Thursday, July 30, 2009

PSF - Waiting

Easton Beach in Newport, RI
I mysteriously found this unpublished draft recently!!

Every year, we wait patiently until March rolls around so that we can take our annual getaway to Newport, Rhode Island.  Both grandmas come down to watch the kids, and each year we think it will be easier for them because the kids are getting older.  When Adam was two and three, he was quite a handful as he was a very energetic toddler boy. When Dova was born, we took year off and the next year, the grandmas had two energetic kids to contend with.  Now that they are officially old enough to know how to behave themselves (8 and 5), the grandmas are getting too old to handle their hectic school day schedule.  We were planning to take another overnight trip this year to celebrate our 10th anniversary as well as our 10th visit.  But at this point, we've already gotten a no from one grandma.  So we'll have to wait again to find another babysitter or pawn the kids off on sleepovers.

For this photo, it had been a very dark and rainy day down in Newport, Rhode Island but I still took many pictures of the gray beach.  On the way back to the inn, the sun finally peeked through the thick layer of clouds as it was setting.  Golden light suddenly spilled onto the waves and the row of houses along the beach.  It was truly a magnificent sight.

July 30, 2009 - I just happened upon this half-written draft from April this year.  I guess I had to wait three months to rediscover it!  We had our 10th wedding anniversary a few weeks ago without much fanfare.  We are waiting three months to head back down in the off season, with a friend to watch our kids.  Three months of waiting seems to be the norm with us! We can't wait the break free and fly away, if only for a moment.

PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

Tell Me Thursday - My Mom Rocks!

"What on earth is your mom doing with you at BlogHer?"

No, she's not a blogger, and no, I'm not a baby who needs my mommy all the time. The fact is that I invited her to attend BlogHer after I accepted the speaking engagement. I thought she would like to see me speak and it would be a nice to spend some one-on-one time with her. She and I are the last of our nuclear family, since I am an only child and my father has passed away. Whenever we visit with my family, I spend the whole time yelling at directing my kids instead of talking with her. This isn't the first time that we've met up at a conference, she also attended Lab Automation with me in Palm Springs. There, I was Senior Software Engineer and she was Professor and research scientist, as opposed to blogger and her mom.

We had fun together hitting some of the early parties (I continued to party well after she retired), having meals together and taking walks along the river.

My mom ate breakfast with Christy Matte (More than Mommy, Quirky Fusion) and my backpack.

We ate lunch along the river outside of the Sheraton.

I taught her how to play checkers on a Microsoft Surface table.

We came back for seconds and thirds of the Quaker Oats mudslides (click for the recipe).

But most importantly, she sat in my session, "MommyBlogging: “Balance” is a Big, Fat, Lying, McLiar LIE for Moms who Blog (and the rest of us too)".

Photo by thegirlsmoma. My esteemed colleagues from the left were Lisa Belkin from the NY Times Motherlode blog, Pauline OHMommy from Classy Chaos and Rita Arens from Surrender, Dorothy and Blogher.

About halfway through the session, Pauline nudged me and pointed to the woman holding the microphone for the next question. It was my mom!! I immediately had a moment of dread - OMG, what was she going to say??

She started by saying that she was Angela's mom, and that she was a semi-retired Professor. The rest of the exact words were a blur, so refer to Mommy Geekology's live blog transcript:
2:54pm: Angela’s mom is speaking! She says she is very proud of her daughter. She says she’d like to communicate with her daughter but she’s too heavily scheduled, but she can’t call her because she’s too busy! However, Angela’s blog gave her a lot of comfort because she enjoys reading it and keeping up with her daughter this way. She also says that she’s not a blogger, but she’s here and having a great time!
And from the BlogHer live blog:
Angela's mother - complains that her daughter's schedule is too filled. Finds comfort in her blog and keeps up to date when they can't have time together.
After she spoke, the room was filled with the warm sentiment that mommyblogging was all worthwhile. I was so grateful for her kind words and her full support. Rita came back with, "Wow, I've never seen anything like that happen at BlogHer. You couldn't script it better." My mom totally stole the show, and I was tickled pink.

