A Happy Geeky Christmas

To one and all.  I swear, I’m getting geekier than Mr. Geeky.  For Christmas I got a robot vacuum cleaner, the Neat-O (and he is awesome!), and an Arduino kit.  Mr. Geeky did get a new Android phone, but otherwise, he got pretty non-geeky stuff:  sweaters and whatnot.  I think there’s a Geeky competition going on.

Hope you all have had a wonderful holiday!

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Random Thoughts on Random Topics

Technology

  • Really irked about the FCC’s “Net Neutrality” ruling.  I think one of the side effects of the ubiquity of computing has been a slide into complacency among users.  Mr. Geeky thinks an alternate Internet will pop up.  I’m not so sure.  Yet another reason why I think delving into the more technical issues of computing is important.
  • Delicious‘ demise.  Unfounded or not, I think I will have to move my bookmarks.  This won’t be the first time.  Way back in the dark ages of the Internet, I used Furl, which in some ways was a superior product.  It actually saved pdf’s of your links.  No link ever went dead.  I moved to Delicious out of a need for more social aspects–there were more people there.  I still haven’t decided where to go.  I’ve never been a fan of Diigo.  It’s too busy.  Suggestions welcome.
  • Blogging.  Feeling very blah about it.  Of course, many folks are not blogging at the moment because of the holidays.  Ironic, since this is the very time I have to read and write.  Oh well.  I’ll keep plugging away for a while, but who knows how long it will last.
  • Gaming. I deactivated my WoW account.  Which makes me kind of sad, but it doesn’t make sense to pay 14.95/month for something I don’t use.  I might step back in over the summer, but I don’t see having time to game during the school year.  Plus I have to get the new expansion.  Too many hurdles.  I definitely miss my guildmates, though.

The Holidays

  • Whenever I think I’m done, I realize I have one more thing to do.  Sigh.  I’m hoping to get everything absolutely completely done today.
  • Gifts.  We’ve tried to scale back this year, and have been mostly successful.  There will be no Santa this year for the first time ever.  Last year was the first year Geeky Girl didn’t believe, but we still did the whole putting gifts out thing.  This year, by the Geeky Kids’ request, we’re just doing stockings from “Santa”.  Everything else is from a real person.
  • Food.  The kids also requested I not do anything complicated for Christmas Eve dinner because they want to spend time with me.  Which I think is probably the sweetest thing ever.  My kids are totally awesome.  So, we’re keeping it simple.  Ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, maybe a salad.  The dessert will be made the day before.

Weight

  • I downloaded LoseIt at Jody’s suggestion and so far, I love it.
  • I haven’t done a huge amount of exercise over the last couple of days (mostly walking the dog and doing housework), but knowing I can eat a snack if I do something for 1/2 hour is pretty motivating.
  • I replaced the batteries in my Wii Balance Board, so I’m ready to rock some Wii Fit.  I have a real aversion to cold weather.
  • I’m planning to pretty much blow my calories out on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, but who knows, maybe it won’t be so bad.
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Down Time

It’s vacation time.  I have to admit I really like the longer breaks offered in the education industry.  It’s not as long as a college break, but two full weeks will do my body and mind some good.  Geeky Boy is in school until the 23rd, which still strikes me as crazy.  I feel not just for the kids, but also for the teachers, who will only get a little over a week off.  I know, more than many people, but given how many hours most teachers put in, they’ve probably earned a month off from comp time alone.

I’m not going to be taking it completely easy this break.  There’s all the Christmas stuff to do, which is mostly done, but there are a few other gifts and grocery shopping left.  I’m also going to try to work out this week.   The gym at school is open a few days this week.  Next week, I’ll be on my own, but I’m going to try to do something.  I’ve managed to work out at least once a week for the last few weeks.  My goal has been to work out 3 times/week.  I went to a regular checkup at Thanksgiving, which confirmed what I’d been feeling in my clothes and seeing in the mirror.  I’ve gained about 20 lbs. over the last couple of years.  As I’ve said many times on this blog, I have an aversion to exercise for exercise’s sake.  But I’m at the point where it feels necessary.  I figure if I keep gaining 5 lbs/year, as I have been, then I’ll be in a very unhealthy situation pretty quickly.

