The Kind of Hypocrite You Can Live With

I was listening to Internet superstar Merlin Mann's podcast Back to Work on the treadmill this morning and he said something that really, really resonated with me. He was talking about dealing with the unreasonable demands that people (and the world around us) place on us every day, and he said this:

I think in some ways becoming an adult is (or really in particular a parent) learning to become an adult means becoming the kind of hypocrite you can live with.

While this isn't exclusive to parents, it wasn't until I had kids that I really had to deal with the conflicts and compromises that I had been quietly been ignoring in my life. Basically, it wasn't until then that I started to realize it was OK to become the kind of hypocrite I could live with.

The Hypocrite You Can Live With, Episode #33 of Back to Work on the 5 by 5 Network (quote is 35:15 in).

Tuck in Your Shirt and Put on a Belt


My latest post on Man of the House is kind of a rebuttal to a post from a few months ago telling guys NOT to tuck-in their shirts. I really don't agree.

But perhaps more importantly, I also used it as an opportunity to complain about the one thing that bothers me the most about how some men dress. If your pants have belt loops and you're a guy, then you should ALWAYS wear a belt.


Tuck In Your Shirt and Put On A Belt  [Man of the]

How to Raise Boys That Read? Maybe Start By Parenting.

[Note: This is a post I originally wrote a month ago for another website. They changed their minds about it, so I'm posting it here.]

The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple—keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.


Twice in my Facebook feed this morning people have posted links praising this opinion piece in the WSJ about the problem of getting boys to read books. Written by Thomas Spence (a book publisher in Dallas) it tries to explain the reasons for the apparent disparity in reading proficiency between boys and girls since 1992 (as stated in a study he mentions but doesn't link to). In the piece Mr. Spence points to what he believes are the two main culprits, books that pander to boys through "[their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor" and, wait for it, video games.

As for the gross-out humor, his argument is that by allowing boys to read books that they think are funny (apparently Mr. Spence has never laughed at a fart in his life) the education system isn't teaching them "manners and taste." He even uses a pretty rich quote from the venerable C.S. Lewis, who talks about how the "little human animal" must "be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful." (As an aside, I haven't read something so utterly condescending in a long while.)

Are fart books really turning our boys into idiot zombies?

Am I really expected to believe that in C.S. Lewis' time there was nothing of dubious literary merit for people to read and enjoy? There has always been things written poorly for cheap laughs or thrills, and somehow "literature" continued to thrive and societies maintained social norms. 

Having never personally read any of this newest class of books that "pander to boys' untutored tastes" I can't comment on their merits or lack thereof. But take a second and look at the roster of books Mr. Spence has published. While most all seem to be politically conservative treatises about "the Tyrrany of Judges", How to Beat the Democrats, and The Left Illusion, none of them are books for young readers. So is he an expert worthy of a WSJ opinion piece, or is there some other social agenda going on?

And then there's the old "let's blame video games for everything" argument. To back his conclusions up, the author cites one study from a Psychology professor at Dennison University that purports a causal relationship between video games and academic performance. One study is all is needed apparently, because "Science has spoken" (capitalization is all his too by the way). And the magic solution to fix boys, the education system and America? Take away the video games.

While I have to assume Mr. Spence's heart is in the right place, I think he's got it all wrong. The way to get boys' reading proficiency back up, or make them have better manners, or appreciate some of the truly amazing things humanity has created is to act like a parent. And this doesn't go just for boys by the way, it's also true for girls. I see no problem with allowing children to read so called "gross-out" books if they want, but you have to encourage them to read other stuff too. In my own life, my oldest daughter picks books she'd like to read, but I also choose books for her as well, typically the books I remember reading and loving when I was young. And I haven't had a complaint yet.

The same goes for video games. Act like a responsible parent and limit the amount of television, video games, sports, reading or anything that might be putting your children's lives out of balance. If your son isn't reading books and playing video games for three hours a day, then cold-turkey might be the way to go. But to say it's the fault of the video games is absurd.