Afterwards, Twitter was abuzz with comments about my mom's showing.

Mom tweets

People came up to us afterwards and said it was great that she came and that I should call her more often (I will, I will). But the best impact, was to inspire Pauline to bring her mom to BlogHer to hear her speak in the community keynote. Pauline wasn't too nervous about sitting on the panel, but she was extremely nervous about speaking in front of the whole 1500 person audience for the keynote. I ran into Pauline and her mother shortly before the keynote and was really glad to see that my mom had this positive influence. She rocks!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

WW - My Mom and I at BlogHer '09

Taken by the inimitable BlogHer community manager, Denise Tanton. This photo also appeared in her recap post.

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Come back tomorrow for the story behind this photo for Tell Me Thursday.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stochasticity, Bejeweled and Peggle

Last month WNYC's Radio Lab had a show on Stochasticity which is a fancy word for randomness.  The most fascinating story was about a woman who suffered from Parkinson's disease and suddenly became consumed by a frenzied gambling addiction.  It turns out the dopamine-like medication that she took to control Parkinson's tremors also affected her impulse control, manifesting itself in pathological gambling.  She lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years, her husband and alienated friends and family.  Once she stopped taking the drug, she was fine again.  It was a very sad story of a life wasted due to an extremely unfortunate side effect.

The story described the reward-response that slot machines trigger through the randomly occuring lights and bells.  The addict wants to crack the random code to getting the reward and cannot tear themselves away from the machine until they do.  But since the machines are random, there is no code to crack and so they play until they run out of money.

I started to think about my own addiction to Bejeweled and any gem-like game.  Bejeweled 2 has sparkly gems beckoning you, plus they turn shiny with four in a row and swirly with five in a row.  The whole premise of getting a big huge "Incredible" cascade is the same one as the slot machines.  And with Bejeweled Blitz for facebook, you are constantly waiting for the 50k cascade that will put you over 100k in one minute (I, unlike some addicts, *cough* Momisodes haven't gotten to 200k yet).

The only two apps I had purchased for my iPhone before last week were Bejeweled 2 and Gem Spinner.  And I only bought them to use up an iTunes gift card.  But then I discovered Peggle (don't click this link, you've been warned).  This seemingly simplistic game takes all its cues from slot machines.  And it is i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y addictive.  After playing it for a whole morning, and setting up my kids on two other computers at the same time, we all became total Peggle addicts (I am a terrible mommy when it comes to video games).  Somehow, Doug is immune to shiny lights, bells and Ode to Joy. 

The next day, we had to take a trip and in the car, I was fighting the urge to buy Peggle for the iPhone for a whopping $4.99 (Bejeweled and Gem Spinner were $2.99 each).  I finally cracked only to find that you can't download apps over 10 MB without wi-fi.  Whew!  Saved for a few hours.  But once I got home again, it was purchased. 

Peggle screenshot

So here's a peek into this maddening dopamine machine.  You aim a ball that comes out of the top and click fire.  That's the same as pulling the slot lever.  There is ever-so-slight skill in aiming the ball, but after two bounces, it is pretty much random.  You watch the ball bounce around and light up the blue and orange pegs and bars.  Little beeps go off every time you hit them.  The more you hit, the higher your score.  If you roll down a slope correctly, you get the "extreme slide" and your score shoots up.  On the left, there is a ball-o-thon meter. When you hit 25k, you get a free ball. Ding ding ding, flash, flash, flash - Jackpot!  It is exactly the same premise as slot machines, even more so than Bejeweled.  If you win the level, it goes into super slo-mo until you get into the last scoring bin, where fireworks shoot up and Ode to Joy sings triumphantly.

