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Friday, November 23, 2012

College For Free. What's The Catch?

Image courtesy of digitalart at

With all the grim stories that usually fill the news, it is always nice to read something about technology bringing about something cool or innovative to life.  I recently read an article talking about a place online called Coursera.  I frankly, had not ever heard of them before, but the concept sounded really neat.  Evidently Coursera is a virtual online university offering real college level classes for free.  I had to take a look and see what they were all about.

It turns out that they have partnered with a growing list of prominent universities including Duke, Princeton, and Stanford to make available their college level courses to anyone who would like to take them.  Very cool!  Anyone with an internet connection, can have access to a vast array of classes.  In addition to courses for geeks like us in Computer Science, they also offer Biology, Business Management, Education, Law and a whole lot more.  You can check out their current catalog of courses here.

Looking for reviews of the program, I found a few minor controversies, but nothing big.  At one point, it looked like bureaucratic silliness was banning Minnesota residents from using it.  The controversy was based on an older law, however, cooler heads eventually prevailed.  There were also some outbreaks of plagiarism (odd for a free online university), but that seems to be behind them too.

What are the negatives?

1) There is no actual transferable college credits, you only receive certificates of completion.
2) It is a substantial time commitment.  These are high level college courses, and many require peer review of work that is submitted.

What are the positives?

1) You will gain a real sense of accomplishment.
2) You can "try it before you buy it."  If you are considering enrolling in higher education, you can test your mettle at Coursera before investing in a long term commitment or expense.  The coursework here, can tell you if actual college is going to work for you or not.
3) Learn, simply for the love of learning.  Almost everyone would like improve themselves a bit.  Find something that you would like to know more about and simply go for it.
4) It's free!! (Can't beat that kind of value)

So what do you think?  Love it or hate it, I'd like to know your opinions about it.

"Genius without education is like silver in the mine."  -Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Congratulations! It's Computer

I have recently become the proud parent of a brand new computer.

Since about April of this year, my wife and I had been planning to buy a new computer with some of the tax return money that we had got back.  (On a side note, I realize that the more efficient way to save is not to lend the government any interest free money in the first place, but for now in our family, it just happens to be the way that works the best)

I have a wonderful friend who puts together systems for various clients, whom I had engaged in an unofficial capacity to help me with my purchase.  My wife had given me a very generous budget to purchase "the other woman" as she impishly likes to tease me, and I had relayed that information to him with my hopes for the computer's specs.  Unfortunately, my friend got very busy and he had to deal with some unexpectedly family health issues.  I continued to delay my gratification and wait patiently.

I really wanted to rely on his expertise, but the months of waiting finally took their toll.  I set off to some online computer hunting on my own.  I settled pretty quickly on the path of a refurbished computer.  Though some are squeamish about purchasing a "used" computer, I believe the logic that they are actually tested thoroughly before they are offered at a discounted price, makes them the best choice.

I narrowed down my search further to refurbished units from the manufacturer and eventually found a system that I liked on the Dell Outlet site.  I was stoked (and nervous), but I clicked on the button to complete the purchase.  I don't spend money easily (as my wife will attest to you) so that one was a big step for me.

I will give you the specs of the beast, not in a "neener, neener, neener" type of spirit or an utterly pretentious "unboxing" kind of thing, but more to satisfy my fellow geek's curiosity.

  • Dell XPS 8500
  • Running Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit Service Pack 1
  • Intel Core 3rd Gen i7-3770 Processor (3.40 GHz with Turbo Boost 2.0 up to 3.90 GHz)
  • 12 GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz
  • 2 TB 7200 RPM Hard Drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 1GB GDDR5
  • 8X Blu-Ray BD Combo (Blu-ray ROM + DVD+/- RW)
  • plus a Dell Refurbished S2230MX 21.5-inch Ultra-Thin Monitor with LED

I am a blessed guy.  Nuff said.

So after my computer had come in, my son had expressed great excitement about the event.  He said "I've never seen you put together a computer before."  Then trying so hard to pronounce it correctly, he said "I think it is IN- stress - sing"  He said that word about four times, and I did not have the heart to correct his grammar.  To me it was in the same vein of cuteness as his talk of "snuffed animals".  As a parent, you know that times like that wont last forever, so you tend to relish them for as long as you can.

