

A month or so before then, I took my mother's wedding band and had part of it added to an engagement design I liked. I asked some of my friends who were girls to question Amy about the cut of diamond she liked best. I bought the biggest ring I that I could barely afford, and spent the next two years paying it off.

I talked to a couple of friends who had a band and convinced them to come to the restaurant unannounced and sing for us. I couldn't take the chance that the owner would say no and decided that was the best plan.

We dressed up for dinner. I told her a story about doing something different and dressing up, after all, it was a fancy restaurant.

We sat down and I nervously tried to make small talk while looking out for my friends and hoping it would all go as planned.

Then they came around the corner. You could hear them first. They walked in slowly towards the table singing Amie. One guitar and two voices, singing the part that goes like this-

"Amie, what you wanna do,
I think I could stay with you,
For a while, maybe longer if I do...

Don't you think the time is right for us to find,
All the things we thought weren't prob'ly could be right in time,
And can you see, which way we should turn, together or alone..."

And now it is 14 years later, we have three kids, and I am still a big goober. I often wonder how I got so lucky in life.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Leaving the Island

I left the island almost exactly a year ago. I was sitting in a summer conference session learning about web 2.0 tools. At the time I did what I always do, I jumped right in and began exploring. I didn't know what I would find or have any idea that a trip was in my future, but as I created my Twitter account something within me began to change. I had tapped into a new power.

In the first few moments nothing seemed different, but by inserting my ridiculous picture as a representation of myself in Twitter, it was as if I was applying for a passport. The only difference was that I chose the stupidest picture a had of myself instead of the most professional. The picture is appropriate, because I am rather silly, so I left it in Twitter and kept it here on my blog as well.

I say that I have left the island because I am no longer isolated. Instead of mocking something new, which is of course the most grown up and mature thing that I could have done, I took a chance and just tried it. Without expectation, I allowed Twitter to grow and I sought out others simply because they were out there too. I formed a social network of people with similar interests, or at least people that made me laugh. Before I began my exploration, I knew the definition of a social network, but not the experience of being a part of one. It is similar to seeing a book on a shelf, as opposed to actually reading the book. Unlike a book, I don't think anyone will turn Twitter into a full length movie, but if they did it might look like this...

Earlier this week, I tried to express to a group of follow computer resource teachers how Twitter has changed me. Very few, if any of them, really know me. After all, I haven't been off the island that long. Telling them how I have changed seemed so hollow.

I tried to tell them of the professional growth that I have made in my short time on Twitter. I emphasised the personal learning network aspect of the micro blogging service. I even compared it to the master's program that I was in a few years ago, but the comparison, while accurate, sounded funny even to me. It is not hard to understand why there was a snicker or two.

You can be a travel agent, but people must choose to leave the island on their own. No one should be Gilligan and remain stuck on an island forever.

So, how do you encourage others to leave the island?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Disney Vacation in 1 Minute or Less

For the second year in a row, my school system is hosting a video contest for all of the computer resource teachers during our summer conference. The theme is, "What did you do on your Summer Vacation." I love to play and make things, so I entered a video. I am not that excited about the competition part, not that winning wouldn't be nice, I just don't like people to get upset about who won. I like the creative part of the contest. The building of an plan of action and putting things together to make the video. I like to share what I have done because I like to make others laugh, and there is nothing quite like that sound when a large group of people bursts out with a good belly laugh.

I recently went to Disney World with the family and I pulled a few videos and pictures together to tell my little story. (Warning! if you are a CRS, don't look! Save your viewing for the conference!)

It took my longer than I really wanted to spend making my summer video, but that seems to be the way I operate. The first picture in the video I made based on the design for the Lancelot Link logo. I used Paint Shop Pro 9 to create the logo (this would not have been my program of choice, but sometimes we must adapt and use what is available). I decided to go with a spy theme, so I looked for a short YouTube video with a tape player on it. I recorded myself making the mission statement using Windows Sound Recorder. I also performed a bit of Karoke for the sound track. I used the My Space Karoke tool and sang Secret Agent Man. I then recorded that version using Camtasia (free 30 day trail version) and exported that file to mp3.

