Tomorrow I run, today I ask you for money

Tomorrow I'll be getting up early to run a 5K (instead of getting up early because a baby is crying though I am willing to bet that will be happening too!).

In case you missed it, I'm running to raise money for colorectal cancer research in memory of my mother. And I must admit that I've been floored by the generosity of people. At the moment I'm the largest individual fundraiser for the event... and I'd like to secure that spot (because it is all about me, really).

I've raised my goal time and time again... and I've done so again! If you can give any amount it would be appreciated and it does go to a very good cause.

There's still time to donate!


$26.97

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You ever wonder what $26.97 worth of change looks like?

Wonder no more!

And here’s the breakdown by coin:

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I have no idea how I managed to get so many dimes, but thanks to Coinstar I’ve converted these useless metal disks into delicious Amazon credit.


Thoughts on the Kindle’s Present and Future

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I've been meaning to write about the things I want to see in a new Kindle for awhile. This post has been percolating in my head for so long, in fact, that a new Kindle Oasis was released awhile back.

Thoughts about the new Kindle Oasis

Of course I ordered the new Oasis as soon as it was available (after checking with Marisa, of course!) and I just finished reading a book on it (The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, which is excellent) so I feel like I can have an opinion about it. This version takes my favorite Kindle ever, the Oasis, and improves it slightly which means it is now my favorite Kindle ever.

This version doesn't add too many new features, but the additons are nice:

  • A few more LEDs for more even lighting, which is the best feature if you ask me.
  • Adjustable screen color temperature so you can make the light warmer or cooler depending on your preference. At the moment you have to set the screen warmth manually which is fine, but I'd rather have an automatic setting that adjusts it based on the light it senses.

If you want to read a more robust review of the Oasis check out my pal Jason Snell's review. I pretty much agree with him on all points, including the fact that most people should just get a Paperwhite.

Features I’d like to see in the next Kindle

Before I share my list of desired features let me say right up front that I have no idea if any of these are feasible (well, I know some are!). That’s the lovely thing about making a list like this: I don’t have to figure out how to do it, I just know I want them!

With that out of the way, here’s my list:

  • No more “Special Offers” - That’s what Amazon calls the ads displayed on locked Kindles. Sure, you can pay $20 to get rid of them, but I can’t imagine they are making much money for Amazon and while they are just a minor annoyance a Kindle sans Special Offers is just nicer. Why? With Special Offers you have to wake your Kindle and then swipe to start reading. Without, you just wake it up and read. Not a big deal, but a slightly nicer experience.
  • Display the current book’s cover as the lock screen - The Kobo already does this, and I assume Amazon doesn’t do it because of the aforementioned Special Offers, but I think it’d be neat. Also, I’d like to see the covers of the books I’m reading a little more often.
  • Built in kick stand ala the Surface Pro/Go - Those members of Microsoft’s Surface lineup sport impressive hardware. One of the best aspects of the design is a very cool, and useful, kickstand on the back of the tablet/laptop. Amazon used to have a cover that would fold into a stand, but it was stuck at one angle. An integrated stand would allow you to adjust the angle to your liking.
  • Ability to lend people ebooks easily - Did you know you can lend people select Kindle books? That selection is rather meager, which I’m going to guess is because of publisher limitations (though I’m sure Amazon would rather you buy all your books). I’d like to see the number of books you can lend increase, and I’d like the process to be as easy as the Family Library feature (which is great! Marisa and I can see all of one another’s books on our Kindles. It is pretty damn sweet).
  • Browse library books from the device - Once again Amazon is in the business of selling you Kindle books, so they probably aren’t too interested in this. However, it would be nice if you could browse/borrow library books directly from the Kindle (you can do this on a Kobo, though that makes sense since Kobos are made by the same company that owns/runs Overdrive which many libraries use to power their ebook lending systems). I will say that if your library is an Overdrive library you should download Libby. It is a much better way to search the catalog and you can send books from Libby to your Kindle with a couple of taps (in the US only).
  • Tap to Wake - When someone comes up with a good feature you should... borrow it. iOS sports “Tap to Wake” which lets you tap on the screen to check notifications. It is something I use all the time, and I’d love to see it on my Kindle with a slight modification: “Tap to unlock.” Just tap on the screen (assuming it is displaying the Kindle lock screen) and you’re taken right to the last thing you were doing on your Kindle.
  • Eye Tracking - This one may be the least feasible, but the one that would improve my life the most. These days I’m using my Kindle more and more with just one hand. The great thing about the Oasis is that I can just keep my thumb on the next page and press it when I need to without disturbing the baby that is sleeping in my arms. But I’m lazy and I’d like to do even less to turn the page. It would be cool if the Kindle could track my eyes and know when I got to the end of the page and automatically turn the page. And if I wanted to turn back a page I could stare at the upper left hand corner of the page and back I go.
  • Faster, higher resolution screen - This is obvious but I feel like I should include it!

