Month: April 2010

First Times

I recently discovered the site How I Met Your Motherboard, which features stories of first computer experiences. Interestingly, one of the stories mirrors my own.

Seems like perfect fodder for my own blog post, no?

People occasionally ask me why I’m so nutty for Apple products. I think part of it is because of when I got my first Mac: just as I was leaving the corporate world, becoming a father, starting down the path as a stay-at-home parent, etc. I was in the midst of several major life changes. At the same time, I purchased a new consumer electronic device that has a devoted following. As I educated myself on how to use my Mac, I got sucked into the Cult as a way of finding meaning and comfort in my strange new life.

But there’s more to it than that. A college roommate had a mid-90s Mac, on which I discovered the Internet. He dropped a few thousand on it for architecture projects and I probably spent more time on it than him once I discovered America Online and e-mail. Earlier in college, a friend down the hall had a Mac SE, and he allowed us to spend hours playing Tetris on it.

Most importantly, though, was my first ever computer experience, on an Apple ][ Plus in middle school.

Through some wrinkle in the system, I got into my school district’s gifted and talented program. The program was once every two weeks: on those days, we’d go to school, then get on a different bus and go to the old junior high, where the program had carved out three rooms full of stuff to keep us occupied for five hours. For me, the highlight were the two Apple ][ Plus computers that we worked on during each session.

In the morning, we had a programming lesson, in which we learned a series of BASIC commands. Then, we signed up for computer time and had to write our own program based on that lesson. That was all super cool, but I also enjoyed jumping on the computers at lunchtime and playing Lemonade Stand, Oregon Trail, or Midway. I was thoroughly enamored with these cool new toys.

Somewhere along the way I picked up a guide to programming in BASIC. I poured through it, imagining all the cool things I could do with my own computer. I wrote simple, text-based adventure games in a notebook. I would check out computer books from the gifted class’ library and dutifully copy down hundreds of lines of code for cool games that I would enter into my own machine some day. If I came across a magazine article or TV show about computers, I watched it. At the time I was crazy about sports, the Kansas City Royals in particular. Slowly but surely computers were creeping up on sports as my favorite interest.

I begged my mother to buy me an Apple ][ for Christmas in 1982. I’m pretty sure I cried and kicked and screamed. I explained how I would use it to design my own video games. I would learn all the latest programing techniques. I would launch myself on a path that would end with me writing games for Atari in Sunnyvale, CA after college.

She refused.

I pouted.

I did not understand that an Apple ][ ran about $2000 at the time. Throw in more money for disk drives, etc. and we’re talking $2500. In 1982 dollars. If I’ve done the math correctly, that’s roughly $5000 today. Back in ’82, my mom was working two and sometimes three jobs to keep us afloat. I obviously had no understanding of how much the Apple ][ cost, or how little my mom was making at the time.

I tried to talk her down to an Atari 400 or 800, but the answer remained the same.

A year later, when our financial situation had improved slightly, I got an Atari 2600 game system for Christmas. While that was one of my all-time favorite Christmas gifts, I was left playing other people’s games rather than making my own. I did get my own computer, eventually. In 1996, to be exact.

What could have been.

As I recall, I did fine on the entrance test, but my teachers were worried that I wouldn’t take it seriously. In fact, they left the decision to me. “If you think you can stay focused and be serious about this, we’ll let you sign up. But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.” Or something like that.

 

I Recommend Picking One Up, If You Have The Means

The people at Hertz surprised us with an unusual ride last weekend. That’s right, we rocked a Nissan Cube in Kansas City all weekend!

When we got to the appropriate spot in the Hertz parking lot, we looked at each other, and then around, unsure if we were in the right location. We double and triple checked the number. We looked to either side to see if maybe a Focus or Corolla was sitting there, and that was the correct car. But no, this was it. That’s what you get for using Priceline, I guess.

