Sunday Sundries

A few assorted links & tidbits to start off the week:

iTunes nixes network rentals

Sadly, there are some things you just can’t get via Netflix (either streaming or disc) so Dede is relieved that we squeaked in Glee: Season 2 just before the hammer fell. According to the ZDNet article Apple Finally Drops TV Rentals From iTunes, Apple quietly pulled the option to rent television episodes from its iTunes online store in the the past few days.

Kick it up a notch with Kickstarter

Kickstarter is an innovative new website that lets would-be entrepreneurs submit a pitch about a project they need help getting off the ground. Via crowd-sourced fundraising, projects have a set amount needed and defined funding levels—most start at very affordable $5, $15, $25 levels—and in addition to helping get the project going, all “investors” (that’s you and me) get a little something extra as a reward for having some faith in the product and/or its creator. And a project must reach its funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands, which protects both project creators and investors.

So with Kickstarter you can help breathe life into cool ideas like:

World Gone 2 the Dogs

My brother Rich has jumped into the fray with his own World Gone 2 the Dogs blog. Head over there and join the conversations!

Khan Academy – Free online tutorials!

Speaking of Rich, he sent me a link to Khan Academy several weeks ago and I never took the time to check it out. But then just this weekend I read an article in Wired Magazine by longtime fave writer Clive Thompson called How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education and it really grabbed me. Khan Academy features a library of over 2400 free videos by Sal Khan covering K-12 math, science, finance, history, and many other topics. Each instructional video presents material in easy-to-handle chunks lasting 7-15 minutes. Students can watch videos at their own pace and can even practice math problems online. Be sure to read Clive’s article for more info! Сlassroom rental sounds a good idea for discussions and teamwork.

One of the really interesting by-products of Khan Academy and other online video tutorials is that they are enabling teachers to flip the classroom. That is, some teachers are experimenting with the idea of inverting traditional school model, delivering instruction online outside of class and using interactive classroom time for homework.

Planking?

Have you heard about this? We were completely unaware of the concept of planking until our friend Ryan explained it to us last night. You can read all about it here but basically, planking is to lay down (like a plank) in some unusual setting and take a picture to post on the Planking Facebook page. I looked at a few of the pictures and found them amusing. It seems like harmless fun but some do take it to extremes and put themselves in danger to take the photo. Ryan is into a variant called owling instead of planking because as this poster sums it up, planking is just so two months old!

Update:   According to Rich, we’re still behind the curve—planking & owling are out, Batmanning, is in!

Chuck & Beans

A few months ago, I posted about Dave Kellett’s sharp-witted webcomic Sheldon. Well, I’ve discovered another online comic strip that I’ve been itching to share.

The Shoebox division of Hallmark Cards has ramped up their web presence in the past couple of years and they’ve got some hilarious stuff on their Shoebox Blog. Brian’s weekly Chuck & Beans is terrific:

Shoebox Greetings' Chuck and Beans comic strip

And be sure to check out Dan’s Newsdroppings, also on the Shoebox Blog, for a stiff dose of daily news satire. Just don’t be drinking any milk when you click that link!

First Day of Kindergarten

Today was the BIG DAY—Liam’s first day of Kindergarten. It’s a day I’ve been dreading for awhile now. Maybe it’s because I equate starting public school to my baby growing up. But Liam has been excited all summer at the thought of going to his big school.

First Day of Kinder

Click here (or the photo above) to view a few pictures from the first day.


We walked him into school this morning and stayed until the bell rang for class to begin. He waved goodbye and was ready to begin the day. I’m very thankful that I was not one of the parents that I saw in the hallways that had their children clinging to them in tears. I don’t think I could’ve handled that.

According to Liam, in the end, it was an awesome day and he can’t wait to go back again tomorrow!

Accustomed to Violence

There’s been a surge of articles in parenting magazines, blogs, and news coverage about bullying lately. Children are being tormented in America’s schools and online—sometimes to the point of committing suicide. It’s hard to believe that something I had been so totally unaware of is such a huge problem, yet the media has declared bullying to be a national epidemic.
Biff Tannen bullies Marty McFly
There’s some contention about just how severe this has become; some experts insist that bullying is no more prevalent now than it was back when little boys yanked little girls’ pigtails and that the media’s portrayal is unrealistic and excessive, making behaviors that might simply be cruel into something more criminal. Maybe physical bullying has taken a backseat to psychological or emotional bullying, but even if the media has blown this out of proportion, there’s no denying that bullying is a credible and increasing problem.