And be an example for your kids as well - maybe your son isn't reading because you don't read. When is the last time you took your kids to the library or talked to them about a book you read? There are all kinds of reasons why boys might not read as much or as well as girls, but "I submit" the root of it isn't the video games or the subject matter of the books, it's the parents.

How to Raise Boys Who Read []

Using a DSLR in Disneyland (or Disney World)


A trip to a Disney theme park with the family is one of those occasions when you know you're going to take a lot of photos. If you don't have a camera that can switch out lenses, then just bring your compact point and shoot and count yourself lucky that there's one less thing you'll have to lug around. But if you want to bring your "big" camera with more than one lens, then there are a couple of things to keep in mind when you're considering which lens (or lenses) to bring.

Walking around the park, you're going to face all sorts of photo moments. Sometimes you're going to want to try to get a wide shot of Sleeping Beauty's castle, and sometimes you're going to want a close-up portrait of your kid on the carousel. So a good, versatile zoom lens is the lens that you'll be using the most at the park. I use a Canon 24-70mm, and with the 1.6x crop factor (due to the sensor size on my camera) I get an effective focal length of 38-112mm which covers a great range of shots. You might be tempted to rent something big and crazy like a  70-200mm lens, which might be fun but is kind of overkill. At Disneyland, and Disney World I'm assuming, there aren't that many moments where you are going to want to take a really long shot. And you'll likely find that 70mm isn't nearly wide enough in many situations (I have enough problems at 24mm).

Fast Glass
"Fast Glass" is just a nerdy thing photography people say to describe a lens that has a wide aperture. A wide aperture lets in more light, and more light means the shutter speed can remain "fast" even in low light situations. At Disneyland, this is essential, especially if you're taking pictures of your kids. You're going to take plenty of pictures outside during the day, but you're also going to take plenty of pictures inside (restaurant, rides etc.) not to mention at night. Having a lens that will allow you to avoid using the pop up flash - or bringing an external flash - is awesome. I always bring my favorite Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens, and when we're watching the parade at night or I want to take pictures of my girls in "It's A Small World," the 50mm always delivers.

Other Disney DSLR Things To Consider
Don't bother trying to bring a tripod unless you really want to lug that thing around all day. You can try a beanbag or something like that, but honestly there aren't many places you're going to want to use one. I don't even bother with my Joby Gorillapod - it's just too annoying. If you're concerned about getting pictures of the whole family (including you) avail yourself of the many Disney Photo Pass photographers. They know how to handle your camera - just be smarter than I was and make sure auto focus is turned on.

Get a good camera strap that is comfortable and ditch that strap that came with your camera. Those straps are uncomfortable and all they do is advertise to thieves that you're walking around with an expensive camera. I've used affordable, normal straps from Op/Tech and like them, and now I'm using a shoulder strap from Black Rapid that I really, really love.

Use the smallest camera bag possible, but still bring a bag. I use an older version of this bag from Tamrac. It fits my camera body with my zoom lens attached, and there's enough room at the bottom for my 50mm. I also bought a water bottle attachment for the side, and I ditched the water bottle and use the attachment to hold my drink, my kid's water or whatever else I need to throw in there in a pinch.

Oh, and make sure you bring twice the memory cards you'll think you'll need (on the trip, not necessarily to the park) and a backup battery. Trust me. The real work comes when you get home and have to go through all the pictures you've taken.


RELATED POSTS (from Chris Ford):

Tips for Surviving a Weekend at Disney (with the Kids) [Man of the]

No One Needs Permission to Be Awesome [43 Folders]

"No one wants to die, even people who want to go to Heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be. Because death is very likely the single best invention of life." - Steve Jobs


As people (especially "pundits" on TV) are talking about Steve Jobs' leave of absence from Apple and how it might affect the company, stock price and the phone you keep in your pocket, Merlin Mann keeps it all in perspective.

It's not about whether or not we're going to die (we all are), it's about living our lives knowing that we are.

Check out the 15 minute Stanford Commencement Address from Steve Jobs (at the beginning of the post) and then read what Merlin has to say.

And ignore everyone else.

