Monday, March 29, 2010

How to Load Your Dishwasher

I'm a working dad, and as a working dad, I'm not home a lot of the time, and don't really do the dishes all that often. I chip in after dinner practically every night, though, so don't you ever believe that I don't help.

However, when it comes to loading the dishwasher, I've found that unless I personally do it things don't get very clean. I have my own "loading pattern", which has worked well for me for decades, but which my wife and children don't seem to understand. It is, in fact, a pet peeve of mine that they don't load the dishwasher very well.

So it is with great joy (okay, I'm easily pleased) that I see some of my technique echoed in an article (see the full article) that outlines some of my suggestions for how to properly load the dishwasher. The article states:

1. Load large items at the sides and back of the dishwasher, so that they don't block water and detergent from reaching other dishes.

2. Place the dirtier side of dishes toward the center of the machine to provide more exposure to the spray. Don’t let dishes or utensils nest, or rest side by side, which can prevent water from reaching all surfaces.

3. Use the top rack for plastic and delicate items that are dishwasher safe.

4. Rest glassware on prongs to prevent breakage. And to prevent chipping, make sure that china, crystal, and stemware don’t touch other items. Don’t machine-wash brass, bronze, cast iron, disposable plastics, gold-colored flatware, gold-leaf china, hollow-handle knives, pewter, tin, or anything made of wood or with a wood handle.

5. Load silverware with handles down but place knives with the handles up. If your dishwasher has an open basket, mix spoons, forks, and knives to prevent them from sticking together.

6. Place items with baked-on food facedown and toward the sprayer in the bottom rack.

Now, I don't really worry too much about wooden stuff or disposable plastics, but the rest seems pretty spot-on to how I load the dishwasher. And it works! Really! You should try it ... you just might make somebody happier.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Holy Immunity Idol Batman

Tonight's episode of Survivor was probably the best I have ever seen. We've seen double-crosses, blindsides, bad choices, manipulated players, and played immunity idols before, but WOW! never at the same time. Incredible. Russell Hantz ... wow, the dude has guts.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The 2010 Census

Last week we got the the 2010 U.S. Census form in the mail. I was excited about getting it, and quickly rushed off to fill it out. I had no qualms whatsoever about sharing the information of which it asked. The form basically asked for the name, gender, marital status, and race of the people in my household. One of the "unusual" questions was about whether or not we were home owners. I happily answered every question and quickly popped the results in the mail.

So it is that I now hear of people very anxious about the forms, afraid of having their privacy "invaded" and their rights taken away. This is all baloney, phooey, and utter ridiculousness. You take the risk of losing far more rights than you could possibly lose by answering these questions every time you throw away a credit card application that you get in the mail. Anybody with even the leanest online presence risks even more than that, and heaven help anybody who actually buys or sells anything online, or *gasp* does online banking!

People willingly broadcast far more information than what is on the census forms any time they have a blog, a Twitter account, or a Facebook page. Just poke around this here blog a little and you'll learn pretty much everything that's on those forms: I'm a Caucasian male in my mid-30s with a Caucasian wife and 3 Caucasian kids. I own my home with a hefty mortgage (but I'm not underwater, thank you!). That's pretty much what the form asks aside from contact information and names.

However, here, for free, I'll highlight even more details about me that I might have "let slip" through this blog: I'm heterosexual, politically right leaning (though I don't belong to any political party), and an aerospace engineer. I own two cars, and I have difficulty keeping small pets alive. I dabble in the stock market and don't vacation enough. I have no hobbies to speak of except as they relate to caring for my wife and children. Oh, and I like to do genealogy, even though I can't easily find the time for it.

Wikipedia has the following blurb on the census:

The text of the Constitution concerning the census, in Article I, Section 2 states: "The actual Enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct." Because the Constitution specifically authorizes an "Enumeration" (counting), some feel that the federal government has no authority to force citizens to answer questions beyond that which establishes the number of people living in the household. The 2010 census contains ten questions: about age, gender, ethnicity, home ownership, and household relationships. Six of the ten questions are intended to be answered by each individual in the household. Current federal law has provisions for fining those who refuse to complete the census form.

Which brings me to why I think you're an idiot if you don't fill out the census forms. As any genealogist will tell you, a proper census form is a gold mine for those who are attempting to understand an ancestor's family history. On the forms, we get to see a snapshot of the living conditions of a person: where they lived, who was in the household at the time with ages, etc. Our census forms today are nothing compared to how "intrusive" they used to be. In decades past, they asked questions about what profession people had, if they could read, where their parents were born, what language they spoke, and how much property they owned.

So, don't even think about complaining. Just fill out the forms and send it back. 100 years from now, your descendants just might be grateful you did. And while you do have the "right to remain silent" (see Miranda warning), why would you honestly want to do that in this day and age? Anybody with an internet connection and a burning desire to know can find the location of your birth marks. So don't sweat it.

Just fill it out and send it back. And be grateful we live in this incredible nation of ours where every person counts. (Even if they can't. Hmmm, they don't ask that question anymore, either ...)

