Friday, February 29, 2008

Playdate anyone?

A long and somewhat wordy article, in the New York Times, recently tried to champion the importance of play. It seems like playtime has been in the news a lot lately, championed by those who see the cut-back in recess and free-time for physical activities after school hours as a mounting problem for children in this modern age. Will too much "screen time", structured evening activities, and social pressure to be doing something "useful" with their time harm our children's development? What about their futures? Don't they need those piano lessons, sports teams, and educational computer programs? One this is certainly true, children do not get very much time to themselves, to be themselves, without anyone or anything guiding them in what they should be doing, viewing, or practicing.

The Times article discusses how this is being seen as a problem, and how scientists are trying to figure out exactly what the problem is, i.e. what will the deprivation of play time lead to. They listed several logical theories. Play may offer practice for adulthood. It helps a certain part of the brain known for the ability to focus to grow properly. It gives children the opportunity to practice social skills, learn flexibility, and gives an outlet for creativity. It may help in coping with fear, and stress.

The scientists who are observing children's play behavior and are making these judgements are, however, treading on thin ice. Like all social sciences, it is incredibly hard to pin down exactly what is causing the outcome. The main conundrum is this; if a child is deprived of play, are there not other ways that the same results can be accomplished? Will not the child, and the brain adapt? And also, are there perhaps other ways that the same things gained through playing can be accomplished, perhaps more quickly or producing a more balanced result (child)?

The article mentioned the experiments that are being used, and I have to say, I was impressed. Many of them were very thoughtful in how to reduce the extra variables, and still allow enough room for interesting and enlightening results. However, when they try to apply their discoveries on humans, and on a broad scale, the complications multiply. The human brain is an amazing organ with the capacity to heal itself, adapt, and sometimes make miraculous leaps in logic and understanding. In some ways, this makes the study of play even more important! Who knows what imperative developments the brain is making as a boy constructs a "fort", a girl designs clothes for her Barbie, or a group of children invent a new game together?

While I am not particularly fearful that too much structure and screen time will ruin our children, I do think that their brains will eventually fight back. And in some ways I wonder if that isn't what ADHD is? Or what if learning/development is simply delayed? But what if we are triggering more harmful reactions like panic-attacks, high blood pressure, obesity, and depression? Isn't that what we are all really afraid of? That our children will be unable to cope well, and enjoy life?

Isn't that really why we play, in the first place?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bear Market

Well the bears are roaring these days. I read a concise article on Kiplingers this morning on how to tighten the belt. I know that for those who are close to retirement, it is rough times, but for a young investor like me, it is an awesome opportunity to invest cheep and get some great rewards down the road. Yeah, like everyone else, I am hunting around for some cash to invest, and dang it if I don't need to buy a car right now, but even just a small investment will be better than nothing. Here's some resources to get you started (assuming you haven't bought stocks before)

Stock Market Investing on the Internet for Beginners
Cool Investing
John Waggoner
Jim Cramer

Geek TV

A while back when I was researching for my post on getting rid of your TV (by using Netflix and the internet as an alternative) an associate referred me to For some reason, at the time, the site would not load properly for me. Since I am impatient and would never recommend a site that was anything less than outstanding, Joost got left in the dust (and out of that post). However, as the aforementioned associate is rarely wrong, (at least on his web recommendations) I re-visited the site recently.

I had to laugh! On the front page (which is working perfectly) it advertises old school Star Trek, and the Flash, two notoriously geeky shows (what can be geekier than old school Star Trek???). Not only did my first impression remind me of my hardcore sci-fi upbringing, but upon further investigation, episodes of Babylon 5, Time Trax, and Animatrix were discovered! I quickly realized I was on a sci-fi channel and began snooping around to see what other goodies could be discovered. I began finding many other random and geeky channels, as well as some that were just downright unique and interesting. While the site is a bit hard to navigate, and I did find one broken link, it hosts a larger volume and diversity than any other online TV site I've encountered thus far. It will no doubt take me a while to wander around and discover all it has to offer. In the mean time, I'm going to go reminisce in front of some good old Babylon 5.

