A four-year-old superhero on a special mission

Lately, my four-year-old son Rafael has been quite taken with dressing up as a superhero.  If you asked him who he was, he would probably say Captain America, but it’s more of a mashup of Spider Man, the Flash, and a few other characters, as well as a knock-off Captain America shield.

Rafael in his mashup superhero costume

Rafael in his mashup superhero costume

I was always more of a Superman fan myself as a kid, but that was probably because the Superman movies came out when I was about four. Nowadays the Marvel superheroes are all the rage.

The big difference, however, is that when I was four, I actually saw the Superman movie, but Rafael has not seen Captain America. I still have memories of sitting in a movie theater, watching Krypton get destroyed. Rafael, on the other hand, gets terrified by just about everything. He runs screaming out of the room if the Dinosaur Train episode about a hurricane is showing.

Rafael cannot wrap his head around the idea that a tv show or movie can be fun because it is a little scary.  I’d love to introduce him to some of my other childhood favorites, like Star Wars, but right now I cannot even get him to watch something even mild.  With his superhero obsession, I thought he would love the old 1980’s “Spiderman and Friends” show I found on Netflix, but he was traumatized after one episode and swore he would never watch it again.

I’m not sure how to get him past this fear of tv shows, but I have found other ways for him to be brave. Like his mail delivery mission this weekend.

Teaching my kids to be independent is important to me. As a kid, I had tons of freedom to roam the neighborhood and learn to think for myself, but somehow as a society we have become much more fearful. Crime rates are down, but people act like there are kidnappers lurking around every corner.

On Sunday morning, I had two letters to mail. It was a beautiful fall day, and I thought my son would enjoy coming with me. I often walk to the mailbox down the street with my kids and let them open the little door in the mailbox and stick the letter in.

Then, it occurred to me… this is something Rafael could do on his own.

There were no streets to cross, and he has been to this mailbox several times. He knows how to put the letters in.  The biggest concern is that the mailbox is near the corner of a busy intersection, but this didn’t worry me.

My kids are excellent at stopping at intersections.  When we walk around our home city of Cambridge, the kids ride their Razor scooters and will often zip ahead of us. And one lesson they have learned incredibly well is to stop at the intersections and wait until we arrive. No crossing the street without us. It sometimes freaks the drivers out, since they see the kids standing on the sidewalk right by the crosswalk. Cars will often stop and wait, but the kids just stand their for the 15-20 seconds until we catch up to them and tell them when it is okay to go.

Confident he could do this, I proposed the mission to Rafael. He was very excited.  We chose a spot where I would stand at one end of the block that would allow me to see him the whole way.  Then, superhero costume fully assembled, he ran off on his mission.

Rafael on his mission to mail some letters

Rafael on his mission to mail some letters

I watched him zip down the block. He went straight to the mailbox, and in the distance, I could see him reaching up to it and sticking in the letters.  Then he ran straight back, very proud of having accomplished his mission.

I couldn’t see for sure that the letters really went in the mailbox, but I trust him. If not, I’ll know why the Cambridge tax collector comes knocking on my door.

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The Lands’ End science t-shirt I bought for my daughter ends up being a surprise hit

Lands’ End caused quite the stir this past summer over their science t-shirts. As part of their 2014 clothing line, they had a series of science themed shirts with diagrams showing the planets or detailed skeletons of dinosaurs. However, when a woman wanted to buy one for her science loving daughter, she discovered they only sold the science t-shirts for boys. Girls shirts were limited to more stereotypical pinks, rhinestones, and cutesy pictures.

When the woman’s letter expressing her disappointment with Lands’ End went viral, the company found itself in the midst of a social media storm. Soon thereafter, the company relented and announced that they were starting production of versions for girls and the shirts would be available later that summer. The shirts quickly sold out.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a post on Facebook that the t-shirts were available. Remembering the story from the summer, I decided that I wanted to support the message that science is for girls too, and so I ordered one.  Now to be honest, I have no idea what it means for a shirt to be “for a boy” or “for a girl” when the kid is just six years old. Perhaps something in the stitching? No matter, I ordered one anyways.

My daughter loves Dinosaur Train and can tell you all about different dinosaurs, but I wouldn’t exactly call her “science loving” like the daughter of the woman who wrote the letter. I tell her a lot of about astronomy and evolution and the states of matter, and she listens with interest, but she also loves coloring, mermaids, and dressing up like Elsa in Frozen. Given the choice, I’m sure she would choose the type of pink t-shirts with rhinestones that Lands’ End was marketing for girls.

