No Such Thing as Long Distance

I'm sitting in the lobby of Speed-E Car oil change and having a small chuckle over the magazine choices.  The waiting room table boasts no fewer than ten issues of Chevy High Performance magazine, a catalog from a real estate office, one copy of Shape (which I may read later for the "genius workout" that'll make me sexy, sleek, and toned) and something called W.  And then there's Game Informer.  I'm trying to picture the look on my father's or grandfather's face if they'd seen a magazine about video games at the oil change place.  "Bemused" comes to mind.

Waiting Room.JPG

A few weeks ago I cleaned out some of the time capsules taking up space in our home's least-used closet.  Among other things I found one of my radio station notebooks, circa 1994.  Back when I started traveling beyond my hometown I found myself constantly searching for radio stations to my taste.  When I found a good station I jotted it down in a notebook, so next time through I'd have a quick reference.*

Recently I drove to Las Vegas**.  In 1990 a solo drive from Fort Worth to Vegas would have required a whole lotta mix tapes.  Some stretches of this trip are remote enough that I feel lucky to even find oxygen, much less an FM station.  Not in 2017.  The Canyonero came with Sirius/XM radio, and even in the most empty stretches of Zion National Park*** or the Llano Estacado the Big 80's on 8 comes through smooth as Martin Fry's voice after a glass of warm milk.

That's right.  Five states, 2200 miles, one radio station.****   

While driving through Zion I sent a tweet to one of my favorite DJs, Alan Hunter, and got a reply.  Not that amazing in 2017 (aside from the fact that Alan Hunter seems to personally respond to 1000 tweets per day) but again, memories: one late night in 1984 I called the late-night DJ on a soft rock station.  I was pretty thrilled to find him willing to spend thirty minutes on the phone, explaining the business of radio to a twelve year old.

A few weeks later the phone bill arrived.  The radio station was in a town twenty miles away, what the phone company used to refer to as "local long distance."  Hence, we were charged by the minute for that call.  The expression on my father's face?  Not bemused.  In fact, I don't think he was 'mused in any way. 


*I'd not yet learned the Jerry Radio Travel method.  Jerry was the only guy in my college juggling troupe with a car and he listened to one channel: Scan.  Take a three hour trip with Jerry and you're listening to Scan the entire time.  When a song you like comes on, you just have to hope that you'll get three or four snippets of it as the scanning action cycles around.

**And back. 

***I actually fired up Facetime for a while in Zion, so my 14 year old could see the landscape I was enjoying while she slaved over algebra homework. #ThatsParenting

****Okay, five.  I also listen to 70's on 7, Classic Vinyl, Classic Rewind, and E Street Radio.  But you get the point.

Technological Warfare

Tonight I'm teaching a class at The Maker Spot -- Minecraft for Parents.*  It's designed for folks who are wondering why their kids are glued to a game with graphics that were outdated before Emma Watson was born and Queen became popular for the second time.  I'm covering game basics, including a hands-on introduction to game controls, the various modes of play, and the ins and outs of servers and hosting.  That last topic will segue into a general discussion of Internet safety, which I suspect will be of even more interest than Minecraft itself. 

You can download a copy of the handout if you'd like.  It focuses entirely on the Minecraft portion of the class, but for my blog topic today I thought I'd expand on Internet safety and parenting. 

For a typically developing child parenting is pretty simple.  Simply tailor all your activities toward developing skills enabling your child to either advance your empire or avenge your untimely death.  If your kid grows up able to handle these tasks, you win.

Seriously, other parents ask me pretty frequently to give them a list of apps that they should block on their kids' phones, tablets, and laptops.**  That's the strategy of choice: just tell me what programs could be bad for my child.  My response is always the same: if you think you're going to outsmart your kids technologically, you've already lost.

My first computer was a TI-99/4A.  (I actually got to use a Timex Sinclair 1000 at school; feel free to share your reminiscence about ancient tech in the comments.)  My parents knew nothing about personal computers -- my mom was just happy I was doing something other than playing Dungeons and Dragons for a change.  By junior high I was programming in TurboPascal and FORTAN, and playing TradeWars 2000 on the local BBS system.  Shazam.  Me and my 300 baud modem had already outpaced my parents on the tech front.

 That's right.  400 words in that speech synthesizer's vocabulary!

That's right.  400 words in that speech synthesizer's vocabulary!

Here's an interesting key to understanding expectations of technological proficiency back then: many high schools were just starting to require that one take typing, as typing "is rapidly becoming a fundamental skill in the workforce."***

Fast forward about thirty years.  Typing as a technology skill?  Please.  Young people are so immersed in technology that they're practically coding JavaScript at birth.  My nine year old (who, keep in mind, is developmentally challenged) has mastered the four-remote setup for the entertainment center, can navigate Netflix versus her DVDs like a champ, and browses the iPad app store to find anything having to do with Zootopia, dinosaurs, or National Geographic specials.  Meanwhile, I know plenty of adults who can't figure out how to connect their laptop to the network printer, or refer to their mouse as a "clicker."****

Here's my theory.  You can refer to it as Usual's Axiom if you like.  The ability to stay knowledgeable on current technology is inversely proportionate to a person's age and the loss of pace increases geometrically as a person ages. 

