Friday, August 24, 2012

Techology, Family Life and the #DellDozen

Photo snapped approx. 2 seconds after the 14Z came out of the box.
I'm delighted to be a part of the #DellDozen Ambassador program along with some fab friends. Over the coming weeks, you'll see me talking about the role of technology in our family with a post or two here and other thoughts on Twitter and Facebook and The Maker Mom.

As an active social media mom, people assume I have all the latest tech, and admittedly, I do have a lot of it, but DH and I have Luddite tendencies (especially DH). Yes, I have a tablet (Droid) and so does my husband (Apple), but neither of us have smart phones.

On purpose.

I'm so connected to my computer at home, that it's freeing to have a phone that does little more than make call and send texts. When want to be connected on the go, I bring along my tablet with 4G service. It's handy enough stick in a large purse when I want it, but cumbersome enough that I don't want it with me all the time.

Also, we have one TV in our house and it's a hand-me-down 1990s large screen, rear projection monster. It's not hi-def. It doesn't have an HDMI port and we don't have cable.


We can watch DVDs on it and the boys can, in theory, play video games, only we don't have a system right now. We've had a Game Cube and Wii in the past.

And did I mention we don't have in-house wi-fi? That's right, there are a handful of places throughout the house to plug into the 'net and none of our neighbors have open networks.

It sucks to be my kids.


What we lack in TVs, we make up for in computers. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to laptops. I keep my 2007 Dell around for making videos because I like the old version of Windows Movie Maker better than the one that came with my 2011 Lenovo. And there are a few more laptops floating around. I can't even begin to describe it.

Each laptop is newer, lighter, faster and sleeker than the one before. Although with this sleekness, Imma talkin' to you, ultrabooks, comes the assumption that the savvy owner will be using wifi. It's not a bad assumption, but it leaves some people in an awkward situation when they can't use their new computers online because the guy at Best Buy tells them it's cheaper to simply get wifi than rig up their ultrabook to plug in an ethernet cable.

Except today, when this $15 fix arrived from the folks at Dell, I realized that the Best Buy guy had no idea what he was talking about.

Belkin ethernet adapter
Dear Best Buy Dude, You are clueless.

Last week we received a Dell Inspiron 14Z ultrabook (for the kids) and the Dell XPS 13 ultrabook (for me) as part of the #DellDozen ambassador program. Also, my teen who just started high school received his ASUS Netbook that the school provides to incoming freshman.

See what I mean about a ridiculous number of computers?

It's a bit much for our luddite family.

Because the teen has a shiny, new (albeit "lame") netbook, the tween has dibs on the Inspiron 14Z. Given that it's brand new and virus-free and I hope to keep it that way, I'm trying to stress that it's to be used for school work, as opposed to Mine Craft. I'm all for supporting my boys' growing programming skills, so that kind of thing will be allowed, sigh, even if they are programming to create MineCraft mods or whatever it is they "craft" there.

Dell Inspiron 14Z
Dell Inspiron 14Z ultrabook

I love the cool black and brushed aluminum look of their Inspiron and so do they. The 14Z has a DVD drive and lately we've huddled in bed watching movies on it. (When your kids are as old as mine you have to find ways to get them to be close to you.) With an HD video camera built in and Skype ready to run, we'll have to chat with the grandparents (but they live nearby so we usually see them in person).

School just started today, so we'll see how it handles the school work and how long my boys can stay away from games. The 14Z has an Ethernet port so my boys are ready to game it up do their research and earn high marks this semester.

As for my little beauty with the backlit keyboard, the XPS13, look how it compares to my old Dell Inspiron, a laptop I bought back in 2008 with my professional blogging income.

The laptop with the Ultrabook inside. I might be on to something.

The XPS is sleek, lightweight; it weighs less than 3 pounds without the adapter. But it's not just pretty and slim, it's powerful. 

We're just getting to know each other now that I have the external Ethernet port that I would have had on hand if I had not been misguided months ago, I'm going to start to use it in earnest. I'll let you know what I think. In the meantime, the folks at CNET are more adept at reviewing computers than I am, so check out what they had to say.

Thus begins another chapter in my love/hate (but don't you dare take it away from me) technology story. Do you have a hard time keeping your kids focused on their schoolwork and off of games/the internet or is it just me?

I received the XPS 13 and Inspiron from Dell as part of the Ambassador programs. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Have You Heard of Unreal Candy?

Kim Moldofsky at Sweets and Snacks Expo
Yesterday, my son came home and asked if I had heard of Unreal Candy. Yes, I have. It's been quite a topic in the online momspace thanks to brand outreach and parties.

I haven't tried the brand yet, but I think it's awesome in for no other reason than it makes me feel like I'm awesome.

How so?

In 2010 I spoke as a "mom trend expert" on a panel about candy industry trends at the Sweets and Snacks Expo.

I talked about moms wanting artificial food dyes removed from candy.

But kids love the bright colors!

I talked about moms preferring real sugar to HFCS.

Unbunch your panties lady, we're making candy, not vitamins!

In 2011, I attended the Expo searching out candies that met this criteria. There were many. Sadly, I never managed to write up my intended round-up post for Gina Rau's wonderful Feed Our Families because a project came along. A really big project.

I suspected that year would be my last at the Sweets and Snacks show. I'm attempting to be more focused. More niche. Though to be clear, I'm the kind of gal thinks a life without sweets (specifically chocolate) is barely worth living.

I'm also the kind of gal who likes to be right, especially with a teen and near-teen in the house because they are constantly showing me how "wrong" I usually am. {insert eye roll here}

So, hooray for candy men and women trying to make life more natural and a little sweeter. May your category grow as large I suggested it would. I wish Unreal, as well as allergy-friendly Home Free Treats, Yummy Earth candies, Surf Sweets, and Sun Ridge Farms a bright, yet artificially-dye-free, future.


Friday, August 03, 2012

Evanston Mini-Maker Faire, AKA Why I'm Not at BlogHer

Evanston Maker Faire
As much as I wanted to go to BlogHer in New York City, I couldn't justify the business expense after adding up all the numbers. As I was hemming and hawing and number-crunching on BlogHer, I learned about the Evanston, Illinois Mini-Maker Faire on August 4 and 5.

What? A Maker Faire in my own backyard? I had missed out on the north side Faire earlier this year and thought I was destined to always miss these events.

That really tipped the scale in favor of me staying home. Plus, I was able to take an Arduino class in the time I might have otherwise been partying it up in NYC. Bonus!

I volunteered to spend some time at the MAKE booth at the Faire and then I blinked my eyes and was suddenly in charge of finding other volunteers to staff the booth. At this point, I spend a lot of time explaining the maker movement and the Maker Faire to others, how was I going to convince my clueless peeps to volunteer?

It turned out I found a couple of good people who helped me find a couple of other good people and 8 volunteers later my job is done. Well, it will be after I send everyone a reminder note.

I'm excited to see and touch and learn this weekend. And with the money I'm saving by not going to BlogHer, I'm more than halfway to a MakerBot* purchase.

i want a makerbot
image via

*Note to my husband, in case he's reading: just kidding on that MakerBot thing. I know that the money will likely go toward paying COBRA. Sigh.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

And on My Second Visit to Pumping Station 1

I was getting ready to sit down with my family for Shabbat dinner on a Friday night in June when a DM landed in my inbox inviting me to join a group later that night Pumping Station:1, a Chicago hackerspace. Much later. As in 10 PM later.

Heading to the city at 10 PM? Alone? Me?

I texted back: Uh, that's a little late for me. Maybe next time.

And then I laid out the details for my husband.

"Sounds like this is out of your comfort zone," he said. "You should go."

"You think? Really?" I asked.


So, after a rousing family trip to Target to pick up last minute supplies for camp, I headed to the city.


After 10 PM.

Read more about my night at my new blog, The Maker Mom