The beard

On his mission, Alex wasn’t allowed to have facial hair. He’ll be leaving for BYU in a few weeks, where beards are forbidden (mustaches are okay, but they’re definitely not in vogue). So, in these few weeks, he’s decided to grow a bit of a beard. Here’s the progress:

Like me, he doesn’t get much action along the lines of his jaw, and I guess above his lip it’s all blond hair that really doesn’t show. So he decided to just keep the fuzz along the bottom of his chin. It’ll be interesting to see how far along this gets before he has to shave for school.

“I’m not that hungry”

How many kids have turned up their noses at dinners they didn’t like, and then given the excuse they’re “not that hungry” so they won’t eat it? Zaque is a master, as evidenced by a recent dinner:

As Yoda famously said to Luke, “How you get so big, eating food of this kind?” I have no idea how Zaque is the size he is, since he rarely has much dinner…

American health care sucks

At Zing we’re talking about changes to our employee health-care program, and at the same time I’m watching the slowly-unfolding train wreck that is the Republicans’ tax bill, all the while tracking the unbelievable increase in health insurance premiums from year to year.

That’s why this quote by Cory Doctorow resonated with me:

For-profit healthcare is a disaster at every level, from insurers to hospitals to doctors’ practices to the pharmaceutical industry. That’s why Americans spend more per capita to receive worse care that produces worse outcomes than anyone else in the developed world, where socialized and regulated medicine are the norm.

Although I understand there are drawbacks to fully socialized health care, I can’t believe people still think the American health care system is reasonable.

(Oh, wait, the people who do think that are the ones who stand to profit from it! Of course…)

Desktop inception

So the movie Inception is not only good, but it’s perfect for jokes involving multiple layers of things. This morning I was in a conference call and we were sharing screens with one another. At one point my screen showed his screen, which was showing my screen, and we were off to the races.

Here’s the craziness that ensued:

If I hadn’t switched to a different window, it might’ve caused a rip in the fabric of space-time or something. Whew!

The tradition continues

I’ve been sending Christmas cards to family and friends since 1995, and the scale of the effort continues to grow each year. This year’s list of recipients is just shy of 350, which of course means a lot of printing and envelopes and postage. It’s quite a production, and one which has consumed the past few weekends.

For many years, I would put together elaborate newsletters and photo collages and that sort of thing. One fateful year– 2009, to be exact– I was doing my usual work on our card, and came up with the design we’d send to the printing company.

That looks pretty good, right? Well, when I was taking the pictures, I mentioned that we should all make a goofy pose. We did, and I tested it on the card layout:

The kids absolutely loved it. They thought it would be so funny to send this as our annual card. So, okay, I did. I was (pleasantly) surprised at the number of people who mentioned how much they enjoyed our irreverence.

Thus, the tradition was born. The next year I wondered what we could add to our funny faces. The answer: head over to Target and have everyone pick out a hat to wear. We stood in the store, trying on hats, and eventually asked a customer to take our picture. That was an interesting conversation.

A year later, I thought we should stand in a circle looking down at a camera on the floor. (I admit, it wasn’t one of my most creative moments.)

In 2012 I decided we should take a serious family portrait– the kind of thing you’d buy at Olan Mills or some other professional studio. But I wanted to add something completely unexpected. After a bit of thought, it came to me. Wigs. This drew rave comments from a lot of friends, and remains one of my favorite cards. It’s mostly because of the way Zack looks.

My office has a lot of huge glass walls, and I figured we’d see what it looks like to mash our faces against glass and take a picture. The result wasn’t quite as funny as it seemed in my mind, and I ended up doing a lot of work to remove glare from the photo.

2014 was the year our Christmas cards went from an amusing anecdote amongst friends to the stuff of legend. For whatever reason, people loved the “Jurassic Park” idea. Even now, years later, I have friends who tell me how their kids talk about that card. I know people who still have this card on their refrigerator. Yes, really.

Inspired by the previous idea of combining our family with popular media, I decided to capitalize on the hysteria surrounding the newest Star Wars movie. As it turns out, it’s much more difficult than I expected to combine our faces with a movie poster. In addition, Alex was serving his mission in Peru so I couldn’t get a photo of him specifically for the pose I needed. That said, it turned out pretty good.

In 2016, I wanted to do something that combined our card with a web site. What sort of thing might have a multimedia tie-in? Music, of course! But we’re not a musical family at all (with the notable exception of Kyra and her flute), so whatever music we included would probably be bad. Well, why not make it really bad, then? The answer was obvious: kazoos. I opted for a serious take on a kazoo orchestra, and we all dressed up and tried to look serious. In truth, this “photo shoot” had me laughing so hard I was crying at points. We have some hilarious outtakes. And I built a web site, complete with audio clips and biographies of the orchestra members. Even Alex, still off in Peru, was mentioned as an absentee member. The site allowed people to comment, which was fun. This project definitely took longer than any previous card, but it was a blast.

