A Sad Day

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One of the saddest days of my life, actually.

No joke.

My son moved out today.

Oh, I’m excited for him, moving in with his friends and getting ready for school, getting ready to start his life. He’s got so many awesome things ahead of him in the next little while.

But he’s left home. He doesn’t live here anymore. The only time he’ll be home is to visit.

I thought I had until the end of August, but they rented a house and got the keys yesterday. Of course they want to move in.

I’m just going to miss him, is all.

I should post a picture of him as a little kid. That would be the normal thing to do to provoke some kind of emotional reaction from whoever might be reading this.

But I haven’t got one handy. Instead, here’s something goofy from the Christmas he was seventeen.

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You Are Not a Pet Parent. Really.

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02 CyrusSo I’m not sure why the phrase “pet parent” irritates me so much, far more than pet owner.

Actually, that’s not true. I am sure, but that surety actually had a couple of people willing to argue about it with me yesterday, even after I offered a better word.

What’s the word?

Guardian. You’re not a parent, you’re a guardian.

Someone is shouting semantics at their computer screen right now, but it’s not. The difference between parent and guardian is not like the difference between big and large, far and distant, or brother/sister and sibling. Parent and guardian are not synonyms, they define two different relationships.

As a parent, your job is generally to raise a child from birth (or sometime later in childhood in the case of adoption) to adulthood, gradually teaching them how to think and act for themselves and to become a functional member of society.

This is not what you’re doing with your pet. (There are exceptions with children, too, but these are not the rule, and then I’d suggest both parent and guardian as relationship titles.)

Any animal you bring into your family—and that’s absolutely what you’re doing, no matter how small they are—you’ve taken responsibility for every aspect of their life, from the moment of their arrival to that horrible day when they die in your arms or you have to make that decision no one wants to make. You’re a guardian.

Children eventually start to detach themselves from you and find their own place in the world. Pets don’t. You’re never going to explain sex, love, death, or other complicated things to your cat. You’re never going to teach your dog to drive or help your Guinea Pig study for a math test. Your gecko isn’t looking for dating advice and your corn snake won’t need to be taught the realities of social media.

Your child will eventually learn to feed her/himself, but you’re opening a fresh can of dog food every single day for as long as that dog is with you. Your child will (someday) clean things up on their own, but you’d better keep scooping the litter box.

Pets are not children. You are not their parent. Think about it. Really think about it. To your pet, you are everything, the bringer of food and warmth and affection, the solver of problems and the cleaner of messes, and the absolute centre of their world. Your child will learn how to do or be all of these themselves and if it takes longer for some than others, it also takes longer than most pets will be with you.

Guardian. It’s a different kind of relationship than parent. To your pet, it’s all encompassing.

“Pet Parent”, I’m fairly certain, is a term coined by some marketing whiz to help sell us stuff for our pets we don’t really need.

Be well, everyone.

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Life Lessons From 2014

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We should always be learning. I’ve learned lots this year as well as others. But some lessons stand out and sometimes because they were hard to learn or relearn. I have four picks for this year, each learned or relearned or reinforced in a different way.

If someone is wrong on the Internet, it’s not that important.

Rather than telling someone they’re wrong on FB (or Twitter, or wherever), it’s often just as satisfying to comment out loud to yourself without posting. Humans being humans, most people are just going to resent the correction anyway. Make an exception when they’re posing a danger to themselves or others.

If you haven’t got anything nice to say, say something nice about someone else.

There’s something about our modern society that entitles someone’s opinion to be as valid as carefully researched and proven facts. Combine this with the fact that many people think that just because they have an opinion that other people have to listen to it. Throw in a little anonymity on the internet to bleed belligerence through into the real world and you’ve got a veritable douchebag cocktail at work in western society. Try not to contribute to it. Find something you like about someone and say something about that instead.

Do something to make the world a better place.

Anything. Stand up for something that’s wrong. Be kind to strangers, animals, and small children. Pick up a little garbage. Write a protest letter. Be the person you wish everyone could be.

Meet your kids where they are.

They’re still pretty young when they stop automatically coming to where you are and joining in with your interests. Finding their own path is important, but you’ve got to learn to walk it with them, and that’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s bloody hard. But it’s also incredibly important.

Be well, everyone.