My oldest made a wonderful technical assistant, but as five year olds tend to do, he began to become distracted by the empty box that the computer had come in.  Score another one for normal childhood.  The computer once assembled really did have the wow factor.  The 21.5" screen, makes just about anything look pretty awesome.

Following a plan that I had formulated previously, I set up logins for each of the family members.  The boys were busting their buttons at how grown up that they felt at getting their very own private login (something that only their parents and they would know).  I thought that it would be good practice to get my young geeks used to the ins and outs of password security.  It was quite the comical situation to see them try to come up with their super secret password that their brother would not guess.  It was even more hilarious, though, to see how excruciating it was not to just blurt it out to each other.

My family and "the other woman" are getting along just fine now, and we look forward to the many geeky adventures that we will have with her.

There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.
- Ken Olson (President of Digital Equipment Corporation) at the Convention of the World Future Society in Boston in 1977

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our Marriage Canoe

picture courtesy of the Daily Oskar

My wife and I had a financial "discussion" the other day.  It was not unlike many other "discussions" that we have had in years past, but this one left some hard feelings at the time.  I won't go into all the details, because despite the drama that a lot of people feel free to post on places such as Facebook and the like, the Internet is not the appropriate place for that.

To begin, my wife and I grew up with divergent experience with finances.  My heritage has always been the "savers" approach, where hers was not.  That sometimes makes it difficult to always stay on the same page financially.  I truly believe that our ultimate goals are actually the same, but sometimes there is a disagreement on paths.  This was one of those occasions.

On this day, the perfect storm had been brewing.  There were many stressors that contributed to it.  Our boys had just started school and our youngest had been pushing both his parent's limits.  Mrs Geek had just started a new job (of which I am excessively proud of her) and she had pulled a muscle in her back.  Then, on top of it all, we had an unexpected car repair bill of $1,900.

The conversation came up as I was home from lunch, and quickly expanded into a full fledged disagreement.  As I left back for work, the air was tense between us.  I arrived back at work, and it all started gnawing at me from the inside.  I knew that I was beginning to get angry about it.  To add to things, there had been a financial misstep in the past that had been forgiven, but that because of the argument, I really felt a desire to bring it back up.  I decided to do some walking and breathing to relieve a little bit of the stress.

I felt my resolve not to bring up past mistakes weakening.  I had to pray and admit to God that I was getting angry about my perceived injustice.  I asked Him to please help both of us, because I did not want us to hurt each other with our words when I got back home later.  It was then that I got a phone call at work.

It was Mrs Geek.  She said, "I called to eat some humble pie."  She admitted that she had been very angry with me, and as she had sat down to show me how wrong that I was.  She said that when she looked at things, "I realized that I can't make it with out you."

What a woman of grace!  It took a lot of inner strength of character for her to make that call to me.  I told her that I was extremely blessed to have a gracious woman like her for my wife.  I told her that I knew things had been difficult lately, but I knew that together, we were going to make it.  The relief for both of us was palpable.

When you have committed to a person for the rest of your life, it helps to visualize yourselves as sitting in the same canoe.  Unless the other person is paddling with you, you are not going to get anywhere fast.  Both of you have hopes, dreams and aspirations, but you will never be able to achieve them with out your partner.

I think that we tend to look at life from a very selfish perspective.  I better grab everything that I can for me, or I won't get anything.  If we can learn to get past that and extend trust to our spouse, we will find that they want you to succeed just as much as you do.  If you help them achieve their goals in life, they will have a motivation and desire to help you fulfill yours.

We have been traveling in our canoe for almost ten years now; both through rapids and still waters.  By now, we know each others strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  We have the power to hurt one another tremendously.  We know exactly what would inflict the most pain.  We also, however, have the best insight into where we can be the best encouragement to one another.  I hope that I never forget to be that "encourager" to my wife.