This year I had a complete dearth of creativity. Thanksgiving had come and gone, and still I didn’t know what to do, but with some input from the team (well, Alex), it came together. It’s not my finest work, but I hope it’ll be a hit.

Jeffburger

I’m not sure what to make of this…

Monopoly

Monopoly is one of those games that really brings people together. I mean, it’s tedious and ruthless and the entire point of the game is to bankrupt your friends and family.

Today Dirk learned– apparently for the first time– about the “auction” rule. If the player who lands on a property doesn’t want to buy it, the property goes up for auction to all of the remaining players. Of course that’s pretty important, but most people (including Dirk) don’t know about it.

I told him this:

Believe it or not, I totally knew about this rule.  I haven’t played Monopoly in a while, but I absolutely used it.  With my kids.  To ruthlessly drown them in debt and eventually bankrupt them.

Because hey, teaching moment!

To which he responded:

Did I ever tell you about newlywed Dirk and Jennifer playing Monopoly?

Apparently her family played “friendly” and without houses and hotels.  So let’s just say she got destroyed, and the first time I asked for property as payment, she completely lost her mind and hated me.

We have never played again.

In general, games like this remind me of a classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:

I actually have a printed copy of that comic tucked inside one of our board games, and I pull it out as a reminder to the kids when we play.

Thanks, Monopoly!

Slowly

The other evening we were at the King Soopers grocery store, and Zaque noticed one of those little motorized carts sitting in the parking lot. I assume it was abandoned by the senior citizen who used it to drive groceries to a car. Zaque– always looking for opportunities to serve, hah!– asked if it would be okay for him to drive it back into the store.

Here he is, parking it in the cart storage area at the store entrance.

The funny thing was how slowly that thing moved. I realize you don’t necessarily want older people tearing around the store and screeching around corners in high-powered carts, but at the speed this thing moves, it would take most of the day to shop for groceries…

Creativity block

It’s the time of year when I create our annual Christmas cards, and I’m suffering from serious creativity block. In past years, I would often have an idea months in advance, and it was just a matter of making it come together. This year, though, I’m coming up blank.

I had a funny idea about having us riding animals, or having Bob Ross paint a family portrait, but when I sat down to work on the concepts, it just didn’t flow. Laralee suggested a Justice League theme, since that’s the blockbuster movie that just came out (and Wonder Woman is her favorite movie of all time).

So I found a movie poster…

… and combined it with a few photos from our album for an initial concept…

But… no.

Back to the drawing board.

Computer junk

The other day Jason asked me if I had any old computers. As a CTO, he handles all of the computer hardware for his company, and about once a year he takes all the stuff that’s outdated or broken or otherwise unused and donates it to a local elementary school. There, the kids have a day where they basically tear open all of these old computers and electronics, learning about how they work and reveling in just how cool computer guts can be.

So, yeah, I told him, I happened to have some old computers in the basement. Even after purging a bunch of decades-old stuff that was mostly broken, there were still all sorts of things: network switches, KVM’s, firewalls, print servers, CD-ROM drives, and so on.

However, all of this stuff still worked… and most of it isn’t even that old. On the other hand, it’s not stuff I’m ever going to use again. When I have a gigabit switch on my home network, why would I need a 10/100 switch? And who uses full-size CD-ROM drives these days? Why do I need four print servers when I use CUPS? Et cetera.

So, I loaded all of this stuff into the trunk and gave it to Jason. I hope the kids have a great time ripping it apart!

Countertops

After fifteen years, we’d grown tired of the builder-grade Formica countertops in our kitchen. They were showing their age, cracking along the seams, and just generally in need of replacement.

We knew we wanted Corian, so we shopped around at a few places in Longmont and decided on the color and finishes. A few weeks later, the demolition guys showed up and tore out the old stuff.

The next day, a different team came in to install the molded Corian. There were some issues with our existing tile backsplash, but in the end, the new countertops look really nice.

Hopefully these will last another fifteen years (although it’s unlikely we’ll still be here then)…

Catching up

While Alex was on his mission, he was encouraged to keep a journal, recording his experiences daily. Most missionaries want to do that so they can look back in later years and remember the things they did and the people they met. Well, apparently Alex stalled out roughly a year into his mission, and didn’t continue writing in his journal. Now back home, he decided it would be really cool to have all of that, so he’s catching up by looking through his appointment book.

Apparently his appointment book contains daily notes and commentary about visits he made, people he taught, and activities with his companion. He says it’ll remind him of what to write.