I used Microsoft's Movie Maker to create the video. It is the easiest program to use for this function that I have available. I would have used Camtasia for this, but it doesn't always do what I want it to do without fiddling with the controls, so I stuck with a program that would do what I wanted it to on the first try.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I am a Winner!

I rarely win things, so win it happens that I do win something, I get a little excited.

I guess it was a month ago that one of my Twitter friends said the there was a Funky Monkey Review and Giveaway on her blog about free samples of a kind of fruit snack.

The directions were simple, "leave a comment here telling which of the 4 flavors you think you (or your kids) would like best."

I had my normal 32 oz of coffee that morning and came up with this-

I think my kids would like the Bananamon flavor. I am sure that it would have nothing to do with me walking around saying, “Bananamon!” in my best Jamaican accent.
The Kids would ask, “What is that Dad?”
“Banana, Mon!” I would say in my accent.
“No, really. What is it?” My children would ask with annoyance at my fake accent.
“It’s Banana, Mon!” I would continue to say and just for good measure I would add in the hearty laugh from the old 7Up commercials with the Jamaican guy in it, “Ha, ha! Ha! Ha!”
It would be fun for the whole family for about 15 min before the kids take the bag from me and run into the other room to discuss how weird their father is, and how they should try to keep me indoors for the rest of the day while sampling this new product.

And that is exactly what I did before my family sampled all of the flavors! A box was waiting for me when I walked in the door this afternoon. Four bags of each flavor, and everyone in the family was happy...

There are many contests at Maybe you can win something too!

Thanks Kate!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Last Lecture

I woke up Monday morning and lay in bed peeking at Good Morning America. I wish I could say that I spring out of bed like the Caped Crusader chasing the Joker, but I can't. It is much more like a rock rolling down the hill. I start slow, and end with a crash.

After my family's Disney trip, I was worn out my first day back. I looked up at the TV just in time to see that Randy Pausch died last week. I had no idea. I wanted to cover my head and stay in bed the rest of the day.

If you don't know who Randy Pausch was, you need to watch this You Tube Video (it is an hour and 16 min long and worth every min., even if you have seen it before). He has been on TV including Oprah, GMA, Dateline, and tonight, Tuesday, July 29, on "Primetime" at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

I don't know why his death has bothered me so much. Maybe it is because his family lives just a few miles away from me in Chesapeake, VA. It could be because my Mother, and Father-In-Law died from cancer, and I hate the disease. It might be because he was close to my age, was involved in education, and had similar interests. Perhaps I am upset because he has three young children and I picture how they will miss him as they grow up.

I think that perhaps the biggest reason that I am upset is because I loved the message from his Last Lecture. It is the way I want to live my life, but somehow I have never quite been able to live up to that goal. I guess I am just selfish and afraid I am not up to the task without an inspiring teacher to show me the way.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Disney World

Tuesday the whole family leaves for Disney World for a whole week! We are all very excited. I plan to take lots of video and tons of pictures.

The cool thing is that now anyone can preview the park online. The other night I hooked up the laptop to the big screen TV and jumped into Google Earth. There are .KMZ files that recreate the park in 3D. The Google Earth Blog tells a little more about it.

The placemarks in Google Earth showed enough to give the kids a preview of rides and attractions and make them yell, "I want to do that!" But the 3D view was awesome! Pretty much the entire park has been recreated. You can create a path on Google Earth and "walk" down the street and look at all of the things that are really on the street. Important note- Upgrade to the latest version of Google Earth, GE 4.3. Otherwise, you will probably miss all of the 3D.

