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:

623778B0-483B-4CEB-BD5C-7B81EA0BD97E

0F6C39FA-1D21-4BBC-814D-30F8E6D2378B

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

Untitled

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:

2E12BA2B-F51A-4BC0-BDD7-B881B66A6593

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:

A3418736-D107-4569-86E8-973A0A45F2D2

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

531851D0-9909-4EA8-9496-E7A6A4C0B08F

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:

 

A4C93512-4275-47A2-9047-E16CD40CD1B5


Lessons Learned after a month of fatherhood

8184DE78-A891-4C2E-87DC-2CAA2A64D263

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)

Scottkindles

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.”

Get in my Wallet

4E0A9D05-506E-4F81-8FAB-6AB403D38C89Whenever I pay for something with my iPhone I feel like I’m living in the future, but I’m also slightly saddened. Why? Because of unrealized potential.

What the hell am I talking about?

Having my credit cards, plane tickets, and rewards cards in the Wallet app is great but there are two cards I use much more often that I just can’t cram into that Wallet:

  • My library card
  • The ID card that I need to show to get into my building

The Free Library of Philadelphia is a wonderful institution. I borrow far more books than I should, I walk to the main library a few times a week, and I even donate money since I love it so much. However, it doesn’t have the resources to create whatever app thingie they’d need to do to make it easy for me to get my library card into the Wallet app.

My library card is basically a vehicle for the barcode that I need to scan to take a book out. The library won’t be creating an app for me to load the card into my Wallet, but they do let me download a graphic that sports the very barcode I need to scan. I’ve saved this image in my photo roll and I can just scan my iPhone at the checkout kiosk and I’m good to go. So close.

The building I live in requires residents to show an ID card to the guard before you can get into the elevator. This isn’t a high tech process, people. Fulltime residents get a laminated card with their pictures on it and visitors (I.e. people who don’t have their names on a deed of an apartment) have heavy card stock passes which sport that year’s color. Show the pass, get on the elevator.

A few years ago it was decided that you don’t have to show the actual card anymore (you know where this is going) but you can show a picture of your card on your smartphone. This has lead to people in the building making their iPhone’s lock screen a picture of their membership card. This makes me sad.

Wallet Nirvana

The solution to this is simple: the ability to put arbitrary images into the Wallet app. There are a few services out there that claim to make it easy for you to create your own Wallet cards… but I couldn’t get them to work. My sadness continues.

Now, this is the point at which you, dear reader, think to yourself, “Scott, you’re dumb! Why don’t you just use this simple thing that does exactly what you want!”

At least I hope that’s what you’re thinking because I want that thing! Tell me about it! And I’ll use it, and my sadness will end.

For now.


Wet

Scene: I get on the elevator on the 5th floor of my building after running on the treadmill. On the elevator are two people: an elderly woman and man.

"Hello."

The old lady and man nod.

I press the button for my floor and notice I'm getting off before they are.

My stop arrives and I say, "Have a nice night," and get off the elevator.

As the doors are closing I hear the woman say, "Why was he so wet?!"

To which the man replies, "I dunno. Maybe he was working out."



22 weeks: Twins are coming

I sometimes forget that I have a blog! Ok, I don't forget but I just don't get around to blogging much these days. And it looks like I won't be getting around to do much in the coming weeks and months other than helping raise twins. OMG!

That's right, Marisa is pregnant with twins and they will be arriving this summer. It still hasn't really hit me yet, but I'm sure that'll change very quickly!

So, blogging will remain rather sporadic but I will post here and there (I do have a couple of things I want to post about!).

Anyway, that's the big news!

Marisa and I discuss it a bit on this episode of Random Trek, if you're interested in hearing a little bit more.


Do fries come with that shake? No, they don't but you can easily order some fries if you like. I would suggest, though, going with the onion rings

shake

I love milkshakes. There's not avoiding it (in fact, I jokingly suggested we get a milkshake company to sponsor Vulcan Hello the the other day... if you're a powerful milkshake executive reading this, get in touch!).

Marisa contends that a milkshake is a dessert, while I think of it as a beverage.

