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Happy New Year

Happy New Year from Stephen and Megan

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Comics A Seven-Year-Old Would Love

Garfield is Stephen’s second greatest love, second only to Lego. Lilian’s Sean first introduced Stephen to Garfield in London when the two were about five years old but it wasn’t until a few months ago that Stephen really started understanding the sly jokes and not-so-subtle sarcasm that underlies the comic. He’s also a big fan of The Garfield Show on the Cartoon Network. I can see how it appeals to Stephen because it’s completely off-the-wall ridiculous with storylines that feature a time-stopping stopwatch, robots, and a mind-reading helmet but may I just say that this CGI bastardization of Garfield the comic strip is not really Garfield at all.

The trouble with Garfield is that Stephen feels compelled to try out some of Garfield’s sayings and mannerisms. He identifies with Garfield the curmudgeon and his distaste for Mondays and waking up, and his glee in thwarting Nermal (who I suspect Stephen equates with his sister).

Thinking that it might be healthier for Stephen to identify with another little boy rather than a fat orange cat*, I’ve been trying to introduce him to Calvin and Hobbes because Lilian mentioned that Stephen reminds her of Calvin. Although I should probably read some Calvin and Hobbes first to make sure Calvin is an acceptable role model. I must confess that I’ve never really gotten the humor in the strip but might be able to understand it better from the parents’ point of view. In any case, if GeekDad says Calvin and Hobbes is good then it must be good! :P

Other comics Stephen has enjoyed include the Geronimo Stilton graphic novels and the Bionicle graphic novels. Adeline’s RK likes Asterix and Obelix.

As for me, my favorite comic strip is The Far Side by Gary Larson. Marv’s is Dilbert.

What about you and your kids? Have any other comic strips to recommend?

*Super Skinny Stephen once made some comment about being too fat to get on some piece of playground equipment. I started stressing about eating disorders until I realized his comment came from Garfield. argh

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Search Engines Designed for Children

Google Seeks to Help Children Search Better – NYTimes.com

Good grief. What a misleading headline.

While I agree that learning how to use search engines to find information successfully is an important skill, I don’t know if I want my kids to search "better" per se. For primary school children, I’d want them to learn how to search in a limited, controlled environment.

When considering children, search engines had long focused on filtering out explicit material from results. But now, because increasing numbers of children are using search as a starting point for homework, exploration or entertainment, more engineers are looking to children for guidance on how to improve their tools.

Kids apparently like Bing because it uses more images than other search engines. Also, I did not realize that children tend to focus on whatever’s on the bottom of the computer screen because that’s what they see first when they look up from the keyboard after pecking out their search.

As for Stephen, I’ve installed Chrome on his computer and while he usually doesn’t have to search for much, he already knows that he only has to enter an approximation of the correct spelling and the computer will offer up the correct search term or URL to him. Frightening to think what he’ll be able to unearth online in the future. Perhaps some of what I’ve written about him but have since locked up….

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If you’re interested in alternative search engines specially designed for kids, check out AskKids.com and Tyler Wainright has a list of safe and secure web browsers for kids.

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My Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

A few weeks ago, on my drive to work, I heard the three DJs on Class 95’s Morning Express going through their spiel about the Panasonic Lumix GF1 micro four thirds camera. Despite the fact that I work in advertising now, I’m not as immune to commercial persuasion as I’d like to think.  The three DJs actually sold me on the camera! They presented just enough technical info to get a gadget geek like me excited.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

On the second day of hearing the same pitch, I researched the camera and made my decision. What features appealed to me?

  1. Size – With the 20 mm pancake lens, the GF1 is a Micro Four Thirds camera that is only about half the size of a standard DSLR.
  2. Interchangeable lenses  – I don’t intend to change my lenses frequently because I’m deathly afraid of getting dust and other dirt on the camera sensor but it’s nice to have the option.
  3. Speed – The new 20 mm (F1.7) pancake lens is faster than my point-and-shoot.
  4. Movie capture – There is a dedicated button on the GF1 that starts shooting in movie mode immediately and in exceptional quality.
  5. Built-in flash – There’s a pop-up flash on the GF1 with adjustable brightness.
  6. Manual controls – I wanted to be able to adjust aperture, ISO, white balance, etc. to produce a wider variety of photos.

Yes, I know that in the end it’s the photographer’s skill that matters more than the camera but having a better camera can’t hurt.

I mulled the idea over for a couple days because I wasn’t sure if I should spend more than a thousand dollars on a camera. In the end, I justified the purchase by telling myself that designer handbags cost even more than the camera and since my handbags never cost more than $100 SGD, I could darn well afford to buy myself a camera. So I emailed John 3:16, the camera shop where I’ve bought two of my three past digital cameras, to reserve it. Several days later, on 4 December, I was told the camera was ready for pick-up.

I had no idea what was waiting for me. I mean, I knew it was a camera and a step up from my Canon IXUS 90 (Powershot SD790 IS) point-and-shoot but other than that, I did not know how to operate such a fancy thing. At the exact moment when Samuel, the store owner, brought the camera out of the box, another guy came in the shop looking to buy the GF1. Sorry, no luck. Gotta reserve it first and stock should arrive the following week. This baby’s mine mine mine!