By the way, plans for the Justice League Movie, and The Flash spinnoff are back in motion now that the Writer's Strike is off. And of course you've already heard the hot gossip that JJ Abrams will be directing the new Star Trek movie, who will have Zachary Quinto (of Heros) playing the young Spock.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is Dinner Ready Yet?

So I know everyone struggles with what to make for dinner, and then there's the actual putting everything together and getting it on the table on time. I'm a big time "Make two, eat one and freeze one" type when it comes to dinner prep. This works great for casseroles, as my HH and I do not eat much. I will make the recipe for one batch, but split it into 2 bake dishes, cooking one for that night's dinner, and freezing the other for next week sometime. Making large pots of soup and chili also makes freezing some for later a breeze.

Lately I have been looking to expand my repetoire (as I pretty much always am) and was happy to find my friend K has some good recipes on her blog. She is very into whole food cooking, and is on a pretty strict low-sodium diet, so if you are one of many who have those concerns be sure to check her out!

Micro-Blogging is for Nerds

If you aren't already familiar with micro-blogging, the main idea is that it's social networking via text messaging whatever you are doing (on a frequent basis) to your host (ex: Twitter, Jaiku) so your friends can see what you're up to right now. You can text in on your cell, IM it, e-mail it, whatever you want, as long as it's short, less than 200 characters, in most cases.

So what do people really do with this? Well, typically people do it when they are bored. Or lonely. So, pretty much, if you look at a friend's micro-blog you will see some pretty lame stuff. If you find cool stuff, it's probably because they did it on purpose so they could micro-blog about it. Nerdy!

Hopefully people are doing it in order to share their life with friends and the average wanderer. Maybe they are trying to make their activies more personal.

"Well, how is that not like MySpace?" you say. Well, MySpace is a homepage for people who can't make their own website, which is a lot of people. It works because people want to see what music, videos and artists their friends are into. Micro-blogging is for people who want to text someone but don't have any friends. It doesn't work because friends don't really care that you are waiting to get your oil changed, or are riding the bus.

When I asked an advid micro-blogger why he spent so much time doing it, he said that sometimes he wanted to record a thought but couldn't write a whole blog post about it. I rather cruelly challenged him to whether or not the thought was worth sharing if you couldn't make a paragraph out of it. His responce was that it's an opportunity to make conversation, that people can view your thoughts and instantly respond. Kinda sounds like texting, or instant messenging to me.

I try to avoid those time wasters usually, though I will at least admit that they are fun. If you're thinking about getting into micro-blogging, it's probably because you are bored. Why not instead messenge a friend, or re-do your MySpace or something? It's more personal.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

igoogle widgets and tips

It always amazes me how people who enjoy something figure out ways of making that thing better. If you do a search of firefox extensions you will get overwhelming (and awesome) results. I, myself do not use firefox for this very reason! It just brings up my ongoing internal conflict between the "collecter" and the "clutter buster". I see awesome apps that I have to have, only to install them and be frustrated and overwhelmed by too many things that get in my way. Perhaps some day I will take the time to test many (such as the webmaster toolbars) and find what is really practical for me, and not to distracting when I'm trying to get work done, but for now, I just can't deal with all that.

One thing I do think actually saves me time and sanity is having my igoogle home page. I am very structured, and it's almost become my to-do list. (My to-do list is on there too!) The wonderful things is that so many helpful widgets, and even web pages work with it. I keep my Joes Goals, One Year Bible, blogs and news headlines, and of course my gmail in order so I can bam, bam, bam, get it done! I also keep the basic callendar, weather, and to-do list to have those reminders in easy view.

One feature I've just begun to use is the tabs. While this is somewhat silly because Explorer will automatically open tabs for however many "homepages" you want, you may not use those tabs every time, which makes them cumbersome. With the tabs in your igoogle, you can import even whold dynamic pages via this widget. So say you wanted your own blog in another tab, just enter your blog address in the handy box he provides, give it permission, and voila!