As a parent, I’m thankful for all of the efforts to shed some light on this problem and I fully support both punishing bullies and helping kids learn to better cope with pressure-filled situations. But maybe we should put forth as much effort looking at some of the root causes. I believe a big contributing factor is how acclimated we’ve become to violence.

Horrific, explicit, oppressive violence is now an accepted part of our everyday lives.

Remember the movie Robocop about a terminally-wounded Detroit cop who returns to the police force as a powerful cyborg? What you may not recall is that the 1987 movie was initially given an X rating by the MPAA due to its graphic violence. Right, the movie was rated “X” not because of explicit sexual content, but for its shockingly-violent imagery. To appease the requirements of the ratings board, writer/director Paul Verhoeven pulled back on the significant blood & gore in 3 scenes so the movie could be released with an “R” rating instead.

Yet compared to what we routinely see on TV, movies, and video games now, the uncut version of that movie is tame by today’s standards. Within a 20 year span, what was shocking and socially repulsive has become acceptable, commonplace entertainment. Movies have become gleefully gruesome and morbidity is now mainstream. Consider the “Saw” series that let us watch as people are brutally murdered in twisted, torturous manners. Compare the likes of a Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris martial arts movie to that of the endless barrage of bloody carnage shown in contemporary movies like “Kill Bill.”

Likewise, TV shows even feature a stunning degree of graphic violence. Procedural cop shows like C.S.I. are far more realistically gruesome than that X-rated version of Robocop. Even when the violence isn’t necessarily visually graphic, there’s still some extremely negative behaviors at play. Consider that toddlers now watch wrestling on TV, which was strictly the guilty pleasure of Dads when we were kids—much to the disapproval of most Moms.

And where playing video games in our teen years meant shooting squiggly blips to make pixelated aliens disappear, now video gamers are immersed in battles where they fire super-realistic weapons at convincingly-real, three-dimensional opponents who yowl in agony when hit, spurt blood, limp, and finally collapse in a nauseating mass on the ground when they’ve sustained too much damage. (Until recently, this is the sort of thing that only soldiers would have to endure—and sometimes suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.) Other video games reward players for beating up women, stealing cars, pistol-whipping passers-by, and inflicting varying degrees of terrible carnage on, well, anything that moves. According to some estimates, by the time typical American children reach the age of 18, they’ve already seen 200,000 acts of violence and 40,000 murders on some sort of screen.

We’ve allowed our society as a whole to become fully engulfed, acclimated, and accustomed to horrendous, gratuitous violence as a normal component of daily life. Perversely, our society actually savors and glorifies extreme cruelty and destructiveness! And as we’ve become numb and indifferent to negativity and violence, bullying has escalated to epidemic proportions. Surely, that’s no coincidence.

Beach Bums

It’s been 2 years since our feet last hit the ocean, so last week was a special treat as we finally got to relax in the sun & sand!

This was our first trip to Padre Island and we really enjoyed the Texas coast’s warm water. In the past, we’ve usually visited San Diego and the chilly Pacific beaches, so this was a nice change. We met up with our Brady friends and Liam got some expert skimboarding lessons. Although he never truly mastered staying on the board, he put his whole heart into it and never gave up trying. He would definitely be a surfer dude if we lived near a beach!

We arrived just in time for Hurricane/Tropical Storm Don warnings. We knew something was up when news crews starting setting up equipment on the beach—the Weather Channel crew was setup right on the same area of beach where we had been playing all day! We were told to gas up our vehicles and be ready to evacuate the island. It was projected to hit exactly at our location but fortunately it fizzled out before it got there and all we got was a little wind and no rain. We have much stronger winds on an almost daily basis in West Texas.

We pretty much did absolutely nothing but sit on the beach all day and swim in the pool in the evenings and as a bonus, we saw some dolphins playing in the water. I call that a PERFECT vacation!

Padre Island 2011
Click above for photos from our Padre Island vacation trip.