I’m also planning to do a little bit of programming over the break and planning my spring semester class.  Geeky Boy is currently taking the class I’ll be teaching.  I have been jotting down notes about what I want to do and it turns out they’re exactly the kinds of things Geeky Boy has been doing.  So, I’m on the right track.  It’s funny because both of these classes could have been taught in a very computer science-y way, but because they’re art classes, I’ve avoided teaching them that way.  Which is kind of too bad, but probably good, because it would be/would have been difficult to plan more computer science-y courses.  I’m looking forward to next year, when I will be teaching computer science and I don’t have to worry about being too computer science-y. 😉

But I’ll be fitting in plenty of game playing, both on the computer and off (we had a rousing game of Settlers of Catan over the weekend).  And there’ll be Christmas special watching and movie watching.  I might even catch up on blog reading and writing.

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Holiday Traditions

What I want to do today is be a slug, but instead I’ll be doing more work in preparation for being a slug later this week.  I have plans to go work out since I’m likely not to after Wednesday of this week.  I also have last-minute grocery shopping today, getting a few more things for our holiday dinner.  Our traditions have remained mostly the same, though they’ve morphed a bit as the kids have gotten older.  We no longer have to tiptoe around the Santa issue, though we do still hide the “Santa” gifts and they appear under the tree by Christmas morning.  Our gifts are going in two directions–both larger and smaller.  Either the kids want something big and that’s all they get or they have no big thing and they end up with lots of little things.  It used to be lots of medium things, from us, Santa, and relatives.  Relatives are likely now to give money or gift cards instead.  But some things remain the same.  Here’s our traditions:

  • Christmas puzzle.  We have one going, almost halfway done.
  • Dinner on Christmas Eve.  This is usually relatively formal, with the good china and silver coming out.  This year’s menu: ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls.  Warm brownies wit peppermint ice cream for dessert.
  • Champagne on Christmas Eve and mimosas on Christmas morning.  This is a new one for us, started a couple of years ago.  The other two come from my family.
  • Christmas cookies.  Used to go to Santa, of course, but now we eat them. 🙂
  • Each kid opens a present on Christmas Eve.  I won’t say what they are, in case the kids are reading, but this is always a fun tradition.
  • Christmas movies after dinner.  Often A Christmas Story.  Sometimes National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (which we’ve already watched this year).  Sometimes White Christmas or A Christmas Carol.
  • French toast on Christmas morning, made by Mr. Geeky.  This is when I get into serious slug mode.  All *my* work is done–the shopping, the cooking, the decorating–and Mr. Geeky takes over.
  • Stay in our pajamas until at least noon.  Mr. Geeky’s family was off going to various family celebrations by 9 a.m.  The first year we did things “my way,” he said, I don’t know why we didn’t always do this.  It’s great!  He’s been trying to convince his family to adopt this tradition for years.  So far, it hasn’t worked.

What are your traditions?

Review of Photo Card sites

Normally, we create our own Christmas cards.  I will often buy something that looks nice, sign them, and ship them off to friends and relatives.  We’ve done a newsletter or two, usually after big changes in our lives, like getting new jobs or moving.  This year I decided to go high tech (as I should, with a name like Geeky Mom!).  Everyone’s always clamoring for pictures of the kids, so I thought a nice card that had a few pictures would be a nice treat.  We don’t take many pictures.  We certainly don’t do formal pictures (though now I kind of wish we did).  But I gathered a few photos together that I liked and ventured off looking for a place to produce a good card out of them.