This is fine. I like science, and I want my kids to have access to it, but I don’t want to force it on them. She was excited to hear that I had bought her a t-shirt, but I wasn’t surprised when her face fell a little bit after seeing that it was a picture of the solar system. I liked the idea of her owning the t-shirt but wasn’t expecting much.

Lands' End's science t-shirt includes the planets but has a pinky-purple nebula in the background

Lands’ End’s science t-shirt includes the planets but has a pinky-purple nebula in the background

But, she does wear it regularly. It has some pink and purple in it that matches her clothing, and it is long sleeved, which is perfect for Fall.

A few days ago, my daughter came home with a piece of paper that had a picture of the sun with a face and an elaborate pattern around it. She likes coloring, and there was nothing unusual when she started to fill in the design with sweeping colors.

What did surprise me, however, was that she then decided to draw the earth and the moon around to the size. Then she drew Mars.  Mars?

“Are you learning about space in school?” I asked her.

“No,” she said.

I pressed her on why she decided to do this, and she said she just knew it. It was on her t-shirt.

Well, that was nice to hear, but it still seemed a little too good to be true.

The real shock came today. This morning, she dug out the piece of paper and decided to keep working on it. She wanted to put in more planets and added Saturn. Then she wanted to know more names of planets. She wanted to know what color Mercury should be, but she got upset when I said gray. The moon was already gray, and she felt that each planet should be a different color.

After a discussion about the planets and why Pluto no longer counted, she meticulously added pictures of Jupiter, Venus, Neptune, and Uranus.

Then, I noticed that she had updated her drawing of the earth by coloring in half of it black. When I asked her why half of it was black, she explained that was the side of the Earth that was in night time. This is something I have often talked with the kids about when it is night time, but I had never seen her articulate it in this way.

Ayelet wearing her space t-shirt, part way through drawing her solar system picture.

Ayelet wearing her space t-shirt, part way through drawing her solar system picture.

And she still wasn’t done. She added stars and then colored in the entire background black like space. And she still tells me that the only thing she has been doing with space is wearing her t-shirt.

For a kid who loves drawing pictures of mermaids and playing “princess” and “school”, I found this really heart warming. I just wanted to show my support for the idea that science is for girls too. But I’m glad to see it is for “my girl” too.

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Living with the iPhone 6 Plus

Whenever someone sees me with my iPhone 6 Plus, I get the same three questions, right off the bat.

First, some variant “Oh, is that the big one?”

“Yes.”

Then, with a smirk, they ask, “Does it fit in your pocket?”

“Yes, it fits in my pocket just fine.”

And then they follow up with, “Does it bend?”

“No, it doesn’t bend.”

Once they’ve gotten these three questions off their chest, we can actually have a conversation about the benefits and trade offs for the phone.

I like the iPhone 6 Plus, and I am glad I got it. The bigger screen has really changed how I use the device, and I think that is worth it. At the same time, it involves some compromises. I’m okay making them, but I don’t think it’s the decision for everybody.

So, to start with, why did I get the iPhone 6 Plus in the first place? To be honest, I hemmed and hawed quite a bit about which model to get. I printed out the paper cut outs to compare the 5S, 6, and 6 Plus. I tried out a colleague’s Galaxy Note 2, which also has a 5.5 inch screen. I could see that my thumb wouldn’t be able to reach all of the corners, but in practice how big a problem would that be?

In the end, I settled on the larger one because it has optical image stabilization and better battery life.  I know it’s silly, but it would bother me to know there is an iPhone out there with features I do not have.

The trade-off between the two phones comes down to “bigger screen” versus “one-handed use”.

The bigger screen really has a lot of benefits. The 6 Plus crosses a boundary of size that makes the device useable for a much wider range of tasks.  You can really see large chunks of web pages and take actions. I easily filled out an online donation form without hesitation on the iPhone 6 Plus, including entering the address and credit card information. On my previous iPhone 5S, I would have made an online payment like this only under duress.

Checking work email, reviewing documents, and searching for information online is quite pleasant on the larger screen. My iPad Mini had been my go-to device in the past for these tasks, but I hardly use it anymore now.

