My favorite travel gear – electronics edition

As I have spent more time traveling over the past several months, I’ve settled on a set of must-have electronics that make the logistics a lot easier. I thought I would share some of my favorites.

Take the HEAVIER iPhone charger

Usually, the first rule of traveling is the keep things as light weight as possible, but I have found that the opposite is true for your iPhone charger. The usb charger that Apple ships with each iPhone is small and portable, but its output is also just 5 watts. This is fine for plugging in overnight or if you can stay put for a few hours.

However, when you are traveling, you often don’t have these kinds of charging luxuries. Your phone is working overtime as you rely on it for both data connectivity and directions via GPS. Your days are much longer, as you get up earlier than normal for an early train or catch a late flight home. It’s not uncommon to find your phone running uncomfortably low on battery.

While you are grabbing a quick dinner at the airport or waiting 15-20 minutes for your flight to begin boarding, you might spot an available outlet to plug in. Sadly, that 5W charger just won’t do a lot of good for a quick charge in this situation. You might get a couple of percentage points back, but it won’t help much.

For these situations, I have taken to traveling with an iPad charger instead of the ones meant for an iPhone. It takes the same USB lightning cable that works with the phone, but it delivers a lot more power: 12 Watts. For just a little more weight and bulk, I can drive a lot more electrons in the the phone’s battery during these short charging windows.

More outlets when you need them

The design of many hotel rooms kind of baffles me. There just aren’t enough plugs for all the gadgets I travel with. I have a laptop, an iPhone, an iPad, and a bluetooth headset, but more often than not there are hardly any plugs. The ones that are there are many times hidden behind nightstands or unhelpfully located in the bathroom. It’s a real hassle trying to plug everything in.

For these situations I always travel with an ultra slim usb charger. I stumbled on this device at a Rite Aid with a Philips label, but I have found it under other sellers, including someone called XTG.

This charger is completely flat but provides two power outlets and two USB ports.

This charger is completely flat but provides two power outlets and two USB ports.

It’s an amazing device. It’s completely flat and folds to just a half inch thick, which makes it easy to slip into a laptop bag. However, a plug pops out the back to plug it into a wall plate. It then provides two well spaced AC adapters and two USB adapters. From just one plug, I can hook up my computer, my iPad, my iPhone and my USB headset. The USB ports don’t provide enough amperage to charge an iPad, but they will work for smaller devices like an iPhone or a bluetooth device.

The other nice thing about this device is it allows me to split any plug. If I am desperately searching around for a place to charge my phone at an airport but all plugs are taken, I can ask to share someone’s plug by using this device to “split” one plug into two.

A really short extension cord

Another very handy item to carry around is a really short extension cord… just 12 inches! Apple products are nice, but when you bring the MacBook’s travel charger, it doesn’t always fit so well into the available plug. Many AC ports in conference rooms are recessed into the table for aesthetics, and sometimes the weight of the charger pulls it out.

This nice, short extension cord makes it easy to reach anywhere

This nice, short extension cord makes it easy to reach anywhere

A nice, short 1 foot extension cord has a nice narrow plug that you can fit into even the most cumbersome AC outlets. It’s also quite handy when the one available outlet in the hotel room is behind the bedside table. I often use this in combination with the ultra slim USB charger (above).

A retractable HDMI cable

I generally rely on loading up my iPad or iPhone with some movies or videos to relax, and when I am in a hotel room in the evening, I can also supplement with streaming video from Netflix or Hulu. Sure, I can watch on the small screens, which is fine for an airplane, but in the hotel room, it feels like kind of a waste. There’s this nice big HDTV just sitting there.

Invariably, I have found that these TVs have extra ports in the back, including an HDMI. So rather than watch on the small screen, I just use an HDMI adapter to hook my iPad or iPhone right up to the TV and watch on the big screen.  The only catch is that most of these devices have no available cable, so I need to provide my own HDMI cable, which is bulky.