Tips For Surviving a Weekend At Disney With Kids


This past December we went to Disneyland for a weekend trip. The holidays are a fun time to go visit "the happiest place on earth", and since we live within driving distance (and our kids are only getting older every day) we figured it was time. It was our third trip, and we're starting to figure out what works and what doesn't work - especially when you bring your kids. If you're interested, check out my latest post on Man of the House - my five tips for surviving a weekend at Disneyland with the kids.

Tips For Surviving a Weekend at Disney (With Kids) []

Hanging Solo with the Kids - New Post on Man of the House

This Veterans Day my kids had no school and their Mom was at work, leaving the three of us alone to our own devices all day. Trying to come up with something fun to do with the kids can sometimes be a challenge, and leaving them alone with the television all day isn't really a good option.


Here are some suggestions for things to do with the kids - without their Mom. Included is my super (not so secret) go-to place when you can't think of anything else.

Oh, and that picture they put up clearly isn't my kids and I. (We're way better looking).

Back Up Your Digital Life - New Post on Man of the House

Try to think about everything on your computer right now. Think about the pictures of the kids when they were babies, think about all of the music you've amassed over the years, think about the home videos you've taken. Think about all of the documents you've created - like your tax information, important presentations for work and household finance information.

Now think about this. ALL HARD DRIVES FAIL.


My most recent post on Man of the House is also my diatribe on backing up your data. If I've cornered you at a party and given you this speech while drunk on wine, I apologize in advance.

New Blog Posts Up at

I've  recently started writing for a website for fathers called Man of the House. Unlike the product stuff I was writing about at Babble, at the new site I'll be writing more about my experiences, tips and other stuff I can share with fathers. It's a really great site with a lot of really thoughtful men writing thoughtful posts, so you should definitely check it out.

I'll still be writing here periodically too, but it will likely be more for more short-form blog stuff as well as more personal junk I used to put over at my Posterous account.

The first two Man of the House posts are:

5 Cool New Baby Products for Dads
This one is a recap of the five best things I saw at the ABC Expo (the baby and children's product convention)  in Las Vegas.

Being a Stay-At-Home Dad is Good For the Brain
A conversation I had with a friend of mine got me thinking about whether staying at home was "intellectually stimulating" or not.

So leave a comment if you want and let me know what you think.

"You can only do one thing at a time." Time to take my own advice.

In our family we preach the gospel of hard work and doing your best is what matters - not the result. Results will be good if you do your best and you work hard. And when I see my kids dealing with the many, many land mines of distraction I've set up in our house for them, I'll often tell them to focus, and that "You can only do one thing at a time."

The problem is, when they are at school and I'm at home I don't really follow my own advice. If you've got a second, read this article from Andy Ihatko in the Chicago Sun Times about how he's starting to realize the tools we use (especially the tools in front of a computer) might actually be working against us.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go turn off my email inbox notifications. That is, right after I check to see if anyone has responded to my latest tweet.

Multitasking is a lie - your brain needs a break :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Andy Ihnatko

Tip the magician.

So the other night I'm out with my ladies eating dinner, and a table-side magician approached us. Before I had children I would have tried to avoid it if I could, and if I couldn't I would just tell him that I wasn't interested. But now I've got a three year old who, although her experience with magic is very limited, her experience with balloon animals is not.

So after it was all over, it occurred to me that I should give the guy a tip for the floating card trick and the pink dog on a white balloon leash. So I handed him $4, to which he thanked me and went onto the next table. But it occurred to me, how much are you supposed to tip the magician?

As it turns out, I happen to know a guy through a friend of mine who is a magician and who has some experience working table-side, so I emailed him (quite out of the blue from his persepective) to find out what was appropriate. As a magician with an MBA, he gave me a rough frequency estimate of what people tend to tip:

$2 (20%); $5 (60%); $10 (15%); $20 (5%)

He said the high-end would be for tables of many adults where he "freaks them out" for 7-10 minutes, and small families like mine with a few tricks and some balloon animals would be $2 - $5. He also said many restaurant magicians are paid by the restaurant and shouldn't accept tips (I've never seen one), and those that work solely for tips usually work it into their act somehow ("A person wanted to leave me a tip once, but all he had was this poker chip...").

