Thursday, June 29, 2006

They're Making Me Grow Up - Part 2

So, apparently I'm old. And I can tell you when it happened; Monday, June 26 at approximately 8pm. There were plenty of witnesses to the event, too. You see, my daughter aka oldest kid aka Band Geek (sister to Jedi Boy) graduated from Grade 8. Officially a teenager since December last, and now, officially a High School Student.

So why does this make me old? Well, Gentle Reader - two reasons:

One - remember, it's all about Me. Or have you not been reading here lately?

Two - Things are changing. I cried a little as Band Geek picked up her diploma and a bevy of awards for those extra-curricular pursuits that Band Geeks...well....pursue. I was proud. Bursting even. And as hackneyed as it sounds, I sat there pining for the days when she was a bonafide little kid and I was Daddy and nothing was ever gonna change. There were even those lightening flashes of doubt. Could I have been (or be) a better Dad? Should I have done things differently? Yes and yes, I decided. I wanted a 'do-over', a parental Mulligan.

But I'm too late. It's changing. I can detect the subtle shifts even now - growing independence, newfound confidence, chafing under the authoritative yoke of The Parents. She has her own interests which, admittedly, still require the gentle indulgences of Mom and Dad. Me, I'm watching the old home movies more and more; recalling the good times when it was just Mom, Dad, and two needy little kids. Damn her growing up when I wasn't looking!

My single, irrational fear - wondering about the precise instant when Band Geek (and Jedi Boy, for that matter) will no longer be interested in doing The Family Vacation. For me, these have been sacred events. Just the four of us having an adventure. Together, we've walked on glaciers, shot whitewater rapids in silly divesuits, touched whales while hanging over the side of a Zodiac, scuba-dived in the world's largest aquarium, snorkeled with stingrays in the open ocean, taken Ghost Walks though Old Quebec City, seen every friggin' Pixar/Harry Potter/Disney/whatever movie on the big screen, geocached our way across the Maritimes, and spent way too much time riding Big Thunder Mountain at DisneyWorld.

Always just the four of us.

This is what I think about. I have loved every moment of our adventures, but Band Geek's milestone makes me realize that Things Will Change - and soon. In just a few short years it'll be boyfriends, a driver's license, Spring Break (not bloody likely), giddy weekends away with friends, a first beer, university, and.... her own life. Time will simply accelerate.

Ah, but I feel umbilical cord fraying.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Strangest Things You'll See Today

Two posts in one day, you ask? Well sure kids! Turn up those speakers 'cause it's Big Fun Video Time!

Bollywood Beatles?

Rare cult-fave Jan Terri videos.

Hope you enjoyed the show!

They're Making Me Grow Up - Part 1

SEP = Somebody Else's Problem.

Fans of Douglas Adams will recognize this term who's definition is something akin to the act of ignoring something deliberately. 'It' is something you're aware of out of the corner of your eye, but your brain refuses to acknowledge whatever 'It' is. Although Adams' version relied on 'SEP field' technology as a cheaper and more practical alternative to 'invisibility fields', SEP is more-or-less a metaphor for plugging your ears, covering your eyes, and chanting "La La La" until 'It' goes away.

We all have SEP moments. Yesterday I had mine. And it reminded me that I have to be An Adult from time to time.

My son (Jedi Boy) is a great kid; kind in an oblivious-about-the-world sort of way, good student, great friend, kick-ass video gamer. But he's had a few issues along the way that make him....well.... him. He's a textbook ADD kid; above average IQ with notable concentration issues. For some kids ADD (and ADHD) is pretty much a recipe for getting in trouble in between daily does of Ritalin. For my kid, it's been years of concentration exercises, sometimes-fatiguing school days, constant reminders to 'focus'; but no drugs. Karate lessons have been a godsend to improve his concentration and confidence. Through all of this has been an undercurrent of parental guilt over the fact we cannot 'fix' our kid, only help him help himself.

Sometimes ADD and hearing loss get mixed up. One can look like the other. We've known for a few years that he has some amount of hearing loss, but we've never fully bought into it on the basis of (1) concentration problems introduce uncertainty into hearing assessments for young kids and (2) our kid has none of the pathological issues of hearing loss - e.g. stunted speech development. All in all, he's done 'ok' and we were loathe to slap hearing aids onto each ear.

But yesterday we had to confront the truth; our 10 year-old kid does have a hearing problem in the 'moderate' range. There's no denying it now. Normal conversation is sometimes difficult with him. The volume on TV, etc. needs to be louder for him. We suspect he misses stuff in the classroom. Were it not for his much-improved concentration skills and basic intelligence, he'd be in a much worse place. And a renewed round of testing backs it up.

So now we're looking at hearing aids for him; one for each ear. And I cannot shake the Bad Feelings. Will this help? Is this just another item on the list of Things That Make Him Different? Will they be a pain the ass day-to-day? Will he get teased? How does he feel? Are these just my issues to deal with?

The kid is okay with it all, so it seems. His view; being different just makes him special. He says this without irony and maybe he thinks it's what Mom and Dad want to hear. So we're going to give it a shot and, maybe, it'll be fine. There's a part of me that simply marvels at how the Universe just loves to screw us over once in awhile; just for sport, beyond our control, and when we least expect it.

