Monday, February 21, 2011

Got a Smartphone? You otter box it...

A crucial piece of gear for any dad is the smart phone. This versatile pocket computer may at first seem like an umbilical cord the wife can jerk you around with no matter where you are, but they are actually quite handy.
Can't remember all those doctor's numbers, addresses and appointments? Put them in the smartphone.
Worried about how you'll remember baby's first words, when they first walked, or your wedding anniversary? Put it in the smartphone.
On your way to the store and you can't find pen or paper to make a shopping list because the kids have stolen every scrap of paper and writing implement in pursuit of their future art career? Type the list into the smartphone.
Can't fit enough pics of the kids in your wallet? Put them in the smartphone- which also holds video, a trick your wallet will never match.
Or maybe you're stuck in a doctor's office lobby, waiting for that annual check up for the kids. They inevitably get bored with estrogenized parenting magazines and aren't into Oprah, Ellen or whatever other  daytime fare all the mommies are glued to. No problem, whip out the smartphone and stream some Dora from Youtube. Or maybe play a movie you had the foresight to shrink and drop onto the smartphone ahead of time.
And that's when the baby butterfingers strike.
Down goes your phone, smeared with tiny, juice bag fingerprints, tumbling in slow motion before landing precisely on the one corner that had some microscopic factory defect. The "unbreakable" gorilla glass face shatters on impact. Or maybe the back flies off in one direction, your battery in another. Now what are you going to do?
Oh, sure, you could have bought a Casio waterproof/shockproof phone. Their G-shock watches are damned near indestructible. But smartphones are so much better. The internet, an organizer, a movie and music player- all in one pocket-sized device.
The alternatve is to defend your phone from inevitable droppage. By wrapping it in the strong embrace of an Otterbox polycarbonate box, that is itself surrounded in thick synthetic rubber. No slippery surface anymore. And even if it does get dropped, those delicate corners and smooth, polished plastic surfaces are shielded from damage. Otterbox has been making these cases for years and they really know what they're doing.
At first, you may scoff at spending $50 for a top-of-the-line Otterbox for your smartphone. They aren't even waterproof! But then, you couldn't use that phone in the rain anyway, could you? But think of the peace of mind. Drop protection (not to be confused with G-Shock level protection). Isn't $50 worth that?
Still not convinced? Well, Otterbox also throws in a handy polycarbonate hard holster that clips to your belt. Yes, your wife may call you a nerd, but did you know that putting a phone in your pocket shortens battery life? Your own body heat diminishes the talk time of the phone. Wear it proudly on your bat belt however, and the phone is only subjected to the ambient air temperature, and not your sweaty, man-furnace fumes. Plus, being on your belt, you probably won't accidentally wash it, or test the scratch resistance of the screen protector with whatever man-gear you regularly carry in your pockets.
For the sake of your phone, your sanity and your wallet, drop some coin on an Otterbox. The alternative is too terrible to imagine.
(This is not a paid advertisement for or onbehalf of Otterbox. Other companies also make protective cases for smartphones and PDAs, I just like Otterbox the best) 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Daddy's Little Cheaters

Recently, I read an article about a study that was released confirming what most gaming dads already knew: it does girls good to play video games with their dads.
I've been playing video games with my two girls (5 & 11) for years now. It's good bonding time that I enjoy way more than tea parties, playing Barbies & GI Joes, or watching High School Musical for the 3 millionth time.
In my pre-console gaming days, I had my desktop connected via composite cable to the basement TV. I'd fire up a game and get comfortable while my then-4 year old would settle in on the recliner-couch with a bowl of popcorn and some juice bags. She'd giggle and laugh as I waged war on whatever virtual enemy I chose for the evening. Her favorite was watching me Force-push Stormtroopers to their doom in the classic Jedi Academy First Person Shooter.
When we graduated to the Xbox, I rearranged the old dadcave and we got to both enjoy the couch and a larger TV. My youngest soon joined the party. I even began to play games with the kids. Like the great LEGO series of games.
My latest innovation in family gaming though involves one of my favorites. Cheating.
Not cheating against real people in multiplayer. That would be wrong (and potentially get me banned from Xbox Live). No, I'm talking about online walkthroughs and tips and hints for single player campaigns. In the past, I'd have to pause the games, get on the laptop and try to figure out why the hell I couldn't complete a level. When I was a PC gamer I'd get frustrated and read about doing console commands and making myself invulnerable or giving myself unlimited ammo. The kids always enjoyed it and quite frankly, so did I.
Now though I have cheater co-pilots. In particular, we've been playing Fallout New Vegas, a first person role player that has you criss-crossing the post-apocalyptic Mojave wasteland looking for stuff and helping/killing AI players. My kids love the game, and were quit eager to break out the snacks and backseat-game along with me- pointing out giant, irradiated spiders; offering their opinion on whether I should shoot or negotiate; and face palming when I screwed up and died spectacularly.
But as all casual gamers do, I finally got to points in the game I just couldn't finish on my own. I needed help. I needed an online walkthrough and some maps of hidden locations. Unfortunately, my kids didn't have much patience with me pausing the game for ten minutes or more while I read what the hell was wrong. My eleven year old finally decided to take matters into her own hands.
"When you're ready, daddy," she told me one night, "let me know and I'll look it up." I looked over and there she was on the other end of the couch, the laptop set up on a TV snack stand, notepad and pencil ready.
I've learned that having a gaming co-pilot is quite helpful. Especially one with a detailed online map. Instead of wandering aimlessly in the radioactive wasteland, I can just demand "Where the hell is the Vault 21 entrance?!" In minutes- while I pass the time killing mutated geckos- she's located the coordinates, spun the laptop around and pointed the location out.
My five year old is in on the cheating fun also. While she lacks adequate search-engine skills, she's eager to see the maps as well, and parrot the criticisms my older child gives when I go in the wrong direction.
"No, you're going the wrong way!" older child says.
"You're going the wrong way, daddy!" younger child echoes two milliseconds later. You know, in case I didn't hear the first child.
So if you're a gamer dad who is constantly pestered by your children, or who have children that like to stand between you and the TV screen, don't lose your cool. Put their asses to work. Snack fetching and drink preparation is a great aid to serious gaming. And if they have the skills, set them up to co-pilot on the internet. It's an experience you'll all enjoy.
Just watch your language when die in the game....

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Man Van, or Ham Van?

Wow, what timing. I was JUST lamenting the chickification of the minivan- that totally unfair stereotype that minivans are feminine. Chrysler wasn't listening- instead they are perpetuating the myth with a stupid-ass "Man Van".
It's a special Dodge Grand Caravan with "man" features. Like racing stripes. A lowered chassis. Over sized, chrome wheels. A black interior with red stitching. Performance suspension and a ginormous sound system.
Man Van? More like Ghetto-Man Van.
What the Hell? Why do car manufacturers think man=race car? On the contrary- all I see driving sports cars are little malnourished, pantywaist metrosexuals, who think squeeling tires = macho. It doesn't. I don't care how fast your car, how much nitrous or chrome you add to it. You little punks are still asking for an ass-whoopin'. One you will surely get because you spent too much time eating Doritos and Mountain Dew instead of bulking up on meat, cheese and potatos. As a result, you have the physique of a girl. Which explains all the hair care products and body perfume.
A Man's Van would have a trailer hitch. An extra 6" of ground clearance. AWD. Rally lights. A spare, full-sized tire on the rear hatch. Front and rear winches. Diamond plate floorboard for the driver. Brush Guards. A dual gas tank, for extended operation in the wild.
A Man Van wouldn't rely on faux race car looks. It'd back it's manliness with horsepower and unbridled ruggedness. "Dodge" wouldn't be the name of the manufacturer- it'd be a warning to anyone even thinking of stepping out in front of it. Mike Rowe would consider driving one to his next Dirty Job.
A Man Van would have full sized rear seats too. So you could haul your screaming kids to football practice, or your best buds to the super bowl. The Roof would have a protective coating so that when you actually used the upper roof rack you didn't have to worry about scratching paint.
Stow N Go seating? How about with carbon fiber backs so you could throw lumber, deer carcasses or your favorite tools in the back with no worry about knicks or scratches.
Finally, a Man Van would be multi fuel. Not Hybrid multifuel. No, Deuce-and-a-half, M35, Mil-spec multifuel. Where you could burn gas, diesel, cooking oil, jet fuel, or any flammable liquid that would fit in the tank. This wouldn't be to combat gasoline prices or save the ecosystem. It'd be to get you anywhere and back, gas stations or not.
Chrysler thinks racing stripes are manly. The only stripes they really know are the yellow ones on their backs. Because they're too chicken to make a real man's ride.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


When I was growing up, the way to fix things was to strike them. TV not picking up a channel? Whack it on the side. Post in the yard crooked? Whack it. Dog keeps peeing on the carpet? Whack it. Hitting things is the American first line of repair. And when you're a dad, you're expected to fix a lot of things. Not because you want to DIY, but because everyone who isn't a dad will want to DDI- Dad'll Do It. That means you need tools. My personal favorite is the Leatherman WAVE Multi-tool. But don't overlook the whacking tools. They're very handy. And there is one whacking tool many a dad may have overlooked.

 The Mallet.

 Now, don't get me wrong- claw hammer's are great when you're doing some carpentry. Ballpeen hammers are great for gear heads. Sledgehammers are great for busting bricks or driving posts. But the reality for those of us that aren't in the trades is that we're going to be hitting things that are far less durable than a claw hammer. Things made of plastic or wood.

 That's where the Mallet, or more specifically, the rubber mallet comes in handy.

 Imagine you're a new dad and you're putting together the baby's pre-fabricated crib. You screw this and that, but at some point you're going to need to tap some wooden pegs in place. Use a trusty metal claw hammer if you must, but don't be surprised when you miss with one swing and put a huge gash in the finish. If you can't turn the crib so that gash is against the back wall, you're going to catch nine kinds of hell from the missus- who is out of her damned mind anyways with all those pregnancy hormones.

 Fast forward to little Johnny's first camping trip. You're driving tent stakes into the ground. You beat the hell out of them with a claw hammer- because claw hammers are the everyman of hammers. The tent stakes are going to look like Fido got ahold of them.

 When Little Johnny starts getting school pictures, the wife is going to start demanding that you put up frames. Sure, sure, you could use a claw hammer to drive nails into the drywall. But again, miss, and you've got a hell of a dent. Worse, when it's a billion degrees in the house, and you've ben holding that frame up so she can stand on the other side of the room to see if she likes it there, your arms are going to get tired. Sweat+fatigue=butterfingers. A claw hammer is going to hurt your feet way more than a nice rubber mallet.

 What about when you slip on the ice loading the van for that trip to the in-laws, and you put a small dent in the hood? With a rubber mallet, you can pop that sucker out and the wife will never know.

 Mallets are awesome.

 Look at the name: M-A-L-L-E-T. It's like a cross between MALE and WALLET. "Male" means man, and wallets are of course the more masculine, pocket-sized versions of purses. Every man needs to own a mallet.

 Some of you may want to point out that the way to prevent denting with a claw hammer is to put a piece of wood between the hammer and the object you're striking. Pashaw, I say! The right tool for the job is ALWAYS the better way to go. Claw hammers are for nails. Not building furniture, popping dents or camping!

 The next time you're out shopping for tools, grab a mallet. They're pretty cheap- I got mine at Target for $1. That's a lot of banging for a buck.