This retractable HDMI cable is just a few inches wide but expands to over four feet long.

This retractable HDMI cable is just a few inches wide but expands to over four feet long.

I found this nice retractable HDMI cable, which takes up very little space in my laptop bag but lets me watch TV in comfort.

Noise Canceling Headphones

And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my Bose Quiet Comfort 25 noise canceling headphones. They don’t block all noise, but they really take the edge off of the drone of a loud airplane or train.

These noise canceling headphones can block out the loud drone of the airplane or the rumblings of a snoring child.

These noise canceling headphones can block out the loud drone of the airplane or the rumblings of a snoring child.

I’ve also found that they do an excellent job of silencing the sound of my daughter’s snoring on those nights when she insists of coming into our bed at 4am and cannot be convinced to go elsewhere.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Shortcut: How to cheat when your child tells you to close your eyes

With my kids now ages five and seven, they often get quite involved in their projects. They will build forts out the couch, or draw elaborate pictures and mazes, or set up theatrical performances for us to watch.

They are so proud of these creations that they don’t want to show them off until they are ready. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have walked in the door at the end of the day to be greeted by horrified squeals from my kids as they shout, “Don’t look! Don’t look!”

The only proper response to this is “I’m closing my eyes!”, shortly followed by “I didn’t see anything!”  And this is mostly true, because frankly I had no idea what the chaotic activity they were involved in was supposed to be. I then exit the room so I can open my eyes again.

This works fine up to a point. The problem is that invariably, the kids are not 30 seconds away from being done. It might be 5 minutes, it might be 10, it might be longer. Our house is small, and I cannot avoid going into the living room if they are working on their secret project there.

There’s a limit to how long I can keep my eyes closed for.

Several months ago, I figured out a shortcut for this problem. Kids have a very naive understanding of what it means to close your eyes. To them, if they cannot see your eyes, they assume you cannot see anything. So as long as your eyes are hidden from their view, they will be fine.

Now, when I am told to close my eyes, I cover them with my hand. My kids are thrilled, because in their mind, I have created an impenetrable wall through which I cannot see.

My eyes are closed, right?

My eyes are closed, right?

The reality is that I haven’t covered my eyes; I have just tented them. My hand is at an angle that blocks my vision straight out, but otherwise I can see all around me.

I can see around me just fine.

I can see around me just fine.

This gives me enough vision to move around the room and find whatever I need… provided I can do it one-handed.

And the best part is that the kids keep working on their “secret” project – independently.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Solved: How to move iPhone contacts to a different account on the device itself

Last week, I discovered that my wife’s iPhone has been incorrectly saving all new contacts locally on the iPhone, rather than storing them in Gmail.

I stumbled on the issue when setting up a new MacBook Pro for her to replace the four-year-old Mac laptop she had been using, which stopped working. I set up iCloud so that she could send and receive text messages from the desktop, and I noticed that all of the recipients showed up as just phone numbers since the contacts were not synced on the computer.

I assumed this would be a quick fix and imported her gmail account into the Mac’s address book, but to my surprise, this only partially fixed the problem – about a 1/3 of the contacts still showed up as phone numbers. I spent a while tracing the problem back and discovered that under the settings for “Mail, Contacts, Calendars”, the setting for “Default Account” for contacts was “iPhone”.

I’m not exactly sure how this happened, but my guess is that at some point when we were reconfiguring the phone, we temporarily removed her gmail account, and it probably then automatically reverted this setting to save contacts on the iPhone. Then, when we added the account back, we never thought to go in and change it.

The problem had clearly been going on for a while, as there were 83 contacts stored only on the iPhone. We needed to fix it, and it was too many to do manually. I first looked to see if I could edit contacts on the iPhone and switch what account they were synced to, but there was no option. I then spent some time googling around for solutions to this, but the answers were much too complicated. They involved syncing the phone to the Mac address book and then importing them into gmail. I wanted something much easier.