Will we see anything like this in the next Kindle? I have no idea! Will I still buy whatever Kindle they come out with? Probably.

Is the Kindle mediocre?

As I was writing this Jason wrote a post lamenting the Kindle’s current status and its boring future (i.e. more of the same).

Usually, I agree with Jason but this time we are in differing schools on one particular point. I would like Amazon to stick to making the Kindle disappear while you’re reading a book. Nothing too flashy is needed when it is just a container for whatever book you might be reading.

Jason suggests that perhaps Amazon missed an opportunity to make the Kindle a hub of all the text people read by offering up apps (from The NY Times and other publishers) from an App Store (I assume). That would make me sad. Several years ago I wrote about how much I liked the fact that the Kindle really one does on thing well: allows you to read a book without distraction.

I can see the allure of adding apps to the Kindle but I think that would be contrary to the entire reason the Kindle exists. Now, a Kindle Fire sporting a color eInk screen is something that I could really get into (which would include the Kindle app, and several other apps).

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement with how the Kindle handles reading books, I’d just hate to see the Kindle lose focus on that (though, admittedly, Amazon doesn’t seem all that focuses on pushing the state of the art with the Kindle which is Jason’s main thesis... and one that brings us back into agreement. Hurrah! I don’t like it when we fight).


So many streaming services, and yet I end up watching episodes of Columbo and old game shows

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We live in a world where it made sense to me to pay for 3 years of a service up front despite the fact that:

  • I’ve never used the service, nor has anyone else.
  • I won’t be able to use it for 75 days or so.

You see, Disney will be launching their streaming service, Disney+, in November and I’ve already paid for 3 years of it.

Why?

Well, they very cleverly are offering a discount for folks who sign up early. If you prepay for 3 years it costs $4 a month, which is a steal given the amount of content they will be offering via the service.

Now, I’d like to say I signed up because I have kids now, but truth be told I would have signed up anyway so why not save a few bucks!

With the addition of Disney+ this brings my current video subscriptions to:

  • Xfinity (Comcast by another name)
  • Amazon Prime (Included with our Prime membership)
  • Netflix (I remember when I’d get DVDs!)
  • Hulu (Signed up for this because Marisa wanted to watch some shows)
  • CBS All Access (Star Trek, of course)
  • Acorn TV (We watch a lot of Acorn TV, to be honest)
  • PBS Passport (Included with our PBS membership and a very nice perk)
  • BritBox (signed up for a preview to watch the latest season of Shetland [which was quite good] and I think we’ll keep it)
  • Disney+

And I watch these services using a variety of devices:

  • TiVo Roamio (Xfinity, Amazon, BritBox, CBS All Access, Netflix)
  • Roku (Same as above with the addition of Xfinity On Demand and Acorn TV)
  • My iPad (Mostly when I’m at the gym though I imagine I’ll use it more when little kids are sleeping!)

I enjoy the flexibilty and range of content these services offer, but it ends up being a mess of logins, subscriptions, and supported devices that make finding what you want to watch when you want to watch it just a tad frustrating.

Though I’m looking forward to adding Disney+ to the mix.


Firsts

Yesterday was full of fatherly firsts for me. I have left off the names of the babies involved to protect the innocent (and their eventual teenaged egos); here is the anonymized list:

 

  • I grabbed, with my hand, a giant booger that was flickering in and out from a tiny nostril with each baby breath.
  • I changed the diaper of a baby who I thought was finished pooping. Reader, that baby wasn't finished pooping. But now the changing matt has been cleaned.
  • I caught a not insignificant amount of spitup with my hand to avoid having to change a baby yet again. If a new father ever turns to me seeking parenting wisdom I will tell them, "no matter how gross something is just remember it is very easy to wash your hands."

