Friday, December 12, 2008

A Couple of Rock Band 2 Notes

First, has anyone seen this Rock Band show that VH1 did leading up to the release of Rock Band 2? I hadn't seen it until I tripped over it on InDemand just now. Sebastian Bach and Alice Cooper judged a competition to whittle 15 RB2 players down to (I don't know? One band? Two bands?) Weird. The "episodes" are really short, and I wish they were full-length 22 minutes instead of the 7-8 minutes they are.

In other news, I played a little RB2 over the B's nap today with the sole and vain intent of gold starring as many songs playing Vocals on Expert as I could. I got a few! (Some of them are DLC and not RB2 songs, and these don't count the DLC that I'd already gold starred in RB1, as I didn't re-do those.) I am confident that many of these that I succeeded on would be the LAST ones you all would guess.

I now have gold stars on:

1) Come Out and Play (Keep 'Em Separated)
2) Drain You
3) Give It Away
4) One Way or Another
5) Hangin' On the Telephone
6) Today
7) You Oughta Know
8) Limelight (Original)
9) Tom Sawyer (Original)

Yeah, um...hmm. You gold star what you can, you know? Not necessarily your favorite stuff. You Oughta Know is actually ridiculously easy to gold star on vocals. I got a 97% and I didn't even think I was perfect on when to use overdrive and I still got the gold stars. Thanks Alanis!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Third Birthday Party

The party was great. Everyone was lovely to come on out and help us celebrate and it made the day very special for B. She was so excited to have everyone over.

(If you are reading this post in a feed reader, you are missing the widget in it that has all the pictures.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Did It!

I will post tomorrow about the B's lovely third birthday party. I haven't had time to go through the pics yet, though I will say that it was great and I really appreciate everyone who came comin' on out to have a slice of Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake.

On a much more selfishly personal note, I have written more than 50,000 words for a novel exclusively during the month of November. I undertook the NaNoWriMo challenge this year and committed to reaching the suggested goal of 50k words in one month, or a pace of just under 1700 words per day.

I am happy beyond belief to report to you all that I just went over that 50k mark a few moments ago, trying to squeeze it in before the NaNo servers get slammed tomorrow with people trying to verify their word counts to be dubbed an official "winner" of NaNo. The official count as of this moment is 50109, but my book is probably only about 60-70% complete at that point. I will finish it, but possibly not at the clip that I've been trying to keep up with in the past 29 days.

I think I will leave OpenOffice closed for at least a few days and bask in the gloriousness of not typing as fast as I can between 9:00 p.m. and midnight every night, trying to get my words out after I put the B in bed but before the official end of each day.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Neat Surprises Just Before You Go To Bed

I would just like to say that the new theme feature in Google's Gmail (if you don't have a themes tab under your settings, you soon will get one as they roll out the new feature) ROCKS. That is all.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Okay, Let's Think of a New Way to Market Toys

My daughter is tall. She's always going to be tall. I wouldn't be shocked if she was the tallest person in her class for the rest of her life. That's person, and not just tallest girl. I know this will cause her some moments of pain, but there's always something.

I don't want to be too egotistical here, either, but I have an inkling she's going to be one of the "smart kids", and will catch some flack for that over her academic career.

She's going to be different in enough ways that might cause her some trouble over the course of her life. Given that, I really wish we could start this evolution away from being so stuck in our ways as far as gender typing is concerned.

It's time for us to let go of all those primitive preconceptions, relax, and let our kids explore the whole world with fewer needless labels. Nothing they play with when they're three or five or seven is going to make them anything other than what they intrinsically are and will be no matter what.

I am so sick of this obsession with "boy toys" and "girl toys". Yes, I understand that there is a phase that most kids go through when they first begin to understand gender and they become either hyper-feminine or hyper-masculine while they try to wrap their brains around this new idea and what effect that has on their place in the world. I just don't understand why we take this one phase of child development and blow it out of proportion. Kids are obsessed with gender roles for a year or so. Their parents, many times, are obsessed with them from the moment they discover the gender of their baby until, oh, ever.

Here is just one manifestation of this phenomenon:

First, here's something subtle you might not have noticed. There is one more item in the "boy" list than the "girl" list. This tells me that things left off of the girl's list were left off on purpose and not due to space constraints.

Also, this graphic (taken from a major online retailer) appears on their 3-4 year old toy guide page. At ages 3 and 4, many, many kids are not this gender specific. Their parents might be, pushing cars on little Johnny even though he might be asking for a doll (a perfectly normal form of pretend play, especially if he has a younger sibling) and putting princess hats on their daughters who might be more interested in trains or blocks. The fact that they're pushing such baldly obvious gender typing on kids in an age group that predates the typical age range where awareness of gender roles comes into play just shows how much of the gender differences and gender gap is nurture and not nature.

Further, the very idea that the only toy that boys and girls can agree on is "music" and that universal things like "building sets and blocks" are the exclusive playground of boys is frankly, offensive.

There's an expression I hate that says, "Boys will be boys and girls will be either." In other words, boys play with boy toys and girls play with girl and boy toys. Maybe you think that this means that girls are able to look at their world from more different and varied points of view, but I think it's more true that the toys seen as exclusively for girls exist in a sort of "not good enough for a boy" gulag, looked down on by the boys who play with the sort of toys that introduce them to a more realistic version of the world (compare playing with cars and trains during imaginative play and playing princesses, and then consider which one is more likely to prepare them for the world we live in.)

When you further consider that the foundations for interest in math and science are laid in play with blocks and interest in things like dinosaurs (which spark trips to natural history museums and the like) and trains (which can be turned into an interest in mechanical engineering as they grow older and want to know how things work), labeling those things "for boys" is a disservice in every way to our young girls.