So I guess $4 is a decent tip for the situation I was in. And if you've finished this lengthy post about tipping magicians, chances are you have way too much time on your hands.

(A person was looking to figure out how much to tip the magician, but all they had was this random blog entry...)

[Big thanks to Frank from - the best slight of hand guy I've ever seen close up.]

What I learned at Gymboree

Well, my daughter is a year old now, and as I stay at home with her during the day, she doesn't get a lot of interaction with other kids. So a couple of days ago I took Madame to Gymboree Play and Music. It's an indoor playground of sorts, with organized times where parents can bring their kid to crawl around and play with other kids their age. They way it worked was the first part of the "class" they had loose activities for the kids to do, like crawling and climbing up on stuff. Then they close the class with songs and activities that the parents do with the kids, including playing with an indoor parachute at the end. As far as I can tell she loved it, and for that I enjoyed it too. But there were also some things I learned:

  • My little girl loves other kids. All the kids will look at each other, but she was really the only one who would go up to another kid and touch or try to talk to them.
  • Soap bubbles. SOAP BUBBLES. How come I never thought to try soap bubbles with her? The kids were mesmerized. I went to Target the next day and got some (on clearance to boot).
  • Parachutes are cool. Why aren't they marketed more heavily to parents? Maybe they are and I'm just not aware of it, but I would think that there are a lot of parents who would get one for their kids, or their play group to have fun with.
  • I'm an idiot when it comes to kid's songs. I was completely at a loss when it came to the words to "The Wheels on the Bus," and my utter inability to do that itsy-bitsy spider thing with my hands just made me feel retarded.
  • KEEP THE PUBLIC TOYS OUT OF YOUR BABIES' MOUTH. There were lots of little toys around the play area, mostly for bait to get kids to go through tunnels or climb up ramps. It worked, but almost all the kids would then put them into their mouths. Kids do this, I understand, but maybe the parents should think twice about letting their kid do it. Indoor playgrounds are fun, but they are a vector for disease. My Madame would grab the toys but she didn't put any in her mouth (I was making sure). As I've said before, she is above average.
  • I wasn't the only dad. I honestly thought I might be, but in the same class there was another dad with his little boy, and there was a dad who was leaving with his kids from the previous class. Maybe I should start a dads playgroup.

For once, I can't even judge.

I've found that judging (and unfortunately being judgmental) of other parents, especially parents with children around the same age as mine, is pretty much impossible to avoid. I try hard to keep the attitude of "Hey whatever works for you is perfectly OK," and I do believe that to a reasonable extent, but when I'm around other parents with little kids it's hard not to compare.  All of this goes out the window however when it comes to parents of twins.

Before we were even thinking about having a baby, I kind of thought it would be cool to have twins. Getting through the difficult aspects of dealing with young children all at once sounded like a good idea. It's tough to deal with a new baby, two couldn't really be that much more difficult right? Lucky for me I wasn't able to choose. Now when I talk to friends or other people I've met recently who have young twins, it seems that what they are going through is so different I don't even have a basis for understanding. Feeding, sleeping, traveling - all the things I do every day with my baby seem to be completely new adventures if you've got twins. It's not as simple as doubling the task, though it does seem to be at least double the work. For instance, I might think I've got a great method for getting a baby to sleep, but getting two infants to sleep at the same time isn't even something I can relate to, let alone judge.

Which ultimately is a lesson I suppose I should take away with me. The next time I think to myself how I can't believe how late so-and-so lets their kids stay up at night, or how crazy so-and-so are to let their kid eat meat at three months, I should think about all the people raising twins. Because the truth is that usually, whatever works for a parent is perfectly OK.


I've been noticing recently in a few dad blogs (like this entry in More Diapers) there has been some talk of getting the baby to sleep. Not to brag, but we've had Madame sleeping through the night since she was about 8 weeks old. (OK. That was bragging, but I didn't mean it. I swear.) Sure, she's a great baby and I'm sure there's some amount of dumb-luck on our side, but I'm a firm believer that we helped the situation too.

