France, Summer 1990

2Les Echelles 25 years ago(!) today,  I was in a small town in France where I spent a month with a host family. It was one of the most fun experiences of my life.

I recently found my mementos from that summer. I transcribed the photos and scanned the photos. Thank you to the Vial family for such a memorable summer.



July 3rd

It’s 11:42 in Queens. I’m watching Arsenio Hall. I should be over the Atlantic Ocean by now, but the Paris airline workers’ strike has kept me here in the Hilton-JFK Plaza Hotel. I’ve met innumerable people today from Vermont to Nebraska. Staying in my room is Eric, a kid from Rockford, Illinois named Doug Benton and a guy from South Dakota named Ray Tracy. He’s only 18 and he owns his own house and 5 acres of land. He has so many stories that we can hardly believe. My plane leaves at 9:30 tomorrow morning. I can’t even see NYC. I spent about 3 hours sitting on the airport floor talking with some people from Tennessee, a girl from Mason called Monica and a girl from Hopkinton. The flight from Boston was fine. I talked to a chaperone and played poker with a kid, Dave, from Massachusetts. It’s midnight now and I have to be on a bus for 7:00. Hopefully I’ll be writing somewhere besides a hotel in Paris.

July 4th

It’s now 12:36 am and I’m on a bus. When we landed in Paris at Charles de Gaulle it was already 10:00. I can understand that these Nacel people are frustrated and confused from all the changes that had to be made because of the strike, but I think they should at least inform us of what’s going on. The only way you find out things here is by rumor. When they do talk to you they speak in French! I’m here to learn French, but I don’t know that much yet and I don’t want to flub things up any more than they already are just because I didn’t understand something they said.
Anyway, I’m on the right bus now. A bus driver almost ran over a few people and their baggage a little while ago. He’s just one example of the insanity around here. I said goodbye to Eric as he took another bus and I’ve met a girl from Baltimore named Lori. Her plane left yesterday and since we were 12 hours late, she and some others had to tour Paris in a bus for 11 hours. It’s 0:48 hours Paris time now and I know I won’t be able to sleep. I’m not every sure if my family has been contacted and know when to meet me tomorrow… err  today. The food the plane was exotic and non-heated. I should be sleeping in Les Échelles right now. To sum it all up, this is great.

July 5th

It’s 11:14 and I’m about to set a trip record for the earliest time of the sleeping. After about 14 hours on a bus, I finally managed to make it where I was supposed to be yesterday. Everybody here is nice and I’m already learning lots of French. So far I’ve been mostly recalling what I know, but soon I will have that down and can concentrate on building my vocabulary. I ate breakfast this morning at 2:00 am and 7:00 am. We solved the mystery of the bars on the bus and were awarded with flat surface to sleep on. I’ve almost never been so tired. I fell asleep at 6:30 pm and woke up at 8:00 to find that they had postponed dinner for me. I met a kid from Edmonton, Canada this morning and got to know Lori really well. Right now this bed is the most comfortable thing I’ve been in for 3 days. My room is Olivier’s room and he has taken the guest bedroom. I hope tomorrow will be very productive since I will be finally refreshed.

July 6th

Last night I slept for 12 hours. I got up and had cereal. Today I want swimming, played a lot of ping pong and met some of Olivier’s friends at a soccer game. I didn’t know it until I got there that the game was between the girls soccer team and their mothers. There was another game after between the boys and their fathers and at the end a trophy cup was given to the boys. I just listened mostly to Olivier’s friends. Occasionally they would collaborate to talk to me in English. I’m starting to be able to separate their words in normal speech. For translation it will be a while. Everything I have ever learned about French is slowly coming back. Other things happened but I’m tired and I want to get up before 10.
(A balloon is taped to the page)
Stéphanie Mollard gave this to me at the soccer game.

July 7th

Well, another day gone. Didn’t do much. This morning Olivier had a swim meet. He came home about 1 o’clock. We went to a supermarket. It’s not much different than in America. We played a little tennis but it was not much fun because we’re both terrible.
Tomorrow we all will go to Lake Geneva (I think) if it’s nice. Monday, Olivier, 12 of his friends and I will go swimming, then play tennis and the we will all return to Olivier’s house. It should be fun. Wednesday we’re going to see the Tour de France. Little Nicolas reminds me of Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes. He’s always getting into trouble but he’s smart. Yesterday Olivier’s friend grabbed him to stop him from throwing a rock. Nicolas spit right in his face! I would have never thought to that. That kid doesn’t stop until he gets hurt. He has scabs on his knees to prove it.

July 8th

I was wrong. We weren’t going to go Lake Geneva. We went to Lake Annecy. We weren’t going to go when the weather was not so good this morning but it cleared up and we went.  By the time we got there every Frenchman on the west side of the Alps was already there. It was just a big lake with too many boats, restaurants, hotels and tourist traps.
We rented a paddle boat and then walked around. We ate at a restaurant on another lake on the way back. They served Coke just like wine with a bottle and a glass. The French can give class to the most simple things. The main dish was a pile about 4 inches high of 1 to 2 inch intact and fried fish. They weren’t bad, but the sound of their osteichthyan skeletons crunching my mouth was not appetizing. One challenge I have yet to conquer is to finish a meal before any of one of the Vials. I have a paper that says the French like to take their time eating. Not this family! I estimate there was about three hundred fish on that plate. I ate all but about 30, not because I was sick, but because I was full.
Tomorrow I’m going to be with Olivier’s friends.
Je m’everveille si ils connaissent ‘le bat du poulet’!