It’ll be interesting to see if he catches up on a year of journaling in the next month or so before he heads off to college…

Statistically speaking…

In the days following Halloween, I dropped by Walmart to buy a couple of bags of cheap candy. Over the years I’ve learned that candy is a powerful motivator for teenagers in the early morning, so I incorporate it into my seminary lessons from time to time.

Today I cracked open a big bag of assorted chocolate candies: 240 pieces of Twix, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, and Snickers. Of those four, I love three. Snickers just aren’t that good, and I tend to avoid them.

Imagine my chagrin when I poured out a few candy bars for my first taste, and saw this:

Since Snickers should be one-fourth of the total volume of candy in the bag, I would expect a commensurate ratio when I dumped eleven little bars from the bag. Nope. Ten of eleven are Snickers.

This doesn’t bode well for how the rest of the bag is going to go…

Killer deals

Alex is in the market for a laptop for college, so he and I have been looking at the various options available. He’s narrowed down his search to a Dell XPS or an Asus Zenbook.

On the Dell web site, you can get a pretty “loaded” XPS for $1,000. I have an account rep at Dell for my hosting business, since I’ve purchased over a hundred servers from them, so I figured I’d contact her to see if she could offer a bit of a discount. For, you know, being a long-time client who’s spent well over a hundred thousand dollars there and stuff.

She came back with a quote for $1,600.

Umm. So I reminded her that the web site price– for the average plebeian consumer– was $600 less. For the same hardware. She apparently hadn’t noticed that, so she put together another quote for me.

$1,300.

I was a little flabbergasted again. She explained that buying it through a corporate channel means I can get two years of Dell support, instead of just one. Wow! What a bargain! If this laptop croaks in a year I’m going to be very, very disappointed in Dell’s products. (I have servers that have been running 24/7 for almost fifteen years.)

Anyway, I told her no thanks and if Alex decides to go with the Dell, he can just buy it through the web site. What a surreal experience.

Thanks, Amazon!

I bought something on Amazon and received some kind of mysterious “Extra Savings”.

I have no idea why, but I won’t complain…

What do you believe?

What do you believe?

I asked that question of my seminary class this morning.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect; often deep questions elicit a few wisecracks, silence, and occasionally a profound, thoughtful answer. I guess it wasn’t surprising when one girl said, “I believe I’m sixteen years old!” Taking it in stride– and aiming for a way to talk about faith, which was my goal– I replied with, “Well, your parents told you you’re sixteen. Do you trust them? Do you truly know without a doubt that’s true?” That provoked a few chuckles but I could tell the mental wheels were turning for a few of the kids.

Imagine my surprise when another girl raised her hand and said quietly, “I believe I can accomplish anything.”

I didn’t have a response for that beyond, “Wow, that’s awesome!” Because, hey, it is awesome. I love that a high-school girl has that kind of self-confidence. She’s going far.

He’s baaaaaaaaack!

It’s been twenty-five months since Alex headed to Peru for his mission. He had an amazing time, but all good things come to an end, and despite wanting to stay and continue the work, he came home today.

Wow. What an amazing feeling to see him after two years– when the only communication we really had was via a weekly email message (and even that was spotty at times). It was immediately obvious that he’d grown as a person: he’s more thoughtful and mature, although he discovered to his chagrin that he’s not as tall as Zaque.

We headed home from the airport, and when we were home I noticed his shoes.

That’s two years of walking miles every day through the dusty, rocky streets of Lima.

It was also cool to see his passport, showing the day he left and the day he returned:

Now we’ll have two months to hang out with him until he heads off to BYU for college. We have some weird Peruvian soda in the fridge…

… and who knows what else is still to come. I’m waiting for him to whip up a big bowl of suri for us…

Losers… or not?

Well, last night was the tournament to finish the fall ultimate league. My team’s record was abysmal. We went 2-12 for the season, which is the worst team I’ve ever played with. And yet, the whole team was a barrel of fun… we were positive every week, had a great time together, shrugged off our losses, and celebrated our wins. After our games we went to grab some food together, and almost the entire team went every week (most teams get maybe 3-4 people for social hour after games). In short, despite how much we sucked on the scoreboard, we were one of the most fun teams I’ve ever been on.

Every season there’s a survey to the players, and for the first time there was a question specifically about the team captains. How did they do? Did they promote a positive atmosphere? Did they help players improve in ultimate? The survey was anonymous, but I was tickled to get this feedback:

Hands down one of the very best league teams I’ve ever played with. I know not a single person went into the season expecting to do as abysmally as we did, yet everyone showed up to each game with a good attitude and enthusiasm to play another day with each other.

So, I guess it wasn’t a total loss…