This game is so drilled into my dopamine response system, that I sometimes hear Ode to Joy when something good happens to me.  And once, during a *ahem* pleasurable moment, I saw little blue and orange lights going off on my head.  The game is insidious, I tell you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What Do Women Want in a Vehicle?

Being a gearhead and a mom, I have a long list of requirements for a motor vehicle.  Some of them are ridiculous, like it must have a manual transmission, which rules out the entire class of minivans (birth control through avoidance of minivans).  Other requirements are mom-related, like it must have at least four doors.  Still others are green-related, satisfying my obsessive car spreadsheets and adventures in hypermiling.  But my number one requirement is that IT MUST BE SAFE!  This is obvious of course, but this recent incident reinforces it.

We rented an unnamed minivan for our trip to Washington DC from an unnamed rental company (one company is bankrupt and the other is the largest rental company in the US - may not be who you think).  Doug is a car fanatic and he completely checked the car over before we left.  It was completely out of washer fluid and down over a quart of oil.  The tire pressures were also down a couple of pounds (passable, but we've have worse rentals).  We bought two quarts of oil, poured one in and took one for the road.

On our way from the Boston area to Washington DC, we stopped in New York to pick up my mother.  At that point, we started hearing a noise when the automatic transmission shifted that sounded like "eh".  After a few days in the Washington DC area, it was louder, like "Enh!"  We started making fun of the van every time it shifted, but didn't think it was necessarily a serious problem.  Doug pulled out the user's manual to figure out the type and amount of automatic transmission fluid that the car took.  He found that the transmission was a sealed unit and could not be refilled.  My mother was concerned about our safety and suggested that we go to the rental company get another minivan.  I was more concerned that we squeeze in all our visits on our tight schedule and figured the van would probably make it home fine, it only had 35k miles.

By the last day, Doug took one last look under the hood and finally found the automatic transmission fluid refill port.  It was marked "Dealer use only". At this point, we didn't want to risk screwing up the car or our rental contract, so we just headed home.  Bear in mind, other renters probably wouldn't even think twice about this noise and Doug went far beyond the average renter, adding motor oil and checking everything out.

On the way home, the noise continued.  We stopped and switched drivers a couple times.  I drove through the tricky section past the George Washington bridge onto the Major Deegan highway without incident.  I handed the reins over to Doug for the last stretch in Connecticut.  While the cruise control was on, the engine suddenly revved and the car didn't accelerate, indicating that the transmission was slipping.  Doug took it off the cruise control for the rest of the trip and used the gas pedal manually.  It continued to slip a little, but he could control it by accelerating slower.  By the time we hit the Mass Pike, the transmission was having serious issues.  After the last toll interchange, the van had a hard time accelerating from the FastLane toll speed to highway speed.

At this point, we were seven hours into our drive and the kids were tired and the adults were severly afraid that the minivan wouldn't make it home.  The stress-o-meter was pegged.  The minivan seemed to be fine as long as we didn't have to change speeds, but we were concerned about the last 20 minutes that we had to travel off the highway.  At the end of the last ramp, Doug eased the car onto the road.  We held our breath at every stop sign and prayed that the van would go.  Each time, Doug had to feather the gas pedal lightly hoping the transmission would catch.  After five minutes, the transmission started to slip and the engine revved even with the slightest touch of the pedal.

We pulled over on the side of the road and let the minivan rest for a minute.  Doug eased the car back onto the road again, but it was worse than ever.  We came to a stop sign and knew the end was near.  Doug eased the gas and gunned the gas. The transmission barely caught on and we got to the other side of the intersection. It was completely kaput as we pulled to the side of the road.  We managed to back down into the driveway of a church a few minutes later and we were officially stranded.  We had driven 7 hours and 45 minutes and we were 15 minutes from our home.  The van's odometer read 35748 miles.

I immediately called the rental car company and they helped to set up roadside assistance.  We called a neighbor to see if we could be rescued. Thankfully he was home and came to get us and all our stuff.  I waited with the minivan after Doug and the kids were picked up and angrily tweeted about our predicament (no holds barred - naming suspects).


