Products I Like: ClicknKids (Click-N-Read Phonics)

Throughout her childhood, I’ve been a little conflicted about when to begin teaching Mia to read. When I was a kid, I read very early — I was reading at 3 years old. My daughter is a very sharp kid, and I’ve always just assumed that she would read as early as I did. This is a pretty tall assumption, though; 3 years old is damned early for a kid to be reading, and I didn’t want to be overbearing and force her to read before she was ready, or to place expectations on her that were based on nothing more than what I did as a 3-year-old. Then again, if the kid was ready to roll, then I definitely didn’t want to hold her back. Decisions, decisions. A couple months after turning 3, she started twice-a-week preschool, and after a few months of that, she knows all of the letters of the alphabet and what sounds they make. If you know all those, you’re pretty much ready to start learning to read, so I asked her if she was ready. She said yes, so we now have our hats in the ring. Something occurred to me shortly thereafter: I didn’t really have a clue how the hell to teach anybody to read, let alone a 3-year-old. I just pick stuff up and read it — I don’t remember the steps involved in getting to this point. This realization alarmed me, and not only for Mia’s sake. In the back of my mind, I always figured that if I ended up in prison somehow, I’d survive and earn protection from the tougher inmates by teaching them to read. What was I going to do now if […]

Products to Avoid: Zonbu

Unless you’re particularly interested in green computing (i.e., computers that don’t use much energy) or the Linux operating system, you probably haven’t heard of Zonbu, a small computer company in California that sells ultracheap laptops. I came across them in one of the tech/business magazines I read (can’t remember which one) and was intrigued by their unique proposition. At the time, they sold one product — a tiny CPU that was about the size of the Bible that the Gideons leave in every hotel room. It didn’t run Windows (great for security!), but its system emulated Windows for the user (great for usability!). It came preloaded with about 20 open-source alternative programs, so you could pretty much do any sort of basic computer use that you wanted to do (email, Web browsing, word processing, etc.). Its operating system supposedly updated itself, there was some online storage that came with the package, and it was only $99. You had to pay $14.95 or something like that per month for their online updates/no-hassle service, etc. Oh yeah, and it’s also apparently very earth-friendly, uses a tiny fraction of the power that a normal machine uses, is a “zero-emissions” computer, and every time you buy one, an environmental necromancer hurls a windpower-generated lightning bolt into the sky and God throws a dodo bird back from the dead. Or something to that effect. It was an interesting proposition, to say the least. At the time, though, it didn’t meet my needs. I need a powerful machine to do my work, and although it was an intriguing idea for my young daughter, Mia (she’s almost 4), the desktop model wasn’t going to work for her. She’s the type […]

Do you still love me when I cry?

It’s official: my daughter is the Queen of Devastation. The fistful of people out there in the world who know me extremely well would all probably agree that I’m someone who, for the most part, doesn’t take personal criticism very seriously. The words of others just don’t bother me much, even if they’re really, really nasty words that are intended to be hurtful. I admit it: there is a little dollop of arrogance about me that insulates me from this sort of thing, and it’s a very simple system. Here’s how the system works: If someone who doesn’t know me decides to tee off on me (usually this happens in print, rather than in person), then my natural reaction is: Why on Earth would I care about the opinion of someone who doesn’t know me? I mean, thousands of strangers could be cursing my existence behind closed doors at any given moment, and what’s to be done about that? Just because I happen to hear or read the comments of one of those strangers is no reason to get myself in a twist. But if it’s someone close to me letting me have it, then in most cases, they’re probably right about whatever I’ve done wrong, and I’m OK with hearing it. I mean, if I’m being a selfish jackass, I really don’t mind being let in on that fact, and the most efficient way to do that is to just come on out and call me a selfish jackass. My wife is very good at this. But on rare occasions, I will get cut to the quick by a random comment, and that happened yesterday. Leave it to a 3-year-old. My daughter and son were in […]

Illegal Immigrants: Join the Army?