July 9th

It’s only 9:30 but I’m about to fall asleep. It’s still very much light outside here. We went swimming, ate, played tennis, went swimming again and ate again. I met all his friends and we had a lot of fun. I’m really tired. All the French still think that Japanese means cheap and Americans hate the Russians. I’d tell them but I wouldn’t want someone to tell me that something I believed for all my life was wrong. I’m starting to talk to myself in English.

July 10th

Didn’t do much of anything today. I watched lots of TV and went out to buy postcards. My French seems to be improving greatly. Olivier’s aunt and uncle ate over. I seemed to be the center of the conversation between them and Mr. and Mrs. Vial because when I finally came into the room where they were, the gifts I gave to the Vials were spread across the room. They asked me many questions and I understood all of them except one about old people, young people, French people and bartenders. C’est dommage!

July 11th

Today was weird. This morning I went to the pool to meet Olivier’s friends again and they weren’t there. Olivier never told me why. Then we played poker with popcorn. Later we went to the field by the pool where a bunch of younger children were gathered. Before I realized it, I was in a practice for water ballet. We went over the steps and then tried it in the water. I almost drowned. I don’t know how the smaller kids survived. It wouldn’t be so hard if we didn’t have to hold one hand up the whole time to carry a stupid flag. But I guess it wouldn’t be much of a display. I guess I’m going to be in some kind of festival at the pool on the 27th. I had no idea. Later Olivier, Cédric, Mrs. Vial and I went somewhere in the mountains to a place called the Grand Chartreuse. It wasn’t the actual place but it showed the history of the monks praying in solitude. The real place was up higher in the mountains and was like a little village. 40 monks still live there.
One fact they demonstrated proudly was that the Chartreuse wine was invented there. We went to a town nearby and had some ice cream. Everybody else had ordered and the waiter looked at me. I read off the first thing I saw on the menu. When it came I found out very quickly that it had lots of alcohol in it. I read the menu and it had Chantilly, some liquor that starts with ‘Am’ and of course, Chartreuse. It was very strong. I barely finished the creme on top. I still have a headache from it. After that we went to some town far away where they made the Chartreuse. I had to leave the window open in the car to get air to keep from throwing up. Water ballet and alcoholic monks. France is weird!

July 12th

Today started off pretty boring. Olivier had an ear infection and couldn’t go to swimming practice. We watched a couple of cheap Japanese cartoons dubbed in French and then we watched Robocop, also dubbed in French. Interesting. After we had lunch, Olivier, Cédric and I went with Stéphanie and Natalie (Olivier’s friends) to sell tickets for the water festival on the 27th.
We went door to door to the people they knew and then in some of the little shops. We were out about 4 hours and we covered most of Les Échelles and Entre-deux-Guiers. We sold only 8 tickets. But it was a lot of fun romping around the towns. After that we all returned to Olivier’s house and watched Back to School dubbed in French.
This evening I got a call from my Nacel rep and he said we’re going to leave on the 30th and stay a night in Paris. I have to get up early tomorrow morning because I’m going to a swim meet.

July 13th

swimming medal
I got this from a kid who gave it to me as a souvenir. I don’t think he won it.
This morning we got up early and hopped on a bus to some other town for the swim meet. I thought those mountain roads were scary enough before I traveled on them in a bus. The meet was nothing really special. I played cards and watched the meet. I’ve been noticing that the boys in the Club Tritons have take a liking to me. Before I even knew any of them they came up to me and talked to me as if I’ve known them forever.  They really love the United States here. After awhile the boys were flocked around me and barraging me with questions. It was pretty weird. Nothing else really happened after that. We came home, ate, watched a movie, rented some movies and now I’m about to fall asleep. Tomorrow should be pretty wild. We’re going to see the Tour de France in the morning and afternoon, then fireworks at night because it’s Bastille Day. Quite the dose of French culture!

July 14th

Today’s Bastille Day. I saw the Tour de France. I went to this small castle made of seashells. I saw some fireworks. I went to a carnival and danced. It’s now 2:17 am. I just got home. I’m dead.

July 15th

I got up at noon today, ate lunch and went for a bike ride with Olivier.  I played mini golf and went to another dance.

July 16th

 mini golf medal
I’m in pain right now. I hate my shoes. two days ago I wore them daringly. I didn’t know that we were going to walk all over town. My heels now bear flaming red wounds. Walking is painful. Ironically, running isn’t. Maybe it’s a sign. I want to run because my muscle mass has noticeably decreased. I’m afraid of the narrow roads and the speeds the French drivers go though. And I don’t want to stink for days before I can take a shower. Anyway, today I played the worst mini golf of my life with Cédric and one of Olivier’s friends and won a 1st place medal for it. I guess there was a tournament for 3 player teams.
I can now separate the words in sentences when people talk. All I need to do now is learn about 5000 French words.

July 17th

I’m in a different kind of pain tonight. I got up this morning with a headache. Throughout the day it has become worse and now I feel bad all over. We went to Chambery today for Olivier’s dentist appointment. I bought a pair of Vuarnets which made me feel a little bit better. It was a fun day but I felt terrible though.

July 18th

Pretty bad day. I work up at five with a bad fever. I couldn’t sleep for an hour. That pretty much sums up the day. I slept, got up, slept, got up, etc. I missed water ballet practice because I was feeling so bad. A doctor came by to look at Olivier’s ears and diagnosed me while he was here. He just told me to take some common medication and I’ll be better in a few days. Today I must have taken at least 10 pills.

July 19th

A lot happened today. I took a shower this morning after I woke up feeling much better. Then Natalie and Stéphanie came over and we all went to distribute more posters for the Club Tritons Festival. Later they came over again and we rented a movie. After that we played some Nintendo and now Cédric idolizes me as Video God, especially in Super Mario Brothers.
For supper, their aunt and uncle came and their grandmother also. The first thing they all said to me was “Ca va mieux?” Tomorrow I’m going to Olivier’s friend David’s house for something like Olivier had. I’m really glad this sickness didn’t stay around to ruin my weekend.