I think the kids are as excited about flying to Florida as anything else. That is probably the thing I look forward to least of all. Airport security and all of the hassles with the airlines are enough to send me into a worry mode. I can just imagine my 10 year old saying something smart about guns or bombs at the wrong time prompting the authorities to give the entire family a thorough body cavity search. If that were to happen, I am sure my four year old would make them pay. He has a disagreeable streak.

We will be participating in a meal plan while saying at Disney's All Star Movie Resort. I am not exactly sure what that means except that I have been assured by people who have already done this that you are fed three times a day and given more food than you can eat. Sounds good!

One day we are going to try to go to Sea World, but I have to confess to just being ready to go with the flow. My wife, Amy has planned everything out, so my role becomes security, crowd control and pack mule for the Doss family. After carrying a backpack full of rocks around for a couple of weeks, I am now prepared for all of these tasks.

My step mother will be coming with us on this big trip. I am very excited about having her come with us. I hope she has a good time and we don't wear her out. She doesn't like the roller coasters but I think she will like the other rides. The last time we went to Disney World, I don’t think she enjoyed herself. I hope I can make it up to her.

I will be going cold turkey for a whole week- involuntarily. No computer access. That will be hard, but I think I will survive. It is not like giving up heroin or anything, right?

My Personal Goals as security and crowd control for the Disney World trip:
1. Have lots of Fun!
2. Keep everyone happy.
3. Take lots of pictures and videos.
4. Get everyone home safely.

I will be back in a week, and I am sure I will have something to share…

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Social Network Distress

About a year ago I started to explore social networking. I decided to create a personal learning network. I didn't call it that, it just sort of happened. My network became as important to me as my friends and family in the real world.

It sounds strange, but it is true. Twitter became a way to connect with others sharing the good things that I found and collecting resources that my "Tweeps" thought were useful. I created a blog (obviously) but there really wasn't the feeling of connectedness there that I enjoy from Twitter.

I love Second Life, and I have made many new friends there, but Twitter is a faster way to connect with more people. Second Life takes a bit more time to get into, you can't just jump in and out and have anything meaningful happen there.

I have experimented in other social networks. Nings, Plurk, Pownce, and My Space, just to name a few. The problem then became that I had so many separate networks that there really was no way to keep up with them all. I started looking for a way to connect them so that I would have a way to communicate across networks. So I tried, Plaxo Pulse, and Jaiku, as well as a few others.

The only one service I care about is Twitter. It first, my exploration into other services was all experimental. Later, it was because I was unhappy with Twitter. It has taken me almost an entire year to develop my Twitter circle. It is a slow process connecting to others in a meaningful way, so I care about my group. Leaving them to go to another service is something I could not stand, unless they all came with me. It is the people that make the network, not the service. The problem is that Twitter is making me very upset.

The Fail Whale is kind of an inside joke with people who use Twitter. It is a happy blue whale being carried on strings by the cutest little birds. The whale only appears when Twitter is not working right. When you see the Fail Whale as a Twitter user, this is not a good thing, but it is not the only annoying problem that I have experienced.

In the good old days I could count on an "Older" text link at the bottom of the page to link me to more Twitter messages than would fit on one page. This was awesome because I didn't feel like I had to check Twitter 100 times a day to keep up with my network. Now it seems like the "Older" link is gone forever.

I used to be able to pull a trick to get around the missing "Older" link. I would add this suffix, ?page=2 to the end of the Twitter URL,, so that it would look like this,, Twitter would take you to the previous page of tweets and you could read the older posts from your network anyway. This made me feel super smart. You could even add a 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 to the end of the URL to visit even older posts. This trick will not work anymore. If you try it, Twitter just bounces you back to the main page.

I can no longer keep up with my "Tweeps." Between not being able to get on Twitter and not seeing any more than the first page of Tweets, I am not happy. I am can't give up, so I have started looking for a program or service that will make me feel like I am on top of all of the messages flying around.