I originally started making a newsletter out of them with Pages, which, from a technical standpoint, was working well.  From a personal standpoint, I felt “ick” about it, so I dropped that idea pretty quickly.

After a Google search, I started at Tiny Prints.  (Confession: when I am searching for products or companies, I really do click on the sponsored links or the ads.  I figure if they’re smart enough to advertise on Google, they’re worth my checking out.)  Tiny Prints had some truly lovely designs and plenty that allowed several photos and so I selected one I liked and began designing.  It was easy to upload photos and I could even connect to Flickr and import photos from there, so I was cruising along.  I dragged and dropped my photos on the front and even had the option of putting more on the inside (which I did).  The whole process was very intuitive.   I wanted to have them mail the cards, so after reviewing my results, I checked the option to have them mail them.  All I needed to do then was upload a CSV file with all my recipients names and addresses.  I readied the file and went through the upload process.  It didn’t say much about what to do except that I needed to tell it what column was what.  I had combined first and last names in the first column, so I just told it that was a first name.  I had combined city and state, which it balked at, so I put them in separate columns.  But it wouldn’t overwrite my old data.  So, one by one, I deleted my old contacts and imported the newly corrected file.  It finally recognized all my contacts.  I added them to the order and then clicked the “go to cart” button.  Cart was empty!  I did this a few times and never got the cart to fill up, so I went to another site.

Next up was Shutterfly, a site I’ve used before and from which I’ve received many a card.  They do nice work.  They had nice options, though they didn’t have one with more than 4 photos.  I had 6-8 that I wanted to include.  At this point, I didn’t really care.  I just wanted to be done.  I created the card quickly and then when I got to the point of mailing out the cards, I was going to have to enter each name and address by hand.  No thank you.  I moved on.

So then I hit Kodak Gallery.  The designs there were fabulous–lots of options and plenty with more than 4 photos.  Like Tiny Prints, I could put photos on the inside and even on the back!  Very cute!  Like the other two sites, Kodak offers a “mail it for you” option.  But it, too, required hand-entering each address.  Again, I moved on.

I landed at the one of the most venerable card companies in the US, Hallmark.  They had photo cards and plenty of designs, including the one I chose, which had many photos, inside and out.  Since I’d been through the selection process and had a good idea of what kind of card I wanted, I settled on this one quite quickly.  I imagine that if you don’t know what you want, you could spend quite a while searching through the selections.  Tiny Prints offers the option of narrowing by number of photos, type of card, and even color.  Kodak did as well.  Hallmark didn’t.  You had to look through the 5 pages of designs, so that was one drawback.  But, when it came time to put address in, I easily uploaded my csv file and bingo, all my addresses were there.  And they’re there for the future, too! I can enter birthdays and anniversaries and mail cards right from Hallmark.  I like that.  So, I ended up ordering from them, even having a few extra cards shipped to me in case there’s someone I forgot.

So here’s the summary.  None of the sites really sucked.  They all had good designs and were easy to use.  Where some of them failed was in the addressing to recipients section.  I’ll give Tiny Prints a pretty big break since this portion of their site was in beta.  I’ll definitely be returning to check them out.  Generally speaking, when someone is ordering en masse, they need to send to a lot of people.  Uploading a file, or importing from any number of contact programs (as several sites offered) is an absolute necessity.  I used to be in the greeting card business, and I’m quite impressed with the offerings now available online.  Most of these sites offer all types of products besides cards–books, calendars, mugs, and more.  Some sites might be better at those things than others.

One thing I noted on all the sites was that it was geared toward people without hyphenated names or multiple names in the family (true of both the creator and the recipient). For example, I wanted to put Blank/Blankenship in the return address, but it balked at that.  And there was not enough room on most designs to put something like this, even if hyphenated.  Note to card companies: give more space for the family name. Maybe people who hyphenate or keep maiden names don’t send cards!

