Category Archives: Misc

Reading in 2017

I have read more books this year than any past year in recent memory1. My long commute is a mixed blessing and the upside is definitely my evening reading time.

At my library we have two staff members who are known for reading voraciously. One of the adult librarians thought it would be fun to have a competition with the entire adult departmentment pitted against these two individuals2. To assure victory3, the librarian conscripted every librarian scheduled to sit on the reference desk for the adult team. I do one Sunday shift every 8 weeks and thus was considered eligible to join the adult librarian group. The competition started in April and goes till the end of the year. To count, a “book” must be at least 100 pages long.

I finished one last book today so it looks like I’m going to be at 66 books since April. It’ll be interesting to see what the final numbers for the two teams will be 4. Regardless, I’m happy with the number of books I managed.

I read a lot more novellas than usually which is one reason my numbers are so high. For some reason I’ve always had trouble getting into shorter fiction. The Hugo Awards contain many contegories and I always felt bad that I wasn’t well read enough to contribute to the shorter categories. I’m still lacking in the Best Novelette and Best Short Story categories. However, I’ve read 13 novella length stories5, published in 2017, which is significantly better than normal.

Here’s my favorite 2017 stories so far (in random order):

Novels

Novellas

For 2018 . . .
I stumbled across the website for the Sirens conference. It sounds really fun. I need to figure out logistics but am hoping I can make it there by myself, no kids attached. We’ll see. However, even if that doesn’t work out, I think I’m going to try their 2018 Reading Challege. In addition, I’ll be reading all the Hugo nominees for this coming year as well as trying to keep tabs on the 2018 interesting science fiction and fantasy. Hopefully 2018 will be another year full of good books6.

  1. Probably more than any year since I started working and certainly than any year since I had children.
  2. Contrary to certain stereotypes, not all librarians love to read. Librarianship is really more about information finding than reading skills.
  3. Because yes, there was definite doubt whether the entire department could read more than 2 people.
  4. For comparison, one of the librarians in the other team was at 264 books so victory is definitely not assured for the adult team.
  5. I think they’re novella length based on pages but I don’t know what the word count for each one is.
  6. And while we’re handing out wishes, let’s hope 2018 is a happier year for our country . . .

Working

While I was pregnant with Calvin I considered becoming a stay-at-home mom. I don’t remember what my reasoning was, but it was probably something along the lines of “we can afford it, it’s good for the kids, so why not.” At the time, Jaeger was very supportive of this, his own mom stayed home with the kids and it seemed normal to him. However, my mom thought it was a bad idea for my personality and she talked me out of it. She told me that she felt like her brain was rotting the two years she spent home after my younger brother was born. After thinking about it more, I realized I didn’t have to make this decision before Calvin was born. If working and having a kid was too much, I could always quit later. Instead, I negotiated going down to 20 hours a week and working from home1. Continuing to work was definitely the right decision. I’m sure my postpartum depression would have been even worse if I hadn’t been able to mentally escape at work.

A little over a year before Julian was born I went up to 32 hours a week. Our library system was preparing for a major ILS migration and I, and my manager, felt like it would be best if I had more time to devote to the migration. I thought it would be hard going from 20 to 32 hours a week. It wasn’t, it was easier. I felt less rushed during my work day and felt I could take longer to make better decisions.

Jaeger and I decided to have another child. I looked at our personal schedule, we were planning to move overseas in the next couple of years, and the implementation timeline at work and came up with a target date range for conception. If I still wasn’t pregnant at the end of our target window we would reconsider whether it made sense to keep trying to get pregnant. I was lucky and Julian decided to be conceived right on schedule.

Meanwhile, our work implementation kept plodding mostly forward. Because Calvin threatened to be born preterm I wanted the ILS implementation over before Julian hit viability so I could drop everything if he ended up in the NICU for months. This provided very strong motivation for me to keep the project on track. I’m quite sure our vendor got tired of me telling them that I managed to conceive on schedule so they should be able to deliver the product on schedule. Julian was born at 41 weeks. In retrospect, I didn’t realize how much post-migration clean-up there would be so I was very fortunate that Julian agreed to wait till he was full-term.

I had told my manager I intended to take 3 months of maternity leave. At about 4 weeks postpartum things were going so well (i.e. nicely boring) that I was tempted to come back early. However, I didn’t have childcare lined up for going back early and then Julian went through a hard period so I did end up staying mostly offline from work the whole 3 months2.

In July, about a month after I came back from maternity leave, Qualcomm announced they would be doing layoffs. They told their investors before they told their employees. Very tacky. No doubt there were some regulatory issues around the announcement but surely there could have been a way to coordinate that better. In any case, Qualcomm announced layoffs but said they wouldn’t publish the layoff list till late September. Our plan had been to move to Taiwan after Julian turned 1 and Calvin finished school for the year. If Jaeger got laid off it would potentially either force us to go through the savings we had for the international move or move early. Neither situation was ideal but we were fortunate that all we had to worry about was opportunity, not where the money for food and mortgage was going to come from.