July 20th

It’s late. Very late. Quick day summary:
  1. Got up at 9:00, went to David’s vacation house in the hills
  2. We walked to a lake beach nearby
  3. Came home
Maybe I’ll expand tomorrow
At one point, people were trying out some people’s motorcycles. They started with one that was more of a moped then a motorcycle and people took turns riding it up and down the hillside road. After a while a new bike appeared. It was white and falsely bore the English word ‘racing’ on it. Both of them went out and sure enough, after a while they started racing. Natalie and David went out, Natalie on the white. They were gone for a long time. Finally David came back. I don’t know what he said but all I heard was gasps and ‘puissant!’s and I understood. Natalie came back after a while with a large bruise on the right side of her head and small scrapes on her knees, shoulder and arm. The bike didn’t come back for a while. When it did, all I saw was a few scratches and nicks. The main focus was on the bike’s damage.

July 21st

Got up early and went to another swim meet. Stéphanie and some others were trying to get me to compete. It was fun but my nose looks like it has a 2nd degree burn. Later Stéphanie and Natalie came over and we played a game somewhat like Monopoly.
That night we ate supper at Olivier’s aunt’s house. The grandmother lives there. So do their 2 sons, 1 of which has a pet rabbit, lots of hair and I was afraid of at first. They all live in this large house near the center of town. We ate some things I could not name that were in long shreds and then the main course came. It was grilled sardines. Not too bad, but I hated the smell. Dessert was pineapple ice cream packed into hollow pineapples. There was a little festival at the school after and we went and danced.
I was very tired by the time we left and I started to sing Fish Heads. I can’t believe how much they loved it. I wonder how it popped into my mind!

July 22nd

Woke up a noon and couldn’t actually function until about 3:00. I got into a club competition on the Club Tritons team. It was a Double Dare kind of thing and our team won every event. There was another dance and I can’t keep them from spontaneously screaming “Feeling Groovy” or “Fish Heads”. Someone told me today that I look like Greg LeMond. I’m very tired once again. Tomorrow I’m going swimming all day.

July 23rd

Went to the pool today. I swam, ate and improved my French. Olivier was there passing out the baskets for people to put their clothes in. Every once in a while he’d pay his brother and jump into the pool. Also there today was Olivier’s cousin Aurélie (or something like that). I had met her before at 3 dances.
Today was Vial family haircut day. I’ve had a perpetual ‘coup de soleil’ since I’ve got here and today was no exception.
I made them some Jello today and they just seemed to stare at it. I’m anxious to see if they like it when it’s ready tomorrow. This weekend should be unbelievable. Dances three nights in a row.

July 24th

This morning we went to the pool but it wasn’t too nice out. The water was great though and we swam for quite a while. We went out and distributed some more papers advertising the festival at the pool. I finally sent out my postcards and cashed some traveller’s checks.
They loved the Jello and one of Olivier’s friends, Alexander, ate at least half the batch. I made some more this afternoon. Tomorrow I’m going way up into the mountains to see a glacier and do who knows what. I’m leaving now in less than a week.

July 25th

It’s been quite the killer day. We got up early and drove 4 hours to Chamonix where Mont Blanc is located. We took a little train up the mountain to see a glacier and went inside a cavern carved into the glacier. Later we took a few rides down the French version of the alpine slide. It’s actually possible to fly off those things. I came close a few times. After that we took the 14km Mont Blanc tunnel to Italy. Those border guards don’t do a good job at all. We crossed back into France and stopped at a place to see the legendary St. Bernards of the Alps. I never really thought they existed before. I had only seen them in cartoons. Finally we stopped at a pizzeria to eat and arrived home at 11:00.
  •  Morning: swim meet at home
  •  Afternoon: water ballet (I might get out of it. I hope.)
  •  Night: Dance at the pool
There’s too may hours of daylight here.

July 26th

The first thing that came to my mind this morning when I work up was the swim meet. They left without me and it was already 10:00. I got ready quickly and went down to the pool. It was pretty boring. Nothing happened today until about 6:00. We had water ballet practice. I found out that we’re going to carry something like torches!
Tonight we went to a nice restaurant and ate some frogs. They were well seasoned and didn’t taste bad at all. The only thing that was disgusting was that just finishing Biology and dissecting frogs, I could name the muscles as I ate them. I can finally express myself in French. I talked to Olivier and his parents after supper. I just finished talking to Cédric about school and American customs for about an hour. It seems like 2 days ago nobody understood anything I said. Tomorrow will be a big day. There is the water festival and the 3 day dance marathon begins. I’m going to try to sleep until lunch tomorrow.

July 27th

I woke up as late as possible this morning knowing that this weekend will be very exhaustive. At 2:00 we went to water ballet practice. We are getting better but I didn’t think we were good enough to perform. I unknowingly got into a practice for a game to be played at the festival but I didn’t really want to do it and when the time came for it I just kept eating my cold roast beef. They replaced me and I never heard anything about it. The water ballet came out pretty well. There were no lights in the place except for the small torches we silently carried. They played some music and the whole effect was pretty good. It amused me so much that I forgot about how I was desperately trying to stay above water. After that there were some wimpy fireworks and a dance.
It was set up so we danced in the 2 foot deep kiddie pool. (It was empty of course.) They had the usual local disc jokey and equipment by ‘Decibel Plus’. It was a good time and I also learned a lot.