Twhirl is a nice little program. It is small, sits on your desktop, and seems to get your Tweets pulled in nicely. But I think there is a limit to the number it will pull at one time. The best feature is also the most distracting. There is a little notification bubble that pops up whenever you get a message. I like this feature, but being the ADD poster child, I find that the constant stream of popping bubbles keeps me from doing other things like, oops! There goes one.

Tweetdeck is a program that I like, and with a recent update it says it will pull up the last 200 messages, but I don't believe it. The last tweet that was pulled in last night was at Tue 15 Jul 23:20, and my first one this morning was at Wed 16 Jul 04:57. I am not a math person but is Tweetdeck telling me that not one of my Twitter friends posted a tweet in over 5 hours? That is unbelievable to me. I have at least a couple of Twitter friends who live in Asia, and a few people I know are night owls. I am missing something!

No matter what I use to interact with my Twitter friends, I am not getting all of my Tweets.

Check out this article if you would like a more detailed breakdown between Tweetdeck and Twhirl.

Things have been moving lately with Twitter. Twitter recently acquired Summerize and they supposedly have more money and big names working for them. Great! Can they make it so I don't lose any Tweets? I feel like I can hardly leave my computer or I will miss the most important Twitter message ever. I don't know what it could be, maybe the newest Dr. Horrible episode is ready!

My real fear is that on my upcoming Disney vacation I will lose a whole week's worth of Tweets. The hotel we are staying at charges extra for Internet access. What year am I in? There is no reason to take the laptop. Ahhh! Did I say that?

If I try real hard I think I can post and read a few Tweets a day on my cell phone. What happens if I drop my phone on the trip? Am I risking suffering the agony of Delirium Tweetums?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

NECC T-shirt, follow-up!

Kim Caise, a teacher who also missed the fun NECC liked my shirt and offered to help anyone who wants one get it at a lower price! If you are interested in a shirt, try out Kool Imprints.

Her comment- "We can print the shirts for you for around $14 including shipping. Feel free to contact us for a price quote at:" That is at least $3 less than what I paid for mine!

This is what the shirt looks like...
Thanks to Tracy Murdach at for the shout out on your blog!
Thank you to Vicki A. Davis at CoolCatTeacher,! My picture is on her blog! Man, I really need to work out or something...
Thank you to the Tech Chick Tips,! I am honored by the attention.
I think it is great that people like the t-shirt. I would be very excited to see someone wearing it someday.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

NECC T-shirt

About a week ago, I decided to create a t-shirt to show my displeasure at having all the people I follow on Twitter go to NECC and leave me behind. I was bored and it seemed like something fun to do. I designed the shirt based on the Twitter status link that shows individual Tweets.

Here is the original design that I made.
I tried to keep things simple and just made everything in Word, and took a snapshot of it with the Print Screen command. I used Picasa to crop the image and convert the it to a jpeg.I uploaded the file to and they showed me a preview of the shirt.

It looked good, but Zazzle warned me that the the image might pixelate. I was willing to chance it, so I went ahead and ordered one. My shirt arrived today and this is what it looks like-

It looks better than I had hoped for! The only problem is that I didn't order an extra large... As long as there is no shrinkage there should be no issues. The shirt has no tag in the back- I love that!

If you would like a t-shirt like mine, click this link! I tried to set up a Zazzle page to share and sell my t-shirt but I was not interested in making a profit. I thought that $17.45 was plenty to pay for a t-shirt without me trying to add on a 10% profit on all sales. So I sent myself an email with a link to to image on a shirt, and you can have the shirt for what I paid for it if you like it. If you have any problems with the shirt, let me know I will help.

I also searched Google for a Zazzle coupon (I embedded the search into the link), I found one for free shipping and paid only $17.45 to have the shirt sent to me.

Zazzle is only one of many online stores that will put anything on a t-shirt, mug, mouse pad, etc. I think making a t-shirt has never been so easy, even if you don't like mine- make your own!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Alamo

This is me and my Second Life friend Thunder in costume looking at a poster at the Alamo with our names on it.