Possibly coincidentally, a Google recruiter choose the day Qualcomm announced layoffs to send their semi-annual email asking Jaeger if he would be interested in interviewing with Google. Jaeger didn’t want to work for Google, he wanted to move internationally. However, he decided that interviewing at Google would be an interesting interlude while waiting to see who Qualcomm laid off.

Long story a little shorter, Qualcomm did lay him off and Google offered Jaeger a job in their San Francisco office. We had visited San Francisco several times and had been impressed with how diverse the city is. I talked to my manager, who talked to HR, and they thought if we moved I could still telecommute and work for the district. After a lot more waffling, Jaeger decided to take the job with Google and push back our international plans for another couple of years.

Life got complicated. In February Jaeger left for San Francisco while I stayed behind with the kids and our au pair so Calvin could finish school. Right about this time I learned that I may not be able to keep my job after all. After looking into it more, HR decided there would be complications with me working from home in San Francisco because I would be classed as a California employee. I’m a little vague what all the implications would have been but among other things they would have had to withhold California taxes for me. This was not something they were willing to do. At one point, I was told that this would probably have been easier if I had moved overseas instead of to another state. My manager was quite upset and spent months trying to find a way around it. However, she was not able to find a cost-effective option that HR felt would legally cover them. It was too late to back out from Google so I was going to be out of a job once I moved to San Francisco.

As soon as I realized there was uncertainty about my job I started looking for interesting jobs I could do from San Francisco. I knew I was too specialized but I hadn’t done anything about it because I was secretly hoping to be able to keep my job forever while wandering the world. Unfortunately, my specialization was now coming back to haunt me.

I applied for several jobs but most of them didn’t feel like a good fit and I was fortunate to be able to be picky. Then I saw that Mountain View Public Library had a job opening that sounded very similar to what I currently did. The timing was a little awkward. The huge ILS user conference, handily in San Francisco, was in just a week or two and the job already had dates set for when they would interview candidates which was 2 weeks after the user conference. Obviously they only expected local candidates to apply. A week before the interview date I was called and invited to come for an interview. Fortunately, Jaeger was able to rearrange things to stay in Colorado while I went to California for a couple of days.

The first interview involved three people who had a preset list of questions they had to ask. It was a pretty easy interview. However, I thought it was odd that none of the people who interviewed me worked for Mountain View Public Library, or even the City of Mountain View. Instead, they were librarians from surrounding libraries. I assume this was to try to prevent any appearance of bias. However, from my perspective this was not helpful as they did not know the answers to any of my questions. So, the process allowed them to shortlist me but did not give me enough info to shortlist them. I was invited back for a second interview, this with the actual librarians at Mountain View. Everyone I talked to was very nice and seemed like fun people to work with.

A couple of weeks after the second interview I received an email from HR saying Mountain View was still interested in me but they needed to verify my degrees and pass a background check before the process could continue. This sounded pretty straight forward, though I did think the background check a little weird. As requested, I filled out my school information and then dutifully took the background check form down to the Boulder police station to get fingerprinted. Then I mailed the form back. This was the beginning of The Long Wait.

The first problem was they couldn’t get confirmation of my MLS. I never learned what the problem was but I blame someone either misspelling my name or not knowing what to do with hyphenation. In the end, Mountain View accepted a scan of my transcript. The next hurdle was my background check. I had sent back the fingerprint form via 1st class mail. I have never had any problems with the USPS. In fact, sometimes they managed to deliver mail to me when almost everything on the address was wrong. However, two weeks had passed since I had sent off the fingerprints and Mountain View still hadn’t received it. Mountain View sent me another copy of the form and requested I send it back with a tracking number this time. So I went for a second time for fingerprinting and emailed Mountain View that it should arrive on Saturday. As luck would have it, my original fingerprint form arrived with an apology note from the USPS attached the next day. Mountain View submitted the fingerprint form and we started waiting and waiting and waiting some more.

My last day working for High Plains Library District was May 20. Leaving HPLD was harder than leaving anything else in Colorado. I had been working there for almost twelve years and worked with a bunch of fantastic people.

My last week in Colorado was spent running around doing useful stuff. On May 30 I flew out to San Francisco with the kids and our au pair. Jaeger stayed behind to oversee the rest of the moving process. Our furniture showed up a week later. Jaeger’s mom was helping out with childcare and also helped tremendously with the unpacking. I spent the next several weeks unpacking and trying to fit everything into our smaller rental house.

Every so often I would get an update from Mountain View saying they were still waiting for the background check to come back.

Before I left my High Plains manager had expressed interest in hiring me for specific jobs on a contract basis. Since nothing was happening on the Mountain View front, I decided to explore setting myself up as an independent contractor. San Francisco requires small businesses, including independent contractors, to get a business license. The problem with the business license was that the “business address” was publicly searchable. My address is probably pretty easy to find but I didn’t think I should just give it to the public. So I spent some time getting an alternate address for business purposes. Eventually I got everything lined up and High Plains had me work on a couple of small projects.