July 28th

I got up as late as possible again today. Some family friends stopped by and joined us for dinner.  Amaury came back from vacation and came over. I finally went out and bought some souvenirs. I still don’t know when I’m getting home. I tried calling my chaperone but I got a busy signal and then no one was home. My parents called today. Olivier says that his mother has some stuff on when I’m leaving but I’m not sure it conforms to the changes that have occurred.
We went to another festival today at St. Christophe, a small village behind Entre-deux-Guiers. I was surprised at the amount of people there. They had fireworks and then we did absolutely nothing. We just hung around the bumper cars. We watched the dance later. There was a band with an accordion in it and all the music was old. It was funny watching 100 drunken Frenchmen trying to smoke and form a Congo line at the same time. Raphael slept here last night and tonight Ameury is here. It’s ridiculously late and tomorrow (later today) I will get ready to leave.

July 29th

The climax of my trip couldn’t have come at a better time.
It rained today for the 1st time since I’ve been here. it rained pretty hard all day. The rain finally stopped in time for the dance at Miribel-les-Échelles. It didn’t really matter though because it was inside a small auditorium. It had a wooded floor that you could feel moving. I didn’t think it would hold all of us.
At first I thought I wasn’t going to have a good last night with all the people I’ve met here. The music the DJ played was bad and it was too crowded inside. Finally I started to have a good time, then the whispering started. All the people I had met started whispering to each other and looking back at me. I would smile and they’d giggle their way back into their whispering circle. I guessed it had something to do with my last night here. I shielded their giggles off with smiles and pathetic smirks. The only thing they told me was “c’est un surprise” and “c’est rien mauvais”. Finally a song ended and the DJ started blabbing something I couldn’t quite understand. They pointed at him and jumped up and and down as I heard “Jeff” and the intro to “Blue Sky Mining”. Someone caught me from behind and threw me up in the air.
I said ‘merci’ again as the song ended and Peter Garrett drowned his last syllable. Soon after the dance ended. It was almost 2:00 am. It was glad to get out of that small room. It was hot and the smoke was reaching Chez-Vachon density. But I didn’t really want to go. I kissed them and shook their hands goodbye – most likely forever. If I ever do return I still could never match this night.

July 30th

Today I moved on to greater things. I left my family at Chambery on a train bound for Lyon. It was a little sad but I was glad to be on my way home. Amaury showed up at the train station just before I left. I don’t know how he got there. The first person I met was ironically from Concord. I talked with him and a kid from Idaho, Jason Walker. We got off at Lyon and boarded the bullet train. It went pretty fast and in two hours it did want the bus took 11 hours.
We were bunked up at this little hotel once we arrived in Paris. The rooms were incredible tiny. Nobody slept. I found Monica from the trip over and I spent most of the night in her room with 2 or 3 other people. We just talked and played cards. At about 4:30 I fell asleep for about an hour. That was the only sleep I got. I can’t find Eric. I’m wondering if he went home early for some reason. Today I went from tiny Les Échelles to a bigger town Chambery. Then I went to a much bigger city, Lyon. From there I took the fastest train in the world to one of the largest cities of the world. Tomorrow I’m going to New York by the largest plane in the world. Afterwards I’ll go to a smaller city, Boston, and then finally to Lake Winnepocket.


We made a robot.

Ever since we made a bean bag toss game for Elliott’s 5th Birthday Party, he’s been talking about doing more woodworking projects. Today we had some time with just him and I and he decided he wanted to build a robot.

Now, I think his initial thought of a robot was something that walked around, talked and was did all kinds of amazing stuff ala Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit. That wasn’t going to happen, but we’d see what we could do with what scrap wood we had and my limited carpentry skills.

This was Elliott’s drawing of what he wanted this robot to look like. Thankfully there wasn’t a lot of detail, so his actual demands were minimal. I told him this was called a blueprint or something. I’m not a real engineer.


First we scoured the garage and the basement for wood and other things we could use to build the robot. Here’s some stuff we found.


The best find was an old small coat rack which we could use for the robot’s “skeleton”.  I took the hooks (two were broken) off the coat rack.


Then we found a piece of plywood that we could cut in half to make the robot’s front and back. Once we had that done, we found a wooden stake for arms.

Arm stake

We cut the arms and then screwed them into the front of the body.


The screws were just tight enough to stay together, but loose enough so we could pose them. Next we screwed the body into the coat rack. The robot was starting to take shape.

mounted body

With that done, we could screw the robot’s back on.


Then Elliott wanted the robot to have hands, so I used the two unbroken hooks from the coat rack. They look kind of menacing if you ask me.


For the head, we decided to use two plastic flower pots. I screwed the bottom one into the top of the coat rack.


Then I cut away the rim of the bottom so the top one would fit over it.

head halves

Finally, we cut off the bottom of some soda cans for eyes and screwed them into the top flower pot.


The robot was complete! (At least for today.)


Elliott decided to name him Erbert. He was thrilled. When Audrey came home, she was jealous of course, so we made a flower.


Maybe I have some carpentry skills after all.

The Authoritative List of Apple Watch Specs

Since Apple hasn’t put together a comprehensive list of specs for the Apple Watch, I thought I’d throw them together based on the information collected from and other sources.