But there are definite tradeoffs. The device is frankly hard to use one-handed.  The double-tap feature Apple added to bring down the top of the screen is useful, but I still can’t reach the left-hand side. I installed a special one-handed keyboard, but unfortunately the button to switch keyboards is at the extreme left edge. I have a devil of a time switching it on unless I use my other hand.

You can type and manipulate the phone one handed, but it is awkward. To reach the left edge of the keyboard, you have to hold the phone quite low down, off of its center of gravity. When you are straining to reach the edge, you don’t hold the phone as tightly, and you worry it will slip out of my grasp.

One thing that has helped a lot is getting a case.  I bought the blue silicone case from Apple. It’s a bit more “grippy”, making me less concerned about the phone slipping out of my hand when it is off balance.

One thing that doesn’t bother me at all is using the big phone as a phone. For years now I have been using a bluetooth headset, so I never actually need to hold it up to my ear.

But despite the awkwardness, the reality is that most of the time I have both hands available for the phone. The bigger screen has enabled me to be far more productive on the go and has actually made a real change about how I use the phone.

For hardcore users like myself, I think it’s worth the tradeoff. For casual users (like my wife), I would stick with the iPhone 6.

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Answered: How long does it take AT&T to ship an iPhone?

How long does it take AT&T to ship an iPhone? Nobody knows.  Not even AT&T, as it turns out.

Since I am an early adopter without the patience to go standing in line at an Apple retail store, I decided to order my iPhone online when pre-orders started on September 12. Apple opens the online store at 3 am Eastern Time, but from past experience (yes, I am crazy and have done this before) I knew that all the maniacs like me try to hit the Apple store at once, the servers crumple.

This time, I decided to skip the frustration at set my alarm for 5am, after the initial crush but hopefully before long shipping delays started to kick in. Sadly, when I tried to log in, I got an error that the Apple Store was unavailable.  Demand for the iPhone 6 was so intense that the servers were still completely overloaded.

Instead, I decided to pop over to the AT&T online store. I knew that supplies to the carriers are more constricted, but perhaps I was in early enough. The AT&T site was working smoothly, so I was hopeful.  However, when I selected my iPhone 6 Plus, it listed as shipping in 2-3 weeks, not the 1 week that the phone would hit the stores.

After thinking it over for a minute, I concluded I could be a big boy and wait 2-3 weeks, so I went and ordered it.  It took AT&T several hours to process, and then I finally got my order confirmation number.  I logged in, and saw to my horror that the actual shipping time was expected by to be in November – 8 weeks away!

I was bummed. I felt misled. But okay, I know that supply for this is hard to manage.  It was what it was.  So I settled in for a long wait.

I checked my order each day, and to my surprise, two days later the shipping date jumped to late October.  About six weeks.  Better, at least.

I kept checking my order.  A few more days, and the order window jumped to between October 04 and October 18.  This would be 3-5 weeks from when I placed my order.  Much better.

On Wednesday, September 24th, I checked my order status first as usual, and it still had the October 04 to October 18 window.  No change.

Then, around 1pm in the afternoon, I suddenly received an email from FedEx. I was due to receive an overnight deliver package from AT&T on Thursday, September 25th.  It was my iPhone!

Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled.  But how in the space of 5 hours did my phone jump from not shipping for a few weeks to being on the way?

In the end, it arrived 13 days after I placed the order, just under the original 2-3 week shipping prediction.

But based on their order tracking system, AT&T was just as surprised as I was.

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Don’t throw out the box!

I admit it – I’m something of a hoarder. I’m alway saving those extra screws that come with “some assembly required” furniture or hanging on to old electronics cables on the theory that they might be useful some day. Most of the time, this old junk just ends up just being wasted space, although on rare occasion I do find a good use for them.

My wife is always pushing to get rid of this unneeded clutter, and we have identified the basement and my desk in the study as the two “safe zones” for stuff we don’t really need. If I can find a place for it in there, it gets to stay.

Except for boxes – they live in a strange neutral zone.

My wife has a strong argument for getting rid of them as soon as they are opened, since they clearly serve no useful purpose and are awfully bulky. However, I immediately argue that we might need to return whatever came in there, and we can’t do that without the box. She will generally concede this point, so the boxes get to linger for a month until I admit that we are clearly keeping whatever came in there. Then they get recycled. Well, except for the boxes of the iPads, iPhones, and other various Apple products I have bought. I hide them in the attic crawl space where my wife never looks.

These battle lines have remained relatively stable for 16 years of marriage, but now things are changing. Rather than just be being a debate between the two of us, our children have their own opinions. Would they be hoarders, or would they be organizers?