Since I still hadn’t heard back from Mountain View I started exploring other job options. There weren’t any interesting librarian jobs in my area. I started considering what types of jobs I could do outside of librarianship and applied to a couple of options. By this point the unpacking was mostly done and even with job searching and contract work I wasn’t as busy as normal. This turned out to be unhealthy for me and eventually I realized I was getting depressed.

Once I realized I had a problem I decided I should prioritize exercise more and also find some personal development projects. I had been contemplating learning Ruby, Perl, PHP, or Python for many years. All of these are used within the library world but there isn’t one used significantly more than the others. Basically, everyone uses their favorite language which means we don’t work well with each other. As a result, I had never figured out which language would be most useful. However, when I was job searching one of the interesting sounding areas was data analytics. Many of these job postings had Python as either a required or desired qualification. I had just come up with a plan for learning Python when I got a call back from Mountain View.

Whoever Mountain View submitted my background check to did not like how Boulder had filled out the fingerprint form so they were rejecting it, 59 days after it was first submitted. Since I was now in California Mountain View asked if I could come down and get fingerprinted by their police department. I agreed and went down the next Monday. They thanked me for my patience and said results should be back within 10 days but they would request it be fast-tracked. I nodded politely but was dubious. Much to my surprise I got a call the next day with a verbal offer. After a week or so of negotiations I accepted the job. Somewhat ironically, the day after I accepted the job I was contacted for a interview with one of the other companies I had applied for.

I’ve been working at the Mountain View Public Library for two weeks and am pretty happy. So far all my coworkers have been really nice and my manager is wonderfully organized. I am really impressed with the amount of effort and thought she put into getting me up to speed. The biggest downside at the moment is my commute. It takes a little less than 1 hour to drive down and a little more than 1 hour to drive back. I don’t mind the driving, it’s actually really nice to spend 2 hours every day by myself3. However, it does make child care much more complicated4 and all things being equal there’s other stuff I would prefer to be able to do during that time period. I have contemplated taking BART and then Caltrain so I could work on other stuff while commuting. However, I just can’t fit that extra 40 minutes it would take everyday into my schedule.

Overall, I have been very lucky with how everything turned out. I felt a little adrift not getting an offer before the background check was complete but it was nice to have time to unpack the house. I have also learned that I really like the structure and mental stimulation of a full time job. In addition, I need to work more on procuring skills outside my current specialty. I either need to get experience supervising others and go up the managerial path or focus on improving and expanding my tech skills. For now, I’m not sure what path my career will take but I am happy to once again be working in an environment I love.

  1. This is why it’s nice to work for a while before getting pregnant. If you’re valuable, and your work realizes that, people are willing to do a lot to keep you.
  2. Excepting the occasional email, of course 🙂
  3. Another interesting perk of driving is being able to oogle Google’s self-driving cars. I usually see at least one on the way to work and one on the way home. One day I had a Tesla in front of me and a self-driving car beside me and I felt like I was living in the future.
  4. I am away from home 10 1/2 hours a day so we have to hire extra help so our au pair doesn’t go over her 45 hours/week maximum.

Le Tote

I have discovered that while Julian is fascinated by computers and phones, he leaves me in relative peace when I write via paper and pen. Unfortunately, this means I must be able to read my writing when transcribing. Handwriting was one of the few subjects I never got good grades for. However, potentially this will allow me to update my blog more often.

Around the time Julian was born I joined the Boulder Rock’n Moms group. It’s a great resource for mom’s in the Boulder area and I wish I had found it sooner. As soon as I knew we were moving, I went looking for the San Francisco equivalent which turns out to be GGMG. Their criteria for joining is more stringent, you have to have a San Francisco address, but as soon as Jaeger got his temporary apartment I signed up.

One of the threads recently in the GGMG forum was a mom who hated shopping but needed new clothes. She was looking for suggestions of what to do. Several suggestions were provided by others including Stich Fix and Le Tote. I had heard of Stitch Fix in the past and had been fascinated by the concept. However, I tend to be very cheap and mainly buy my clothes at the thrift store: the prices are good and often I prefer the colors versus whatever is popular in a particular season. The idea of spending $40+ for one shirt seems exorbitant. I had never heard of Le Tote before, not being particularly fashion conscious, but the idea of “renting” clothes sounded fascinating. You pay a certain amount each month and they ship via priority mail three articles of clothing and two accessories in each tote. They provide a priority envelope to ship back the clothes and send out another tote as soon as the first one is returned.

I signed up and filled out all the sizing info. They asked for general clothing sizes and then got more specific regarding shape and specific body measurements. To help figure out your style you can preview clothes they have and add the ones you like to your “closet”. In addition, you can choose the type of things you don’t want. For instance, I vetoed all earrings and gray and pink clothes.