I hope he doesn't swallow a glowstick

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A little while ago we began to find a single piece of glitter on Declan's head at some point during the day. It could happen during the morning feeding session, or whilst changing his diaper, but each time it would be the same: one tiny piece of glitter would be shining on his head just screaming for attention.

We'd remove it, which is harder than you'd think, and the next day there would appear another lonely piece of glitter.

Yesterday I noticed a piece of glitter on Sammy's eyebrow. It is spreading!

I have a pretty solid theory as to how this is happening: Declan is going clubbing while we sleep. I understand it - he's young and wants to check out what Philadelphia's nightlife has to offer. Though there's one thing I can't figure out: how does he reach the elevator call button?

As an aside, if you haven't read this article about how glitter is made (it is a big secret!) then you need to correct that.


How goes parental leave?

Nap time!

I’ve been on Parental Leave for the last few weeks. The above picture pretty much sums up how it is going.

Oh, and safe sleep people don’t worry - Marisa was there and making sure that nothing happened to the baby while I slept.

Speaking of sleep, here’s another view into how having two babies at home is going:

Sleep. Or lack of it.

Thanks to Marisa for letting me sleep in last Friday (it was so nice!).


Green hippos and tiny red foam bears

Hippo onsie

I don't have a lot of super clear memories of my childhood, though it was a pretty good as these things go. I was oblivious about my parent's very rocky marriage (which ended when I went to highschool though it probably shouldn’t have lasted that long) for most of my younger days so I was able to just be a kid.

The memories that do stick out revolve around, frankly, inconsequential objects.

Declan's hippo onsie (pictured about) dredged up one such memory whilst I sat in our livingroom at 3am feeding him a bottle and staring at his onsie.

Growing up I had a variety of novelty erasers that could be stuck onto the end of a pencil. I have a very vivid memory of one eraser in particular: a green tutu wearing hippo. I never actually used it to earse anything because they would ruin it! But I did enjoy playing with it. In fact, I think I still have it somewhere though I couldn’t find it in the apartment after a short search.

Memory is an odd thing, huh?

Thinking about that eraser summoned up another memory about another even stranger thing that that I adored as a kid. I don't recall where I got it from, or why I had it, but somehow I came into the possession of a small red foam bear. It was flat on one side and sort of a rounded cartoon bear with a little face that I drew onto it with a marker. Much like one of those foam dinosuars that come in those water disolvable capsules (which are made by Ja-Ru and you should totally visit their website). Think gummy bear made of foam.

I very much enjoyed taking that bear to school since it was so small and putting him on the pictures in my textbooks and imagining little adventures he would have.


2019 Undy Run - Donate Now!

TL;DR - I'm raising money for colorectal cancer again, so give some money!

Fatherhood isn't how I'll define myself, but since I've been home for the last few weeks adjusting to life with Sammy and Declan they have been very much top of mind, as you can see via Instagram, Twitter, and right here on this blog.

I keep thinking about how much my mom would have loved these little guys.

She was great about not asking me if Marisa and I were ever going to have children. In fact, I think she only asked me once and I said something like, "I know Marisa wants them!" She never brought it up again, but I knew she wanted to be a grandmom.

And she would have made a great one. I can see her giving Declan and Sammy all kinds of treats because they need to get some meat on their bones. And then leaving when either of them started fussing. I can also picture her making it very clear to them that life would be much easier if they would just do as she told them.

Sadly, cancer stole this experience from Sammy and Declan.

Running to remember

People shelter under a giant colon at last year's very rainy Undy Run.

Mom is on my mind because of a yearly tradition I've established: running the Colorectal Cancer Alliance's Undy Run benefiting colorectal cancer research. And you know what that means: I'm begging people for money!

I'd very much appreciate a donation to help me fundraise. Any amount you can spare would be fantastic.

There were lots of things I wanted to do and say to my mom but the end was sudden, expected, and surprising all at once.

If you have anything you want to know about your parents, ask them now. And give them a hug. I'll be sure to hug Marisa, Sammy, and Declan at the end of the 5k for my mom.


7 miles on the treadmill

The other day I tweeted about the 7 mile run I did outdoors:

All of this long distance (for me) running is the result of a Runkeeper 10k training program I signed myself up for.

I’ve been running 4 times a week for the last couple of years and I found myself in a figurative rut. I’d just go out and run 3.1 miles (that’s a 5k for my metric friends) and be done. My timing was improving but it got a bit boring. And I was certain that I couldn’t run longer distances.