Sunday was the big day. Day one at the big NECC and the Alamo tours in Second Life. A small group avatars volunterred to be tour guides for the Alamo re-creation at the ISTE sim. I had been concerned about doing a good job, but it seems that I was worried about nothing. I gave two tours to a total of 4 people. I guess I had been hoping for more.

This Video was made by my SL friend Norma Underwood.

This Video Was made by the Alamo Tour organizer Valibrarian (SL name).

I was excited to meet some new people and it really was a very good example of how a virtual environment can be used for distance learning applications. Of course I did stretch myself by doing something completely new, so I think it was a great experience.

This is me, Alfredo, giving a tour in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Since I dove into social networking almost a year ago now, I have felt connected to people that I have never met in the real world. I feel like I have friends all over the place. It is true that this is the very surface of a friendship, kind of like the guy the runs the local convenience store that you make small talk with when you see him every few days.

The difference is that so much more is shared with my virtual friends. I see personal pictures, videos, and read private thoughts of people who may only be represented by a small icon in Twitter. I carry on conversations with people while our avatars in Second Life are sailing around the island by my second life home. I visit blogs and learn out how others work, live, and what they are passionate about.

My Fail Whale Tshirt!

Joe at the Mini Mart and I share almost nothing of substance. We only talk about the weather, sports or gas prices in 30 sec snippets. Funny, but all of the conversations end the same, "What are you going to do?" As in, "The ____(insert weather, Redskins, or gas prices here) stink, but what are you going do?" I am not sure how it became acceptable to insert a question into the closing of a conversation, but what are you going to do? Then I usually say something like, "See you later," or if I am feeling especially friendly, "Take it easy."

It is extremely important to me that I maintain, and hopefully improve, my real world relationships with my family and friends, and never short-change them while I explore social media. While I have thrown myself into the exploration of social networking tools with great enthusiasm, I will not allow my real world relationships to suffer for any reason. Virtual relationships should extend what is possible in the real world, not take anything away from what you already have. Amazingly, I have found that both worlds can coexist and my virtual social experiences have made me a better teacher, and a better communicator in the real world.
This weekend I have my first virtual job. I volunteered to be a tour guide at the Alamo in Second Life (SL) for ISTE during the NECC conference. I am kind of nervous, because no matter what anyone thinks, an avatar is a representation of yourself and I really want to do a good job.

Mission Padre- Alamo Tours
I will be leading tours at the Alamo as a Franciscan Monk. My first real purchases in SL were my monk outfit and skin for my Monk. I also thought it was important to have some gestures, so I bought four. I can't remember how much it cost in Linden Dollars, but in total it was about $5 US. I don't know if that is a good price or not, but I am happy with my purchases.

I am not sure why I decided to be a Monk, but I literally jumped at the chance. Peaceful acceptance of the universe seems appealing to me at this point in my life. I have always struggled and fought with life, but I have come to understand and appreciate the gift I have been given. All of my anger and conflict of the past have only hurt me, but I didn't even consider that at the time I chose the role. It just seemed to fit at the time. A monk with three children. I think the church would frown on that.

I was going to try to adopt an accent for my character as I did over hear another tour guide doing that and it sounded great, but as I mentioned before all of my accents sound like bad Irish from a drunken Leprechaun. I figure that I should probably stick with speaking in my regular voice, sounding like a bad cartoon character would distract from what I am trying to accomplish. I don't mind being laughed at but I don't think anyone from ISTE would think it was funny...

I am a little disappointed that I can't be at the conference, but being able to give this tour does make me feel like I am part of what is going on in San Antonio. Otherwise, I am pretty sure I would be upset. I think half the people I follow on Twitter will be there. I am sure I will get Twitter updates, blog entries and maybe even some video and pictures from NECC, but I can't help but feel like I am missing something (besides the free drinks and goodies that get handed out).