Starting at $349


Early 2015


42mm (1.7in) height or 38mm (1.5in) height


Built-in storage

Battery Life

One day


Flexible Retina
Sapphire Crystal or Strengthened Ion-X (Sport)
Tap and press sensitivity
Activates on raise of wrist


S1 all-in-one processor


  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g


Integrated speaker and microphone


  • Digital Crown
  • Side Button
  • Taptic Engine haptic actuator


  • Gyroscope
  • Accelerometer
  • Infrared
  • Heart rate
  • Photo sensor
  • GPS and Wifi from iPhone



Apple Watch: Stainless steel or space black stainless steel
Sport: Anodized Aluminum
Edition: 18-karat gold in yellow or rose

Zirconia back


Inductive charging Magsafe

Supported Phones

(required for use)

  • iPhone 5
  • iPhone 5c
  • iPhone 5s
  • iPhone 6
  • iPhone 6 Plus

Built-in Apps

  • Maps
  • Remote Camera
  • Photos
  • Mail
  • Calendar
  • Messages with Sketch, Digital Touch and Walkie-Talkie and Heartbeat
  • Weather
  • Passbook
  • Phone
  • Siri
  • Apple TV and iTunes
  • Activity
  • Workout
  • Watch with 50ms accuracy
  • Calculator
  • Apple Pay
  • Music
  • Flights
  • Timer
  • Stopwatch
  • Alarm
  • World Clock
  • Solitaire
  • Stocks
  • Settings
  • Converter

Watch Faces

  • Chronograph
  • Color
  • Modular
  • Timelapse
  • Solar
  • Astronomy
  • Motion
  • Utility
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Simple
  • Photo

Available Apps

  • Nike+
  • Twitter
  • MLB
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! News
  • BMW
  • Citymapper
  • Pinterest
  • American Airlines
  • Starwood Hotels

Elliott’s delirious poetic ranting

The context: It’s 9 pm on Friday night. The whole family is driving to New Hampshire for the weekend. Elliott and Audrey are in the back

Elliott, on a happier day

Elliott, on a happier day

seat. Both of them had a really busy day. Audrey is already asleep.

Elliott, when he gets very tired, gets extremely grumpy and contradictory. This time I managed to use my iPhone’s voice memo app and transcribe his rantings.

If he was a few years older, this would be disturbing. But when he’s 4, it’s cute and funny. In fact, it reads like some avant-garde poetry. “the light is too dark”,  “We can’t see light behind us“, “I direct my own mouth.”

[Anne plays kids’ music and then starts looking at stuff on her phone]

You don’t look right away
You wait
and I say when you do something and not do something
because that’s mean
that’s making you be mean
I’m being mean to you
that’s being mean to me and it’s not making me not happy
it’s a making me sad
you don’t go right away and look at it
i want to look at something. And I say no, you can’t look at something
I’m throwing your phone right out the window
I’m throwing it right over the highway and into the trees


I need to go to sleep before Audrey
I go to sleep before Audrey
Audrey, get awake right now

[He’s suddenly getting frustrated at his car seat]

This is too tight
loosen this up
this is too tight
this is not too tight
it’s not too loose
the light is too dark
it’s too dark
it’s too dark

When are we going to be there?
When are we going to be there?
Anne: “We have a long time left to go, Elliott”
No we don’t, we have three. Three miles and 1 minute
I wish the camp was right here
Right there

Why is that police there?
Anne: “Pulling somebody over. Somebody was doing something wrong. They were going too fast or they did something wrong.”
What’s if there’s someone behind us?
We can’t see em behind us.
We can’t see light behind us.


This is too long
This is too long of a ride


It’s too long of a ride
And the seat is tickling me
And a bumblebee stinged me
A bumblebee stinged me
A bumblebee stinged me

Mommy, the bumblebee stinged me
It really hurts. I need a bandaid right now
Two bandaids
Anne: “I’m sorry I don’t have any bandaids. If you’re still hurting tomorrow…”
Do you have the Mickey ones?
Anne: “If we have them, they’re back in the bathroom bag.”
Where is the bathroom bag?
Anne: “The bathroom bag is way in the back.”
Where is the bathroom bag?
The bathroom bag is way up front.
Anne: “No, Elliott”

(indiscernable rants)


It’s not fair that Audrey’s asleep and I’m not.
It’s not really fair.

When you get a bug bite, it stays there.
It doesn’t go away
How to bug bites go away? How?


[Audrey stays soundly asleep]

Mommy, I can’t go to sleep. I can’t go to sleep until you turn the music on.
Anne: “Elliott, you have to be ready to listen. You can’t listen if you’re talking.”

I can talk if I want. You don’t direct me. I can talk if I want.
You don’t direct my mouth.
I direct my own mouth.
My mouth says what it needs to say every day and every night.

It’s not fair.

I’ll catch you with a net.
I’ll catch you when I’m fishing.
I’ll catch you like a fish.

Somebody’s touching my foot.
Somebody’s touching my foot and they’re not supposed to.
Somebody’s touching my foot.

Can you help me go to sleep?
Can you help me go to sleep?

I need you to do something.

You’re wrong and I’m right.
Daddy’s wrong.

Are we going to be there in a long time?
You’re wrong.

The Complete List of Officer Buckle’s 110 Safety Tips


My kids love Peggy Rathman’s book, Officer Buckle and Gloria. Reading it one night and noticing all the post-it notes behind Officer Buckle, I began to wonder if there were actually 101 safety tips in the book. I sat down one night and copied them all down. It turns out there are 101 and a few extras.

Some are purely practical “Lock your bike”, some are strangely adult “Never run in high heels” and others are are just weirdly specific “Wipe up drool”.