At last, I stumbled on a discussion group that mentioned Orbi Tools. It’s a $0.99 app that was designed to allow users of the Orbi service to upload contacts from their phone into their cloud offering. However, it allows you to move contacts from one account on your iPhone into any other account.

The interface was simple, but it was unable to identify the gmail account by name.

The interface was simple, but it was unable to identify the gmail account by name.

I downloaded it and selected the option to move contacts. The interface was a little clunky, as it did not list the gmail account by name, but rather just “CardDAV, Address Book”. However, it was the only online account on the phone, so I figured it had to be the right one. It showed me all 83 contacts but gave me an option to move them all rather than selecting them individually.

The contacts were automatically imported.

The contacts were automatically imported.

After working for a minute, the contacts were imported. Within minutes, the contacts synced through gmail back to her Mac, and all of the text messages contacts displayed properly.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How my iPhone 6 Plus wore out the pocket of my jeans

At this point, I’m fairly used to people jokingly asking me if my iPhone 6 Plus fits in pocket. Yes, it fits, no problem.

Well, as it turns out, “no problem” turns out to be a slight exaggeration.

A few weeks after I bought the phone, I decided to get a case to make it easier to hold. The phone’s larger size made it harder to use one handed, and I was constantly afraid that the smooth metal back would slip out of my hands while I was straining to reach characters on the far left of the keyboard.

At the time, case options for the new phone were few and far between, so I chose Apple’s blue silicon case. The rubbery silicon was very grippy, making me less worried about accidentally dropping it.

The case did have some downsides, however. Because it was so grippy, it was much harder to put in and take out of my pocket.  Whereas I could just slip my old phones in and out, the silicone would grab the edges of the pocket, requiring a lot of tugging.

Also, the case added a lot of bulk. Part of the beauty of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is how thin the phones are, but that was mostly undone by the case. The large surface area of the 6 Plus is offset by its thinness, but the added thickness of the case made it seem much more massive.

And then my jeans wore out.

Now, to be clear, my jeans wearing out is not a surprising thing. Every few years, I buy two identical pairs of Gap 32×32 jeans, straight cut. I wear them a few times a week throughout most of the year until they wear out, and then I replace them. I’ve had my current set for a couple of years now, so they are about due for replacement.

What was surprising was how the they wore out. The right pocket started to fray rather badly.

The pocket of my jeans wore out prematurely from constantly getting caught on the iPhone's silicone case.

The pocket of my jeans wore out prematurely from constantly getting caught on the iPhone’s silicone case.

After puzzling about it for a minute, I realized that the constantly tugging on the fabric from the case had slowly but surely ripped apart the pocket lining over the past few months. I was vaguely aware that it was a bit of a pain to slip the phone in and out of my pocket, but I hadn’t realized the damage it was doing to the jeans.

I decided it was time to get rid of the case. I had become more comfortable with the weight and balance of the phone, so I was less worried about dropping it. After searching around for a while, I found a nice skin that I could put on the back of the phone from DecalGirl. This would make the phone more distinguishable from everybody else’s and still add some extra friction so that I would be less likely to drop it.

As soon as I took the phone out of its case and put the skin on, I became much happier with it. In addition to easily slipping in and out of my pocket, the return to thinness made it much more pleasing to hold and use. I regretted not doing it sooner.

Of course, I did drop it a few days later. Not by typing it one handed, though. I was in an airport electronics shop, and they sold an armband for runners that claimed to fit the 6 Plus. Curious, I held my phone up to it, and it somehow slipped out of my hand and fell from shoulder height onto the hard tile floor.

Everyone in the shop froze and looked at me in horror, realizing what had happened. I bent down and picked up the phone to examine it. It was fine, not even a scratch.

Since then, I haven’t dropped it again (yet). And of course I have bought some new jeans.