The tow truck came fairly quickly.  The driver was not at all surprised at the failure, as this company has had a long history of automatic transmission problems. Doug and the kids came to pick me up in our trusty Toyota Echo with a MANUAL transmission. All three of our cars have a manual transmissions, and you can be sure that there will be no automatic transmissions or minivans in our future.

We were extremely fortunate that we were able to stop in a safe place. I don't even want to think of what would have happened if it failed on the highway. My kids were in this car and having the transmission fail at 35k miles is UNACCEPTABLE.  It's been a few weeks since the incident, and whenever my kids see the same type of minivan, they still say "Bad Ol' Minivan!" 

If you've made it this far into this post, bless you!  On Thursday, I will be attending a Ford and BlogHer event ( #FordBlogHer ) and they want to know, "What do you want in a vehicle?"  Please let me know in the comments and I will bring them to the event.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

PSF - Dova Gets her Zen On

Friends of ours are moving to New Mexico, leaving their beautiful house behind. They had one last party, and I was glad to be the unofficial photographer. Dova tagged along, modeling as I shot photographs. Their house is full of beautiful open spaces, light and tranquility. First, a picture of their great room.

Open house

Here's a cow hide rug that I absolutely loved:

Cow hide rug

The wife of the original house owner was a dancer, and a wall with mirrors was built for her dance studio.

In the mirror

I took about 20 shots of the mirror and none of them came out quite right. Difficult combination of shooting from the hip and autofocus / exposure mirror confusion.

There were no other kids at the party, so Adam spent the entire time playing on his Nintendo DS when he was not climbing over all the furniture. Here, Dova peered around him while she ate a brownie.

Dova peers around Adam

Outside at the pond, Dova contemplated the fish and checked out the interesting stones.

Lotus Dova

Stone ball

Chinese stone

I'm illiterate in Chinese, so I can't tell you what this character is (hopefully my mom will come to the rescue in the comments).

July 17,2009 - Agnes came through, "the chinese character is 'sou' means life longevity". Thanks Agnes!

I love this shot of Dova laughing, she is always so full of life!

Dova laughs

I took just one picture of myself, with my mischevious imp.

Me and Dova

We will certainly miss seeing our friends and visiting their sanctuary. We wish them well and hope to visit someday.

PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We're all related because we have the same color Nintendo DS!

On our whirlwind trip to Washington DC, we managed to attend a party, wedding, reception, swim in the pool, visit five families and squeeze in trips to the National Zoo and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in five days.  They don't call me the master scheduler for nothing!!

One of the cool things we learned about our cousins was that the two kids that had a Nintendo DS Lite, had the exact same color, crimson / black.  Of course Adam felt this was totally natural, but it amazed us easily impressed adults.  Here they are.

Adam and Alex

Adam and Samantha

These two cousins were amazingly alike. Just look at their posture and concentration!  We exchanged stories as  parents about how these two get frustrated with their perfectionism when it comes to piano and school.  They could be twins! Adam showed her how to play Mario Party together wirelessly and they had a blast cracking each other up.

Cracking up over Mario Party

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

WW - Panda Sighting


Grabbing the Panda

The panda at the National Zoo was far, far away, but I had my telephoto lens. Makes me realize how lucky I was to actually pet a panda in China.

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Silly Monkey Story - Dova loves Spongebob

The kids have always loved Spongebob Squarepants, so whenever they see stuffed animal characters from the cartoon, they love to play with them.

Dova and Plankton
Dova grimaces with Plankton.

Gary slimes Dova's head
Gary slimes Dova's head.

Plankton and Gary belong to adult friends of ours that have "never grown up".  Here are some huge Spongebob characters from their cousin's house a few years ago.

Dova with Patrick and Spongebob

Dova gives Patrick a big hug
Dova gave Patrick a big hug and Spongebob's foot got caught in the cross-fire.

Watching TV with Spongebob
Here she is watching TV with Spongebob (my guess is that the show was on as well).