The first tote I received had:

From the other reviews I read, I think I was pretty lucky for a first tote. Most other people seemed to have more misses. I ended up wearing the green shirt and cardigan and then returned the items. I rated what I received on style and fit. I wish the style rating was a bit more granular. For instance, I might like the color but hate the cut of a shirt or vice versa.

I dropped my first tote in the mail Wednesday and received an email that my next tote had been prepared. This time I was given the option to substitute out things I didn’t want. This was good because they had selected two off-white shirts, a terrible color for someone with a baby. I did like the cut of one of them so I decided to be brave and only substitute out one of the off-white shirts. I think I also made some jewelry substitutions. After I confirmed my tote they mailed it out and I received it on Monday.

I think the addictive part of Le Tote is it’s a bit like Christmas every week. It’s fun opening up a new package of clothes every week. My second tote included:

  • A thin long-sleeve off-white shirt which required an under-shirt but luckily I had one that worked. It fit well and I like it more than I expected
  • A green sweater – I liked the color though would have preferred it to be a bit tighter
  • A blue long-sleeve shirt which I haven’t worn yet. However, it’s a bit tighter than I prefer. I’m going to try it tomorrow but I’m a little dubious
  • A necklace which is a good length but it has several chains that have a tendency to get tangled. Plus, it’s sparkly so Julian wants to grab it
  • A gold bangle which I like a lot more than I expected. It turns out to complement my wedding ring very well. Also, it keeps Julian occupied while I’m changing his diaper so he doesn’t end up squirming everywhere

The only problem I’ve encountered so far with the Le Tote scheme is I usually don’t wear accessories. I do so even less often with Julian’s tendency to grab anything sparkly. I’d be very happy if Le Tote provided the option to substitute out two accessories for one more piece of clothing.

Overall, I’ve found the totes to be fun and I’ll probably continue, at least for a bit.

UPDATE:
Because I am not shy about sharing my opinion, when I have an opinion, I wrote Le Tote and told them I liked the idea but accessories didn’t work for my lifestyle. Apparently they do have a “clothing only” box. I do not remember seeing this as an option at sign-up so you might need to specifically ask for it (or who knows, I could have just missed it). It contains 4 pieces of clothing and no accessories. My current tote has already shipped but I’ll be switched to the clothing only box for the next tote.

Kindle Fire Kids Edition – 2 Stars

Kindle Fire Pros:
Parental controls (flawed but the best I’ve found)

Kindle Fire Cons:
Everything else


Back in February Calvin dropped our iPad2 one time too many times and it finally died. I am impressed by how long it lasted and, in general, have been fairly satisfied the iPad2. The one glaring exception to this is Apple’s parental controls. Because of this, I decided it was time to try out another tablet and see if it worked any better. I briefly considered a Windows tablet and discarded it fairly quickly. Their parental controls are significantly better than Apples but the apps just aren’t there. Android was the next obvious choice which I seriously considered for a while but eventually decided to try out the Amazon Fire Kids Edition1.

Parental controls were the main reason I decided to give the Amazon Fire a try. That, in combination with the very low price and generous replacement policy (for the kids edition), made it worth gambling on a new software ecosystem2. I debated going with the basic tablet instead of getting the kids edition specifically. The advantage of the Kids edition is it comes with a protective cover, a 2-year no questions asked replacement, and a year subscription to Amazon Freetime.

The Fire arrived a little over a week ago. I plugged it in and waited about an hour for all the downloading, updating, and configuring to finish. Once it was read, I added a 64 GB MicroSD card and then jumped right to setting up a profile for Calvin.

Parental Control:
In general, the parental controls do what I want. There’s a Bedtime start and stop feature as well as time limits for three categories: books, videos, apps. There are two major downsides with Amazon’s implementation: it’s definition of “books” and lack of Audible support.

The biggest downside to Amazon’s time limit categories is they’re tightly tied to the Amazon ecosystem. So, when it says “books” it means Kindle books. There isn’t a way to designate the Overdrive or OneClickDigital apps as “book” apps. The same is true with videos. In retrospect I was disappointed but not surprised. The tablet is obviously meant as an entry-level drug to further enmesh people into Amazon’s store. However, Calvin spends at least 75% of his time listening to audiobooks so it was very important I find a way to provide unlimited audiobook listening without allowing unlimited app usage. My first solution was to disable Freetime and remove all apps except Overdrive. However, later I realized a better work around existed: I created a second profile for Calvin. The first profile only has Overdrive and OneClickDigital and allows unlimited use outside of bedtime hours. The second profile has Freetime enabled and only allows 1 hour of usage. Neither profile is locked so Calvin is free to switch back and forth as long as he hasn’t run out of time in the Freetime profile. So far this kludgy workaround does what I need.

I was very disappointed to learn that Audible books cannot be added to a Kid profile. I am strongly in the camp that audiobooks count as reading. In addition, the Kindle app I have on my phone has an absolutely fantastic feature where it highlights the individual words as the audiobook is read. I was flabbergasted that this isn’t an option in the Kids profile.