I want to preface this by saying that I'm no expert and obviously whatever works for you is OK. If you want to get up in the middle of the night and wake the baby to change a diaper - I think you're nuts but to each his own. Also, keep in mind that no one actually sleeps through the night. You, me, your dog - we all wake up in the middle of the night and put ourselves back to sleep. The baby needs to learn how to do the same thing. Lastly, I copped most of this from Dr. Michael Cohen's The New Basics - a great book I highly recommend.

OK. Here's how MDD did it.

  1. First few weeks do what you have to do. The baby doesn't even know the difference between night and day. Think of it like 9 months worth of jet lag. You just have to suck it up.
  2. After a couple of weeks, let the baby cry a little before you rush to pick it up. It might be hard, but don't freak out after every little peep.
  3. Once the baby is big enough for the crib (and is out of the bassinet in your room - maybe after a month or two?), put the baby to sleep at night. Once the baby starts crying, let the baby cry for 10 minutes alone before going back. Console and quiet the baby, then if the baby cries again, give it another 10 minutes (from the point when the baby starts crying). Eventually the baby will sleep. If it wakes up in the middle of the night - stick to the 10 minute rule.
  4. By now hopefully you've got a baby sleeping through the night. If after 4 months you don't, then drop the 10 minute rule. Put the baby to bed at 7 PM. Say goodnight, close the door and come back at 7AM the next day. No matter what.

There it is. Basically, don't be afraid to let them cry a little. That 10 minute rule worked like a charm for us and honestly I think I've got a happier baby during the day because she's well rested. I'm not crazy about making her nap during the day. If she does (and she usually does) that's great, but if I'm getting a full night's rest I can pretty much handle anything she dishes out during the day.

Princess nation.

My littlegirl is still a baby, but if you’ve got one a little older (and even if you don't) you might enjoy this article over at, A Nation of Little Princesses by Christopher Healy (subscription required, but you can click through for free if you agree to look at an ad). His daughter (like a lot of little girls apparently) is enthralled with the idea of being a princess, and the article mostly discusses whether or not this is a good thing. A lot of it is encouraged by consumer products, especially Disney’s Princess line of products, but it’s also coming from more supposedly unlikely sources like Dora the Explorer. It’s nice to see a dad writing from his perspective, and I suppose these are the sorts of child-raising (and little-girl-raising) challenges that I also have to look forward to. You know, when I was younger I never thought that I would ever have to ponder the pros and cons of your daughter wanting to be a princess, but now it’s interesting to me. Life is funny that way.

Mall Santa.

Madame and I took a quick trip to the mall yesterday morning, and I noticed something kind of strange. The mall we went to already had a Santa Claus taking pictures with kids. I'm used to seeing Christmas stuff well before Thanksgiving at places like the drugstore, but a mall Santa? If they are working now, when do these guys apply for jobs? July?  Apparently, because I was only able to find one job posting online for a Santa, so I guess most of the gigs are taken. Or maybe they use Santas Around the Globe to help them find work.

Anyway, it seems way too early to take your kid to see Santa, but the more I thought about it, it might not be such a bad idea. Take the baby now and avoid the lines - it's not like she can tell Santa what she wants, or that she's even aware what's going on. And I'll have the pictures ready to send to the Grandmas.

Visualizer hypnotizer.

ItunesvisualizerYesterday Iwas hanging out with Madame in the office/playroom – I was organizing a play list in iTunes and she was hanging out on the play mat – when she got fussy. This is understandable, because it’s close to bottle time and that play mat thing will only hold her attention for so long. So I pick her up and put her on my lap to try to hold her off for another 10 minutes, which only lasts about 20 seconds before she begins a full-on cry. In desperation I hit the visualizer button on iTunes and bam! It was like I hit the mute button on my baby.

A common feature on a lot of media players, the iTunes visualizer is the trippy lines and shapes generated in sync with the music. I doubt the people at Apple intended this, but my baby was completely mesmerized. She even started making her quiet baby talk sounds at it. Obviously this isn’t something we’re going to do a lot together (will this turn my kid into a zombie?), but I suppose it’s another thing I can put into my bag of tricks to get the baby to calm down in a pinch. I wonder if the iPod Photo will output the visualizer to a TV?