It wasn’t all bad. It got some looks as we tooled around town. There was plenty of space for our luggage in the back. And it came with an interesting circle of shag carpet on the dashboard that no one could figure a use for. On our drive back to KCI on Sunday, the winds did about push it off the road. And the ride isn’t exactly quiet. But, if nothing else, it was a conversation piece.

Oh yeah, it was a top five wedding and reception. Our friends who are getting hitched in two weeks have a lot to compete with!

 

Fake Baseball

The latest installment in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries is a funny look at the origins of fantasy sports: Rotisserie Baseball.

I enjoyed it for many of the same reasons the AV Club reviewer enjoyed it: while the idea of fantasy sports appealed to me, I must admit I was more in love with the books that explained the game.

I remember first noticing the original Rotisserie baseball book sometime in the summer of 1985. I flipped through it a few times, but figured it seemed like something older people might do, not 14 year olds. I came across a gift certificate at some point that fall and decided to blow it on the Rotisserie League book. While the Royals were busy making a late run in the AL West, then coming back from 3-1 deficits against Toronto and St. Louis to win the pennant and the World Series, the book languished in my room.

Finally, sometime in the summer of ’86 I dusted it off and read through it. I loved it. The concept of the game appealed to me, then in my final years of total baseball geekdom. But I especially enjoyed the stories of the original drafts and off-seasons, the team biographies and accounts of their pennant races. I immediately drafted a league of eight teams and spent a month or so pouring through USA Today each morning to update each team’s stats.* I resolved to put a real league together the next spring.

(This is a good point to remind you I didn’t talk to girls much back then.)

Well, we moved away to California the following fall and I was still struggling to make friends at my new school when baseball season rolled around. I again did my own league for part of the summer, but something that would remain true 20 years later was apparent then: it was more fun to do all the research that went into putting a team together and then go through the draft than to actually play the game. That was true when it was just me running a pretend league of eight teams, and when I was in 12 team fantasy leagues with coworkers years later.

I gave up on fantasy sports a few years ago. I finished second in a football league and figured that’s the best I would ever do. I don’t miss it in the fall, when friends are frantically checking their fantasy football stats as the games progress each Sunday. But each spring, when I buy a baseball preview, I spend a week or so thinking about joining a league and getting back into the game. I always know, though, that I just want to go through those early stages of the season, and by July I will no longer care about my lineups or making trades or checking the standings.

Now if I could land a book contract and keep the history of a season, as the originators did, I might make the jump again.

I got into fantasy baseball because of the books they wrote chronicling the ups and downs of their teams; the idea of a fake baseball team was moderately appealing to me as a high school ballplayer, but even more, I loved reading about these smart, funny people and their adventures in playing it.

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M’s First Soccer Game

M.’s first soccer game was Saturday. As with her first practice, it went about as well as we could have hoped. She wasn’t the fastest player on the team, nor the best, but that fit our expectations. After trailing the action for awhile, she finally got in the mix and even managed to gain possession a few times.

It was a tough day for soccer, at least if you’re five. After a week of warm days, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and the winds were howling at 20-25 MPH. Actually, the weather was a bigger problem for the fans than the players. C. and L. did not enjoy sitting in the cold winds at all, and they had to retreat to the van halfway through the game.

Before the game, the coach gathered the kids around and asked them to pick a team name. Since they have green jerseys, they went with the Green Gators. Nice. Honors the team colors, is a little fierce, and has nice alliteration.

The teams begin with a 20-minute practice, working on basic skills. Then, they separate onto two fields for two three-on-three games. Since each team has eight players, that leaves one sub per team for each game. M.’s team has a couple kids who are quite good. In fact, their best player is a girl. She’s one of the bigger kids on the team, but it’s not like she’s huge. However, she’s fast, can kick the ball hard, and most importantly can run and maintain possession of the ball at the same time. There is no scorekeeping, because there are no goalies, but I think this girl scored at least 30 goals Saturday. Seriously. When the Green Gators had possession, she would gather the ball, race around the defense, and jet towards the goal, shooting it in from 5-10 feet out. When the opponents had possession, she’d barrel in, take the ball away, and go in to score. She needs to be a first round draft pick next year, when scoring matters.