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Before I had any time to learn about the GF1’s settings, I took some ok photos. Good enough for people to notice that they were not garden variety point-and-shoot shots but I didn’t know how to change any of the settings! I took it with me to a Ben 10 live show with the kids and had no idea how to take a picture of Stephen with the stage behind him without the background being completely fuzzy. As I studied the camera and all the different settings and with the help of DSLR owners Cindy and Lilian, I learned that I had to increase the F-stop to get the background as clear as the foreground. And I had to figure other important things out like what the letters stand for on the dial. Duh. By the way, “A” doesn’t mean automatic, it means aperture priority (and it also stands for addlehead).

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For anyone interested, here are some great resources about the Panasonic Lumix GF-1 and photography in general:

I haven’t abandoned my iPhone and Canon Ixus. They’re just too handy to give up. I do think, however, that it is very apparent which camera was used to take which photo. Can you tell which camera I used for each of the following three shots? These photos were minimally edited.

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Pho

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What camera do you use? And what camera do you lust after?

If you’re in the market for a new digital camera, check out this list of best digital cameras of 2009 from neutralday.

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Surrender

Megan’s 18 months now and her personality grows stronger by the day. She’s taken to throwing a fit whenever she doesn’t get her way like when she wanted to play with roach traps at the supermarket and I wouldn’t let her. Right.

Then tonight, we were reading Treasure Island when she brought over one of her current favorite board books from the My Christmas Pocket Library set and insisted on reading it. When I told her to wait until we finished the chapter we were on, she again pitched a fit.

Stephen, who’s getting used to his little sister, said:

Just read it to her! Or else you’re going to have a miserable life.

Very sensible! We did end up giving in to her only because Stephen was ok with it. That doesn’t mean she’s going to get her way that easily. I’ve had plenty of experience dealing with her brother and nothing fazes me now!

Here’s the little imp copying me getting ready for work.

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My Tweet Cloud

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Tweet Cloud via @sarasteinmd

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Leaving the Sameness

In a day when "social network" is a buzz term from colleges to board rooms, the members of Wednesday 10 show the benefits of old-fashioned networking. "We were all young kids starting out, and it is easy when you are so involved in building your career to lose touch with other people who are outside your field," says Mr. (Robert) Menschel, who has been at Goldman Sachs for 55 years. "It helped me to understand why other people do what they do—which is important in life and in business. You don’t learn anything from talking to sameness."

An Old-School Social Network – The Wednesday 10 – WSJ.com

I couldn’t agree more.

image Almost three months ago, I took the leap and joined a multi-national marketing and advertising agency as their social media editor. I had some doubts about committing to something that, on the surface at least, had nothing to do with science. But, my gut told me that it was a rare opportunity to learn something that is also relevant to science communication. I am pleased to say that I have learned a lot during my time at the agency from filling in timesheets to creating PowerPoint “decks.” And I have already had the opportunity to apply those skills to the science arena as media consultant to the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO).

Leaving the sameness wasn’t easy. I often think it’s all very surreal that I’m overhearing and even participating in conversations that involve branding, customer engagement, KPIs, ROIs, FMCG, etc., etc. Just to show how out of it I can be, when working on a project, I often forget about including costs until the project manager reminds me!

It’s a whole different mindset and I’m being pushed to develop a new identity and to go outside of my comfort zone. Although it sure has been fun getting dressed nicely for work and having a mini-vacation from the kids! They are handling my return to work very well even on days when I am out at client meetings until 7 pm. I couldn’t have imagined that a year ago.

In the coming year, I hope to be able to take some short overnight business trips if necessary (I’ve already had to turn one down). And, I hope to have the opportunity to continue learning, progressing, and contributing both at work and at home. Wish me luck! 

Photo: In my car on my way to work.

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Kick Butt

This snapshot from a video of the kids dancing the twist makes me laugh. Megan looks like she’s kicking butt!

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Don’t Photoshop My Kid

A father in Sweden is upset because the school photographer photoshopped a scar off his 3-year-old daughter’s nose. What’s worse, the photog apologized by saying that they “just want things to be nice and cute.”

First of all, our children are not things.

Second of all, just because our children aren’t perfect looking doesn’t mean they’re not nice and not cute.

Even if the girl’s scar wasn’t permanent and was the result of a fall, maybe it would be a snapshot of history to remember that – hey, remember the day of your preschool photo you had that cut on your forehead from falling during hopscotch?

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My one-year-old daughter has some pigmentation on her body that probably won’t go away. I hope that she will never be self-conscious about it but how can I prevent that when even the school photographer might find the need to take a few swipes here and there?

I know it’s unrealistic to expect that she’ll never care. Someday she will probably be embarrassed and will probably prefer to wear clothing that covers it up. But I think all of us go through those kinds of phases at some point during our growing up years. In sixth grade, I wore a windbreaker at all times no matter how hot I got because I was embarrassed by my plump, developing body.

Fortunately, I’ve escaped unscathed with relatively good body image. Most likely because the adults in my life just let me be. Just as that photographer should have done.

Dad angry about retouched photo of girl, 3 – UPI.com

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