Friday, March 19, 2010

My Daughter The Science Geek

My daughter is a very bright little girl (no exaggeration), but it is hard to find real world things that interest her. She's a book worm and can get so caught up into the worlds she is reading about that sometimes she can get a little disconnected with things in the world around her. However, my wife and I strongly encourage our children to participate in the yearly science fair at their school, even though it is often difficult to nail down exactly what they should do. My oldest son last year, for example, did an awesome job on his science project on rockets, and we honestly believe he didn't win 1st place because it looked too professional, as if a grown-up had done it for him.

This year, my daughter did her project on the weather. Specifically, she did it on how meteorologists determine the weather. She made a homemade barometer and took near-daily readings. We happened to be blessed with some sporadic weather during this period, with rain and hot cycles happening every few days. It was really neat to watch her make the connection between temperature and pressure and rain. As it is, she took dozens of pictures of clouds in our valley and worked very hard to identify the different formations -- some I had never heard of!

All her hard work paid off, too. She took second place! Just look at this cutie!

What an awesome accomplishment. I am so proud of her!

How to Make a Child Happy

Build their favorite cartoon character out of Legos for them. It seems I never get enough quality time with any of my children, but I'll tell you, the half hour I spent doing this with him today was the best I've spent in a long time. And boy is he happy!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On American Idol

My wife and I watched American Idol during its first season when Kelly Clarkson won, and, just like everybody else, we were amazed. Since that time, we drifted away from the show, only occasionally peeking in to see what was happening.

However, last season we started watching again about mid-way through the semi-finals, and we were very pleased with the results. So it was that we decided to watch Season 9, with high expectations. However, as we've been watching Season 9, we're realizing more and more that last season was Something Special. Week after week, we keep wondering why we haven't seen the likes of Allison Iraheta and Kris Allen (we recognize that Adam Lambert was one of a kind). Looking back, even my least favorite of the top four, Danny Gokey, still seemed to perform better than nearly all of the people we see during this season.

So, we're kind of bored. We are invested, though, and still have hopes that it will work out, but we don't have any illusions that the cream of the crop this season are really nothing special compared to last season. Unless somebody does something great sometime soon, we may find ourselves drifting away again ...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Giggly Boy

My youngest son is turning five pretty soon, and he's pretty precocious in all the right ways. He's not overtly destructive and is a true delight in our lives. Today I was sitting in "the big chair" in our family room, laptop on my lap, my eyes furrowed as I concentrated on a presentation that I was working on for a conference, when he mischievously came over beside me and climbed up onto the armrest of the chair.

Totally absorbed by what I was doing, I didn't really pay much attention, as he regularly comes over in this manner to see what I'm doing on the laptop. Well, much to my surprise, he leaned over as if to give me a kiss on the cheek and then started giggling. He pulled back, giggled some more, then leaned in again for another "kiss." He couldn't do it. By this time he had my full attention, and my presentation had to wait until I could figure out what he was doing.

I asked him what was going on, and he couldn't even answer me because he was giggling so hard. I thought maybe it had something to do with the fact that my face was somewhat scruffy, not having shaved since Sunday morning. But that wasn't it. It took me about thirty seconds more to divine that he was trying to give me a "zerbert" on my cheek, a skill he learned a few months ago.

At that point, I started giggling, too, which just made him giggle even more! He went in several times, even at my encouragement, but couldn't stop giggling long enough to actually zerbert me. While me and my little man were laughing really hard, my wife was wondering what was happening and I couldn't answer her very well. Finally, he composed himself just long enough to actually accomplish his task, which made him very happy and my cheek very slobbery. After that, he slipped off the arm of the chair and ran away.

It took me about five minutes to get focused back on my work. Very funny.

Children are truly a joy.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Glad to Have My Problems

My two oldest children are book worms. My third child can't read, yet, but he seems interested and is likely to be just as able ...

My daughter, in particular, has been excessively interested lately in ignoring every aspect of life except reading. She loves serialized novels. She has absorbed the Harry Potter Books, the Percy Jackson books, and several other series, and is now in the middle of the Charlie Bones books.

Did I mention that my daughter is 8?

At the parent/teacher conference that my wife and I attended on Friday, our daughter's teacher had a list of the words per minute that each child in her class can read, sans names, and asked us which one we thought represented our daughter. We would have been surprised if she wasn't the top reader in the class, and we were not at all surprised to have that confirmed. The top number? 185 words per minute, a full 40 words per minute faster than the next kid.

Lately, we have been limiting her to 90 minutes of reading each day, which she thinks is just the most horrible thing in the world. She keeps track of her reading minutes because they get credit for it at her elementary school, earning awards and other forms of recognition. However, she does not read because of this, but rather because she has a tremendously active imagination and enjoys getting "sucked" into the worlds that she reads about in her novels.

So, tonight I went to put her to bed and noted that she had read over 3 1/2 hours today. Being Sunday, that didn't surprise me, but it clearly exceeded her 90 minute allocation. I told her I was taking her book away for the night, as I didn't want her staying up and reading after she was supposed to go to bed. Staying up doesn't do well for her because then she's grumpy the next day and doesn't focus well on her school work.