The other fascinating bug I’ve found is Overdrive audiobooks do not turn off at bedtime. Calvin is locked out of the profile and can’t stop the audiobook or switch to another one but the existing audiobook keeps playing. The easiest way to stop this is to choose to login as another user. While this isn’t ideal, I think it’s something I can live with.

Freetime
Meh. The apps don’t meet the standard I would normally use but realistically they’re fine, particularly if used for only an hour a day. However, I won’t renew the subscription after the first year.

My Content
No videos on the SD Card can be added to the child accounts. In order to let Calvin watch non-Amazon movies we own I have to switch him to my profile. Also, as mentioned above, he has to be switched to my profile to listen to any Audible books or use the read-along feature.

Storage Space and WiFi requirement
There are so many problems with storage that I don’t know where to start. I knew 8 GB was not enough space to do anything with. I naively assumed I could deal with this by having most things on the MicroSD card. I do have “Install Supported Apps on Your SD Card” as well as “Store Photos and Personal Videos on Your SD Card” but it’s not enough.
When you run out of storage Wifi is disabled. However, deleting any apps in the parentally controlled accounts, including apps downloaded by the child using Freetime, requires Wifi. In addition, in order to modify “add content” to a child’s profile it can’t be in airplane mode.

There’s also a huge number of required apps that I can’t delete and 1) take up storage space and 2) clutter up my display.

In Summary
I prefer iPads. The Kindle is meeting basic requirements and we can usually force it to work but it’s a huge pain to deal with. Not finding Calvin playing apps in the middle of the night is a big plus but the Kindle is enough of a pain that in the future I’ll probably just go back to using the iPad.

  1. Yes, it’s Android but crippled.
  2. Though I do have a fair number of Kindle and Audible books so we’re not starting completely from scratch.

Yearly Giving

I was listening to the radio recently and someone, I don’t remember who, said it was good to talk about who you gave money to. I don’t remember exactly why but it was something along the lines of promoting awareness of the charities to others. I know I should say something about each organization but it’s time for Calvin’s bedtime story so here’s the list without additional comment:

ADRA

American Public Media

Boulder Country Day

Church

Doctors without Borders

Food Bank of the Rockies

High Plains Library District

Humane Society of Boulder Valley

KUNC

SharingDots

University of Illinois – LEEP Scholarship

Walla Walla University

As an aside, while Jaeger and I mostly put our salaries into the big household pot, charity is one area we keep separate. This allows us each to prioritize the things that are important to us even if the other person may not agree. The list above is what I’ve given to this year, Jaeger’s list is different.

New Tablet

Sunday I started preparing for our semi-annual pilgrimage to Lincoln to visit friends. Preparing in this case means requesting movies for Calvin that I transfer to the iPad, loading new iPad games, considering if I should do another audiobook/picture mashup, etc. Once again, I was running into the iPad’s space limitations. Last November I researched and found a kludge to be able to access more movies than the iPad can natively handle. This works but is really, really kludgy. Also, it requires my intervention to get things transferred over to the iPad because the process is too complicated for Calvin to do at the moment.

A month or two back I got a Windows 8 phone (Nokia Lumia 521) which I’ve liked. As a bonus, it has a microSD slot so I could put the microSD card with Calvin’s visual audiobooks on it and he could play them without me first having to transfer them to the iPad. However, I was pretty uncomfortable handing him a live phone without fairly close supervision.

I started contemplating once again whether buying another tablet would make sense. I did very briefly have a $10 dollar tablet but, not surprisingly, it died fairly soon (though I’m pretty sure I got my $10 out of it). Out of curiosity, I went to Apple’s website to see what sort of refurbished iPads they were selling. It turns out they had several very good deals for iPad 2s.

I was strongly tempted to get another iPad. There’s many things I like about them. They’re durable, have a pretty good battery life, and a fantastic variety of apps for kids1. However, they still have quite a few flaws that sit there and bother me. The biggest things that annoy me are the lack of expandability and ability to make it do what I want it to2. Of the two, expadability was the biggest show-stopper for me. I just don’t want to spend the money required to get a reasonable amount of space on an iPad.

Android . . . well, I just can’t get excited about Android. I had an early-gen Android work phone, it was ok. Jaeger has a Nexus 7 which he seems to like fairly well. However, I just can’t shake the feeling that they’re a less sleek, disorganized iOS wannabe. I know this isn’t fair and in many cases Android is open enough to let me do whatever my crazy brain takes a fancy to3.