Gap straight fit 32×32, just like always.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Shortcut: Convert unwanted retail store gift cards into iTunes credits

Gift cards always make me a little uncomfortable. I worry that I am going to stick them in a drawer somewhere and forget about them, effectively wasting the money on them. So when I get one, I find myself rushing to spend it as quickly as possible.

I used to have similar problems with prepaid credit cards, which are hard to spend down completely, until I learned you could convert them into credits on Amazon and then buy whatever you wanted or save towards a future purchase. But gift cards left me stumped. You have to need something at a specific store and then remember to bring the card with you.

I recently found myself in this situation with a BestBuy gift certificate. We upgraded my wife’s phone, and as part of some incentive deal, BestBuy gave us a $50 gift card. I couldn’t apply it to the current purchase, only to a future visit.

The problem is that I didn’t actually need anything at BestBuy. As a technologist, this surprises even me, but somehow I just didn’t. The closest I came was needing to replace the remote control for the TV, but at the time I was far from a BestBuy and found it much more convenient to pop in at the MicroCenter around the corner from my house. So the gift card went unused for months.

Then, I found my opportunity. I decided it would be useful when traveling to have a 12 watt iPad charger to use with my phone. The idea was that when I was on the go, I might need to top up my battery, but timing can be tight. I would perhaps have only 20-30 minutes to recharge, and I wanted to be able to pump as many electrons into my phone as possible. Apple’s lightweight phone chargers have a lower wattage and so charging is limited in a short window. However, the higher wattage of the larger and heavier iPad charger would be much more effective for a short burst – worth the weight trade-off.

This was more of a “nice to have” than a necessity, but I had the $50 gift card, so it would effectively be free. I stopped in at a BestBuy and quickly found the charger. Oddly, to my disappointment, the charger was only $20. I would still have $30 left over. I started casting around for something else to buy to use up the remaining $30, but nothing leaped out. I had plenty of lightning cables, my phone case was fine, I was coming up empty…

I was about to give up and just be left with another $30 on the card when I saw my opportunity. Up at the registers, they were selling more types of gift cards, including ones for iTunes.  We are cord-cutters, so between buying shows on the Apple TV and purchasing phone apps for the family, we always have charges from iTunes showing up on the credit card.

I realized I could just buy iTunes gift cards and apply them as a credit to my account. I would naturally spend the remaining $30 over the next several months without having to remember to use the gift card. Conveniently, they had a three-pack of $10 gift cards, so when combined with the charger, it came to $50.18. I gave the clerk the BestBuy card and then paid the $0.18 extra.

So, have a gift card you aren’t sure how to spend? Check near the front of the store and see if they sell other types of gift cards. You might find a way to transfer the credits somewhere else that would be more useful.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How Twitter saved my credit card

Once again, staying active on Twitter has paid off. This time, it saved my credit card.

For a few days between Christmas and New Year’s, my wife and I took a short trip to New York City while the kids visited with their grandparents. We mostly stayed in Brooklyn, touring various neighborhoods and sampling the excellent restaurants.

On our last night, we had a fabulous dinner at Zizi Limona, a Mediterranean-themed restaurant in the Williamsburg area. The menu was extremely creative, giving an authentic yet unique spin on Mediterranean cuisine. We also had a great time chatting with our waiter, Ben, who discussed the composition of each of the dishes and what we should make sure not to miss.

Part of the decor of the restaurant was a wall of Mediterranean products, like zaatar spice, tahina, and so forth. My wife loves cooking and couldn’t help herself from exploring the shelf and grabbed a few things to buy to take back home.

As we were wrapping up our check, we talked to Ben about what we were buying and mentioned that we had decided not to get the pomegranate syrup since they probably would not let us on the plane with it the next day. He asked where we were going, and when he heard we were flying back to Rochester, NY to pick up our kids, we had a whole conversation about the city. It turns out he had spent some time dancing with Garth Fagan Dance and had lived there for a while.