M. began the game on the bench, but subbed in after five minutes. Early on, she mostly reacted to and followed the action. If a good player wasn’t on the field to take possession, the game was more rugby-like with six kids gathering around the ball trying to kick it. Since it was her first game, I can’t blame her for not wanting to mix it up right away.

When I handed her a water bottle during a water break, I offered some encouragement.

“You’re doing a great job, but try to get in there and get the ball, ok?”

“OK Dad,” she said in an annoyed voice. “But we’re winning!”

I guess we don’t have to worry about her being one of those kids who cares more about her touches than the team’s performance.

As the games progressed, she got more into the action. A few times the ball landed near her feet and she took a hack at it. Once or twice she got possession and managed to knock it forward. She has trouble maintaining her speed while dribbling, as do most of the kids, so she easily lost possession. When she was on the same team as the best player, the other girl would often swoop in and take the ball away from M.

M. did have one scoring chance, when the ball trickled across the goal line and she was closest to it. As will happen with five year olds, she was slow to realize the opportunity and missed the chance to knock it in. Oh well. She celebrated when her teammates scored as if it was her own goal. Again, the priorities are in the right place.

I’ll admit, it was hard not to over-coach/encourage from the sidelines. I don’t think a kindergartener playing her first game understands the concept of running to open space when a teammate has the ball. Advice like that kept popping up in my head, but I knew better than to yell it out. I did keep a mental list of things she needed to improve, but understood that we need to focus on one thing at a time. In fact, our goal for this week is to learn to run and kick at the same time and avoid coming to a complete stop. I can just remind her of how her teammate plays and tell her to imitate her.

She seemed to have fun. We did have a triple-sister meltdown in the van after the game, so I’m not sure the day was a total success.

At that age, they’re still kind of islands having individual experiences. The goal is to get out and play, learn some basics, and see if soccer is something she enjoys and wants to continue playing. I think L. is ready to play, though. At practice Wednesday, she kept yelling “Ball!” and trying to run out on the field. Saturday, she kept throwing her own ball towards the field. She also enjoyed yelling for her sister. “M.! M.! M.!” That was fun.

One game down. Who knows how many to go in the next 17+ years.

Another Milestone And More Great Moments In Parenting

M. had her first soccer practice Wednesday night. It went about as we expected. She was a little tentative, but active. Her team of eight is split evenly between boys and girls. A few of the boys and one of the girls have some skills. M. will get comfortable and get more into it in time. But at least she wasn’t crying and refusing to participate like another girl. The first game is Saturday.

Each week at school, M.’s class has a featured letter that is the core of their studies. They learn how to identify it, print it, and are shown various objects that begin with that letter. Each Monday night the kids have a homework assignment of finding something that begins with that letter and taking it to class the next day for show and tell.

Lately M. has been a little stubborn about doing her homework. She’ll put it off each time we mention it on Monday, and when Tuesday morning rolls around she often grabs something at the last minute before we head out the door. Once or twice she’s gone to school without anything in her bag. That was the story again this week.

Monday, she put off finding something that started with Q. Tuesday morning, she refused to look around for a queen or quarter or anything else. Drawings are acceptable, so I told her to draw something. She stated, flatly, that she wasn’t going to do it.

Fine. I wasn’t going to take the blame for this; I didn’t want her teacher thinking we were shirking our parenting responsibilities. I took her assignment sheet, flipped it over, and wrote, “M. refused to do her homework,” and stuck it in her folder.

After she got home on Tuesday afternoon, I went through her bag and found the note. Under my comments, her teacher wrote, “M. agreed to do her homework tonight and bring it in tomorrow.” Below that she made M. sign her name. Awesome! M. had a sheepish look on her face when I read the note and was eager to sit down with some markers and paper and draw a pretty picture of a queen, complete with captions. Her teacher sent the picture back Wednesday with a “Nice picture!” note written on it. Glad we’re on the same page.