And I'd very much like to enjoy one of these Orange Creamsicle "Shakes of the Month" at Bobby's Burger Palace this month. I'm not sure how many Weight Watchers points it would be... but I would guess something like "ALL OF THEM."

Seeing this also gave me fond memories of this Orange Cream float I had a couple of weeks ago at Disney World (which I really need to write about! The trip, not this particular treat... though it may have been my favorite treat of the trip):

Orange cream float

2018 in Fitness

It has been almost 2 years since I decided to drop some pounds and sign up for Weight Watchers. Over those two years I've lost nearly 130 pounds:

Weight2018

40 of those pounds were shed in 2018. Hurrah for me!

This is the most successful dieting effort I've ever tried and 2018 just continues the success.

I'm pretty sure at this point I weigh less than I did in high school. It is still a surreal experience for me to buy an XL shirt and have it fit. Mind blown, man.

Some folks surely think, "Scott, you've done Weight Watchers for 2 years now, surely you can just save some money and watch what you eat."

Ha! My experience over the holidays in which I gave myself a holiday from tracking my food shows me that I still have no idea how to feed myself properly (though I do know how to get rid of a lot of shortbread in a short amount of time). For me, Weight Watchers is going to be something in my life for the foreseeable future and I'm cool with that.

Fitness

The secret to my success is a seldom talked about combination of watching what I eat and exercising. Activities2018

I use my Fitbit watch to track all my exercising over the year and as you can see I worked out 231 times in 2018.

My exercise of choice is running, and I was surprised to see treadmilling edged out running outdoors. Who knew?

I opt for the elliptical when all the treadmills in the gym are taken OR after I've fallen down on a run, banged up my knee, and it hurts to run but doesn't hurt to elliptical.

That lone hike? It was in Northern Ireland and it was awesome.

Given how often I ran this year it would be very sad if I didn't improve at all. And I did! Here are my best efforts of the year (and of my life):

Bestefforts2018

Go me!


CELEBRATE ME... with an odd assortment of gifts

Celebrateme

Just the other day I was at dinner with some friends and I was trying to recall how long I'd worked at Penn. I couldn't remember (since I can hardly remember anything) so I did what anyone would: I looked at my LinkedIn profile.

Turns out I could have waited a few hours because I received an email telling I was celebrating 15 years at the University. Hurrah! And, more importantly, I get a gift in recognition of my service.

Not only do I get a gift, but I can pick one out from... well, a very strange assortment of things.

Now, I'm not complaining because I appreciate the token of appreciation and I am very happy that I can pick something rather than getting a picture frame or something. I'm just struggling to find a theme with options that include:

Grill

A grill.


Gamegrip

A grippy thing to put your phone in... for gaming?


Umbrella

An umbrella, which in and of itself isn't odd but it isn't a Penn branded umbrella which I find odd.

Bowl

A glass(?) bowl. This one looks pretty nice, actually, but I don't think I'm in need of a bowl.

Telescope

A telescope! This is the one that I am most tempted to get, however, I don't really have any place to keep it and I'm pretty sure I would never actually use it.

Gallondispenser

And my favorite time: the 1.5 gallon beverage dispenser. I should get it and fill it with champagne to CELEBRATE ME!


2018 in Books

2018, in many ways, was a pretty crappy year for many people. It was, however, a pretty OK year for me personally and a great year for reading.

I managed to read 101 books this year (that’s over 35,000 pages!), the most I’ve read in a year since I’ve been keeping track. How did I do it? Well, I took the time to read books. This isn’t rocket science, people.

I always think it is interesting to see what the gender breakdown of the authors I’ve read over the year happens to be. Now, I should say that I know many folks decide at the start of the year to mindfully read more books by a certain population. While I fully support that, because who I am to tell you what to read, that isn’t something I’ve ever done with purpose. Which made it all the more surprising to me that this year I read books mostly written by women:

Menvswomen2018

As I see it there are a couple of reasons for this:

  • I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and women are writing some of the most interesting stuff in the field (and have greater opportunities to get their work published).
  • I fell hard for a couple of mystery series which I gobbled up, and it seems to me that women have long been writing fine mysteries.