Enter the Runkeeper training program. I figured if I could do a 5k I could just do two of them back to back. And today I ran 7 miles again, though this time on the treadmill:

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Running on a treadmill for an hour is pretty boring (hurrah for an iPad and WiFi in the gym) but it is much easier to control your pace.

Now, I’m not going to fib here. Since Declan and Sammy have come home it is tougher to find time to run. Major thanks to Marisa and her mom who is in town helping us for a bit. They have graciously agreed to let me sneak away 4 times a week to get my runs in and I appreciate it.

I do still hate running but I’ve come a long way from my days in highschool when I couldn’t run a 15 minute mile.


Review: ABCs of D&D

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As a D&D geek I couldn't resist buying The ABCs of D&D (I also ordered The 123s of D&D but that hasn’t arrived yet) to read to my children (sidenote: that’s still a very strange sentence for me to type!) Overall this is an excellent children's book, and if you like D&D you should buy it.

The style of the art is a lot of fun, they pack in plenty of references to things that long time D&D players will enjoy, and while the book’s story isn’t anything amazing I give them props for telling a story within the ABC format.

There were a couple of things that didn’t work for me in this book. Now, I don't know if there's such a thing as spoilers for a kid's book but if there is the rest of this post contains them. You've been warned.

All reasonable people can agree that the letter “B” in a D&D alphabet can only be for one thing: beholder. And yet this book makes the mistake of having B stand for “Book.” Not a fan.

Really?

I do get why they made the choice, since books are a big part of D&D and all, but it doesn't make the choice any less wrong.

My only other quibble with the book is what “X” stands for. While it is a critical D&D concept it felt a little bit like a cheat (but you’ll have to buy the book to know what X is!).

On the plus side there’s one illustration that I think perfectly sums up the feeling you get playing D&D and I had a lot of fun reading the book out loud to Sammy and Declan (since they’re only 5 weeks old they didn’t have much to say about the book but they didn’t poop on it, so I think they liked it).


iPad Lockscreen: wasted real estate

On that latest episode of Upgrade a listener asked Jason and Myke how often they change the wallpaper on their various devices (Mac and iOS).

This got me to thinking about my lovely iPad Pro’s screen and how I couldn’t even remember what my lock screen wallpaper was set to. For the record this is it:

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That's one of the stock animated options. Cool.

Inspiration

Now that I’m a father of twin boys (yes, this is turning into a daddy blog! 🙄) I’ve been taking a lot of pictures of babies - 1,028 pictures over the last 5 weeks to be exact.

I’ve long resisted giving Apple money for more iCloud storage since I have a ridiculous amount of Dropbox storage, but a shared Photo Album seemed like the easiest way to share all these pics with Marisa and vice versa. Turns out it is! The process is dead simple and working quite well.

Which lead me to thinking about that darn iPad lockscreen.

Feature idea

Now that I’m using Photos more heavily I've noticed the “machine learning” albums that Photos dynamically generates for you tucked in the “For You” section of the app.

If you aren’t familiar, using some sort of techno-magic the Photos app creates slideshows based on photos it thinks go together (they are taken on the same date or in the same place, or feature the same people). Then you can play them, with some music, for a stroll down memory lane. You can even edit the display options to customize the show to your liking.

Here’s a screenshot of some albums created for me:

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These are neat, but what I’d really like is to be able to display either a specific photo album or a generated one on my iPad's lockscreen.

Sure, I don’t stare at my lock screen for long stretches of time but it would be lovely to have a different picture (or montage of pictures) show up each time I wake up my iPad. I think it would add a little delight and whimsy to my iPad. And you could have have a setting that turns the iPad into a very expensive digital frame!

Genius, right?


Heavenly Hedgehog

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As I sit here at 1am with a very awake Sammy I noticed the hedgehogs on his onsie. 

Every time I think about hedgehogs my thoughts turn, as you would expect, to ice cream. 

Ok, that might need a little explanation. I went to college on the South Side of Bethelehm, Pa. The town was divided into two main sections: South - more industrial and rough and tumble area (though I spent my time on Lehigh's decidedly not rough not tumble campus) and the North side - also known as Historic Bethlehem. 