After we paid, we grabbed an Uber back to our hotel, about 15 minutes away. As we rode, I caught up on Twitter on my phone and was surprised to see myself mentioned in a post just a few minutes earlier:

Yep, I had somehow managed to leave my credit card with the receipt when we left. I must be slipping in my old age. We asked the driver to turn around and take us back to the restaurant.

When I arrived, the staff were very excited to see me. They became very worried when they realized I had left my credit card, since they knew we were flying out the next afternoon. So, they plugged the name on the credit card into Google to see if they could find a way to reach me.

“Man, you are all over the internet,” they told me. As I have found before, having a hyphenated name makes it very easy to Google me, and this has come in very useful in the past as well.

One of the staff members had a Twitter account, so they tried reaching out to me there. And sure enough, it worked.

Had they not done this, I would have been in for a major headache. True enough, I surely would not have discovered the card was missing until the following day. They don’t open until 5pm on weekdays, and it would have been too late.

Thank you, Ben and Bastien!

And if you find yourself in Brooklyn, definitely try Zizi Limona.  It’s great food, and the staff is awesome.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

I can admit it: I’m superstitious

Living in Boston, I am surrounded by devoted fans of the Red Sox and Patriots. I don’t really follow sports, and I am always caught by surprise when I see lots of people wearing sweatshirts with the Patriots logo or Red Sox t-shirt. It then soon dawns on me that there must be an important game that day, which I would have known if I followed the teams.

What most often surprises me is just how fanatical many people are. On game days, my Twitter and Facebook feeds becomes jammed with endless posts about the minutia of the game. People are acting as though everything in their lives hang on how a random group of a dozen guys perform in a sporting match. I don’t really understand it.

One thing I do get, however, are the superstitions. People tell crazy stories about how they are convinced that some silly thing they do is affecting the outcome of the game, and then they go out of their way to do (or not do) this special act to ensure more wins for their team.  Things like, “Every time I wear my white Red Sox shirt, they win, so I am going to wear it every game day.”

I get it. I’m very superstitious myself, with good reason.

Anyone who has worked with computers or supported production systems knows what little devils they can be. Programs that worked fine will suddenly start showing freak bugs. Application servers will mysteriously lock up in a way you have never seen, causing an outage. It’s like the computers are just saying to themselves, “Let’s find some creative way to rile everybody up today.”

Just like sports fans who somehow think their small decisions affect the outcome of the games, I get the same feeling sometimes. In particular, I get really worried about jinxing things by what I say. The following terms are on my list to never say out loud, because you are just asking for trouble:

  1. I think that we are out of the woods now.
  2. That must have been what caused the bug.
  3. What are the odds of ___?
  4. It’s fixed.

Unfortunately, I know that my superstitious nature makes me do some weird things sometimes. Like this past weekend’s incident with the filing envelope.

Each year, I buy a 13-pocket folder from Staples. I assign each pocket a category: bank statements, credit card bills, utility bills, etc. During the year, I put all the bills into the appropriate folder. This way, when I want to refer back to something, I know just where to find it. Then, when the year is over, I stick it in the crawl space in the attic where my wife agrees we can keep useless stuff like this (in other words, out of sight). Yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder.

I like the folder, so I always buy the same one at Staples. It’s blue, it has customizable tabs, and the bottom expands so that it can accommodate lots and lots of documents. One year, they did not have it in blue, so I bought it in red. But in general, I get the blue one.

New Year’s is just around the corner, so it’s time for me to buy a new one for 2015. This past weekend, I stopped in at a Staples to buy it. I looked and looked, but I couldn’t find it. They had various types of folders, but not my color, and not with the expanding bottom.

Then, I noticed that another woman next to me looking at the pocket folders had a shopping basket, and right on top was the very blue 13 pocket folder I was looking for. I asked her where she found it, and she pointed down to a bottom shelf. The folder wasn’t there, but when I moved another product out of the way, I found my style hiding behind it.