My daughter clearly was going to be in my camp. She objects to the disposal of any item, arguing, “I can use that!” She has visions of it become the basis of some art project and runs up to her room to hide it.

I was less certain about my son. He has a strong organizing streak from his mother and loves to help clean up, put things away, and otherwise make things orderly. It’s so strong in him that I sometimes express doubt about his paternity (jokingly, of course).

This week, we learned exactly where the apple fell.

During Rosh Hashanah services, my son refused to stay in kids groups on his own and insisted I accompany him. I wanted to finish davening, so I bribed him by promising to buy him a toy helicopter if he would stay on his own (actually, someone has explained to me this is a reward, not a bribe, since it is given after the fact).

Since he held up his end of the bargain, I held up mine. I bought him his first Playmobile toy.  When I came in the door holding it, he was over the moon with joy. There is nothing quite like the look on the face of a four-year-old child surprised to find you holding a shiny new toy. He scoured all of the pictures on the box showing its various features, and then we opened it together. After a couple of minutes of assembly work, he was off playing with it. A very happy boy.

As my wife proceeded to tidy up the kitchen, I saw her out of the corner of my eye break down the box and head towards the recycling bin.

The box is part of the excitement.

The box is part of the excitement.

“I wouldn’t do that!” I cautioned.

My wife looked at me puzzled. “Why?” Clearly we weren’t going to return it. What purpose could the box have?

I was at a loss for words. When a kid is that excited about a toy, you just can’t throw out the box. It had pictures of all the different features and ways you could play with it. It was part of the magic.

My son immediately came over crying, “No!” He wanted that box. And so, my wife handed it over, and then just hung her head. What was it about these boys and their boxes? She just didn’t understand.

For days now, the box has been floating around the house. This evening, we checked again with my son about whether he was done with it, but he said no.

“Well, in that case, we’ll have to put it in the basement,” my wife said, and he agreed.

Yep, he is my son indeed.

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On the Evolution of the House Fly

“Do you feel safe and protected?”

I often ask this question to my wife when I have achieved some manly feat of heroism, like fixing a problem with her iPad. It’s a joke, referring back to prehistoric times when a man’s suitability as a mate was directly linked to his ability to protect his family from dangerous threats like a mountain lion or rival tribe.

Nowadays, we are lucky enough to not have to worry much about wild beasts, so how do I continue to prove my worth and value? Naturally, by conquering the next most dangerous threat to human existence – technology not working as it should. This skill is in somewhat short supply, so as long as I can keep the technology in line, I am proving my worth.

“Yes, I feel safe and protected,” she will respond, indicating that her iPad is now working correctly.

However, there is one area where the traditional measure of heroism still plays out in our family: house flies. It’s summer, we have little kids, and it’s not uncommon for them to walk in leaving the screen door wide open (I’ve also been known to accidentally leave the screen door partway open every once in a while, but that is another matter). Inevitably, a large fly will find its way in before the door is shut and then proceeds to buzz around the house, driving everyone crazy – especially my wife.

It is my job to go chasing the fly around with a fly swatter, waiting for it to sit still long enough to swat it. It usually takes me a couple of tries, but when I succeed, I call out, “I got it! Do you feel safe and protected?”

“Yes,” she will answer. I feel proud.

The evolution of the house fly has always puzzled me. Why haven’t flies evolved to not fly into houses? It doesn’t make sense.

My father is a professor of evolutionary biology, and so I grew up learning all kinds of esoteric facts about biology and evolution, including dinosaurs, humans, plants, and whatnot. I’m always trying to show my kids how closely we are related to the gorillas in the zoo and point out the differences in the structure of our hands and the similarity of our ears and skulls.

I also will periodically torment my father with evolutionary questions that make no sense to me. For example, how did some animals evolve the defense mechanism of being poisonous when eaten? The point of evolution is that it’s a trait that makes you more likely to survive and pass on your genes to subsequent generations, causing them to become dominant over time. If you are eaten, you are no longer able to pass on your genes. And the predator that learns not to eat you will apply this to *all* the animals of your species, not just the ones that have the poison gene. So how would it become dominant when everyone benefits? My father has never provided a satisfying answer to this question.

And that brings me to house flies. In theory, if a fly goes into a house, it is going to get trapped there and killed. According to the theory of evolution, flies that do not go into houses should have an advantage by not dying. As a result, they should be more likely to breed, and so flies should have evolved to not go into houses and torment us. Right?