Next year the conference will be in Washington D.C. I am planning to go to that one because it is reasonably close to home, but it is a whole year away. I will just have to hope for the best and try to plan ahead. It is nice to think that I would meet people in real life that might tolerate me because they have come across me in a virtual exchange. After all, what what is the point of being a part of a social network if you never actually connect?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I don't have a fear of the number 13, I have a fear that one day my wife will wake up and realize that she has made a terrible mistake. Amy and I have been married for 13 years today.

She is too good for me. She understands me and tolerates my ridiculous behavior. Her smile makes the world a better place. I am a very lucky man.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Near Death Experience

I have learned a new respect of anything in a bottle that says hot sauce on it. For about 40 minutes on Saturday night I was on fire. It was the most unbearable experience I have ever had.

My Quest for Fire began a little over a year ago. Something inside me said, "You need to find hot food." I know, it is weird to have little voices in your head, but don't worry, it was actually more like a craving. Kind of like that need for morning coffee, or the desire for chocolate that comes out of nowhere around 3:15 pm.

I have always liked spicy food, but this desire for something hot was really a new level of heat. For the past 12 months, I have been eating jalapeños on almost everything. At home I have Cajun Hot sauce, something called Road Kill hot sauce, green Habanera Hot sauce that I really love, hot Vlasic sandwich peppers and some crushed red peppers. If I wasn't sweating when I ate, I wasn't happy. Dinner time was all about the heat, putting layers of jalapeños, hot pickles and various hot sauces in a search to get the right level of heat. I used to enjoy the search for heat.

Saturday night I stumbled across a nightmare. I small inconspicuous bottle of something named 357 Mad Dog. This sauce is so hot it is technically borderline not a sauce, but a cooking additive. Not being a cook, (unless you call someone who uses a microwave oven a cook) even if I had been told that 357 was not a sauce ahead of time, it wouldn't have meant much to me.

Now I understand. I have tried to explain to my oldest son that I tell him things not because I am trying to be mean, but because I don't want him to learn things the hard way. Sometimes learning the hard way is a much more valuable lesson, but man do I wish someone had said something to me before I grabbed that bottle!

I took the family unit out on Saturday. We were celebrating my oldest son's birthday and had been rock wall climbing, and to the movies to see the Incredible Hulk (Awesome movie!). At dinner time we decided to visit the new Z Pizza near our house. After discovering that we would need to wait for 20 minutes, we adapted and choose Firehouse Subs instead.

I had a conversation with some of my Twitter friends last week (in person- how odd!) about Firehouse Subs. I thought because of the name, that it had hot food. I was told no, it was because the place was started by firemen. But then someone said that they do have a bunch of hot sauces on the counter. I was excited again.

Remembering this conversation, I took the family into the store and we all ordered our food. Sure enough, there was a long line of hot sauces. Everyone got their food and started to eat. I wandered over to the bar and grabbed the first bottle I saw.

I didn't look at the bottle, or ask anyone about it, I just opened it and looked inside to see the smallest drop of reddish brown stuff. I remember thinking, "Why didn't they throw this stuff away? Its empty."

The one drop in the bottom of this tiny bottle was enough to light up 50plus bowls of chili to blowtorch level. I am so not kidding here! I have learned a lot about pepper heat in the last couple of days. There is something called a Scoville Scale which was created to measure the heat of food. The reason the stuff I had was called 357 was because it measures roughly 357,000 Scoville units on the scale. Compare this heat to the little jalapeño at between 2,500–8,000, and you can see that there is no comparison. Once, I ate a full Thai pepper, sitting at only 50,000–100,000 Scoville units, and regretted it. The Thai pepper that I had was not close to the incredible heat I that I was about to experience with 357.

So, I pick up this bottle and I basically empty it onto my sub. I am surprised the sub did not dissolve! I ended up with 10 or more little dots spread evenly on my sub. About the time I am finished one of the guys at the counter asks me what I am doing. I said that I was adding hot sauce to my sub. He says something like, "Dude! What are you doing! That is the hottest stuff we have." I had wandered to the hot end of the counter, but I am not worried. Then the other people behind the counter chorus in, "Oh no..." Someone said something about an ambulance as I tried to keep my game face on wondering what in the hell I have just done to myself.