I was once kept out of an algebra class in the eighth grade by a male math department head, despite the fact that I had the highest score in my grade on the test used to place us in the "right" math class. His excuse was that he "thought I'd want to be with my little friends." The principal backed him.

My friends were guys. I didn't know a single person in the eighth grade pre-algebra class I took, which bored me so much that it's the closest I've ever come to getting trouble for spacing out in class and not paying attention. My friends were boys, by the way, because they didn't seem as affronted by my interest in math and science as the girls were.

Maybe it was because the girls were brainwashed by gender stereotyping, and my insistence on ignoring the boundaries made them uneasy. Maybe we would never have gotten along anyway, and it was immaterial.

But you know what? As long as we keep brainwashing our kids to stay safely in their assigned gender roles, we're never gonna know.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Why I'll Be Buying Some Presents from Amazon.Com This Year

The end of last year, frankly, was a mess. We were getting the house ready to sell, we were getting ready to do some holiday traveling, and some horrible things had recently happened in our family. We weren't putting up a Christmas tree for several reasons, some due to the stock advice not to put up anything personal in a house you're trying to sell, but also partially because we weren't in a frame of mind to celebrate.

Everything I did around then just seemed more difficult. The last of the weights that were pushing down on us just fell at the end of last month, in fact, when the house finally sold. Things just weren't going well, and I just kind of knew that things would be a struggle for us for awhile. The last thing I needed was a new problem, the sort of random thing that can happen to anyone.

I bought a digital photo frame for my parents for Christmas, loaded it with pictures of our daughter, me, and the mister, wrapped it up, and sent it. I reused a shipping box that had held something I purchased from, a lovely boxed hardcover set of Calvin and Hobbes that was the mister's present last Christmas, bought at such a steep discount on their Friday sale that I doubt they made that much profit on the sale. I carefully covered over the shipping info from Amazon to send the box to my parents, taping a piece of heavy construction paper with their address on it over the top of the box.

What happened to cause the random problem that I needed like a hole in my head was this: somewhere between Missouri and Virginia, the piece of paper ripped somehow and the address information was separated from the box. It still apparently had the sticker that was printed by the shipping machine I used at the post office that directed it to the right zip code, but the street address was gone.

When too much time went by before the package reached my mom and dad, I dug out the receipt with the tracking number on it and set about trying to find the package. It had a weird status when I checked it online, and I ended up making phone calls that ended with the postmaster of the post office where the package had apparently been at one time, but no one seemed to be able to put their hands on it.

I was so upset over this package being missing. Part of it was the money, because it was a kind of expensive present. Part of it was the work I'd put into choosing the pictures and putting them on the memory card, pre-programming it so it would be easy for my parents to use. But part of it was that it was one more damn thing that wasn't going well.

I made, at the postmaster's suggestion, about three more calls to him while that post office tried to figure out what had happened to this package. I was losing faith that anyone I knew would ever see it again. I even began to wonder if someone had opened the package, unwrapped the present, saw it was a larger-ticket item, and decided to keep it.

Then one day, my doorbell rang. I went to the door and found a package UPS had left on my doorstep that had shipping labels from Amazon, along with a neon yellow sticker on the outside saying something about an item that was being returned to me because Amazon didn't know why it had been sent to them.

I opened that box and found MY box inside. That box had clearly been through a LOT, dinged and ripped and dented, but inside THAT box was the digital photo frame. It wasn't wrapped (I imagine Amazon had to take off the gift wrap to figure out what it was) but all of the pieces were safely inside the box.

There was a note inside the box saying that they had sent me back my item because they couldn't locate an RMA involving that item. I thought it through for a few minutes and then figured out what must have happened.

The USPS must have seen the old shipping label on the box, the original one from Amazon when they sent me the books I'd ordered. Having no other solid info to go on (I'd ripped off the part with our address), they sent the box to Amazon in the hopes that the puzzle would untangle somehow.

Amazon then got a box with an item that I don't even think they sell, but they looked up the shipping information from my original order, probably the UPS tracking number that I'd sharpied over but was probably still readable from the barcode. When they got the shipping info, they sent the box to me at their cost, along with their note about not having a matching RMA request.

I felt horrible that Amazon had incurred a cost in helping to get this box back to me. I went on a mission to find someone in their customer service to explain the whole debacle to, finding someone in the right department after a few stops and starts. I explained what had happened, how they'd come to be in possession of a product I hadn't even purchased from them, and that I wanted to reimburse them for the shipping costs.

The lady sent me an email back in our little chain of replies back and forth that basically said, "Don't worry about it. Just think of us in the future when you're shopping online. Happy Holidays."

I'm not a member of Amazon Prime, and while I've bought my share of things from them in the past, I doubt I'm even in the top 70% of sales for private individuals. There was nothing in my account that could have persuaded this woman or Amazon in specific to give me special treatment. This was just how the company treated me when I approached them to tell them how they'd helped me. They did me one last favor and told me to forget the shipping cost, which was extremely generous, considering that they were the last step in a chain that helped me find this gift that went astray and get it back to my parents.

That, both the effort they took to ship the box back to me and the kindness of their customer service agents, means that I am now going out of my way to find the presents I'd like to buy on their site. That's how you turn a customer into a devoted repeat customer. I'm happy to thank them with my purchases and my loyalty. Thanks again, Amazon, for making a really difficult holiday season that we had last year just a little less stressful.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Possible Breakthrough?

Even with all the news from the election swirling through the media, I can hardly believe that the only place I saw this story was Slashdot.

The work of a doctor named Gero Hutter may have saved the lives of millions of people. If these findings can be replicated on a larger scale, there's another man who has shown this week that he might be able to change the world.