Here’s my ranking breakdown of those 101 books (since I use Goodreads to track my books the ranking scale is 1 - 5):

Rankings2018

As you can see, I’m a pretty generous 4 star giver. For me, if a book is fine (i.e. it entertains me) it gets 3 stars. A book that I think is well written and entertaining gets 4 and 5 stars go to books that I really, really liked. 2 stars go to books I wouldn't recommend to anyone, but I finished since they weren’t awful. And this year I didn’t read any 1 star books because time is too short to read books you aren’t enjoying on some level (unless you have to read them for a class. Stay in school, kids).

Tell me what to read, Scott

I know a few paragraphs ago I said it wasn’t my job to tell you what to read… but here are some books I think you should read.

Now I should say that the list below doesn’t include all of my 5 star reads of the year. You can see the full list on my Goodreads account.

Ruth Galloway Series

One of my favorite things in the world is discovering a book series that just sucks me in, and this year it was an absolute pleasure to read the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. I read the first 9 books in the series pretty much back to back. I stopped at 9 because the 10th in the series wasn’t out yet… but it did come out this year and, of course, I read it. I also read her other series (the Magic Men Mysteries) so I think I’ve read something like 13 of her books this year… and I regret nothing.

Ruth Galloway is an unlikely sleuth (aren’t they all?). A single middle aged archeology professor at a small regional school with a very specific specialty. And yet she gets mixed up in all sorts of dangerous situations. As is the case with any mystery series the cast of recurring characters must be interesting, and Elly Griffiths delivers on that front as well. These books are a delight. The only problem is that I’ve already read them all!

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Another mystery! It starts off as a pretty typical murder at a Manor but this one has a twist - the main character jumps perspectives and the story resets itself multiple times.

I don’t want to say too much about this book but I very much enjoyed it.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

This book certainly doesn’t need me to tell anyone about it. The hype around it is certainly deserved. A compelling story about a horrifying episode in American history. I knew the US Government had been horrible to Native Americans but this book showed me that it was even worse than I thought.

The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence Schoen

I couldn’t have a book list without a science fiction novel on it, now could I? This book was one of the last books I read last year and one of the best. It is a sequel to Barsk which was the best novel about an elephant with psychic powers in a multiple planet spanning civilization I’d ever read. The first book, as you can imagine, was pretty banana pants (and I mean that in the best way possible). The second is even better and expands the world in ways that I wasn’t expecting but found most satisfying indeed.

The only bad thing I can say about this book is that it ends on a cliffhanger. That’s good because it means there will be another one (I hope!) but bad because I want to read it now!


My Instagram Top 9

Topnine2018

Lots of me (not surprising). Lots of Marisa (she's so cute!). A cat and the Enterprise. Pretty much what you'd expect.

Oh, and you can create on of these yourself using Top Nine. You do have to give them your email address... and I have no idea what they do with it, but someone has probably stolen it already so what's the harm? ;)


I think I'm getting the hang of this running thing

That's from my run yesterday. I had an average pace of 8:26/mile, which is exciting. And I'm pretty happy with the consistency (well, generally speaking) of my pace on the run:

Runkeepersplits

There are a few reasons that I can point to for this improvement:

  • I've been running 4 times a week for several months. This is the biggest one.
  • The weather in Philadelphia is currently in my ideal running weather sector: cool and not humid at all.
  • I turned off the audio pacing announcement in Runkeeper. Now it just alerts me for every mile I've run. I found that if I heard what my pace was I'd think, "I can't run that fast!" and then I would stop running that fast.
  • I bought some new running shoes

Finally, some good news

2018books

I think we can all agree that the world is going to hell in a hand basket (as it has been for all of recorded human history).

The climate is going to kill us in less than 25 years, if nuclear weapons don't do it before that. The people in Washington seem to continue to lack for common sense, and the electorate (for some reason) is ever eager to reward this deficiency with more and more power. And for many people it seems like progress is being reversed, while others feel like too much is changing too quickly.

Pretty depressing, huh?

Well, good news everyone! World events have spurred me to engage in even more of my favorite solitary pastime: reading. And it looks like I'm on track to read the most books in a year since I've been keeping tabs on such things.

It isn't all bad! Just mostly.