Historic Bethlehem featured, and still does, lovely homes and quaint shops. One of those shops (which closed several years ago) was an ice cream shop called "The Heavenly Hedgehog." That's just an objectively good name for an ice cream shop. 

Also, hedgehogs like to float around like this:

 

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Lessons Learned after a month of fatherhood

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For most of my life I've made special efforts to avoid babies. When a friend has given birth I would visit and say the right things but politely decline if asked to hold the baby. Or feed the baby. Or change the baby.

Why? Babies never really interested me and I was worried that I would break someone else's baby. I didn't need that pressure in my life.

Now, of course, I'm the father of two tiny babies and I can't continue my baby avoiding ways (though I did avoid changing their diapers for the first week or so of their lives when they were in the NICU. I figured the nurses were far better at it than I. Until one evening I was about to leave and a nurse said, "Would you like to change Declan?" I couldn't very well tell the truth, so I changed his diaper. I've now changed both of them many, many times. I will say that while I avoided changing them I did watch the nurse’s technique to prepare myself for the reality I would soon be facing, so I’m not completely awful).

I share all of this to establish that I didn't know much about babies going into fatherhood. I've now learned a few things that I thought I should share with folks who are also ignorant in the ways of the baby:

  • They grunt a lot. I always assumed babies were either crying like crazy or quiet. Nope! They make all sorts of sounds, even while they are sleeping. Which is super restful during the night because you totally don’t think every sound is one of your babies choking on something. Not at all.
  • They aren’t glass figurines. Sure, they are tiny and you need to be careful with them but they are pretty sturdy when handled properly. Still, be careful with them!
  • Feeding them isn’t too scary (just a little scary). The feeding part isn't bad… The part where they choke from time to time is. It is far worse, however, when they are hooked up to a bunch of monitors when it happens. Then alarms go off, nurses come running, and you feel really bad for nearly killing your child. Not that I speak from personal experience. Just remember you can control the flow of the liquid by positioning the bottle and you should be fine.
  • They eat a lot. And they poop a lot. But it is ok if they don’t poop for a day. Don’t worry, they’ll make up for it.
  • They are pretty deep sleepers. Movies taught me that one should tip toe around a sleeping baby. Maybe strap some pillows on your feet and take a vow of silence. I don't know if it is because Sammy and Declan spent time in the NICU with lots of other screaming babies, beeping alarms, chatting nurses, and worried parents but they can sleep through a lot. We went for a walk the other day and stopped for some coffee. I waited outside with the baby carriage (and the babies) when a UPS truck pulled up and idled next to us while the deliver guy unloaded packages. Both babies kept on sleeping.
  • They really don’t like to have their diapers changed. Though they do enjoy waiting until you've taken away their dirty diaper, put some cream on them, and are about to button up the clean diaper to unload a surprisingly strong, and plentiful, stream of urine thereby requiring yet another new diaper and prolonging the experience for everyone. Silly babies.
  • They really don’t like to be in messy diapers. They hate being changed but they hate not being changed more.
  • They go from not hungry to “no one has ever fed me in my LIFE!” in about 2 seconds. It is pretty impressive. Luckily, once you start feeding them they settle down (generally).

I’m sure allow of this is old news to people, or stuff that most will find obvious but they were news to me.

This tiny baby business isn’t for the faint of heart (though Marisa and I keep saying, “just having one baby must be so easy!” No offense to you singleton parents out there, but you’ve got it easy).


Yes, I bought the new Kindle Oasis (third-generation)

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Why? Because I love Kindles, silly!

I won't be writing a review of it because I'm lazy and tending to some tiny helpless people, but I will point you to my pal Jason Snell's Kindle Oasis review:

Yes, the $120 Paperwhite is the better buy. But the Kindle Oasis is a great splurge for people who simply want the best ebook reading experience around and don’t really mind that it costs twice as much as the step-down alternative.

He and I are very much of the same opinion about the Oasis (this one, and the previous version): they are fantastic but most people should just get the cheaper Paperwhite.


The real problem? People kidding themselves about getting older

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story about baby boomers not being able to sell the giant houses they built.

This quote sums up the real problem:

The couple, who relocated there from New Jersey, will likely move into an apartment in Charleston. Mr. Hambleton is “a very young 89,” his wife said, and when they built the house, “he was only 82,” so the property’s upkeep “didn’t seem like that major a thing.” But when it comes to aging, she added, “I don’t know that you face these things until you have to.”