I mentioned above I recently acquired a Windows 8 phone I liked. I had seen the Surface ads so I decided to wander over to NewEgg and see what sort of Windows 8 options there were. One of the first options was an Asus Transformer Book T100, specifically the T100TA-C1-GR. It seemed fairly reasonably priced and the more I poked around, the more it appealed to me. Several professional reviews I ran across seemed general positive with a couple downsides. The Amazon user reviews were also fairly positive and included hints on how to work around some of the bugs mentioned. There were several things I liked about this: 1) The tablet size was decent 4 2) It docked very nicely with a decent physical keyboard with touchpad (even if the touchpad was reported to be dodgy) 3) It has a decent amount of hard drive space and is expandable. True, after the windows install the 64 GB magically reduces to around 32 GB. However, it is a microSD slot which is golden 4) Good battery 5) Full Windows. This means that I can theoretically use this for work emergencies instead of lugging my 8 lb laptop around5 6) While I expected the apps for kids to be abysmal, it would still work well as a movie player for Calvin.

So, after obsessing over reviews, I decided to go ahead and buy it. I was really hoping to get it before Friday so I’d have another screen option for Calvin. However, that fast of guaranteed shipping is expensive so I started looking around for local options. Best Buy didn’t have anything. However, on a whim, I looked it up on Office Depot and had astonished to see they had one in stock in Boulder. What was even weirder is they had a $50 “instant savings” that cut the price enough so once I included sales tax, it basically matched the non-sales tax but slow-boat shipping amount I would have paid online. My one concern was the model number was slightly different, a C2 instead of a C1. After scouring the specs the only obvious difference I saw was that it had a slightly newer processor than the C1. Hoping for the best, I placed my order while Jaeger said derogatory things about buying a tablet with a processor from That Other Company.

I picked up the tablet on my lunch break on Monday and plugged it in and impatiently waited. The Amazon reviewers were all very definite that you really needed to follow the instructions for charging 8 hrs otherwise Really Bad Things Happen. About 4 hrs in I broke down and turned it on, though kept it plugged in. It’s slow to boot up from a cold start. It is a full Window 8 install after all. Also, I have very mixed feelings about Windows requiring a Live account to sign in these days. It’s very Apple-like but they’re not Apple6.

Once everything got booted and setup I started customizing my tiles. The interface was vaguely familiar from my phone, though with more features due to its desktop qualities. Not everything was intuitive for me but I figured it out. I do find the mix between the desktop and the start tiles to be abrupt and not entirely pleasant but that’s more an aesthetic thing than a functionality problem. Overall, it seemed fairly responsive and I didn’t have any of the problems that the Amazon reviews had warned about, especially with the touchpad. Perhaps I got the version with some of the major bugs worked out? So, I spent a fairly pleasant afternoon/evening customizing the tablet to get everything just so.

The one major feature I am adoring that I didn’t know about ahead of time is the parental controls. Windows 8 has fantastic parental controls, at least compared to Apple which may not be saying much. You can set time limits on how long child accounts can use the computer each day, white or black list websites as well as allow websites based on various ratings, and restrict specific games and apps your kids have access to. I tested it out, it is fantastic. It’s obvious that the Windows developers have kids (which I sincerely doubt about Apple developers). Another nice feature is if the kid tries to access an app that the parent hasn’t allowed, they can click to ask for permission and it’ll pop up a login screen for the parent. Very easy, I don’t have to switch accounts to add access because I forgot obvious apps. The same technique also works for websites. Since Calvin is so young I blocked everything except a white list of a couple of sites. Once back in my parent account, Windows will also provide a report of what website my child went to, how long they used various apps, etc. I find that a tad creepy but I’ll get over it. In any case, I can’t say enough good things about these settings. It’s made me seriously consider having him use this tablet more except for iPad specific apps he can’t get on here.

The biggest downside I’ve found so far is that there’s pretty much no good out-of-the-box options if I lose the tablet for finding it or wiping data. I was a little surprised by this because my Nokia phone has a pretty good setup for both finding it and wiping the data if I can’t retrieve it. However, I suppose that’s the difference between a cellular and non-cellular device. I’m particularly nervous because I haven’t setup Calvin’s account with a password. It’s a child account but I still assume getting in at all increases the options for compromising data. I’ll have to research this more. I’m sure there’s 3rd-party products I can get that will at least partially solve this problem.

Anyway, so at this point, I’m pretty happy with the tablet. Just to torment me, Jaeger now mockingly asks me what the TSA considers my new toy. Tablet or laptop? It makes a difference. *sigh*

  1. After all, everyone designs first for iOS, then Android, then if they’re really big and have money to throw away they might consider Windows, maybe.
  2. I get ideas in my head about how I want software to work and I will spend days bashing my head against the software trying to make my vision happen. I can’t tell you how much time I wasted one week trying to get document shortcuts to show up as icons for a one-click to open experience for Calvin. That is, instead of making Calvin go into iBooks, I wanted him to see and pick his books straight from where all the apps are. Apple just doesn’t flex that way.
  3. Jaeger got document shortcuts working in under 5 minutes on his vintage Android phone. He did this just to taunt me.
  4. I’m not a 7″ fan, I prefer bigger for reading magazines from the library
  5. It feels heavier than that but I just weighted it.
  6. While I’m complaining, their two-factor authentication isn’t nearly as smooth as Google’s. I turned it on but might need to turn it off because it’s not working particularly smoothly.