Addendum: Hearing aid technology is impressive. Some geek-cred for sure. Who knew they came in 'fun colours' for kids?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I'm Ready for My Close-up....

Today I was cleaning "the office", which is our household euphamism for the little room where we keep a computer and any other junk that looks remotely futuristic. So, anyways, I'm cleaning...ok...not so much "cleaning" as re-arranging stacks of crap and moving various action figures from one shelf to of Star Wars dudes, Gumby-and-Pokey poseable-play-pals, giant Buzz Lightyear, printer cartidges, computer manuals I'll never read, did we collect all this stuff?

So we've established that I was pushing bits of stuff around in a little room where we keep a computer. The point is, I found this webcam that I had forgotten about. I seldom brave the Boxing Day sales, but last year I found myself at Staples during Boxing Week and made this impulse buy. I have no use for a webcam, but it only cost $30 - regularly $80 - so I'd be losing money if I didn't buy it!

So I bought it, tested it (yes...I saw myself), then cast it into the miasma that is "the office". As is usually the case, lost stuff seems to become un-lost when you least expect it - probably because you never knew it was lost. So now I have this webcam, and I really don't know what to do with it. But it was a steal at $30!

Ideas and experiences on the topic are most welcome. Did I mention I got it for $30?


According to Wikipedia:

Fanboy or fanboi is a term used to describe an individual (usually male, though the feminine version fangirl may be used for females) who is utterly devoted to a single subject or hobby, often to the point where it is considered an obsession.

I've don't think I've ever been a Fanboy, but I've come dangerously close a few times:
  • Star Wars: A New Hope - teen-aged boy, X-wings, Princess Leia. Who could blame me?
  • Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark - barely out of my teens, a bullwhip, Karen Allen in a ripped dress. Again, out of my control.
  • Home movies - A digital video camera and some desktop software combine to fulfill my dream of making my kids the most-documented humans in Modern History.

On the whole, I've always kept my eye on that line that separates enjoying the hell outta something versus dressing up in costumes and standing in line for something. But I find I'm being sorely tested as of late, and I hope it's not just some isotope of Mid-Life Crisis. Books seem to be the main culprits these days:

The Baroque Cycle - Neal Stephenson

A three-volume set (3000 pages) that attempts to tie together histories of monetary systems, international trade, modern science, and European history; all against a fictional backdrop that is often hilarious. Stephenson is one of my favourite SF writers these days, but this audacious effort goes beyond my expectations. A tough read, but well worth it. Makes me wish I were half as smart as the Author.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom - Cory Doctorow

Doctorow is an upcoming Canadian writer (well-known in some corners of the blogosphere) who writes pretty good SF. Set in the not-too-distant future, the book focuses on a group of people who spend their lives obsessively trying to make DisneyWorld a better place. Since DisneyWorld is sorta one of my favourite places to visit (a topic for another post), the book was almost guaranteed to appeal to the likes of Me.

JPod - Douglas Coupland

Okay, I haven't finished reading this yet. As a bonafide professional computer geek, Coupland's Microserfs resonated with me when I read it 10 years(!) ago. Some of Coupland's work since then has been less to my liking, but I picked up JPod mostly on the assumption there'd be a Microserfs vibe there. Honestly, I've only read the 3-page stream-of-consciousness preamble to the first chapter. Coupland is amazing. I hope the rest of the book is as good.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Theater of Cruelty

This title is actually not mine, but let's start at the beginning of my explanation. Somewhere around the year 1982 (yes, yes; mists of time and all that...) when I was still a Student, it was required that I should take some manner of Liberal Arts elective in order to escape the semester alive. As a Student of 'computer studies', this news fell on my psyche like acid off a duck's back. Touchy, feely coursework was to be endured, not enjoyed. It was a beer-stain on the rich tapestry of logic and technology that I was weaving for myself. In short, I was not with the programme.

But, a credit was a credit and so I made my selection; something general interest that afforded a bit of literate sampling without too much commitment. A spoonful of Voltaire, a mere taste of debating skills, maybe some critical analysis for dessert - it might not be so bad, I thought.

And it wasn't so bad. Had it not been for this one, lonely credit I would never have been exposed to likes of Herman Hesse's Siddartha nor would I have taken the time to really think about the context that lies between People and Technology. In the years since, I have forgotten the professor's name - but I'm thankful for the chance to have been his Student.

Which brings us back to Theater of Cruelty; which I learned about during that semester. The term is generally attributed to French actor/writer Antonin Artaud (died somewhere around 1950 - although I could Google this I suppose). Artaud had a passion for the experience of theater. That is, he believed that the audience was a central character in any theatrical production, not merely observers. In fact, the theater-in-the-round concept that is popularized, for example, at the Stratford Festival was inspired by Artaud's theories.

Theater of Cruelty summed up Artaud's position that theater should be an in your face experience. It was all about shattering illusions of reality and generating a more visceral response from the audience who, in turn, would feed that whole vibe back to the performers.

The expression stuck with me all these years, and it seems to be a good metaphor for the Blogging experience. So, am I in your face? Am I shattering your reality? Hardly. But I'll wager that those who post their thoughts on-line with a modicum of anonymity are, by definition, speaking Truths hidden in their daily lives. And that's our own small Theater of Cruelty, isn't it?.

Cue the Afterschool Special tinkly music.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Blogging is Hard

So a few days ago I create this blog for the main purposes of (1) being able to post some comments on another blog and (2) just to see what this Blogger thingy was all about. I knew I probably should not (or maybe could not) actually write stuff here, but I had this weird compulsion to do it anyways. The same kind of compulsion that drives one to pick at a scab just to see what's underneath; all the while knowing that it hurts and looks gross.

A few posts under my belt and now I'm getting all introspective-like. Do I have anything interesting to say? Is there anybody out there? Can I even write something reasonably coherent? Pondering on these weighty questions, I think I've made a few breakthroughs:

  • Blogging is easier to manage than writing a journal (which I've forever intended to start but just never have...)

  • writing fun. I get excited when an idea pops into my head that might look interesting written down. This is tempered by the fact that my fun ideas are actually pretty boring after all. The 3 (count 'em!) posts to-date represent the Good Stuff. You've been warned.

  • further to the last point... I am developing an irrational fear that, after a few blog posts, I'm might enroll in a night school Creative Writing course on the mistaken belief that I could be A Writer. Talented people like Neal Stephenson and KD are writers. I'm a guy who likes to writes stuff down for his own cathartic purposes. I can't be the only one in the blogosphere with this fear. I think the Continuing Ed people need a heads up. Just in case.

  • I didn't think I'd care if anyone read any of my posts, but Comments are like crack. I think I do care. Must be my healthy - albeit suppressed - Ego.

  • It's waaaaayyy too easy to be too cute, too precious when writing stuff you secretly hope other people read. I wonder how actual, live (or dead) writers deal with the Cringe Factor. That's probably what they call editting. I must remember to do that more often.
So much for self-actualization. I must get back to thinking about that really interesting idea for a post about London's proposed pesticide ban. Or maybe that fun idea about those colourful people I meet downtown at lunchtime. Man, I got a million of 'em.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

From Failing Hands....

Literature and history are chock-a-block with father-son conflict stories. You know, the dramatic coming-of-age scenario where the son becomes a Man in his father's eyes; but only after some requisite conflict. At least, I'm pretty sure those stories out out there.

I seem to be playing a part in one such saga. My son, all of 10 years old, is decisively kicking my ass in what was once my sole household domain - video games. It started innocently with the now-ancient Nintendo deck. I showed him the ways of Mario 1, 2, and 3 with a patient paternalism, secure in the knowledge that he had only taken a baby step into a larger world.

From the old Nintendo we graduated, together, to a used Nintendo 64. Still, I was there to break the trail and show him the way. Then he discovered Zelda, and I lost him without realizing that cold truth. Where I was always looking for the next frenetic side-scroller, Ben was patiently exploring treasures and learning the magical songs of Link's ocarina.

From there, it was Gamecube and more Zelda, a dash of Starfox, a cup of Animal Crossing, some Spiderman, and more. Sure, once in a while he'd ask me to help him out of a jamb to finish some level. But I was being left behind, and I knew it. I was a spectator. In desperation I brought Sonic Head2Head into our world thinking it would take us back to the way it used to be - playing side by side with Dad always edging out a win or graciously faking a loss. And it was that way, at first. Soon, even the speed-demon action games were out of my league, however. He was just that good.

In my quiet desperation, I ushered him into a world I knew I could still rule - PC games. With twitchy fingers and a dispassionate eye, I revelled in my mastery of Jedi Knight 2, Pod Racers, Rogue Squadron, and many more; always with Ben by my side and, once more, as my pupil. Inevitably, even these games bowed before his younger reflexes and his determination to master their missions. And when he grew fatigued with space travel, I would find him inventing theme parks and riding the rides he imagined.

Ben soon graduated to a used PS One by way of his sister's short-lived fascination with Dance, Dance Revolution. But that was simply a gaming footnote beside his real prize - his beloved Playstation 2. From there, he entered a class of player that far eclipsed his father. Harry Potter, Kingdom Hearts 2; it didn't matter. He finished them all and never needed me for anything other than an occasional "check out this Boss, Dad!".

So this is the end of our drama, for now. Ben becomes the Master to his own video game Padawan. Sure, I have yet to relinquish my crown to him in some small corners of our gaming kingdom. Call of Duty 2, Medal of Honour, and Fear are still mine for the glory. But I know it's just a matter of time before he's old enough for these kinds of games and I'll be brushed aside again.

In the meantime, I'm content in knowing that we still share the same interests, even if we sometimes exist on different levels. Sure, he can fly an X-Wing through narrow canyons and summon whirlwinds by blowing a few notes into a strange flute, but (as I remind him) I get to stay up late and eat junk food all night long if I so choose. So there.

Addendum: Apropos of nothing in particular, except that someone asked me for this, here's the result of a (very) little Star Wars video project we did last Summer.