Now we’ll see what happens next Monday.

Awkward Parenting Moments

There was a situation I ran into a few times before I became a parent that I never really knew how to handle. It always involved a child who had an older sibling who was either learning to read, or had just mastered reading. I would say to the younger child, “Let’s read a book,” and that child would soberly respond, “I can’t read.”

That response always took me aback; I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to encourage them, reassure them, ignore it, or what. It did make me a little sad, though. The kid was acknowledging that their sibling had taken a large developmental leap that they were not yet capable of. There was always a bit of sadness or longing in their response.

M. has continued to improve her reading skills. She wants to sound out things she sees, or write down things she wants to say, constantly. She’s getting good at picking up books she is not familiar with and working her way through them, with a little help on the tricky words. It won’t be long until we can turn her loose with a stack of books and know she’ll be good until she reaches the end of the last one.

Saturday we went to the library and after returning home with a bag full of books for the girls, I suggested we make a reading chart to keep us focused. Read a few books a day, get a sticker, and at when we reached a defined point, the girls get to go to a bookstore and buy the book of their choice.

I threw out ideas for how we should reward the girls. “How about if we read two books a day, you get a sticker? Once you get 20 stickers, we’ll go buy a book, ok?”

M. thought that was a great idea, but C. stood next to me and said, matter-of-factly, “But Dad, I can’t read.”

Ouch.

I hope I reacted better than I did in the past. I told her I understood that and S. and I would still help her read her books. But it again made me sad at how that milestone is so concrete to the younger kids. They see all the praise and attention big sister is getting and know they can’t compete. C. will sit down with books and flip through them, point at the words, and make up her own stories. But she knows that isn’t really reading. She’ll get there, and then we’ll go through the same thing again with L. But I wish we could avoid those sad little responses.

Businessman’s Special

I made my first-ever visit to Cincinnati’s Great America Ballpark on Thursday to catch a Cardinals-Reds matinee. Good times all around.

We cruised down I-74 and arrived in Cincy just in time to hook up with some friends who just happened to have a pocket-full of extra tickets. I’m pretty sure you can’t beat $20 for three tickets on a day when you can pick your seat. With only about 13,000 people in attendance, we were able to sit with our friends who had front row seats down the right field line. We got some good natured hassling from an older usher, but as soon as he saw we had friends with legit tickets in his section, he began ripping his supervisors for making him check tickets on a day when the ballpark was roughly 1/4 full.

It was an overcast and cool day, but each time the sun popped out, we toasted our good fortune for being at a major league baseball game on a weekday.

The stadium is nicer than I expected. It’s still fairly new, but was never hailed as an architectural wonder like some of the other parks that have gone up in the last 20 years. I’ve watched plenty of Reds games since we moved to Indy and never got a good feel for the park on TV. It is much more attractive in person. It is compact and has some old-timey qualities that make it feel like it’s been there forever. There are plenty of amenities, but it doesn’t feel like you’re at am amusement park. It fits Cincinnati’s personality nicely.

The game was solid, a pitchers-duel that ended with a Reds walk-off home run. I was in a mixed group with a couple Reds fans, one Cardinals fan, and a couple neutrals. Our host in the good seats is a bit of a loud mouth and was drinking liberally. Throw in his familiarity with the ballboy, security guys, and groundskeepers because of his season tickets and we had a recipe for a good time. He spent most of the day heckling the Cardinals’ right fielder, the guys in the Cardinals’ bullpen, and anyone else who he thought deserved some choice words. After the game, as the Cardinals bullpen staff was walking back to the dugout, one pitcher even stared him down and faked tossing a ball his way. We all lost it at the psych-move, which the Cardinals pitchers seemed to enjoy. Good times.

Great America was only the sixth big league park I’ve seen a game in. With the easy road trip and plenty of day games to choose from, I’m hoping to make it back again soon.

 

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