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Understanding My Kids’ Relationship With YouTube

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So lately I’ve been trying to watch some of the YouTube video channels that my oldest daughter is into. I watch them with her, because none of them are things I’d likely go to on my own, trying to understand what she sees in them. This is a bonding experience, I suppose, because from my perspective, the attraction to most of these is like a train wreck: you just can’t look away.

Let’s be clear: not all of them. There are actually a small handful I enjoy, although I wouldn’t sit down and watch a whole bunch in a row.

 

Fun Stuff on YouTube

Movie Sins is probably my favorite. Produced by a guy who goes through popular movies and points out all of the problems and plot holes that are running through my head as I’m watching them. While I manage to keep the easy ones to an eye roll while I’m watching the film, he adds them up. And every movie gets a score at the end of the video. Higher numbers are bad.

I also kind of like Game Theory. This is an entertaining little segment where the host takes some strange little, or not so little, item or incident from a popular or classic videogame and then blows up into a giant conspiracy theory, completely “supported” by “evidence” in the game it’s from and from other related games if necessary. This is fun, and shows immense creativity.

Your Grammar Sucks is also worth a mention. The host, Jack, takes user submitted scrapings of comments from YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook of the most atrocious grammar, spelling, and things that just don’t make sense, and reads them as seriously as possible. He has a couple of other channels in his feed, too.

And I get some of the College Humor material. Some of it. There are videos that are absolutely hilarious. Some of the work, well, a lot of it, is clearly not targeted at me and most of that I don’t find particularly funny. Some isn’t even mildly entertaining.

 

Sturgeon’s Law

Now, before you get the idea that I’m actually liking everything YouTube has to offer, or at least the chunk of it my kids are watching, let me remind you of the generalization of Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.

In that light, I’m trying to understand the attraction to streaming video of someone playing a videogame with running commentary that never stops. I mean, I get the idea of an exciting play through. Fun and weird stuff happens that can make it really entertaining. Watching a two player or team game is the geek equivalent of watching football or hockey.

I don’t understand watching something where the commentary provided by player is a never ending stream of meaningless drivel and noise. I mean, we all went to school with the guy or girl never shut up and thought everything that fell out of their mouth was hilarious. We didn’t pay an awful lot of attention to them back then, so why are we giving them hundreds of thousands of views YouTube now? (This is the same reason I don’t like Deadpool, by the way. Deadpool is that guy only with superpowers. No thanks.) There are some fun and entertaining play throughs happening, but remember Sturgeon’s Law.

Then there’s amateur standup or sit down comedy hour.

Hours.

Days.

Eternities.

A lot of YouTube are somebody sitting in their bedroom, living room, basement, etc, talking about random stuff for no apparent reason and we’re supposed to hang on every word like it’s life changing. Or at least we’re supposed to find them incredibly entertaining. Unsurprisingly, Sturgeon’s Law applies again.

The question becomes how work with the Law, how to find the good stuff among the random chatter. Clearly, we can’t trust popularity. If a girl telling the story about how she knows everyone and is friends with everyone who works at the local 7-11 because she’s there every single day gets a hundred thousand hits, there’s clearly something wrong with us as a species.

I have developed three rules that I think apply beyond YouTube.

 

Rule Number One

If your kids are watching it, watching it with them.

Yes, you can make fun of it here and there, but only after you’ve taken the time to see what they’re seeing, ask questions, and make efforts to get them to explain to you what it is they find so entertaining or attractive about the particular channel or the selection of shows it has. YouTube is a lot like TV or movies this way.

 

Rule Number Two

Give something three chances. When you’re checking out something new, don’t assume the first thing you see is the creator’s best work. Everyone has an off day sometimes, but if they have, by your perception, three off days in a row, then either they’re going through some major issues, or they only have an on day every so often. If it’s the former, watching their unappealing video content is probably not going to help them get through, though putting extra views on the good stuff might. If it’s the latter, you’re just encouraging them and it isn’t going to help either of you. Either way, I’d suggest finding something else to watch. If you’re far enough along the path, ask the child you’re watching with to switch to a channel in their list to one you know have a chance of liking. But do it casually. Hey, is there a new Movie Sins this week?

 

Rule Number Three

Don’t be afraid to try something new, especially something completely new. You never know what you might like, and at least it will give you some insights into your kids’ minds, if you’re following rule number one.

