Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Earthquake Followup -- Digital and NonDigital Resources

Parenting during a mild/moderate earthquake -- any teachable moments? 5.4 (not gigantic) earthquake caused all sorts of consternation in my 100-year old 2-story house. First, I wasn't home, so my kids called me on the cell immediately. By the time I got home, my husband had fielded calls from my sister overseas and his mom in the central valley.

Lesson #1 -- The Phone. It is good to know where everyone is. The phone system evidently was stressed even by this level of activity, so good to be able to call OUTSIDE the area. My sister is our outside-of-California contact. Cell phone systems are reputed to be robust in such a circumstance, but Verizon Wireless anecdotally was supposedly stressed to points of non performance even with this low level (read "none") of damage. Officially, their representative, Bill Kula, told Associated Press that the landline systems were stressed in that area, but cell was fine.

Lesson #2 -- In this day and age, how to find out what is going on. Good old Radio. KPCC, NPR radio, fairly quickly came to a 5.8 (later revised to 5.4) and Chino Hills epicenter. The family at home had shifted to TV, which just had talking heads. Twitter had some good echos from friends and turned out to be a good way to get a quick word out that everything was fine.

Lesson #3 -- Good online sources. IF you keep your power and broadband service, do remember the great resources at Cal Tech and US Geological Survey. The latter has great tools at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/dyfi/ -- "Do You Feel It?" Survey. You can log what you experienced and they use it for planning and information. Pretty cool! You can show your kids what it looked like on an experience map, then go look at other (bigger) quakes. You can also check out all the aftershocks.

They also have a great toolset of information for kids, good especially if it is their first quake: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learning/kids

My son thought it was fun. All my kids found the doorways, so I guess I'm glad for small favors in that this provided good practice. Lovely Southern California...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Digital Mornings vs. Digital Evenings -- Disconnected Media

When does it make sense to immerse yourself in digital media? For me, it flushes away the 5-8 am hours when the laptop takes over while the family sleeps on weekends. It used to be walking and reading time for me -- instead it is sucked into emails, blogging, Twitters, and dealing with business/politics by email.

For my kids? Digital connectivity increases as the evening goes on. Everyone, left to their own desires, would each be connected to something in our digital flow in a different room all evenings. My husband? Message boards on scale modeling. My oldest? Tokyopop.com. My middle? Games, games, games. My youngest? Actually reading a book while blasting classical music on the radio. (Have I mentioned that she is a little 60-year-old person in a 10-year-old body?)

As for me -- I stare at their heads, holler for them to come into the living room, and try to figure a connected evening together...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A missing voice -- what a change! -- and some digital alternatives for his company

My son is off at Boy Scout camp -- with no devices. No phone, no gaming system, no music. He's not all that plugged in versus his friends so the loss won't be that big for him...and he'll have plenty to do.

My remaining family -- transformed. With one less voice, it is strangely much quieter. Now, that's in part to my daughters not being harangued by a teasing brother for hours on end. We've had quieter hours all around, as my daughters have found ways -- digital and not -- to occupy their time with simpler pursuits.

My oldest is studying for her Mandarin final the old fashioned way: reviewing paper notes and speaking with one of her Chinese-speaking friends live (not by phone) for 1-1/2 hours last night at her house. She did tiptoe into TokyoPop's graphic novel reader this morning before we knew she was stirring, but did finally stumble down to breakfast.

My youngest is reading two newer The Warriors books (by Erin Hunter) without worrying about her brother taking them before she is done.

At the same time, she is the one wanting to plug in more to make up for her brother's absence, as they tend to spend every waking moment together. I acquiesced and let her use my Netflix subscription for its instant viewing option. And she is sorely disappointed, as the movie she was watching last night stopped and asked her to wait over an hour for the download. This doesn't make sense to her 10-year-old mind. We explained bandwidth and pipes for about 15 minutes, and she still shook her head as to why this happens with our cable modem. Not only do we have 3 shared computers but in the evening we are sharing the pipe with all our neighbors who are online. So in the morning? Not so much a problem.

So we have a little piece and a bit more quiet than normal and we're finding a little more space in our week for solo work. Nice every so often!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Google's Lively -- more than hanging with 20 year olds from Ireland?

I've peeked into Google's Lively virtual world a few times in the past two weeks. It's like Second Life with premade stuff (rooms, furniture) and based on rooms, so a bit Habbo Hotel-ish. You can add music, which does add some interesting atmosphere.

You are supposed to be older than 13 to use it, etc., which means you have a place for 14 year olds and up all in one bucket.

So the other evening I spent some wasted time building a few rooms (Video coffee bar and Goth Room) from starters with furniture and enjoyed the creative elements of taking videos from YouTube and photos from Picasa and adding them as room elements -- screens, floors, room dividers.

Then I went into some of the more popular rooms. Findings?
-- Blaring music and basic public spaces
-- Interesting internationally themed rooms -- for users from France, Brazil, Portugal, etc.
-- Young men who had changed nothing about the standard starter character's looks (so all looked nearly the same) all telling everyone their ages and countries (e.g. 23, Ireland). Many of them were using the kicking and punching aspects to throw punches at each other.
-- A smaller proportion of young women standing around in vapid conversations with same guys above.
-- Folks just wandering around.