Then, last night, I realized the solution.

My wife said to me, “I don’t feel safe an protected.”

A fly had gotten in and was buzzing around, and despite repeated attempts to track it down, I hadn’t managed to kill it yet.

She was just gently teasing me, but it suddenly occurred to me… I’m much better at fixing iPads than I am at killing flies. Perhaps the problem is that the flies actually have a *better* chance at surviving inside our homes than outside where there are spiders and bats and frogs.

If I’m going to keep my family safe and protected – and steer the evolution of the fly to keep them out of the house – I’d better start improving my aim.

 

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An auto body shop that makes house calls

As I was walking back to my car Thursday evening in the Whole Foods parking lot, a person pulled up beside me and said, “Hey, do you want to fix that big dent in your bumper? I could take that out for you in five minutes.”

I stared at him in puzzlement, wondering if he was trying to scam me.

I knew immediately what he was talking about, however. Last winter, I discovered that our Honda Civic had a massive dent in the front right corner bumper. Neither my wife nor I had any recollection of how it got there, but it looked like it had either hit a snow bank or the curb.

In theory, it was something we should fix, but it was the thing I never got around to. Taking the car to the auto body shop is a major hassle, both in terms of time and expense.  While the dent was pretty major, it was still just cosmetic. We live in an urban environment, and bumps and scratches are just a part of life here. If it’s cosmetic, I don’t normally bother.

However, the damage was slightly more than just the dent. The right and left sides of the bumper seemed to have somehow popped off their clips. They weren’t hanging off, but they clearly weren’t quite attached the way they were supposed to. I would periodically shove them back in, but they would soon be sticking out a quarter inch again after a few days. It didn’t cause any problems and did just fine on the highway, but clearly it wasn’t good.

But, I’ve never bothered to do anything about it, so the problem has persisted for 8 months. So when the guy offered to fix the dent for me right there, I was unsure.

“Look, I’d be tempted,” I said, “but I have a trunk full of groceries, I still need to grab something from RiteAid next door, and my wife is waiting for me.”

“Trust me, it will take just a moment. I guarantee you I will have it fixed before you come back out of RiteAid. I have everything I need in the car, and it will cost you a fraction of what you would pay at an autobody shop. My name’s Mitch, by the way.”

I decided to take the risk. We quickly negotiated a price, and I went into the store. Five minutes later, I came back out, and he was standing next to the car. The massive bumper dent was indeed gone.  I was shocked.

He then mentioned that he was looking at the car more closely and noticed the bumper was popped out on the sides, and there were a ton of scratches on the back bumper, which also was not hanging quite right either. He could fix the broken clips of the bumper and had Honda factory paints to touch up the back.  It would just take him 15 minutes, if I was interested.

Well, now I was interested. The unclipped bumper had been bothering me, and he did a great job on the dent, just as quickly as he said he would. But, I had a trunk full of groceries and my wife was waiting for him.

“No problem”, he said.  “Do you live around here? I’ll come with you and fix it in your driveway.” It turns out his father lived right around the corner from my house, so we agreed. He parked next to our house and started to work on the car after I had unloaded the food.

Mitch fixed the dents, repaired the detached bumper, and touched up the paint, right in my driveway.

Mitch fixed the dents, repaired the detached bumper, and touched up the paint, right in my driveway.

15 minutes later, he was doing the last touchups with a blowtorch to seal the new bolt. The car was looking much better, it had cost me zero hassle, and was much cheaper than taking it to a shop.

I chatted with him a bit about his business. As a kid, he had grown up hanging around his father’s auto body shop and knew a lot about cars. In college, he studied civil engineering and architecture in college but wasn’t able to make a career out of it during the recession. Then, when his car was damaged in a hail storm and he had a shop specialist take out all the dents, it occurred to him that he knew how to do everything this guy did, and he had a brainstorm for a new business idea.

Mitch now runs a mobile auto body shop repair service.  His business has no garage (and so very low overhead), and he has a couple of guys who go around to different locations and do repairs on site. He has arrangements with many businesses to do as-needed touch ups on their trucks and vehicles, including the Whole Foods where I had met him.

At any rate, I was very impressed.  He was friendly, not pushy, his rates were good, and having the auto body shop come to you is extremely convenient.

Need some work done? Give Mitch a call – it’s worth it.  857-333-4552.

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