Bonding with your kids is never an easy thing. You can only force them to like what you like for so long. And it’s probably better if you don’t force it in the first place. Let them see you like something to decide to join you. That will stop at some point, a different age for every child of my three. After that, if you want to spend time with them, you’re going to have to find things that they like. You need to go where they are, not drag them to you. That way lies and madness and sulking.

 

There is no rule four, five, or six. At this point, I’m working with just the three. And believe me, it’s hard sometimes.

Be well, everyone.

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Field Trips

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So all of my children have different ideas of what school should be, and what it means to be social, and things they should have to do. This is normal and natural, and I expect no less from them, but they are coming into an age where they can actually argue better than, “I don’t want to”. This is a good thing, but sometimes makes discussions take a little longer. I love that they are using their brains to try to get their way rather than a just flat black and white argument.

But as a result of this growing brain power, both of the girls did not go on their year end field trips this year.

Amanda, because hers was to camp Quin-Mo-Lac again and she feels she’s done that one before, and doesn’t really like to go outside anyway. Melanie did not want to go to the the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, for a similar reason: been there, done that, on several previous occassions.

I kind of agree with the reasoning. They’ve both been on this trip two or three times with the school before. Unless they have something really new and exciting, and that seems possible, but is a difficult argument to make next to all of the e non new and exciting things still at both locations, they’d rather not go thank you.

So, my counter proposal is that they will each go on a field trip of my choosing with me in the first week or so after school is out. They both easily agreed to this, although I’m not certain what I’m going to do with either one of them, especially considering my promise that it would be something each would enjoy. I’m not going to drag them somewhere they hate to punish them. That would be pointless, and really punish me more.

I thought about taking Amanda to a geocaching event in Toronto, although, as a day trip it doesn’t have as much to recommend it as an overnight or weekend. The COG event, Central Ontario Geocachers, is in Tottenham, and looked big and exciting the Saturday after school is over, but it wouldn’t necessarily be something different. We’re already planning to go to the mega event in Nappanee in August, and I’d rather have that one be exciting and new than her making comparisons to the another one. So I’m still stuck.

And I have no idea what to do for Melanie.

But we’ll figure something out. Preferably something in less than a two hour drive from where we live. Shouldn’t be too hard. Summer is coming, and there’s an awful lot of stuff to do.

And that’s aside from the fact that I’m hoping to manage a number of short duration summer adventures in the area. Amanda and I are going to learn to kayak. Both of the girls have expressed some interest in the idea of a tree top trek with zip lines and rope bridges. I’ve also been threatening white water rafting for several years now.

Plus the debate has continued between fan Expo and Montréal Comic Con, though I think this has probably been decided now.

Montréal had my vote on the strength of the announced guest list, having booked the attendance of almost the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation crew, including Denise Crosby who was a main character in first season but was killed off, with the exception of Patrick Stewart. With the addition of John DeLancie, who played Q as a guest star several times, plus visited the ships and sets of both DS9 and Voyager. Of less interest are several of the Power Rangers. Oh, and Robert England will be there. Since we missed him in Ottawa that will be a good opportunity.

Fan Expo on the other hand has announced William Shatner who is always a big deal for me. It’s hard to beat Captain Kirk. Elijah Wood (Frodo from the Lord of the rings movies) tops my wife’s list of any announcements made for any con so far this summer. They’ve announce some other big names as I write this, but are doing just a few announcements per week, building tension as much as they can.

All that said, my understanding is that if you want to go to a hockey game, and spend the night, you’re going to spend between $300 and $500 spending on your tickets and how much you like expensive beverages and food at the arena. So, for me, that equates a single evening hockey game with an overnight stay ito a three-day science fiction convention extravaganza. Fan Expo is closer to two hockey games with the high ticket price and extra night. Yes, I need more spending money for a con, and so do the kids, although they tend to save a little bit leading up to the con, but we’ve never been, and will never be sports fans. No competition, and even if it were, I think a convention wins value-wise.

Be well, everyone.

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Star Trek Re-Watch

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As part of the Days of Geek podcast (which, yes, I know I’m supposed to release an episode of today, but I’m not nearly finished editing it yet), I’m doing a Star Trek re-watch. The Original Series. As in, the series that originally ran before I was born.