Well, an hour later my youngest child got up crying for some reason (he had to go to the bathroom and was too tired to realize it), and I discovered my daughter very alert and awake, trying to help her brother. Why was she up? It definitely wasn't because her younger brother woke her up -- that girl can sleep through a train wreck. At this point, you should easily be able to guess. Of course, she was reading.

I was not very happy. I knew for a fact that she hadn't retrieved the book I had taken from her, so I was somewhat miffed to find out that she had simply got out of bed and indiscriminately grabbed some book off her bookshelf in her room. I was more unhappy about her blatant disobedience (I had clearly told her earlier that she was to stop reading and to go to sleep) than the fact she was reading.

Clearly caught in the act, the punishment had to fit the crime. She would not be allowed to read the next day. I figured this was quite fair, as she had already read 4 1/2 (!) hours today. Even so, you would have thought I had threatened to pull her teeth out the next day. Her eyes got big, she hunkered down in bed, and she started to whimper.

No amount of reasoning with her would satisfy her. Her mean ol' dad took away her reading privileges! It was only after I placed conditions on her so that she could "earn" back her reading privileges that she calmed down: she must get out of bed in the morning without a fuss, she must be cooperative and cheerful, and she must get her homework done after school without a fight. If she does these things, then she will be allowed to read before she goes to bed, as is traditional.

It's an interesting problem. Honestly, how many kids do you know that are like this anymore? If you replaced the word "reading" with "playing on her DS" throughout this post, then this would be a far more contemporary experience, but in today's world it's just downright weird.

But, you know, I realize how blessed my little family is to have "problems" like this. You know the old expression? "If everybody got together and threw their problems up in the air, after seeing everybody else's we'd all scramble to get back our own?" Well, I wouldn't even throw mine -- I think I'll just keep 'em, thank you very much.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How (Not) to Inspire The Next Generation of Astronauts

I had a rough night last night.

I am the Space Exploration Merit Badge counselor for the local Boy Scouts, and last night I was asked to go visit with a group of boys, ages 11-17, and help them to earn this badge. This is something I'm normally quite happy to do, so I dusted off a presentation that I gave last year at this time to a similar group of boys, packed up an overhead projector, and cheerfully headed over to the troop meeting.

Little did I know what experience I would have. In one part of my presentation we went through the design of the Space Shuttle. We talked about the solid rocket boosters, the main tank, and the Space Shuttle main engines (fantastic machinery, all). We talked about the orbiter itself and how much stuff it can haul into space. This is normally very exciting stuff, and true to form the kids loved hearing stories of how deafening the roar of the engines can be when it launches and how the astronauts that the Shuttle carries have almost completed the assembly the International Space Station.

However, last night, right after this, things went distinctly wrong. These boys were all excited about the prospects of going into space, but then suddenly the discussion veered towards the retirement of the Shuttle (only 4 flights left!). Then it veered towards the cancellation of the Constellation Program, which was intended to be the next U.S. manned space flight capability. The boys quickly did the math: no Shuttle + no replacement = no way to send astronauts to space. The mood quickly darkened in the room.

I tried to explain to the 30 (!) boys anxiously listening to me that the Obama Administration intends to cancel Constellation in favor of encouraging private industry to step up. I even ticked off the best bets: Virgin Galactic and SpaceX. I even tried to explain that in the intervening years we'll be sending up astronauts to the Space Station via Russian rockets. I even tried to mollify them by explaining that the Constellation program's cancellation isn't a sure bet, and that Congress may push to re-instate it or reach for some other intermediate solution.

It didn't do any good. These boys are smart. They know bad news when they hear it. It doesn't matter that the Russians are willing to give us a ride for a buck. It doesn't matter that there are private companies that very probably will be sending people into space within the next decade. What matters to these boys is that the stereotypical -- but not impotent -- dream of working for NASA and getting your astronaut wings is no more.

Our wonderful and beloved country, thanks to our esteemed President, will soon be out of the business of sending people into space. America will no longer be a space-faring nation. Robotic spacecraft, which is my own bread and butter, just aren't the same, despite what amazing things they can accomplish, and these boys know it.

It was a major downer of an evening. The balance of the evening we spoke about building model rockets, basic rocket principles, and what it means to be in orbit. It was all very good stuff, but there was just no way to shake what had gone on before.

I get President Obama. I get what he's trying to do. I get the logic and the approach and the "hope" that private industry will come through. It may very well turn out to be the best thing in the long run (though I'm not placing that bet ...).

However, when Constellation was funded, even though it was over-budget, behind schedule, and had more technical problems than you could shake a stick at -- at least one could point to the program, as flawed and warty as it was, and say, "There's our manned space flight program! We'll get back up there, yet!" Now, what do we have to point to? Some private companies who are stretched so thin that they are arguably one recessionary dip away from bankruptcy?

Don't get me wrong, I believe in the private sector and in the previously-named companies. I believe they have tremendously talented people working with them and don't intend to quit until they pull it off. The incentives are even greater now than they ever were before.

But what if they don't?

It was indeed a rough night last night.

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