Most folks were just citing how boring it is. What all can it be instead? Art sharing rooms? Video screening rooms?

The second most asked question, according to Lively's FAQ, is How can I create items? The answer is that for now they are just createable by professionals.

How Lively is that?

Summer -- Digital Family Style -- Earning Fun

So how has summer changed?

When I was growing up, we would bum around, my sister and I. Both my parents worked and we were expected to do chores, go to the movies, read, go to friends houses. I'd need to earn my allowance, which gave me my budget for summer fun.

With my three children's friends families, they all seem to overbook summer. Summer school, family trips, summer programs with museums and organizations. Mom and dad might both work, if there are both, but the kids are expected to be booked up, just like during the school year.

My own kids are enjoying a mixed summer. They are going to the community pool together, reading, using the slip & slide, heading to the local movies, and getting together with friends. But their friends are hyperbooked -- traveling, in summer programs, not around.

Where does the digital media side fit in? If it was up to my tween son, he'd be on computer games all summer and never see the outside of the house. We have limited him to about 2 hours max/day, which he has to "earn" with points for chores and doing good things without being asked. Our Point system we set up when the kids were very small, giving them colored stones in a jar for doing things without being asked. That has turned into a long-term ecosystem, with scores on the refrigerator by child. Points are spent on TV (unless watching it with a parent), computer time, and buying things. A point is a dollar in the real world. TV time is 3 points per half hour and computer time is similar (depending on if the child had bought the game).

The nice impact this summer is that the kids are budgeting their resources, taking on small projects around the house in order to earn more TV and computer time (with so much spare time in hand). My kitchen is cleaner, weeds are pulled, and most of the laundry is done.

What are they choosing to do with digital media?
-- Youngest is on Webkinz, but mostly spending her hard-earned points on the critters themselves. It is hard to earn that many points regularly without doing a lot of household chores. She is doing a nice job on the lawns and small yard tasks. She also makes everyone lunch, which earns her points. Excellent at Top Ramen and sandwiches. Mac & cheese is a favorite. She even cleans up after cooking for extra points.
-- Tween son has been doing more kitchen duty like breakfast and dishes. Points earned go right to computer time.
-- Teen daughter? She is reading and writing her summer, as well as taking Mandarin at the local community college. Her use of earned points? She's catching up on past series with Hulu.com. I've just bequeathed to her our Netflix subscription so that she also can (a) shephard our orders to plan family viewing and (b) see the first two seasons of Doctor Who on demand streamed right to her computer.

Our Points system has infiltrated a few other homes over the past few years, as other parents have asked us for tools on how to help them offer media as a choice and reward instead of an entitlement. My kids have developed wonderful skills, judgment, and budgeting talents. They know they have tradeoffs to make.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Finding Information Online -- The Family Soap Opera and Teachable Moments

Yesterday was a teaching tool time in two weird ways:

Saga #1 -- My car started making crazy, metal chattering noises half-way through my drive to UCLA. It had made some muttering noises the day before, so I had taken it to my local shop. 20 minutes later they had found nothing after checking all the hoses and belts. I've had this car for 8 years and 165,000 miles. I knew something wasn't right, but they patted my head nicely and told me not to worry. So the next day when it started getting mad and making these metal-on-metal rattling noises, I was worried despite having no warning lights.

So with my government-insisted headset on (which I've been using for years already), I called my husband on the cellphone to find the nearest dealer to my location. I didn't want to get this car on the freeway.

So my husband gave me an address -- and nothing was there. No car dealer service people, no sign. Lots of car dealers -- just not this one.

So I called my husband back. Where did he get this information? It was from an online site that had all the car dealers in this area. So I asked him to go directly to Chyrsler (yes, a Chrysler) and look at their site. I got an indignant response -- why would their information be any better? With my car chattering away, I sweetly responded that they would be responsible for updating at least their own information, and this other site had no such motivation and no reason to believe that they would stay valid...

End result -- finally found them on my own 1-1/2 miles later while husband was still defending his original online site. Car will be in the shop for quite a while with possible engine or other malady. Three technicians already stood over it clucking for a while, agreeing I shouldn't take it back on the road. Got a mediocre deal from Enterprise for the rental car, as they saw I was in need...should have booked online.... :)

Saga #2 -- I had asked my responsible 15 year old (not an oxymoron) to check out roundtrip train fare from LA to Washington DC for a possible vacation. So yesterday I asked for the results. She had procrastinated as she didn't know how to get started. Last night, I spent some time with my oldest daughter at my right elbow and youngest at my left showing them (a) how to find Amtrak and use the website to look at possible trips (yikes, quite expensive for the right to sit up and sleep for 3 nights) and (b) while we were at it look at how to register for Comic-Con in San Diego this month.

They were surprised for the latter that some tickets were sold out and their procrastinating actually cost them opportunity. So from this endeavor, they learned how to investigate options on a service/sale site AND they learned that a stitch in time saves nine...or something like that.

Not sure what my husband learned from my car incident. I think I learned to instead say a sweet thank you, then pull over to the side of the road and use my Blackberry and offdeck search with Google or Yahoo myself.