I think she wants me to recreate the Adam's Spongebob cake for her 6th birthday as well. We'll see about that!

Hosted by Karen at 3 Garnets and 2 Sapphires.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

PSF - The Psychic Piano

Last month, I went to a meeting held at Sun Microsystems where Adam and I learned about the MIT scratch program (a whole other post). As we were leaving, we admired the open lobby where there was a waterfall and a piano. Adam whizzed around the area and said, "Where have you been all my life? I want to work here when I grow up!" Indeed, it was a beautiful place. Maybe I need to work there when I grow up. Then again, I was never any good at Java...

Here are some photos courtesy of Quentin, who invited us to the meeting.

Sun waterfall

I simply cannot resist a piano, especially if no one is around, so I approached it and sat down.

Sun piano

The room had a late night, ethereal atmosphere, so I chose to play Debussy's Arabesque. I only know the first page by memory and the impressionistic music quietly filled the room. The keys had a weird feel to them, and then I noticed on the right that there some sort of computer controller.

Sun piano controller

Of course a high tech company like Sun would have a high tech player piano! Then I took a closer look at the display panel.

Arabesque by Debussy? How did it know what I was playing?? Is this piano psychic or something? I pressed the play button and sure enough, the same music came forth from the piano (although a bit faster and more professional). How could it possibly know? I decided to test it by playing another piece, Schumann's About Strange Lands and People. The display didn't change. I pressed the play button and Debussy came out again. I popped out the floppy disk from the controller and saw that the first piece listed was Debussy's Arabesque. So it was sheer luck that I happened to play the first piece that the piano knew.

At this point, Adam turned to me and said, "Mom, it was you! How did you know?? You're a genius!!" We bursted into giggles and delight at this magical experience.

Here's a video of me attempting to play Debussy's Arabesque at home. Good thing Adam was there to contribute some comic relief and yawn sounds.

Debussy's Arabesque from Angela T on Vimeo.

PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Never Too Old for Threadless

I've always thought that Threadless tees were cool, but it wasn't until I sponsored a giveaway for them that I actually owned a Threadless shirt.  Now I'm totally hooked.  My first Threadless Typetee was If you find me dead, make it look like I was doing something cool (got it before it sold out!).

Threadless Dead shirt

My kids were more than willing to pose for this shot...  I wore this tee a couple of times to work on casual Fridays but most people were too polite to read my shirt. No really, look at my chest!! It's such a cool shirt.

Then I caught a Threadless tweet that they were having a $5 shirt sale so I picked up two more shirts.  I had recently posted about cookies on Momisodes, and I was dying to actually own the Stupid raisins, stay out of my cookies shirt.

Threadless Stupid Raisins

For the BlogHer Boston-area get together, I baked a batch of cookies and was planning to wear this shirt. But then I thought I'd better look more my age and put on something more professional-looking. Here I am as part of the Asian blogger invasion with Christine (Boston Mamas) and Sandy (Momisodes).

Me, Christine and Sandy

Very nice, very nice, but I look b-o-r-i-n-g and like I've been sneaking way too many cookies on the side.

And lastly I bought this super "green" Infinity MPG bike shirt.

Threadless Bike shirt

I was really proud to wear this shirt that week, because I actually took my bike to run errands at lunch time. Once to vote in a critical town budget override (yay, it passed and we still have a library!), and once to mail a package at the post office.

So the big question is what do I wear to BlogHer?  Something boring and my age or my Threadless tees?  For BlogHer Boston last year, I wore a cool breast cancer t-shirt that said "Fight like a girl" and felt totally underdressed.  When I'm on the panel, I will wear something respectable where I have to speak out loud and everyone will be looking at me, but I really just want to be a Threadless girl.  Nude no more!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

WW - Crazy bat and serene bowl of rocks

Crazy bat

Serene bowl of rocks

Front of house

All living in harmony in front of our friend's house (see lower left).

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