Supporting evidence is all around you. (That's why it's an axiom and not a postulate, you know.)  People tend to find what works and stick with it.  Even those who enjoy exploring new technologies tend to eventually specialize.  Meanwhile, technology itself gets broader and more complex in its relationships.  My former colleagues probably remember when "solution support" became a concept at Microsoft as opposed to silos like database, platform, and networking. 

The same thing is true on your kids' phone.  There are more apps available than you can possibly keep up with, and the rate at which more come out increases constantly.  And even if you are diligent about keeping up with them, your kid is better at it.  The younger a person is, the more he or she has been immersed in tech and the better she is at dealing with it reflexively.

The solution to this potential technology problem is decidedly non-tech.  Call it ethics, morals, values -- the label doesn't matter.  It all amounts to the same thing.  You can't possibly take away every avenue for bad behavior, so you have to teach your child to act in the way you consider appropriate.  Two years ago a young woman in our middle school sent rated R photos of herself to a couple of boys via SnapChat.  A flurry of SnapChat banning descended upon my daughter's friends.  Problem is, many parents weren't aware of Vine, Instagram, Facebook and about a thousand other photo sharing apps, not to mention texting and email. 

M.D. and I had a long talk about both the local photo incident and stories we'd read of people posting inappropriate comments in public venues.  We talked about the immediate potential for embarrassment.  We talked a lot about the potential for future repercussions and the permanence of whatever you choose to share online -- what if that comment or photo surfaces later when you're applying for a job, interviewing for a scholarship, or running for an office?  What message is that going to convey to someone who's evaluating your judgement, maturity, and character? 

I hope the value conversation is enough for my kids.  I worked for the largest software company in the world longer than my older daughter has been alive, yet I know it won't be long before she's blown past me in tech knowledge.  Character is the constant that ultimately determines the impact of the tools at one's disposal, and it's one of the most useful legacies you can pass on to your kids. 


* Good seats are still available.

** It's because I worked at Microsoft.  Everyone at Microsoft knows everything about technology, you know.  Just like growing up in Michigan means I'm personally acquainted with everyone else from north of Ohio.

*** Straight out of my high school course catalog.  Typing was a great alternative to shop.

**** Sorry Mom!

I Am Not What I Thought I Was

Every so often a person learns something about him- or herself that completely changes one's outlook on life.  Realization may arrive through third party observation, direct counseling, or the best life coach this century has to offer.*  Whatever the origin, these revelations can shake your foundations and certainly have a functional impact on, well, everything.  I had one of those experiences this week and I'm hesitant to even say it out loud, but I've decided that a blog post is the best way to share it with my closest friends and (hopefully) greatest supporters.

I am, apparently, left-eye dominant.

For years I've assumed I'm right-eye dominant.  I was very active in sports growing up; I used a right-handed stick in hockey, kicked a soccer ball with my right foot, and until I was in my twenties, I always used my right hand to hold my fork.  In hindsight, I probably should have suspected that I was different when I started using my left hand for fork manipulation as frequently as my right. 

Until now I've only shared this secret with a closely trusted spiritual advisor.**  He assured me that this isn't my fault.  Most likely the blame rests with my seventh grade typing instructor, who insisted that I use both hands.  That practice naturally led to a breakdown of the barriers between my true individual eye strengths, and other factors contributed over time to push me "over the edge" to left eyeism.  I don't know that it matters, though.  I'm here now, and the only way to live my life is to embrace it. 

You're probably wondering how I discovered this.  I was researching MD's birthday present and needed to know how to estimate the appropriate bow draw length for a teenager without having her measured at the archery range.***  I found an excellent formula for arriving at draw length (take the kid's wing span in inches and divide it by 2.5) and there was an accompanying article on determining eye dominance.  I did a simple test and...then I did it again.  And again.  The results don't lie, so neither can I: I've always thought I was right-eye, but I'm not.

Again, I should have seen the signs.  For years I've been shooting long guns left-handed (which I now understand was really shooting left-eyed) and I've developed a strong affinity and no small talent at shooting two pistols at once.  I'll bet the folks at the target range have been mocking me on the sly for a long time now; they can probably pick out left-eye dominance even before some poor sap like me recognizes it in himself.

I'm still reeling at the implications here.  How do I tell my family members?  I assume they'll feel a lot of shame, guilt, and then resentment that I caused them guilt.  Will they even want to know me?  Same thing with the other key people in my life -- my golf crew.  They've all got what can only be described as right-eye machismo; they've been solidly right-eye for decades and assumed I was too.  They're going to think I've been fooling them somehow; I'm not sure they'll understand that I've just come to understand this about myself.  At least I don't have to worry about notifying my HR department.****

Do I need to buy a whole new wardrobe?  Join a community or add #LeftEyeGuy hashtags to all my posts?  I'm probably going to start using a different brand of golf ball, at the least.  Baby steps.

I can tell you one thing -- it's at least a relief to finally be living with the real me.  There's nothing more painful than pretending to be something you're not, even when you didn't realize it yourself for the longest time.  I just hope the rest of the world will accept me.


* You know, the Internet.

** We met via AOL, and he says he's a priest. Remember, a stranger is just a friend you haven't email with yet! 

*** The new bow hasn't arrived yet, but don't worry -- she doesn't read my blog.  Most people get to it via Facebook, and according to MD, "Facebook is for old people."

**** Dodged that bullet!  Whew.