“Loving someone is giving them the power to break your heart, but trusting them not to.”
― Julianne Moore

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Surviving Our CAT-tastrophe

Free image courtesy of

Let me preface this article by saying we already have enough animals in the house.   Including our two monkeys (my boys), three cats one dog, we have enough.  Seriously, we are over the limit.  Therefore, you will understand, when my wife begged for mercy to accommodate some emergency lodging for a cat.

My immediate reaction, of course, was no.  I told her my fear is that I would end up with four cats.  I did not want to put extreme pressure on her, but I let her know that this scenario would be absolutely intolerable (props to Henry Jones Sr). She promised that finding a new home for him would be a priority, so eventually and reluctantly, I agreed.

When I came home for lunch, I found our little four legged guest hunched in corner of one of the the boy's bed, hissing in disapproval.  When I came back from work later that evening, its mood not much changed.  There was a low and steady growl coming from the room when anyone came into its proximity.  Our alpha cat (known for her obstinacy) continually "tested the fence", causing a cacophony of growls, hisses and shrill bellowing from our lodger.

My wife had to make a run to the store that evening, so I stayed at home.  I periodically kept having to divert my boys from running to the doorway, just for the sheer amusement of seeing the funny reaction from the cat.  Typical boys.

At one point, he was evidently trying to exit the room.  He had begun hissing at the ironically peacefully resting alpha cat.  I realized that he may have been trying to find a place to go to bathroom.  I returned with one of our cat litter boxes so that he could do his business.  My wife showed up about that time and she discussed that if he was calm, she would try to take him down to the basement for the night.  (oh yeah, that one is likely)

I asked her how she planned on doing that, and she proposed that she would use a blanket.  More power to her.  Her showdown with the cat began.  With a fury of protest to the situation, Mrs Geek remained undaunted by the cat's protests.  She went right in and began to try and wrangle the little wild stallion.  In retrospect, I would say more like cougar.

She had me get a cat carrier for her to put him in, once he was captured. I made (tried to make) the boys sit on the couch and out of the way.  I also had exercised a bit of wisdom, putting alpha cat in the bathroom to avoid adding any more drama to the mix.

At one point she thought she had him, but he wriggled out began and what could only be called flying around the room (literally he reached heights of my eye level) This caused another round of giddy laughter from the boys who were thoroughly enjoying the spectacle.

I closed door to avoid letting the safari leak out into our living room.  Out of my direct sight, the boys were gleefully romping around like hooligans in the next room, mimicking some of the cat wails that were emitting from this one.  A nice added element to the already bizarre set of circumstances.

Somewhere in the process, a foul odor assailed our noses.  Ughhh!  I had been right in my previous cat box theory.  After a few more valiant attempts at capturing him, I suggested that instead of continuing this exercise in futility, that I would let the boys camp out with me that night.  I felt that it was best to leave the traumatized cat to spend the night where he was.  My wife agreed.

I brought in litter box, food and water, and took the boys off to the back room.  It was late, but relented to play a little Mario Party 7 on the Game Cube with the boys to calm them down a bit before we hit the sack.

I am composing this entry quietly in the next room, but I am sincerely hoping for no new adventures today from our little furry friend behind the door.  Whether that turns out to be true or not, I can at least count my blessings that I am going to work today.


"Some people say that cats are sneaky, evil, and cruel. True, and they have many other fine qualities as well." - Missy Dizick

Resting and growling after his attempted capture.  If looks could kill.  :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Patriotic Geek

I wouldn't want to sound all "preachy" about July 4th, but I do have a few thoughts to share this Independence Day.

Whether it is Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter or any other major holiday, it always seems like we gently over time, lose sight of the spirit and meaning behind them.  Not with any trace of malice; it is merely the slipping of time.  I believe that Independence day falls into that category.

How great of a sacrifice did those who have passed before us?  Can we treat so lightly the precious freedoms that were bought with the blood and bravery of patriots, both past and present?

I had the privilege recently of speaking to a veteran at a birthday party that my oldest son was invited to.  While the kids were going crazy with the water, I was sitting down with the adults.  The Grandpa of the birthday girl had mentioned to someone else about serving in Vietnam.  I decided to strike up a conversation with the man.  What an experience.