Not showing any fear, I calmly closed my sub with a smug little smile while teenaged boys mocked me. I put them out of my mind, labeling them immature punks who don't know what real heat is. Hubris, or pride, is one of the seven deadly sins. One should always be aware of this sin.

I returned to the table a little shaken, but I was determined to show these juveniles up. The first bite was not bad. I felt a bit of fire but nothing unusual. Feeling better, I went about the business of eating my sub. Four bites in, and my mouth is cooking. I am impressed. This stuff is hot. By the time I finish half of the sub I am on fire. It feels like I have a lava sandwich. It is crazy super hot! I am sweating, my face is red and my wife is asking me if I am alright.

I nod my head, because I can't speak, and there is still a half to go. Have I mentioned that I am a stupid man? I am truly an idiot. A smart man would have trashed the sandwich.

I looked at the other half of the sandwich and I knew that I had to eat it. I could not allow mere children to laugh at me. I took a moment to let the heat to settle, and I believed that this was the top of hill. There was no way it could get hotter than this...

I was wrong. I think part of the secret of this hotness scale is that it takes a while to soak in to all of the sensitive areas of a mouth. It is diluted by the food and doesn't always make direct skin contact. Chewing allows the heat to spread.

The second half of the sub was painful to the point of torture. Yes, I tortured myself just so some kids could not mock me. I am very mature.

I am trying to ration my drink at this point. Liquid really does no good, it is only a small oasis in the scorching Sahara of what was my meal. Small, gargling sips seemed to help for the briefest moment before the raging inferno that was my mouth continued with renewed intensity. I decided that it would be unmanly of me to run for a refill at the soda fountain.

The whole sandwich is gone and I am in agony. Amy is laughing at me, only because she knows how stupid I am and what is really happening. I still am having a hard time speaking. Crying is not an option as real men don't do this, but there is an urge to jump up and run screaming around the parking lot like a cartoon character from Looney Tunes.

I finish my drink and I am able to walk with a deliberate air of nonchalance to get a refill. This is when I realize that my attempt to impress the workers behind the counter have failed because their collective ADD had kicked in and they had forgotten about me. I am walking around trying to be cool and they don't even notice me.

The incredible heat has not abated and now I am concerned that this will be a permanent condition and that I have coated my mouth with some sort of fire paint. I am almost to the point of panic, and then I see the yogurt sign.

I immediately over-rule my wife (who has fielded earlier questions on this topic from my children) and declare to the table that the Doss family is getting yogurt. Right! Now!

The do-it-yourself yogurt store is two doors down. We have never been there before and as we walk in a nice young lady asks us if we have been previous visitors. I say no. She begins to tell about the procedure, when I suddenly realize that manners are for people who are not on fire. I nearly topple the poor girl over as I bull rush the stand with the empty bowls. Fire also does not give you time to decide over various flavors and toppings and I bee-line it to the vanilla dispenser. I am enraged to find that the spoons are at the register and that my family is busy making thoughtful (read- time wasting) decisions. I hastily grab a spoon and tell the cashier that she needs to ring me up now. Forget the rest of the family!

Frozen yogurt was the smartest thing I did all day. There is a magical property in yogurt that amazingly put out the fire in my mouth. By the end of the bowl, I was giddy with relief. Now Amy really laid into me. "Hey Captain Hot Sauce!" she says while the embarrassment turns my ears a nice shade of red. I may never live down this episode. Foolish man that I am I deserve it.
My quest for fire seems to be over. I don't know if it is gone forever, but the memory of the heat that I endured seems to be enough for me. Perhaps one day I will summon the courage to pull out my green habanera sauce and use it, but right now only the thought of plain food is in any way appealing to me.

Learn from my mistake; Read the label. Ask questions. Never try to impress teenagers.