Here’s all the numbered rules that can be made out in the book:

  1. Keep your shoelaces tied
  2. Always wipe up spills before someone slips and falls
  3. ?
  4. Do not jumping… the bed
  5. Never play with matches
  6. Dial 911 in an emergency
  7. Always wear a crash helmet when biking or skating
  8. Never hitchhike
  9. Obey all traffic signs
  10. ?
  11. ?
  12. ?
  13. Never use water [on] a grease fire. Smother it with a lid.. bak…
  14. Remember your telephone number
  15. ?
  16. Never chase a ball that rolls into the street
  17. ?
  18. Never drink and drive
  19. Never run with a scissors in your hand
  20. Never wander too far from..
  21. Never roll around in poison ivy
  22. ?
  23. Never take someone else’s medicine
  24. Always tell your parents where…
  25. Always tell your parents if someone bite…
  26. Be alert..
  27. ?
  28. Stay away from cigarettes
  29. ?
  30. Never take a shortcut through lonely places
  31. Never stand up in a canoe
  32. ?
  33. Never take
  34. Avoid rattlesnakes
  35. Cross only at the crosswalk
  36. Never play with electrical outlets
  37. ?
  38. ?
  39. ?
  40. Never play in.. em.. wa..
  41. Never play with spray paint
  42. Never leave tennis balls on the stairs
  43. Say “no” if a stranger asks you to go to their house
  44. Lock your bike
  45. Wear a life jacket on boats
  46. ?
  47. ?
  48. Never play soccer in the living room
  49. Never reach over the hot stove when wearing loose sleeves
  50. ?
  51. Never bother a big dog while it’s eating
  52. ?
  53. ?
  54. Lock up your valuables
  55. ?
  56. ?
  57. Never leave a full wading pool where someone might fall into it
  58. ?
  59. Never…
  60. ?
  61. Never play on construction sites
  62. Never listen to music playing too loud
  63. ?
  64. ?
  65. ?
  66. ?
  67. Stay off thin ice
  68. Keep sharp objects away from children
  69. Never run in high heels
  70. Always wear light-colored clothing at night
  71. Never run on a wet pool deck
  72. Never swim near a storm sewer
  73. Never sit too close to the television
  74. Never stand up in a bus while it’s moving
  75. Never use a blowdryer in the bathtub
  76. Never dry your socks in the microwave oven
  77. Never stand on a swivel chair
  78. Stay away from firecrackers
  79. Never breath… fumes…
  80. Wipe up drool
  81. Stay away from abandoned refrigerators
  82. Always swim with a buddy
  83. ?
  84. ?
  85. Stay away from guns
  86. Keep your legs inside car windows
  87. ?
  88. Turn off the TV before you unplug it
  89. ?
  90. ?
  91. ?
  92. ?
  93. Always keep a flashlight and sturdy shoes under your bed
  94. Ride bikes only on posted…
  95. ?
  96. Never play in the car alone
  97. Never accept rides from strangers
  98. Never use an elevator in a fire
  99. Do not go swimming during electrical storms
  100. Never turn your back on a strange dog
  101. Always stick with your buddy

That’s 68 rules. There’s another 42 where you can’t make out the number:

  • Never play loud music into headphones
  • Look both ways before your cross the street
  • Know your neighbors
  • Keep your eyes open
  • ..bee sting kit if allergic
  • Never lick a stop sign in the winter
  • Eat hamburg well done
  • Keep off furniture
  • Che.. foo.. We…
  • Watch your step…
  • Never fly kites near power lines
  • Prepare for fire…
  • Look before you leap
  • Check how deep the water is before you dive
  • Never give information over the phone to strangers
  • Never leave a bar of soap where someone might step on it
  • Buckle your seat belt
  • Never put anything in your nose
  • Never drink anything you find under the sink
  • …before you pet them
  • Dispose of banana peels properly
  • Clean up broken glass
  • Read the instructions before operating appliances
  • Check water temperature for climbing in the bathtub
  • No biking on the sidewalk
  • Always check smoke alarm batteries…
  • Keep necklaces…
  • …while the mixer…s on
  • …escape from fire
  • Say …no… to drugs
  • Wash your hands after you use the toilet
  • Stay away from alcohol
  • Never leave a thumbtack where someone might sit on it
  • Never put anything in your ear
  • Never accept rides from strangers
  • Never eat mayonnaise that’s been sitting in the sun
  • Never play in the microwave oven
  • Never tilt your chair back on two legs
  • Never play with spray cans
  • Always pull the toothpick out of your sandwich
  • Never run with a pop bottle in your mouth
  • …might slip on it

So that’s 110 rules. I’ll always be reminded of this book when I (too frequently) stand on a swivel chair.

Important things I learned while buying a new car

Buying a new car is lot of work and really not much fun, but I learned a few things during my recent experience. Mostly, I followed the awesome tips at RealCarTips, but there’s a few tweaks to their tips that worked for me.

It's a braaand new car!

1. Contact a lot more dealers
RealCarTips suggests contacting 7 local dealers. Because it was so easy to do online, I ended up contacting over 30 through their websites. That’s probably overkill, but it only took one to undercut the rest and allow me to use that price to get an even better price out of other dealers. In particular, you might get a dealer that’s out in the boonies to give you a great price, so you use that price to get a better deal from a more local dealer. Consider the distance to the dealer if they offer free scheduled maintenance. You’re not going to drive 100 miles for an oil change.

2. Don’t let dealers spam you
The most important part of communicating with dealers is to NOT give them your direct contact info. I have a Google Voice number that never rings. It just always goes right to voicemail. It was perfect. You might also consider setting up a new Gmail or Yahoo! Mail account for the process. I’m still getting calls and emails now, over a month after I bought a car. Their email unsubscribe systems (if they have them) don’t always work.

3. Negotiate over email
I really preferred using email instead of negotiating over the phone. It’s easier to forward a price quote from one dealer to another than describing the price over the phone and making sure they believe you.