Another way to customize your igoogle to make it your own is to use a few of these customizable widgets. These are really fun because they encourage you to be creative and allow you to design your own module that probably no one else has thought of! For example I could create one called "What's for Dinner" for my HH to view on his igoogle page at work. They are nice because they are not very complicatedare and easy to update.

Another really useful thing if you use RSS feeds and the Google Feed Reader is to install the widget that grabs from your Google Feeds and shrinks them into your igoogle page. I like this approach because it's a quick overview to all my feeds and not another page to visit. You could also set up your reads in another tab of your igoogle page, if you prefer.

While these are just a few of my personal favorite widgets for igoogle, there are thousands out there for you to choose from, most of which are made by individuals looking to add something useful to the igoogle community. Just don't add too many! The point is to get organized and save yourself some time and hastle!

Here's a few to get you started
Web Worker

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Free Girly Stuff

What could be better than nice stuff that only costs a buck?! Well, nothing really! Okay, I totally admit that I am a sucker for things that cost a dollar. The Target $1 Spot snaggs me every time! Only paying a dollar really appeals to my inner thriftyness and finding something that is so cute makes it irresistable! I'm sure, by now you have already heard of, where all their makeup, brushes etc. only costs $1. Well, while I was shopping on their site I found these fabulous coupon codes that I just thought you might like to know about.

EGVALCC -Get a heart pendant FREE on any order $20 or more. Expires 3/1/2008
EGVALEC-Get a $25 gift card with any $20 or more elf purchase. Expires 3/1/2008
EGVALHC-FREE $20 Dale & Thomas Gift Card with any order. Expires 3/1/2008
EGTINAC- FREE Candy Shop Lip Tin in Cherry Bomb with any purchase. Expires 3/1/2008
Candy Lip Tin from eyeslipsface
Just enter the code when you check out! Yeah, super-good deals! And that Candy Lip Tin is super cute! I'm totally snagging some!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Where to put your Pantyhose!

I recently read a very entertaining article on "other" uses for pantyhose. I don't ever wear them, myself, but I do have a few in the back of my drawer... maybe I'll try a few of these:

Idea #5. Gardeners can use strips of cut up hose to tie up plants in the garden. (Yeah, my tomatos were pretty gangly last year in my first attempt at my own veggie garden.)

Idea #10 When paint goes lumpy you can strain it through a stretched out piece of pantyhose. (I should totally do this! I always leave the lid off too long while I'm painting and get those yucky lumps!)

Check out 18 more creative and frugal ideas for old pantyhose at Gomestic! While you are there, you may also be interested in reading their Six Environmentally Friendly Money Savers.

Drama in Tech

Is it just me or has there been an incredible amount of drama in technology news lately? First we have Microsoft's offer to Yahoo, who is still stringing them along. Today Starbucks dumps T-mobile as the wireless internet provider in their stores so they can rush into the arms of AT&T! Poor T-mobile just wasn't cool enough to compete with AT&T's sex appeal (the iPhone) and Starbucks already has deals to sell iTunes in their stores. There's also a rumored iPhone add-on that allows you to order and pay for your Starbucks via your iPhone. Sounds like all the cool kids like to hang out together, huh?

Back from Hiatus

Last week was fun... and difficult. We spend the week in Ausin, Texas while my husband attended a big computer educator's conference (he's the technology director for a school district) so of course, the kids and I weren't about to stay home and miss out on all the fun!

However, my husband needed his laptop durring the day for the conference, and as he is currently taking grad school courses on line, he needed it at night whenever we were in the hotel room too! This left me to like less than an hour of online time all week! So sorry about the lack of posts; I was with you in spirit!

Oh yeah, we went shopping at IKEA, Whole Foods, and the Round Rock outlet mall... whoo hoo!