“We would be honored if you would join us.” – Darth Vader, Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
Ready to play another round of Is the Hype Worth the Press? (Aka – more wishful thinking about cool stuff) My last post got me mentally planning a few more things that I’m just Jones-ing to try out.
Kindle 2: Amazon’s New Wireless Reading Device
The reviews on the Kindle 2 have been relatively good overall, but I wonder a bit if people don’t sometimes talk themselves into raving about something they’ve just shucked out a a handsome swash of cash for it. At least I know that I have been guilty of doing just that in the past. My biggest concerns are how durable it is (I do have a 13 year old in the house) and if I would miss the swish of turning pages and the physical heft of holding 250+ pages.
A KitchenAid Stand Mixer
I make bread by hand, but I think I’d probably be willing to give that up in a minute to have a KitchenAid Stand Mixer mix it up for me. If everything I’ve heard about them is true, that is. $350 is a pretty steep price tag is all I would end up using it for was making chocolate chip cookies and banana bread. Dough is a pretty heavy mixture to push around, with the added danger of too much and too rough manipulation potentially making the dough tough. Still, I’d be willing to give it a whirl if one were to show up at my front door!
And just to round out today’s list of things I’d love to have a crack at but can’t for the life of me afford, I submit… the Mini Cooper. It’s small, decidedly adorable, and is said to corner like a go-kart (and how I do love go-karts). Its gas mileage is decent, although lower than Dad Windu’s somewhat draconian “40 mpg minimum” demands, but I’ve heard you can really bump up the stated amounts by driving like a good doobie. As I generally tend to drive at (and even sometimes a bit below) the speed limit, don’t race off the line or stomp on the brakes to stop, I’d be interested to see what I could drag out of one if given a chance. Of greatest concern to me is how this cute little car would handle a Midwestern winter and how well would I end up getting to know my mechanic. Would a Mini get bogged down in the snow? Could it push itself through the crusty lip of slush that forms at the end of my driveway after a day’s worth of cars driving up and down the street? Could the frame handle that annual harbinger of spring – potholes the depth and breadth of Lake Erie? Would it eat brakes and clutches like Padawan Learner eats cocktail wienies?
Note to Mini Cooper USA (should they be interested in handing the keys over to me): British Racing Green, white top and mirrors, manual transmission to boost gas mileage, and – preferably – some of that custom-fit luggage you used to sell (for the road trips that would be absolutely necessary to test it out proper) would be lovely.
“We would be honored if you would join us.” – Darth Vader, Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
Time for an exciting round of Is the Hype Worth the Press? – The Apple Version (aka – wishful thinking about hot, new technology).
Because Dad Windu has to work pretty hard for each dollar he brings home, I do not part from our family’s cash easily. Something has to really blow my socks off to peel the dollar bills from my hands. Thus, I am not an early adopter of electronic gear – although as a card-carrying tech junkie I would l.o.v.e to be an early adopter. I’m the one who would come to your house and play with your electronic gadgets for hours on end, if only you’d let me.
The iPod Nano’s (and assorted docking accessories) that I bought for Dad Windu, Padawan Learner and myself last Christmas were the first Apple products that we’ve every owned. Shocking, I know. While I can’t say I’ve become a devotee, I have definitely caught of glimpse of the pixie dust flying around. But to really drink the Kool-Aid, I’d have to be bowled over by one or more of the following:
I would love to get my hands on an iPhone. My current cell phone is little more than a step up from two tin cans and a string. Seriously. Welcome to 2001, Obi-Mom Kenobi! It can neither take nor receive pictures. Its keypad is far too small to text anything more than S.O.S. It has a battery life of approximately 15 seconds. It can’t even download ringtones. Theoretically it can – the manual says it can – but what actually happens is the phone freezes up and makes very, very, very bad sounds while it runs through the remaining 14 seconds of battery life. We bought it last summer when I did something very stupid. Yet it is the only mobile phone our family has. Because it is so pathetic, I rarely use it. While I find many of the apps available for the iPhone ridiculous, several appear to be potentially quite useful. I guess the biggest question I have is for that much money (in addition to a rather steep monthly service fee), would it really become an essential part of my daily life or just a source of short-term entertainment?
I should admit right now that we Jedi don’t own a single laptop. I hang my head in shame. I am a tech geek without the must fundamental piece of tech. Oh, how I would love to change that fact! We’ve owned PC’s up to this point (they’re cheaper overall – if less reliable and more prone to viruses – and we can order them at a serious discount through Dad Windu’s office), but I used an older MacBook last year while traveling with a friend and found the Mac interface a pleasant experience. This same friend just got a MacBook Air. It’s a shame she lives on the complete opposite end of the continent because I’d love to put one through its paces.
iHome Stereo Mini Speakers
These little speakers are tiny, tiny, tiny which would make them perfect for traveling (and they come in my favorite color – bright red!), but can they deliver the sound? If they live up to the 4 and 5 star review on Apple.com, I could easily see Padawan Learner and I using these in our Roomette on an Amtrak train when we go out west to visit friends and family (this fall? next spring?). But at nearly $50 for something that there is a pretty good chance we’d be losing along the way (they’re the size of walnuts)… they’d have to prove themselves to be pretty darn amazing.
Mr. Jobs (or any of his people) can feel free to contact me with shipping info at their earliest convenience. I’ll be sure to give them an honest review.