4. Get detailed pricing
Make sure you’re really precise about getting pricing from dealers and that means getting the OTD (out the door) price. Make sure they’re breaking it down so you know if car’s price includes the manufacturer’s destination fee, the dealer’s documentation fee, tax, title, registration and other odd charges like wheel locks. Apparently, wheel theft is a real problem on car dealers’ lots, so they install wheel locks. Some dealers will add this cost to you at the end. Also ask if the price assumes any financing incentives.

5. If you’re replacing a car, get a trade-in quote from the dealer
They’re probably going to lowball you and you should refuse it and sell it yourself, but you could be surprised. The worst case scenario is they give you a quote that makes you feel great when you sell it on Craigslist for thousands more. If you do trade it in, make sure that the trade-in value is clearly separated from the price of the new car so you still know how much you’re paying.

6. Just say no to the finance guy
Just say no to warranties and anything else the finance person tries to sell you. They’re always moneymakers for dealer and are never designed to be in your financial best interest. If you are interested in the warranty for some reason, don’t let the finance person amortize the cost of the warranty across the duration of your finance/lease payment. Get the total cost.

7. Buy accessories online
For non-installed accessories like floor mats, check eBay and other sites online where you might find them cheaper. Dealers will often sell accessories at full markup when buying a car, but you can turn around and buy them from their website for cheaper!

It had been 14 years since I negotiated a price of a car and I was intimidated by the process. In the end, I think I got a pretty good deal. Thanks, internet!


Keeping your old iPhone costs you $225 a year

With the new iPhones out and my contract up, I’ve been trying to decide if upgrade my 4S is worth it. It’s working fine and apart from the battery life sucking, it seems no different from the day I got it.

iPhone 5s

Once I did the math, I decided it would be financially foolish not to upgrade immediately.

Consider that an unlocked, contract-free 16GB iPhone 5s costs $649. Buying it with a 2-year contract costs you $200. So that’s a difference of $450 or $225/year. Where does that $225/year come from? You’re making monthly payments on it as part of your mobile bill. The math follows on the 32GB and 64GB versions too, with $225 covering the $200/$300/$400 difference from the off-contract price.

So if you do nothing, you’re paying to subsidize a phone you already own.  Your wireless carrier is just milking you.

Now if you upgrade your phone and pay $200, you’re still making $225-$200 = $25 in year one! The math gets better if you sell your old phone. My 2-year old 32GB 4S fetches $155 for trade-in on Gazelle. So now I’m “making” $180.

Now of course this assumes $649 is a fair price for an iPhone, despite that it costs only about $200 to make one. If you were take off typical 50% retail markup, then you’re about even over 2 years. Unless of course you buy the gold iPhone which is worth more because, you know, it’s goooollld.

Baseball is a game of 3s

I noticed last night that baseball is a game of many 3s.

Everyone knows you get 3 strikes and each team gets 3 outs per inning.
But there’s also 3 x 3 innings per game
3 x 3 defensive men are on the field a time
There are 3 x 10 ft between bases
Bases are at 3 x 3 x 10 degrees from each other
Games last about 3 hours
Most series are played in 3s
There are 3 divisions per league
There are 3 x 10 teams in the MLB
There are three levels of minor league teams, the highest being triple A
Each team plays 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 2 games per year
Including spring training, players play 3 x 3 months of the year
Babe Ruth, who many consider the best player of all time, wore number 3
If you get a hit in 1/3 of your at bats, you’re doing really well
If your team wins 2/3 of your games, you’re guaranteed to win your division
If your team loses 2/3 of your games, you’re guaranteed to lose your division

Did I miss any?

The Engineer’s Job Search Battle Plan: 8 Simple Steps to a Dream Job

A while ago I wrote about how companies can hire the best engineers. Here’s the other side of that process: how to find your engineering dream job.

Battle of Laxington

Congratulations! Whether you’ve decided it’s time to move on from your current job, you just quit, or you were laid off, you already have a new job – finding your next job! Finding a new job can be more work than having a job. Yeah, the pay sucks, but it can be fun and rewarding in the end. During my last job search, I loved catching up with old friends to find out where they were and met a lot of interesting new people.

Disclaimer: as I noted in my last post, this is written more for engineering jobs where the market is very strong and you may be looking at lots of opportunities and multiple offers. Unfortunately the job market is not so sunny for many other lines of work, so some of the tips here may be less relevant.

Anyway, here’s how to approach your new job.

Step 0: Grieve your last loss

Changing jobs can be very stressful. It can be trying, especially if you didn’t leave your last job on your own terms or it didn’t work out like you had hoped. The first thing you need to do is take some time, grieve for your last job and process the end of it. The last thing you want is to be in an interview and let feelings of anger or sadness come out with a potential future employer. Take a weekend, take a week, take a month, but before you start looking again, make sure you feel closure on your last job.

Step 1: Stock your armory

I can’t fathom a serious job search these days without using LinkedIn. In fact, I used it exclusively as my resume. (For recruiters who insist on a PDF version, there’s an export link.) Fork over $25 a month for LinkedIn Premium to get all the bonus functionality, the best being able to see who’s been looking at your profile. You can’t do that with a PDF or Word resume you’re emailing around.

Update your profile with your latest job details, update details of your previous roles, add any awards, patents and solicit recommendations.

Step 2: Strategize

There are three questions every employer is going ask you, so you want to think hard about them and make sure you know exactly how you’re going to respond.

  • What drives you?

    What kind of work gets you so charged up you can’t sleep at night? What have been your favorite professional moments?

  • Why do you want to work here?

    Given your answer to the previous question, how does a company align (or not) with what you want to do? This will also help you figure out your targets for step 2.

  • Why did you leave your last job?