I grew up watching Trek. One of my earliest memories is sitting in my father’s lap in that old green chair watching “The Immunity Syndrome”. As a three-year-old, the idea of a giant space amoeba eating whole planets was hard to wrap my mind around, but it was pretty cool. I watched every episode of the show over and over as a kid. As a teenager, it came on about 5 minutes after I got home from school for most of my high school years. That started to shift after The Next Generation kicked in, but it didn’t make the move to only early Saturday mornings until just before my first year of university. I kept watching.

As an adult, with cable and a science fiction network, I made it my mission to capture all of the episodes in order on VHS (a mission I’d later extend to TNG as well).

With the exception of the very first one, I’ve seen all of the feature films first run in the theatre. I have seen Star Trek: the Motion Picture on the big screen, but it was many years later in a review theatre.

You might figure out that I love the show. Honestly, Star Trek was a huge influence in my watching and reading habits as a kid and teenager, and is certainly the reason I’m a geek. It’s also at least part of the reason I developed a brain as a teenager when a lot of people around me seemed to be actively trying to avoid using theirs.

I’ve never tried to force feed my own kids the things I love. There’s a lot of variety and I want them free to choose their own path in all things, and that has always included what to watch. I’ve been far more likely to watch what they’re into than watch what I want.

My son thinks I should have made him watch more Star Trek as a kid. However, he’s seen every Trek movie in the theatre that’s released in his lifetime. And he’s watching a fair bit with me lately.

My oldest daughter claims it’s too late. She likes Fantasy better than Science Fiction. But she’ll sit through episodes if we’re watching as a family.

My youngest doesn’t mind and is happy to watch with me. She likes some of the episodes and rolls her eyes at others. I think she likes TNG better.

Thinking about getting my daughters into Star Trek, I’m a little wary of the lack of strong women in the original series. They’re there, but only one on the regular cast and she’s underused a lot of the time. It’s better in TNG and Voyager. I should give DS9 another chance for the same reason. (Never got as far into it. I felt a lot of what was being done on the show, Babylon 5 covered better. With a little time and perspective, now I think I might have missed some good storytelling, especially in the later seasons.)

But if all of my kids aren’t Trekkies, they’ve all caught the spirit of Trek: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, and a bright future for the human race. What more could a dad hope for?

But the re-watch. That’s where I started, right? I’m less than half way through Season One watching things in order, but I’ve also handpicked episodes for the family to watch for Spocktoberfest. My success rate is high for those. That said, my son has requested “Spock’s Brain”.

Okay, so there are a few not so good episodes (although “Spock’s Brain” is interesting in its own way), but you can learn a lot from them too. Negative examples are still examples. But the good examples from the series tend to be really good, even 47 years on.

It’s all about the stories and the characters. Star Trek, The Original Series, did both of those very well.

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New Additions to the Family

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So there are new inhabitants in the house. Well, not quite in the house. More on the back porch in an old fish tank, but that’s sort of like being in the house, right?

Let’s backtrack a little.

Youngest and I were out geocaching1 Saturday afternoon and at one point found ourselves beside a small stream with a few hundred tadpoles lazily sunning themselves and enjoying an afternoon algae snack here and there. Of course she wanted to catch some and bring them home. We went through the usual battery of questions—where will you keep them, what do they eat, and so on—and she offered to do some research to find out how to take care of them, noted that we had an old aquarium in the garage we weren’t doing anything with, and thought it would be a wonderful science-y nature-y type thing to watch them grow legs and turn into frogs then take them back and release them. After all, dad, many frogs are endangered or at risk and maybe we can help a few more make it to adulthood.

Middlest thought this a wonderful idea. Mom not so keen, but is very indulgent on things related to learning and education.

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon and three of us are back at the same stream trying to catch tadpoles with bare hands, small cups, and an aquarium net with a hole in the middle. Net result (ha, ha) is a total of 15 tadpoles of at least two different species (I think) in a fifteen gallon tank on the back porch.

It was quickly agreed that they must have names. I offered to name only the three I caught (as if I can tell which those are) and let them split the rest. Here’s what we’ve got:

Named by Youngest: Kermit, Yoda, Kelpie, Popper, Pickle, Gandalf

Named by Middlest: Naked, Baby Blue, Assassin Toad, Bubbles, Buttercup, Blossom

Named by Me: Edgar, Alan, and Hypnotoad.

