Saturday, December 01, 2007

Check Mii Out

The ingenuity of the creators of the Nintendo Wii game console continues to amaze and delight me. We had to pay above the going price to get ours from some guy on eBay, after spending many hours on the phone to all local stores that sell Wii's asking every day if they had any in stock. I was frustrated at not being able to get one, but I am glad we finally did.

The thing that is a new is a feature called Check Mii Out. I've always thought the feature on the Wii where you can make your own Mii is really fun. You can make one that looks like yourself, but we quickly realized we could make ones that look like our favorite characters. There doesn't seem to be a limit to how many you can make; I think we have over 100 of them. And they play on your team (or the other team) when you play Wii Sports. So, we have Mom batting and Severus Snape pitching. And Mario and Link, and whenever a friend comes over, we let him make one representing himself. It's very cool.

So now, with this new feature, you can share your Mii with the world. Right on the Wii, you can go to a channel where you can upload your creation, and see those others have uploaded. The only limitation is that you can only give them initials, not names (my son theorizes this is to keep people from being able to use inappropriate words). So, HP for Harry Potter, either LV (Lord Voldemort) or TR (Tom Riddle) for the boy wizard's evil nemesis. We've seen quite a few HPs, and I personally think my Voldie is the best. Snape is popular as well, and I'm not the only one who dressed him in Slytherin green even though he always seems to wear black.

Other popular ones are JC (Jesus Christ) and MJ (Michael Jackson -- someone did a great job capturing the Gloved One's hollowed-out cheekbones). People are getting creative and making non-human characters -- Storm Troopers and Ewoks. I tried my hand at Snoopy after seeing CB (Charlie Brown) and PP (Peppermint Patty). It was hard to get Snoopy's ears right, though. I thought I did a good job with Dobby (Harry Potter's house-elf friend).

One great feature is that you can download other people's Mii's onto your machine. You can't edit them once you've got them, but you can get them.

My kids, even my 16-year-old boy, have had a great time with this feature. It's frustrating that you can only use initials and not names, but then it's sometimes fun to try and guess who they might be.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Random Thoughts about the Internet, Take 2

When I started the post below, it was by way of introduction to some thoughts about how the internet has changed over the years. But I got side-tracked ranting about how Blogger won't work right, and forgot. So now I'm back.

I got my first computer in 1991. I'd used computers before, I even had my brother's old Leading Edge computer (no kidding, this computer had 2 5-/4-inche floppy drives, NO hard drive, and 256K of RAM. 256K. Not Mb, K. Just think of that for a minute).

Anyway, my first computer: Made by NCR, a company famous for making cash registers (I believe NCR stands for National Cash Register). It had a 40 Mb hard drive. It had one 5-1/4-inch floppy drive and one 3.5-inch floppy drive.

The first thing we had to do with it was install DOS. Remember DOS? Then we also installed the following: Windows 3.1, a mouse, and a dial-up modem. Computers didn't come with these things back then. To install something like Windows you had to insert a floppy disk, run the setup program, and wait for it to tell you when to switch disks. After going through a stack of 2-6 disks, your application would be ready to run.

You typed "WIN" at the DOS prompt to get into Windows. (I still remember 3-year-old Dan trying to type WIN into the search field at the library's card catalog computer and being frustrated when it didn't work.)

I remember when Windows 95 came out. They said it was a whole new way of computing, and I guess it was because people don't use DOS anymore. Now computers just start and boot right into Windows and you don't have to mess with DOS-type commands. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My brother had moved to Colorado and I wanted to be able to email him. He had email at the college he was attending. So I did what most people did in 1992 if they wanted email access at their home: I signed up for Compu-Serve. It was the only way to do it, or at least, the least expensive. There was this thing called Prodigy, but Compu-Serve was cheaper so I went with that.

There was a graphical interface but you had to pay for it. But you could use a sort of DOS version for free (there was still a monthly fee, $7 or $9 a month, but you didn't have to pay for the application unless you got the graphical interface, so I chose the DOS version). There was a section, including email, that you could use for an unlimited time period, and there was another section (including forums) that you had to pay extra (by the hour, after a certain number of hours were used) to use.

So I did email, and I got involved (a bit) in a homeschooling forum. I remember downloading a whole long list of homeschooling vendors, going to the post office and buying pre-stamped postcards, and mailing out requests for catalogs. There were no websites then, this was the only way to buy homeschooling materials.

Then one day a disk came in the mail from this company I'd never heard of before, called America Online. From reading the marketing material that came with the disk, I could tell it was something like Compu-Serve, but I didn't know what it was, really.

I put it in the disk, and it automatically installed this wonderful software. In about 15 minutes I had a new userID ("Meli") and a free month of service. I had access to all of the forums and didn't have to worry about whether I was in a "free" area or a "pay" area. It all came for the same price, though there was a monthly limit of how many hours you got.

AOL brought the internet to the masses. People don't realize that, but it's really true. Before AOL, internet was something engineers used at work. No one had it at home and most people didn't know what it was or how to use it. AOL changed all that, and brought content people wanted to pay an extra monthly fee to have.

But it was still limited. You had 20 hours a month, I think. After that, you paid extra per hour, sort of like going over your minute plan on your cell phone. Then one day they decided to change it to unlimited. They changed the price (it had been $9.95, it went to about $20 a month), but for that price you got all the hours you could use.

There was one big catch: they didn't have enough phone lines for everyone to connect. This was still the days of dial-up, that horrible screaching noise of the modem dialing and talking to the computer on the other end. You had a phone line plugged into the back of your computer and you couldn't make a phone call while you were online (we had a 2nd phone line just for the computer fir a little while).

Suddenly everyone wanted to connect all the time and most people got a busy signal, all the time. You could connect during the daytime, but not during what the TV networks call Primetime. So I'd connect in the morning and download all of my email. Being home during the day was one of the reasons we didn't just cancel our service -- most people who tried to connect only in the evenings never got through.

Finally, AOL got more phone lines. Other ISPs started up. We switched to a local internet provider and suddenly we had "real" internet, with a browser and an email client, like it is now. Except it was still dialup.

Finally, we got broadband. Hooray! We could finally enjoy the internet! I remember there was a website for kids, based on the TV show Blue's Clues. On Dial-up, you'd get an animation of Blue chasing a ball around the screen, which was supposed to keep you interested while you waited for the real game to download. And waited. And waited. Eventually, the kid would lose interest. We never really played that game till we had broadband.

It's amazing to think how far all of this technology has come, all within the short lifetime of my 16-year-old son. Now we have all this web 2.0 stuff that I don't really see the point of. The web is very different than it used to be.

Random Thoughts about the Internet

This old computer in my kitchen is starting to be a problem. With the last update, Firefox has ceased to function on this computer. You can boot it up and go to a website, and somewhere between loading the first page and about the 10th mouse click you make, it hangs. Stops letting you do anything. Ceases to function. Bummer.

So, I installed Opera. Opera, as I found out when I was looking to help my impatient husband find a browser that would load quickly, has the smallest footprint of any of the most-commonly-used browsers. That means that it requires the least system memory and it loads fast. So I thought it would be a good choice for this old Dell.

And so far, it is, except it doesn't seem to agree with Blogger. Yesterday, I was writing the post about the Nesbit books, and it stopped letting me edit. I just couldn't type. I could save. I could go to another web page. The browser hadn't crashed, it just wouldn't let me type anymore.  Thank goodness for the automatic save feature in Blogger; I had all of what I'd already typed.

So, I tried again this morning. I was able to type the rest of the post. But one of the paragraphs (the one I was in the middle of when it stopped working yesterday) won't wrap around. At first, the words went way, way over there >>>, under the sidebar and continuing on in a strange color against the far right background. I inserted a bunch of force-returns and managed to get that fixed, but the lines are still off. Some places refuse to let me edit them. I put my cursor at the end of the line, hit delete and it deletes the first character on the next line. I move my cursor down to the beginning of the next line and hit backspace and it brings me back up to the previous line, but then when I type there it either moves me back down or types on top of the existing letters, so that what I type replaces text already there.

Hopefully I'll be able to fix it when I have access to another computer.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

E. Nesbit

I am currently enjoying two books by British children's author E. Nesbit. The books are not well-known, if they ever were, but they should be.

The main character of The Story of the Treasure Seekers is one of the all-time favorites of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Based on her recommendation, I sought out this book via inter-library loan, as my local library didn't have a copy. And I enjoyed it immensely. It, and the sequel with the not-very-intriguing title of The Wouldbegoods, are laugh-out-loud funny. I recommend them to children and anyone who has ever been a child.

What is so great about them is the characterization. The characters literally leap off the page. You get to know them well and you grow to love them and care what happens to them.

Another obscure book by the same author is The House of Arden. Sounds like an old fashioned romance novel, doesn't it? The kind 
with a big mansion located on a windswept moor where the heroine 
becomes stranded and meets a dark, handsome and mysterious gentleman. 
But that's not what happens in this book. It's about two children who find 
they have inhearited a run-down castle and must find a treasure to be 
able to afford to restore 
the castle to its former glory. 
These children actually go back in time, have exciting adventures, and 
meet some famous people (great 
book to read if you want to study British history). 

I think Mrs. Nesbit's books are excellent, even if some of their titles sound strange to our modern ears. My children have noticed the following signs that these books were written over 100 years ago: different money (it's British money, but old fashioned British money, not the same as they have today), gas lights, house help, various types of horse-drawn carriages, differences in education and food (cold mutton was not a particular favorite, but roasted rabbit was a treat worthy of spending their own money to purchase). And we've had difficulty understanding various pop culture references (a good lesson in gaining meaning from context). One of the things the books prove is that, though many things have changed since they were written, people stay pretty much the same.

You may have heard of some of Mrs. Nesbit's more well-known books, such as Five Children and It. I urge you to look for some of these not-so-well-known works. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Home brewed Iced Tea

I found out recently that I'm right on the cutting edge of a trend. Imagine that!

I went to this little coffee shop called Mocha Lisa's Cafe. They also have Iced Tea there. I can't drink coffee (it gives me heartburn) and I don't generally like warm beverages anyway, so I ordered iced tea and watched how they made it.

They made it almost exactly how I make it at home. That's how I knew I was part of this trend!

Here's how they made it: They brewed hot tea, using my choice from a whole tray full of different flavored teas. I picked Apricot/Peach flavor. The only difference from how I make tea at home was that they didn't use a tea bag, but used some sort of thing similar to a coffee filter to put the loose tea leaves in.

After they had the hot tea, they poured it over ice and served it to me.

Here's what I do at home: I make one cup of tea. Often I do it in an oversized cup that I know will hold up to hot liquids. Then I add sweetener and, often, a little fruit juice. I buy Kern's Apricot Nectar and put in several tablespoons of that per cup of tea. Then I just add ice and stir, that's why I start with an oversized cup.

I'm a label-reader and I've found that iced tea mix is not nearly as good for you as regular tea. Even Lipton tea bags that are meant for iced tea don't have nearly the amount of antioxidants that regular tea has. That's why I add the fruit juice rather than buy flavored tea bags. The flavored ones don't have the large quantity of antioxidants, either.

So, that's a great an inexpensive way to make your own healthy and tasty iced tea, and save money versus the cost of buying it at an expensive coffee or tea shop where they make it the same way.