There were two left. One in red.  One in yellow. None in blue.

I was in a quandary. Should I buy it in the wrong color? Should I search elsewhere?

Now my full superstitious side came out. What would happen if I didn’t have a blue one? One year I bought a red one. Was that a good year? What if it was a bad year, all because I bought the wrong color?

And what about the woman buying the blue one? Did she need a blue one, or was that just the first color she picked up? I even thought about asking her if she would mind trading colors and letting me have the blue one, but I recognized how ridiculous this sounded.

Finally, I grabbed the red one, paid for it, and left.

But even so, it nagged at me. Enough that the next day, on my way to work, I stopped in at a different Staples to see if they had blue ones. Sure enough they did, so I exchanged it.

I am the first to admit that this behavior is ridiculous. I love science, and I love mathematics. I try to be pragmatic and think about the likelihood of various outcomes when I make plans. So why do I feel that my filing folder must be a specific blue model from Staples?

I have no idea. But, fortunately I live in Boston, the heart of Red Sox Nation. I am surrounded by superstitious people. I may not be able to convince myself that my quality of life hangs on the outcome of a ball game, but these are still my people.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Home Depot is missing a huge opportunity by not selling toy tools for kids

This morning, I needed to make a trip to the Home Depot to pick up a dehumidifier and some other supplies.  My older daughter was having a playdate with some friends, and I needed to coax my younger four-year-old son into coming with me so that he wouldn’t disrupt them.

What can be more exciting for a young boy than going to the hardware store to buy a dehumidifier, right? My son was not particularly interested.  However, I am not above bribery. I casually suggested that perhaps we could find a toy tool for him while we were there, and he perked right up.  Within minutes, he was getting dressed and ready to go.

My son loves to build, and he treasures a set of plastic Black and Decker tools given to him by his aunt and uncle. Whenever I have a project to do around the house, I suggest he “help” me with his own tool set.  I will give him “turns” with his screw drivers and wrenches, and generally I am able to hold his interest long enough to get the job done.

Over the last year or two, some of these plastic tools have become lost or broken, and having another gadget wouldn’t hurt either. I just assumed that Home Depot would sell these things, since it aligns so well with the rest of their merchandise. Right?

Not so much. When we arrived, I asked if they had toy tools for kids. The greeter started to walk around some of the bargain tools at the front, suggesting real hammers and wrenches, but this wasn’t what I had in mind. While my son is capable, I am not about to give him a metal hammer to whack things with.

We made our way down to the hardware section, assuming that we would pass some end cap with a display of toy tools for kids, but there was nothing.  There were endless aisles of power tools, but no toy versions.

Frankly, I’m rather incredulous. I was not the only parent with a young child in tow. Home Depot even has a set of special carts made to look like race cars for young kids. How are they missing this mark opportunity?  They clearly know parents shop their with kids. Along with the Christmas decorations we passed a selection of toy cars and remote controlled helicopters.  But no tools.

If I were Home Depot, every major department would have a small display of cheap plastic tools for the kids. Hardware? Screwdrivers and toy hammers. Wood? Saws and pretend boards. Plumbing? Wrenches and tubing. Winter gear? Kids shovels… the list is endless.

Because here is the thing: trying to do any home repair job with a kid is a challenge. Parents are desperate for ways to keep their offspring occupied while they try to get the job done. Home Depot could be marking these products up 50% and parents would still pay when they see a great opportunity for a distraction.

My son was obviously disappointed, so I gritted my teeth and drove across the street to Target. Sure enough, I found a Black and Decker construction set that came with a plastic screw driver and five projects that could be assembled by kids age 3+.

My son loved putting together a small plastic birdhouse with this "tools".

My son loved putting together a small plastic birdhouse with this “tools”.

My son loved it.  While I set up the dehumidifier and reorganized the basement, he built all five of the possible projects using his plastic screw driver.

Home Depot, that $19.95 I spent at Target could have been yours!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment