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Survey question

What do you do to keep your financial information safe, and why?

Examples: never pay with physical checks because bank account number is in plaintext, not use online banking because of fear of hacking, shred all financial statements because of dumpster-divers, etc.

Possibly the best conversation with K. so far

K.: I like all the fairies. I like Rosetta because she can make flowers open. Can she do that for reals?
Me: Well, she does it in the stories and the movies.
K.: Uh-huh.
Me: If you see something in a story or movie, does that mean it's for reals?
K.: No.

I can't tell you all how happy it makes me to see my kid engaging in critical thinking. I feel like often we parents don't discuss TV and movies with their kids enough -- it's sometimes shocking what they think is real or what they don't understand. Anyway, this conversation with K. came after The Man showed them scenes from John Carpenter's "The Thing" in slow-mo and explained how effects were done. "Okay, now they just replaced Blair with another guy wearing a Blair mask. And the other guy has no arms, so they put some fake arms on him..."

Question for my outdoorsy friends

This year, I wanted to hike a leg of the Wonderland trail to celebrate turning 40. Then I got a 9-to-5 job, and have been spending time working and commuting instead of training. I'd still like to do a hike in September for my birthday; I'm thinking of scaling back to an easy weekend backpacking trip, and then take a day off work to rest my feet. :) Can anyone recommend a good hike at that difficulty level, where I still stand a chance of getting a campsite permit?


Freelancing links

Recently a friend posted a freelancing question on Google+, and I realized, hey, I did that from late 2011 to late 2014. I wasn't terribly serious about it -- if I'd pursued it hard I probably could have made a lot more money -- but then, it turns out I actually loathe working solo. (If I have to freelance again, I'll need to budget $250-500/mo for a desk at a coworking space.)

Anyway, I found these resources had concrete how-to info about freelancing:

  • Ramit Sethi's website has a lot of info on getting started with freelancing. I've never purchased the Earn1K product; being a cheapass, instead I read all of Sethi's free material (some publically available on the website and some from his mailing list) and then bought his CreativeLive class on money for creative professionals, while it was airing. (The course used to rerun on CL pretty frequently; if you buy it while it's airing, it's cheaper by I think $100.)

  • CreativeLive's raison d'être is creative professionals who are often freelancers such as photographers and graphic artists; so if you're in that niche, it's a good site to hit. You can watch the live streaming classes without paying a dollar, and if you see something that seems worth a couple hundred dollars, then you can buy.

  • Patrick McKenzie has stopped consulting (aka freelancing), but he used to do it quite a bit; an old newsletter talks about some key lessons from consulting, as do some early podcasts (Getting Your First Consulting Client, Charging More, and Growing Your Consulting Practice). McKenzie is a developer, but he and his co-hosts talk about lessons that are broadly applicable to all freelancers/consultants.

Fixing the pipeline problem

Interesting trend in software: screening candidates by skill rather than keywords on a resume or ability to BS.

DevDraft: one-day programming challenge events, described on their "about" page as "Many talented people are being overlooked, and many just need a little push to get connected with the right opportunities. This is why we built DevDraft, a platform that organically identifies talent, regardless of their past history."

Starfighter: a company to publish games that will teach and evaluate coding skills, described by @patio11 as "The technology industry structurally excludes many qualified candidates from their hiring funnels and then is shocked when those hiring funnels disproportionately select for candidates who are not structurally excluded. Traditional tech interviews are terrible ways to identify, qualify, and evaluate top programming talent. Filtering by education level or university is unreliable. Keyword searches are applied by people who don’t understand the underlying technology. The tech industry excludes perfectly viable candidates for no reason at all."


I meant to say in the TV post that I am also enjoying Rob Thomas' foray into the world of a smart, sassy, petite blonde who solves crimes with an African-American male partner when she's not musing about the abrupt loss of her high-status life. With voiceovers.

However, Deadboy and the Elephantmen's "Stop, I'm Already Dead" is not as catchy as the Dandy Warhols' "We Used to Be Friends".

Viewing habits

Long time, no update. So of course, I am going to blather about TV shows. A lot of stuff has been piling up on the DVR, thanks in part to the new(ish) job, and also to the week in Disneyworld. It's interesting how things separate into three tiers:

  1. "OMG it's recording right now, let's watch it tonight!":

    • "Elementary"

    • "Major Crimes"

    • "Supernatural"

    • "Madam Secretary"

    • "Person of Interest" (which right now is on a streak of introducing a new female kick-ass character every week, which is a not-terrible way of responding to Sarah Shahi getting pregnant -- are you taking notes, Joss Whedon?)*

  2. "We'll watch it when we get around to it":

    • "Vampire Diaries" (lost its luster when we realized Elena will always be a victim, and there just hasn't been enough Caroline airtime to make up for that)

    • "Agents of SHIELD" (the writers' room needs a stronger brand of coffee)

    • "Covert Affairs"

    • "Forever" (watching only because of chemistry between Ioan Gruffud and Judd Hirsch)

  3. "We're deliberately letting this pile up so we can binge-watch it":
    • "The Originals"

Then there were a couple shows we let pile up and eventually gave up on, and deleted all the episodes. We gave up on watching "Sleepy Hollow" after reading glvalentine's increasingly trainwreck reviews. I will miss the man-out-of-time moments with Ichabod, but that's all. And we weren't big fans of where "The Mentalist" had been going lately, and once we read that two main characters were getting married, we looked at each other and said, "Time to delete."

*: Actually, every first-tier show seems to specialize in kick-ass female charactes with the exception of "Supernatural", which has had a few as recurring guest stars but is, at its heart, all about the bros.


Back from Disney

The 4 of us went to Walt Disney World (the one in Florida) with my sister R. and her boyfriend J., joining walkitout, rolandgo, and their kids. It was awesome. We were sad to leave. The Man and I have a tough week ahead, adjusting to normal life without the Disney magic -- by which I mean not the rides, parades, and fireworks, though those were great, but how Disney makes most things you are trying to do easier. They bring checked luggage from the airport to your room; and on the way back, they will hand it off to the airline for you. It's made me a convert to checked luggage, while previously I was a carry-on only kind of person. When you're wandering around trying to figure out where to go next, there is usually a staff member (excuse me, "cast member") standing nearby who will ask if you need any help and tell you how to get there. Eating out with a food allergy goes from a carefully planned activity to being able to eat anywhere on the property.

We were there for 8 days. The first night we stayed in a 2-bedroom villa at Wilderness Lodge with R. and J. It was a little surreal because the Lodge's decor is rustic Puget Sound themed, so there was that strange feeling of not having traveled anywhere after all. The rest of the nights were were in a 1-bedroom villa at the Grand Floridian, which was gorgeous. We got to eat a bunch of great meals (Ohana, Be Our Guest, California Grill, Yak and Yeti, and the Grand Floridian Cafe) and did character dining 1.5 times (Chef Mickey's, plus you get to meet the Beast after dinner at Be Our Guest; supposedly you can see Lilo and Stitch at Ohana, but I didn't spot them when we were there). Disney is a good place to have food allergies; for the most part, The Man and walkitout seemed happy with their meals.

We did most of the important rides: Haunted Mansion 3 times, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Barnstormer 3 times, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Soarin', The Seas with Nemo and Friends, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin 2 times, Toy Story Midway Mania, and Star Tours 2 times. (We passed on Splash Mountain because it was too cold out, and couldn't do Big Thunder Mountain because it wasn't working when we showed up to use our FastPasses.) And we got the kids to a bunch of character meet-n-greets: Rapunzel and Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Tinker Bell, and the aforementioned Beast. We also saw some shows: the Frozen sing-along, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, and Turtle Talk with Crush. The biggest wins seemed to be the meet-n-greets, Barnstormer, and the Space Ranger Spin. Neither kid was very impressed with the shows.

I'm bummed that we did not get the kids to meet Anna and Elsa (especially since N. asked twice about it, and brought his Elsa backpack) and Merida. But we were screwed out of FastPasses for the Scandinavian sisters by the My Disney Experience website's terrible UI, and without that, an hour-long wait for them would have been a short one. Throughout the trip I kept thinking of schemes to get the kids to that meet-n-greet (go late at night, do early morning Extra Magic Hours, one person holds the spot in line for half an hour) but ultimately none of them seemed workable. I was worried that N. and K. couldn't handle a wait that long, but mostly it was a time-budgeting decision: even with FastPasses and hitting the shortest standby lines, we generally had a "velocity" (to borrow a Scrum term) of 3-4 attractions before K. needed her nap. And she *needed* that nap; if we didn't have her back to the hotel in time, she would fall asleep in the stroller or in our arms.

We rented a double stroller from Disney for each day we were in the parks, and a stroller from Universal for the one day we were there. The appeal was that we could ditch the stroller anywhere in the park, but really, what we needed turned out to be the opposite: a stroller that we could use to take a sleeping 4-year-old back to the hotel. By the next time we go to a Disney park she'll probably be 6 and it won't be an issue, but if I had any advice to give to parents of a kid who still naps, it is: either bring a stroller or rent one from one of the many local stroller rental places. We had one grueling walk back to the hotel taking turns carrying her, and one difficult wait in line at Universal where they didn't let us go through with the Universal parks rental stroller, but they were letting families go through the line with folding strollers. (There was also no A/C in line for the Hogwarts Express. But Universal deserves a post of its own.)

Some things I would do differently:

  • Bring the stroller, as mentioned above.

  • Don't even think you'll make it to early morning Extra Magic Hours on the day you leave. Yes, we were going to attempt this; but we realized it was completely insane. You're all exhausted from all the walking you're not used to and not getting enough sleep. Plus you have to pack the last few things and get the bellman to pick up the bags and check in for your flight and...yeah, just give it up now. If you're leaving today, it's going to be a late-start day.

  • Bring the cold-weather gear. I only brought a light jacket, and froze one day when I was sure it would warm up, and it didn't. (There was this blizzard happening farther north on the East Coast.)

  • I saw this in the Unofficial Guide book too late: on a longer trip, plan a "rest day" every 4th day where you do nothing. It would have been a really good way to counteract the tendency to try to fit way too much into each day.

  • Another tip from the book: plan character meals for the day you arrive and the day you leave. We were all happy with Chef Mickey's, and N. asked to go again; I think our first and last days there would have been good days to do more character dining.

  • Speaking of time budgeting, I wouldn't bother with Animal Kingdom again, personally. (K. did love digging in the sand pit, but I just felt it was a day that could have been better spent at the Magic Kingdom.)

  • I would hit the Harry Potter areas at Universal only with tweens, not with young kids.

  • Don't bother with the theater shows at WDW until the kids are older.

  • Although I think their Unofficial Guide books are great, I would not bother buying a membership again to make personalized touring plans. Even if you set the slowest walking speed, they're completely unrealistic for what my family can accomplish. (Personalized touring plans said we could hit 6 or 7 attractions in a day, vs. the 3-4 we actually managed most days.)

  • Bring ponchos to Pirates of the Caribbean or wait for a warm day. I had to buy the kids PJs and a throw blanket in the gift shop after that ride because their pants were soaked through and I wasn't taking them back out into a 40° night with wet pants.

Some things I would do exactly the same:

  • Having a date night in the middle of the trip, complete with babysitter, was perfect. By that point, you're really ready for some adult time.

  • If you have to take a 6-hour flight with small children, first class is absolutely the way to do it. You have enough elbow room, you board first and deplane first, the restroom is close and not too busy, and there's a flight attendant close at hand for anything the kids need.

  • The luau meal at Ohana, especially the chicken they bring around on skewers.

  • Watching the fireworks at the California Grill.

  • Dinner at Be Our Guest -- it's a great meal plus an attraction.

  • For counter service, Columbia Harbor House was quite nice; and very convenient to the Haunted Mansion.

  • Ordering groceries from was great. We used it for breakfasts and for packing a few lunches, which saved us a lot of time getting ready and in the parks. (Basically if you want to see anything before your kid's naptime, you either pack lunch and eat it in line; or get counter service at 11 a.m.) We also ordered a flat of water bottles, since the tap water smells of sulfur.

  • I was generally underwhelmed with Epcot but probably would hit it again because N. said he wanted to do Soarin' and The Seas with Nemo and Friends again; and it might be nice to watch IllumiNations from the restaurant in the Mexico pavilion.

  • I would hit Hollywood Studios again only because my family likes Star Tours and they thought the Toy Story Midway Mania was fun.

  • We saw the Magical Kingdom fantasy parade one day, and I was glad we did; the kids were excited to see all the characters.

  • Staying on the property and using the Magical Express shuttle -- the convenience cannot be overstated.

  • Good traveling companions who are understanding about kids' needs.

  • Being realistic about what you can accomplish with kids.


Tonight's quotes from K.

"Mommy, I think I do not really have monsters. I've just been pretending, all my life!"

"Vampires don't drink that much blood. It's only a spoonful, and that's not enough to kill us. I know I'm right."

Me, reading Elfquest: "These elves hiding in the bushes look pretty scared, right? But what do these elves down here look like?"

K.: "They look ready to kick some ass."