Peacock

Calvin and I got home from church and I headed up stairs to change. As I came down the stairs Calvin shouts something. It sounded like “mumble mumble mumble and a robin redbreast too!” I absentmindedly responded with a “that’s nice” while thinking about lunch. A few minutes later Calvin says, “The peacock is moving!” At which point I started paying attention. Yes indeed, there was a real life peacock in our backyard.

peacock1

Naturally, the first thing I did was grab Jaeger’s camera and start taking pictures. I don’t know much about how to take pictures with Jaeger’s camera so I pointed, clicked, and hoped for the best. After I got some pictures, I considered what I should do. Willow was outside sitting in the shade and seemed to be completely ignoring it, and vice versa. So, there didn’t appear to be any immediate danger for either animal.

I looked up animal control and tried calling some numbers but didn’t get anything helpful. Eventually, I decided to call the Boulder Humane Society because they’re open on Saturdays and I figured they’d know who to call. The person who answered at the humane society seemed very bemused and patched me through to police dispatch who also sounded bemused and said they’d alert animal control.

Have I mentioned our house is a bit hard to find? I saw animal control drive past twice before I was able to wave him down. He came in to the house to peer through the window and verify that I was not seeing things, there was a peacock in our backyard. Apparently peacocks can fly in short hops so he wasn’t sure what his odds of catching the peacock were. He had gloves and a net and tried some subtle stalking of the peacock which the peacock was having none of. The peacock manage to elude him and either escaped or found a good hiding space.

The animal control officer walked peered into our neighbors yard with no success. He then went across the street and struck up a conversation with the neighbor that flies a Scottish flag who apparently used to raise peacocks. However, she also hadn’t seen it. The officer gave me his card and told me to call if I saw it again.

About ten minutes later, I saw it in our yard again. It might have been hiding in our yard all along. Our yard is full of excellent hiding places. I called dispatch again and was put on hold while they handled an emergency. Then he took my message. The animal control guy took my number and said he was going to go back to his office for a net gun and he’d call me again before leaving to make sure it was still there.

peacock2

Jaeger arrived home incredulous that he’d gone hiking around Long’s Peak and I’d seen more exotic animals than he had. I don’t think he believed me about the peacock till he saw it with his own eyes.

The animal control guy arrived and chased the peacock around for a couple of minutes until it took refuge up on our neighbors roof. At the moment, it’s still there and doesn’t appear to be coming down anytime soon.

45 Miles

My treadmill desk has been working out well for work. In fact, it’s working good enough that I decided not to buy anything more expensive for now.

However, I’ve done a bit of tweaking on my end. For the first couple of months I was walking at a 2 mph pace in two 1 1/2 hr segments. However, my legs and knees were really starting to kill me. I couldn’t figure out why there were hurting so much since I was walking so slow. I talked to Jaeger about it and he pointed out that I really should be stretching1. I decided to give in and I now do a hamstring/calf stretch for a minute on each side after finishing a walking segment. I think that probably fixed most of the problems I was having. In addition, I noticed that my normal stride felt more comfortable at 3 mph so I upped my speed a bit. Finally, instead of doing two 1 1/2 hr segments, I changed to three 1 hr segments.

Since I’m still walking for 3 hours but am walking faster, I’m walking about 9 miles each day. Theoretically, anyway. In practice, I don’t walk while I have meetings because my treadmill is loud. So during most weeks I end up with about 9 miles three of the days and 6 miles the other two days. However, this week was abnormally meeting-free so I got 9 miles in each day for a grand total of 45 miles this week on the treadmill.

The one thing I still have to figure out is my shoes. My regular outside shoes are a fantastic pair of hiking boots. However, I want an “inside” pair of shoes for the treadmill so I’m not tramping dirty shoes all over the basement and treadmill. I purchased my current pair of inside tennis shoes at Ross and they worked really well for step aerobics but aren’t holding up on the treadmill. The soles are wearing out and I’m developing blisters in spite of the first aid tape I’ve been faithfully applying to key parts of my heels. Of course, multiple sites on the internet all seem to agree that walking shoes should be replaced every 500 miles which sounds like a lot but really isn’t . . .

Walking 45 miles this week sounds like a lot but I’m not entirely sure how much exercise that should count as. I dusted off my old heart rate monitor2 and it turns out that I average about 98 beat per minute while walking, not a very aerobic pace. However, I assume walking an easy 3 mph is still better than sitting still at a desk.

  1. I’ve always had trouble with stretching. I’m not naturally flexible at all. Also, I know stretching important but it always seems like a huge waste of time.
  2. From the days when I had time to be unhealthily obsessed about diet and exercise.

Cosmo Lavish: The $10 Tablet

Last Sunday, while shopping at our local grocery store, I wandered back into the sale section. This is the section where the fruit is almost spoiled, the bread is stale, and really random things that won’t sell appear. Sunday, nestled close to mostly dead flowers, I found several Proscan 7″ tablets for $10 each.