    This may be the trickiest one, especially if you didn’t leave your last job on great terms. Be honest without being disparaging of yourself or your former employer. Future employers don’t want to hire someone who has a history of bitterly remembering former employers.


Step 3: Pick your targets

Start making a list of potential employers. These may be companies you admire, places where friends work, or even places you’ve worked before. For Boston startups, I found Startups in Boston, BosInno, @ScottKirsner, and Xconomy to be good sources for figuring out who’s hot and who’s hiring. Look for companies that are growing or recently got funding.

At this point, I think it’s good to get organized with a spreadsheet that tracks all the information you’re going to gather on each company. Here’s a template of the one I used. Copy it and tweak it to your needs.

The last set of columns are a bunch of subjective metrics I used to rate each company. While I didn’t simply take the job with the highest score, it did help me rationalize and compare each opportunity.

Step 4: Attack!

It’s time to get yourself out there. Your LinkedIn updates may have already gotten you some bites, but now’s the time to be direct.

You may not want to hit all your companies all at once. Here’s why – in general, the bigger company, the slower their hiring process is going to be. If you apply to a big company and a tiny startup on the same day and you eventually get offers from both, you’ll likely get the offer from the startup way earlier. This puts you in a pickle: do you wait to see if the big company will give you an offer or take the startup’s offer? An offer may have an expiration date on it too, making it more complicated. Now, a company that really wants you will be generous with the expiration or offer to extend it if you need time, but you could still end up with a mismatch in timing.

It’s in your best interest to have as many offers in at the same time as possible. It helps you to compare the offers against each other and negotiate if the one you want is lacking in any way. That said, this is a tricky dance to pull off. Potential employers don’t want to have to compete and they also want you to want them just as much as they want you. So you may not want to volunteer information about what other offers you have or what you’re waiting on. Just as you want companies to respect you, respect them as well, because you want to start off the relationship right with the one you take and keep the door open with the ones you don’t.

Find the resume submission form on each of your target companies’ websites. If you can, try to get referred in through a friend or former colleague at that company via LinkedIn or email. It’s much more likely that you’ll hear back than submitting a faceless website form.

While this is a good start to finding your next job, it’s likely you won’t discover all the companies out there who are hiring or you find interesting. That’s where networking comes in.

Step 5: Infiltrate

Networking is key to building roads into companies and discovering opportunities, especially with small startups that may be hard to find otherwise.

A couple of good ways to meet people are through technical Meetups in your area and joining relevant LinkedIn Groups. Other social networks like Facebook and Twitter may be useful too, but probably less so than Meetup or LinkedIn.

Be sure to stick around after meetups, talk to the speakers, let them know you’re looking for a new opportunity and ask if they know of places where you’d be a good fit.

All of these activities I would consider active networking. It’s also useful to do more passive networking. For example, every once in a while I would post an update to Twitter and/or Facebook regarding a mildly amusing anecdote from my interview process. While it might have seemed that I was just sharing a funny story, I was also reminding people that I was in the market. Several leads came to me from friends and former coworkers who saw a post and pointed me to an opportunity.

Step 6: Engage in hand-to-hand combat

Eventually you’re going to end up in some interviews, either on the phone, in person and likely both.

To get the offer, you’re going to have to perform well in these and the only way to ensure that is to prepare as much as you can. Here’s some concrete activities to complete before each interview:

  • Research the company and make sure you understand their business. Come up with at least one thing (in your opinion) they could do better in case they ask.
  • Look for interview questions previously asked on Glassdoor. If you get one of these questions, consider yourself lucky as a good company will retire a question once it becomes public. But nailing a question because you studied it before hand can’t hurt.
  • Read Programming Interviews Exposed and The Algorithm Design Manual. They’re both good prep work and refreshers on the fundamental computer science principles that you have forgotten since your college courses. If you get asked any of the questions in these books, you’re very lucky. Most top companies will ask more complicated variations of them.

After the interview, follow up with the recruiter or manager to thank them and also make sure they have a reminder in their inbox to get back to you.

Also, make sure to write down some notes about the company. It’s easy to get cloudy on the details of each company once you’ve talked to a few and you don’t want to annoy a company by asking them the same questions again.

Step 7: Emerge victorious

After interviewing, the hardest part may be the waiting. You may get an offer immediately after the interview or it could take weeks. Again, it’s usually a factor of the company size and the layers of management that may need to be involved in a hiring decision. You can use your LinkedIn Premium account to see if your potential employers are still looking at your profile, even if they’re not directly communicating with you.

When you get an offer, make sure you get it in writing and get clarifications on any questions you have. Before you sign anything, make sure you understand

  • Health plan benefits. What’s your cost per paycheck?
  • Dental benefits
  • Vision benefits
  • Who your manager will be
  • Expectations for work travel
  • Vacation time
  • “Normal” working hours
  • Work from home policy
  • Target bonus and how bonuses are funded
  • 401k. Is there matching?
  • Transportation costs and time
  • Any other special perks

You may want to try commuting to a potential employer’s office during the time you’d normally arrive to make sure you understand how much time it will take and work out any public transportation logistics.

Stock options are very important to understand and many privately held companies may not volunteer all the information you need to calculate their value. What you need is the strike price (or a recent strike price), the number of granted options, and the valuation of the company. Be very suspicious of any company that won’t give you the details to figure this out. This information is often closely held, but they should give you what you need. If not, you may be getting screwed.

Once you have all the information you’ve organized, it’s time to make a decision. For decisions like this, I usually have a gut feeling. While the spreadsheet is there as a rational backup, I usually have one or two options I’m really excited about. That should be your choice.

Congratulations on your choice! However, once you start, it’s still not time to relax. Behave as you’re still being interviewed. Good luck!