I told him first, on behalf of many, I wanted to say thank you for what he had done.  I and another gentleman who was also currently in the military, began talking with him about what he had experienced.  He said that he had enlisted instead of being drafted and started telling us about some of the harrowing experiences that he experienced while he was serving.  I  can only begin to imagine how I may have felt in his shoes.

He then got to a point in his narrative where strangely tears began to well up in his eyes.  He spoke of returning back from the war and receiving warning from his fellow soldiers.  They told him to be careful at the airport, because there may be some that would spit on him in protest.

He revealed that his life and the life of others were forever changed by their experiences.  To this day, he said he does not get much sleep and regularly is up surveying the area around his house, almost as if he were back in the conflict again.

To everyone like this precious man and their families who have and continue to buy the freedom I enjoy; Thank you!  I could never repay you enough in word or deed for the sacrifices you have made.  I simply pledge not to ever take these freedoms for granted.  I pray that you won't either.

I leave you with two things.

First, a video that I put together for a patriotic themed event that we had as an outreach a few years ago.

Secondly, the following quote from Samuel Adams:

"The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men."


Friday, June 22, 2012

Game On! Create Your Own Game

Did you ever dream of making your own board, dice or card game?  I just found the perfect place for you.

Trolling my way through the Internet, I saw an article from fellow dad blogger Father Geek.

In his original article (which can be found here) he mentioned that there were a lot of ideas out there for games.  Most of the large game making companies get a lot of submissions and pick ones that they feel will be the most successful.  That leaves many game ideas unfulfilled.  Some folks who get their ideas rejected either give up or try presenting it to another company.

Now they and you have a way to get their games out there with no risk.  Interested?  You should head over to  With this site, you can create your very own board or card game, with the option to let others buy it from you.  The Game Crafter touts itself as "the world’s first web-to-print game publishing company and offers a print on demand game publishing service."

It is a really neat setup. Game Crafter makes it very easy to take your idea and make it a reality.  They provide simple to use templates and instructions.  They have a game editor to help you keep track of some of your more complex designs and even access to tools that will help you produce the graphics.  After you upload your game to the site, you can have them immediately produce it for you to buy, with no minimum for you to purchase (although you can get a discount on bulk orders).

And it doesn't stop there!  You can also set a public price for the game and sell it to the general public as well.  You get to keep 70% of the profits from any sales, which is amazing!.  No one can promise you that you will make a million bucks on it, but how neat would it be to see your creation out there for others to have?

In addition to someone looking to sell their games, they would work great for educators or even families to make some really neat personalized games.  I'm sure the geek in you could combine some of the best elements of some of the games that you have enjoyed in the past, and come up with a great idea or two!


"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral."  ~Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, Flight to Arras, 1942

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy Belated Geek Father's Day

I just wanted to wish a happy belated Father's Day to all my fellow geek dads out there.

If you are reading this, the chances are pretty high that you are, or know someone who cares a tremendous amount for their kids.  As challenging and frustrating as it can be, there is no doubt that being a dad is my favorite role in life.  I am sure that it is probably the same for you, too.

I was regaled with multiple rounds of "Happy Father's Day" from my two awesome little geeks all throughout the day.  Little cards that they made from their Sunday School class and lots of love.  I enjoyed my time with them tremendously, and the honor and privilege that it was, to be their dad.

Being a kid's pastor, I was searching the Internet for ideas for a craft that my church kids could make, and came across a really neat poem that I wanted to share with you guys.  I have tried without success to find an official page for this author, and would be happy to link to it if anyone comes across it.

What Is A Dad?

written by: Susan Ceylise 
copyright ©2007 Susan Ceylise 

A dad is someone who
 wants to catch you before you fall
 but instead picks you up,
 brushes you off,
 and lets you try again. 

 A dad is someone who
 wants to keep you from making mistakes
 but instead lets you find your own way,
 even though his heart breaks in silence
 when you get hurt. 

 A dad is someone who
 holds you when you cry,
 scolds you when you break the rules,
 shines with pride when you succeed,
 and has faith in you even when you fail.


Though none of us are perfect, let me say thank you for being a dad to your kids.  Thank you for making a lifelong impact on their lives.