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Poll: Best and Worst Gifts

Many years ago, I did a poll here for the best and worst gifts you’ve ever received.  The answers tickled me.  So, what were the best and/or worst gifts you’ve ever received.

My best: my wedding ring in the shape of Queen Elizabeth’s crown

My worst: I can’t really remember, because I usually return them. 🙂 I’ve gotten some bad sweaters in my life.

Like before, I’ll post the results.

More Christmas Poetry

(because real work is too hard)

Part the first

I was dressed all in cotton, from my head to my feet,
And my clothes were all tarnished with flour and sweets.
A bundle of gifts I hauled from the trunk,
And I looked like the homeless hoarding my junk.

My eyes, how they drooped! My dimples how sallow,
My cheeks lost all their color, my whole face kind of yellow.
My sad little mouth was drawn up in a bow,
And it really looked as if I might just blow.

The stem of a glass I held tight in my fist,
And the liquid soothed all just as I wished,
Sinking down through my throat and into my belly,
Which made me feel like I was made out of jelly.

The cheer soon returned, my right jolly old self,
And I laughed as I downed yet another mad elf.
In a blink of my eye and a twist of my head,
I soon came to know I had nothing to dread.

I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,
And wrapped all the presents, then turned with a jerk.
Then laying a finger aside of the key,
And clicking the mouse, off the gifts went with glee.

I closed down my browser, and let out a long whistle,
And breathed in fresh air so that I would not fizzle.
But I say to you all, before I fade out of view,
Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year too!

The week before Christmas

And all through the house, every creature was stirring, especially the mouse.  (Computer, that is).

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that something would soon appear there.
The children are restless, about to unwind,
While visions of vacation days dance in their mind.

And pa in his sweats, and I in my robe,
Shopped online for gifts around the globe.
When out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter,
That I rose from my desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the blinds and threw up the sash.

The sun on the rain of the newly swept street,
Made it look new and uncannily neat.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the trash truck drawing ever so near.

With a shout out to pa and a rushing around,
We hauled out those cans without losing much ground.
More rapid than eagles the holidays they came
And now we knew that this was no game.

Now gift cards, now wrapping, now cooking and baking,
Don’t panic, don’t sweat it, it’s all in the making.
To Amazon-dot-com, to the end of the mall.
Dash away, dash away, dash away all.

As wild animals that before the storm all bolt,
When they see the funnel cloud drop with a jolt,
We dispersed in all directions, each on his own,
Hoping without hope to just get it all done.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard quite nearby,
The sound of the phone making its cry,
Reminding me over and over and over again,
To clean up the kitchen, to put the clothes on spin.

(To be continued . . .)

Christmas shopping: Help Wanted

We ventured to the giant mall yesterday to do the rest of our Christmas shopping.  After eating lunch and walking around for about 20 minutes, we decided to go home and shop online.  Things I hate about shopping at the mall:

1. It’s crowded.
2. It’s giant and requires a lot of walking to get from store to store–good exercise, sure, but not so good when you’re trying to be efficient.
3. Salespeople push things on you.  For most of the people I have left to buy for, I haven’t figured out what to get.  I’m just looking around, thinking about things.  I do not need people to hound me to buy something.  Note that this is different from the ones who are truly helpful.  I’m talking about the ones pushing crap you don’t want to buy.

Still, online shopping can be just as painful.  I’ve spent the better part of this afternoon looking for things.  Some things I wanted to buy, I didn’t, because they didn’t offer gift wrapping.  So I actually did a search for online shopping with gift wrapping.  These two articles gave me some ideas.

I’m still stuck, though, on what to get my father.  He’s a hard man to buy for. He’s a golfer, a wine enthusiast, and a hard-working lawyer.  He also likes biking and watching football.  You’d think I could come up with something with all that.  I’ve decided not to go in the wine direction because that’s what I did for his birthday.  I don’t know what he has golf wise.  And I’m not very knowledgeable about the other stuff.  So, I’m stuck.  What do you all suggest?