I picked it up thinking I must be misreading the box somehow. Maybe it was only a case? Nope, it claimed to have Android Jelly Bean installed. I read the box specs very carefully. The biggest downside seemed that it only had 4 GB of space. However, it claimed to be expandable an additional 32 GB via a microSD card. I pulled out my phone and looked it up on Amazon. I had just time to see it got a full 2 1/2 stars before my phone died. I debated with myself how bad a tablet would have to be to not be worth $10. I had been considering getting a tablet for a while for trips so that Calvin could play his videos on it while I could use the iPad for other things. After too much waffling, I decided to buy it and see what happened.

I got it home, pulled it out, and was pleasantly surprised by the case and keyboard it came with. The keyboard is cramped and itsy-bitsy but feels pretty nice. Of course, it also makes the tablet at least twice as thick. The tablet itself is obviously very cheap. I have named it Cosmo Lavish because it’s an extremely cheap imitation of the Google Nexus.

After I confirmed there really was a tablet inside the box, our family took an outing where I picked up a 32 GB micro SD card. This micro SD card cost about three times what the tablet did. On the other hand, it came with an adapter so if this came to naught, I could probably re-purpose it for something else.

The next day, after the tablet was fully charged, I loaded the SD Card with most of Calvin’s movies/TV shows. The video player works fine though the resolution is terrifying (800×480). Fortunately, Calvin has not yet inherited his father’s high standards when it comes to video display. However, the biggest downside I noticed was the battery was draining at an alarming rate. The box claimed it had 4 hours of video playing time. Naturally, I took this with a grain of salt. However, I managed to go from a claimed 100% to 75% battery in 15 minutes. This was moderately worrying.

My first real-life test of the tablet occurred on Tuesday. Since I started working on Mondays, I no longer was able to get my hair cut while Calvin was in preschool. So, I took Calvin to the salon with me and handed him Cosmo to play movies on. The interface is moderately different from the iPad so Calvin had to fiddle a bit to figure out how to make the video do what he wanted1. However, about 30 minutes in, the battery managed to die completely, cutting Calvin off mid-video. Fortunately, my haircut was almost over so I didn’t have to figure out how to entertain him for the rest of the time.

So, Cosmo failed his first test. I was unclear whether that was because the battery was pathetic or if it was also power hungry. Once home, I hooked it up to one of my portable batteries to see how long movies could run on that. I ran out of time that night to wear it down, but I got it to play 4 hrs of video without getting a third of the way through the external battery. So, I think it’s just the battery itself that is substandard. As a result, I think I can still use this for travel since I have two portable batteries. With the battery, it’ll play video longer than any of my laptops.

I would have felt ripped off if I had paid $75 for Cosmo. However, at only $10, I think it was a reasonable deal. If nothing else, it has a pretty standard Android interface so I can decide whether or not I like the OS enough to consider a Nexus later on.


As an aside, the Proscan manual has an amazing amount of exemplary Engrish in it. Excerpts on the first page:

  • Do not drop or crash the device to prevent the violent impacting between the display and the capacitive touch screen. Or the customers have to take the consequence by themselves.
  • Please choose the suitable volume and never make the too loud volume .If you feel uncomfortable please turn down the volume or stop to use the device soon.
  • Do not disconnect the device while formatting, downloading or uploading, or it may make the error.
  • Please operate the device according to the user manual rightly and backup the important data in time2.
  • Do not use this device while walking and driving, avoiding traffic accident.
  1. In retrospect, I probably should have given him time before then to play with it when I could help him
  2. Because I always know when my device is going to fail . . .

32 hours

When Calvin was born I went from working 40 hrs/week at the library to working 20 hrs/week from home. It seemed a good decision at the time. Working from home definitely allowed me more flexibility when Calvin was sick as well as an easy way to do off-hour server maintenance. However, this coming November we will be migrating to a new Integrated Library System (the catalog et al.). The selection process was hard enough to do at 20 hrs/week and both my manager and I agreed that the actual migration would be impossible.

So, this last Monday I upped my hours from 20 hrs/week to 32 hrs/ week. I also shifted from working a Sunday, Tuesday-Friday schedule to a straight Monday-Friday schedule. I planned several months ago to try to work most of the additional hours either during Calvin’s existing preschool time or early in the morning. However, I wasn’t sure if this plan would survive contact with the reality. So far though, it’s working out. I’ve been getting up at 5:40 each morning, showering and running downstairs to work for an hour and a half1. Then, I take a break to eat, get Calvin ready, and drop him off at preschool. Then work from 9:30-2:30. I don’t have much flex time before picking up Calvin at 3:00 but so far I’ve really enjoyed being able to work more. I’m not nearly so stressed at all the things I’m not getting done 🙂 As a bonus, I’m also walking about 4-6 miles everyday on the treadmill.

  1. This morning time replaces the time I would work on Sunday to do maintenance as well as gives me uninterrupted time to work on specific projects.