I am not an avid follower of politics; most politicians are professional liars and panderers, and I don’t like devoting much time listening to people who, at best, are telling me what they think I want to hear, and at worst, are lying right to my face. Still, I do occasionally get what seems to be a good idea, something perhaps worth writing down, even. Personally, I would fall on a sword before I ever ran for office, so on the off chance that I do incubate a workable and helpful idea, I guess I should blog it so some future politician can use it and swiftly take credit for thinking of it first. If you pay any attention whatsoever to the outside world, you’re probably well aware that: a) the U.S. gets a great deal of new, illegal residents from Mexico (and other countries, to be fair, but primarily Mexico) every year. Roughly, from what I read, it’s about a million people per year. A lot of attention is being paid to the issue right now, since it’s an election year. And, b) We’ve got a shortage of men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces. We’ve raised the age ceiling on new recruits, we’re offering big signing bonuses…anything to beef up the number of troops. We’re spread pretty thin, it seems. So, we have the Armed Forces desperate for more Americans to sign up. We have a million Mexicans coming here every year, desperate to be Americans (more or less). Why can’t we kill two birds with one stone? Here’s what I’d propose: Immigrants with clean criminal records (at least clear of major stuff — previous attempts at crossing the border wouldn’t bother me) who would commit […]

Starbucks Revamp Plan: Thumbs Down

Last week, Starbucks’s again-CEO Howard Schultz announced quite a little rejuvenation plan for the ailing coffee franchise. I am a huge Starbucks fan myself, so I was frankly pretty disappointed in how toothless the proposal really was. I was expecting some major customer-friendly stuff, but here’s the five-point initiative we got instead (this is straight from a Starbucks press release): — A proprietary and revolutionary in-store Clover(R) brewing system that delivers the best cup of brewed coffee available anywhere; This is actually the smartest of all the intiatives they put forth, because it actually focuses on the reason that I and most of their millions of customers patronize the place: the coffee. What the press release didn’t say is that the new super-premium coffee will cost $2.50, which is $1 more than their already-spendy coffee costs. Still, though, folks who are rolling through Starbucks every day are spending a lot of discretionary income as it is. Will an extra dollar a day make or break these customers? Probably not. However, the economy is getting rough, and you’ve got to think that there are a lot of SBUX customers for whom money is getting tight. I imagine these folks holding onto their Starbucks coffee as one of only a handful of remaining luxuries, and the prospect of even-more-expensive brewed coffee won’t fly. I’m a brewed coffee drinker myself — no fancy accoutrements at all, thank you — and if the coffee is as good as it’s advertised to be, I’ll buy it. Admittedly, though, I am not as financially pinched as the average man on the street. […]

A&E Intervention: Entrepreneur vs. Alcoholism

I am a huge fan of the show “Intervention” on A&E. It’s not that I like watching other people’s misery — I hate that part, actually — it’s just that it’s a weekly reminder of just how wrong things can go for you if you make certain poor choices in your life. And if you have children, “Intervention” is the world’s best instructional program about the multitude of different ways you can screw up your kids for life with behavior that spirals them into addiction later in life. You name it: physical abuse, neglect, absence, infidelity, emotional/verbal abuse, divorce, estrangement, death of a friend/family member — all of this stuff can rocket a kid into a life-consuming addiction later in life. Pleasant thought, eh? Not at all, and my wife can’t stomach the show at all. But the misery and sadness is exactly why I watch it — to keep myself in check. Anyone who reads this blog with even semi-regularity knows that I am a father first and everything else comes second, and if watching some gut-ripper stories on shows like A&E give me regular encouragement to center my own life and doings around the well-being of my children, then so be it. Tonight’s episode was especially resonant for me, though, because I saw a lot of myself in the subject, whose name was Lawrence. He was an entrepreneur who started a successful business in his twenties (just like me). He was a big weightlifting/workout guy in his 20s (just like me). He’s now 34 (just like me), and his vice was booze, just like mine was. I’m not going to spend a bunch of time and detail going into specifics (not […]