“Remember: Your focus determines your reality.” - Qui-Gon Jinn, Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
In the end, it came down to the Pre-Algebra programs from Thinkwell or Chalk Dust. They’re both strong, content-intensive, video-based programs, which appeals to Padawan Learner’s preference for learning things visually and auditorially.
We borrowed the Chalk Dust Algebra I tapes and book from M-T’s Mom and both Dad Windu and I were impressed by how thoroughly and clearly the instructor presented the materials. I was especially impressed by the number of examples that Dana Mosley uses to really drive a point home. He is, however, a tiny bit dry (fine for me, but less so for PL) and the lessons seem to drag on a bit (because of all those great examples). The biggest drawback is the price. Chalk Dust is almost prohibitively expensive. That said, I would say that I think that they’re probably worth every penny in quality of instruction and the extent of material covered. The price wouldn’t have been a make or break deal, especially since there is a huge market for used Chalk Dust programs (for just this reason).
Thinkwell’s program is based online, with the option to buy CDs for additional offline use. This is nice as there is no delay in starting the program and you can access it from anywhere. You also aren’t without your program completely if you lose or break a CD. Because of the internet-based nature of the program, it can be produced and distributed less expensively as well. I was very, very impressed by Edward Burger’s teaching style, which incorporates a lot of humor. Essential, for a lot of kids. The lessons are very engaging, the material and examples are top notch, and the individual units are short and to the point. You can tell that he absolutely loves math and loves teaching math.
After letting PL watch both demo videos, I left the choice up to him. We talked about the pros and cons to each program and he had a little bit of a hard time choosing. In the end, he chose the Thinkwell program, preferring the humor-laced instruction and the unit by unit layout. He also liked being able to track his progress through the online program and doing the chapter reviews online. We signed up and he started yesterday afternoon.
“Patience. Use the Force. Think.” ―Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones
Last Saturday morning through this past Monday evening were devoted to finding a new bicycle for the Padawan Learner. What has three days of near constant activity in one bike shop or another taught me? I have come to the conclusion, after much thought and contemplation, that I hate having to find a new bicycle. I love bicycles and think that a return to walking for short trips and the bicycle for moderately distanced trips is the most reasonable, sustainable and fun method of personal transportation around. I do not, however, enjoy the process of buying a bicycle.
We have a lot of bicycle shops in this area, but commuter/upright bikes are still a rarity. Most shops are chock-a-block full of road bikes and mountain bikes. There are usually one or two hybrid bikes out on the showroom and maybe an old-fashioned beach cruiser with balloon tires. A few of the shops in town are beginning to carry the Electra brand of up-right bikes. Yeah!, a few commuter bikes…
We almost bought Padawan Learner an Electra Townie. It has ”one size fits most” frame geometry that would follow with him as he continues to grow and grow and grow, an upright cycling position (his biggest request) and it is very lightweight. Although I agree that far too many people have gotten carried away with the “weight” factor when choosing a bike, Padawan Learner is still under a hundred pounds soaking wet, despite his height, and has to frequently lift his bike to use the city bus bike racks, so the weight of a bike is a real factor in his being able to use his bike independently. Best of all, the standard 7 speed with derailleur was within our budget and he loved riding it. Loved, loved, loved riding it … until we gave it the “Dutch hill test,” that is.
Padawan Learner and I take Dutch language lessons. Seriously. We grab the bus from our house and ride it to the end of the route, two miles from our Dutch teacher’s house, and hop on our bikes from there. Near the end, we hit what we have come to call “Dutch hill”. This is a very steep ride for about 1/2 of a mile – San Fransisco steep. It’s a stand up and pedal kind of hill in light to moderate traffic. By the top of the hill on our current bikes, we’re both breathing pretty audibly. Since the Townie uses foot forward pedaling, this was a concern, since foot-forward doesn’t lend itself to standing up and pedaling. After a fair bit of internet searching, I learned that you can get some extra torque by gripping the handle bars and leaning back to increase your leg extension and find that much needed “gluteus maximus” power. It really does work, but not nearly well enough to make steep hills an easy or comfortable ride.
Now, a steep hill here or there wouldn’t normally be an issue, but when we started riding more and more around town we realized something amazing. Our city is hilly. Really hilly. “Where did this hill come from?” hilly. We never even noticed it as we drove from place to place. I knew we had come to the unfortunate decision to retire the Townie as a serious candidate when the Padawan Learner asked, “Could we just find routes without any hills?” Sorry, bud, not around here you can’t. Sadly, we returned home once again. As a last resort, we dropped the seat on Dad Windu’s bike and realized that Padawan Learner can just barely straddle the top bar and ride Dad Windu’s bike safely. So we’re going to put off buying him a new bike for the summer and see if he grows anymore before fall. We should then be able to buy him his perfect “last” around town bike. When Dad Windu isn’t with us, Padawan Learner will ride the full-size bike and I’ll do the on/off the bus bike rack duty and when Dad Windu is with us, Padawan Learner will ride his old mountain bike.
Yes, for the record, I have tried to find a good, used, medium-sized upright bike but have had no luck so far. I’ll keep trying through the summer. If only I could get back to The Netherlands….
Just to be fair – on the flat, I think that the Electra bike I rode during his test ride was just about the most comfortable bike that I’ve ever ridden. They glide so smoothly… but I wasn’t too impressed by the lag in shifting and Dad Windu absolutely despised the back and forth gear system of the 21 speed. That said, just drifting along on a flat bike path was absolute heaven. Tip: if you want to use a Townie on a city bus rack, spin the front wheel backwards to shorten the wheelbase (by a good 4 inches).