You can see slight differences in sense of humour spread between the three of us. I’m hoping we can keep more of them alive that nature would have. Updates may follow, at least until we release our little slimy friends back into the wild when they’ve got fully developed legs and lungs.

We brought three snails home as well. Likely, they are equally deserving of names.

Be well, everyone.

 

1 Outdoor treasure hunt with the aid of GPS capable devices. Find things other people have hidden. A fun hobby. You should try. geocaching.com

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Vacation Plans: November 2012

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So as of yesterday, I’m on a two week vacation, not returning to work until Monday, November 12th, and I’ve got, as one or two of my kids might say, a crap tonne of stuff to get done.

Aside from World Fantasy Convention in Toronto from the 1st to the 4th of November, about which more (probably a lot more) over the next few days, I have a pretty big To Do list. This includes:

  1. Pounding out some serious new wordage. For every day I’m not at WFC, I’m looking for at least 1500 words of new fiction plus a blog post as often as I can manage.
  2. Doing a lot of editing. Setting aside at least an hour every day specifically for editing one of the three Warforge novellas I wrote last year. Revision notes are already accomplished. Long past time I made these fit to read so I can get to the next piece of the story.
  3. Finish planning on what I’m calling the Small Realities Indie Publishing Experiment. This is also past due, and part of my overall 5-year publishing plan, that I’ve also roughly planned.
  4. Record the raw audio for at least four short stories. And I even have them picked out. Yes, I’m finally going to start podcasting some of my fiction, as I’ve been promising myself I’d do for the last couple of years. The raw audio for two stories is already complete and one just needs a little second pass editing to make sure my retakes are good.
  5. Get as many as twenty stories out into the wild looking for home. This is, more or less two submissions per day for the days I’m available, and, I’ll be honest, that’s still well under half of what I have ready to go. I haven’t been good at submitting the last two years, for various reasons. In fact, I didn’t submit anything anywhere in 2011. That’s changing now.
  6. Get a full web site under way. I have the domains I want. I have a rough vision. Why the heck haven’t I gotten off my butt to get some web hosting?
  7. Gather up all the scraps of poetry lying around and turn it into electrons before I lose any of it. I wrote poetry on whatever is handy. The problem is I don’t always manage to get it into the computer. Some of it is decent and I’d like to hold onto it if I can.

That’s the creative list, and it seems pretty ambitions. Always aim high. But there’s other stuff to get done, too, a lot of other stuff.

  1. Finish Fall Cleaning. We’ve been trying to reclaim the house from ten years of life with children since we moved in at the end of 2002. It’s been a long hard slow, but with the exception of one room upstairs (see #2 in this list), the first and second floors of the house are pretty much reclaimed.
  2. Repair and paint Gamer Boy’s room. There are a couple of large holes, currently covered by framed posters, in one of Gamer Boy’s walls. These happened, and I think I’ll leave out how to protect the not-so-innocent, not long after we bought the paint. I’ll be supervising the repair job and will have some significant assistance from Gamer Boy for the paint job.
  3. Paint the master bedroom. A secondary task, if Gamer Boy’s room gets completed quickly enough. We bought the paint at the same time.
  4. Ease back into running. The last time I tried to get back to running didn’t work out so well. I forgot the cardinal rule: Take it Easy. Result, again, over stressed hamstrings and a calf that made me limp for three weeks and probably took twice as long to heal. I’m going to try again. Slowly, with the objective of being able to run a nice, relaxing 5 km by the end of the year.
  5. Finish the medium and long term financial planning. This has been a goal for a while, and we’re making some serious progress. For the short term, we need to learn to stick to the budget we set. For the long term, we need to figure out just what our goals are and plot an annually updatable path to reach them. Long past due.
  6. All the standard household chores. Too numerous to list and everyone has their own anyway, so how interesting would that be?
  7. All of the numerous errands and chauffeur duties that come with having three kids.

More than enough to fill two weeks of time, wouldn’t you say? Especially since there are four days more or less completely spoken for by World Fantasy Convention.

I’d better get busy.

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She Comes to Me At Night: A Poem

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In honour of national poetry day in the UK:

She comes to me at night
With darkness all around.
Some half-remembered fright,
Or half-imagined sound
Has pushed her from her bed.
I comfort quiet cries,
And gently rub her head
To close her tired eyes.
The fear and tears now gone
But dreams are yet too deep.
With hours yet to dawn,
She drifts back into sleep.

 

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