Setting Up a New Windows Computer for Your Kids

I recently had a colleague contact me for some computer advice. He knows I’m a computer geek and was looking for some help setting up a new Windows laptop for his kids. He was wondering which antivirus software to buy.

If you’re at all familiar with my blog, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of Windows and run Linux almost exclusively in my house (I keep a Windows laptop around to use a book scanner). So, it may seem strange turning to a Linux user for advice for a Windows computer. But, it’s actually not that strange. Linux does so much right that it has taught me what you should do when setting up a computer, regardless of your operating system. So, here’s the advice I gave my colleague that I think would be good advice for anyone setting up a new computer for kids.

Antivirus Software

If what you want is just antivirus software, Microsoft Windows ships with antivirus protection now (Microsoft Security Essentials). If you don’t install any other software, you can make sure that you install that software. Plus, the price is hard to beat. It’s free. Also, from my perspective, it’s best for not slowing down your computer dramatically. Norton, Kaspersky, etc. all slow down your computer, which sucks. If all you want is virus/spyware protection, Microsoft Security Essentials is sufficient.

Additional Software

If you want additional software on the laptop to accomplish something else, that’s a different question. Since it’s for your kids, there are two types of software you could consider.

Home Internet Security

First, do you want to restrict where your kids can go online? I’m actually a proponent of simply teaching your kids good habits and not policing where they can go. That may not be your perspective. If you want to restrict where they can go, I’d suggest OpenDNS’s Family Shield (or Home). It restricts adult content and is free.


Second, there is also the concern of ransomware, which is basically if someone were to get a piece of software on your computer that then locks you out of your files. The easiest solution to this is just to install backup software like Dropbox and make sure your kids store any important files in the Dropbox folder. There is a free option that gives you 2 gigabytes. It’s generally good practice to back up all of your important files anyway (e.g., essays, homework, photos, etc.). So long as you have a backup, ransomware is basically not a problem. (See this guide for dealing with ransomware by Dropbox.)

Multiple Accounts and Administrator Accounts

You should also probably set up multiple accounts on the laptop, though, again, this is up to you and how much control you want to give your kids. Setting up a local account for your kids means they won’t be able to install software without your administrative password. If they don’t know what they are doing, this is generally a good idea.

Reinstall Windows

Finally, I’m not sure how good you are with computers, but I’d also suggest making sure you have a way to revert to a completely fresh install in case your kids manage to get past the software and screw things up. Since I build my own computers and run Linux, reinstalling my operating system is something I do regularly. But for most users, the very thought of doing that is terrifying. Microsoft has made that much easier.


Do all of the above and your laptop should work fine for years. Plus, all of the above will cost you exactly $0, just some time.

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Unethical Amazon Review Modifications

I don’t always review products on Amazon. I don’t have the time. But there have been two instances over the past year when I have been contacted by someone because of a review I wrote on Amazon. Both times, these individuals have tried to bribe me to remove my negative review of the product. Here’s the latest email exchange over a backup cellphone charger that was a piece of garbage:

First Email:

taylor jack Tue, Dec 17, 2019 at 10:30 PM
To: “”

I’m Anna.I am a real person.Since everybody’s time is very precious,I just go directly to the topic.
Here is your review.
I am very sorry to hear about the issues you’ve had with your item.Are you willing to help me to delete your review? If you have deleted your review, please tell me,We will give you an Amazon gift card.
Looking forward to your good news and reply !

My response:

From: Ryan Cragun
To: taylor jack
Subject: Re: Amazon compensation

I consider your proposal completely unethical.
You should be ashamed of yourself.
Ryan T. Cragun

I stopped responding after this, but have since received three more emails:

Email Two:

From: “taylor.jack0528” Using MailMasterPC/ (Windows 7)
To: “”
Subject: Re: Amazon compensation

From my perspective, we are very eager to compensate those customers who trust us but are hurt by us.
So please give us a chance. We will offer a $ 30 Amazon Gift Card.
Hope you understand us, our life and work are not easy.

Email Three:

From: “taylor.jack0528” Using MailMasterPC/ (Windows 7)
To: “”
Subject: Re: Amazon compensation

Time is limited and tight!!
How is thing going?
If you have deleted your review ,please tell me, I will give you $30 right away.
This is your review.
Thank you.

Email Four:

From: Bessierh5 Nielsenqvl99
Subject: $30 Amazon gift card

Hello rcragun.This is the final mail to you.
This is your review.
If you are willing to delete your review ,I will offer an Amazon gift card worth $30.
If you have deleted it ,please tell me, I will give you $30 right away.
We will thank you profusely and even find a homeless kitten to hug on your behalf. We will waiting for you.
Again, this is the last email you will receive from us so we really do hope you are enjoying your purchase.My most sincere regards, I hope that you can reply to me as soon as possible.
Thank you and please have a fantastically glorious day.

With the previous company, I told them I wouldn’t delete my review. They were okay with that. They said that they would send me a new pair of headphones (the other ones died within a year) to make things right and hoped I would update my review to reflect that. That seemed fair to me and that’s what I did. They were okay with me leaving my review but wanted me to note that they tried to make things right.

That’s very different from what this person is doing. They are basically trying to bribe me to remove negative information from Amazon’s website so people will be misled about the quality of their product.

The product is NEXGADGET’s Solar Charger Power Bank. As I noted in my review, it was basically a useless brick during a 5-day hike in Wyoming. It didn’t keep its charge for a single day and wouldn’t charge in sunlight. Maybe I got a bad item. But that still speaks to the production quality and my review should stay on the website. NEXGADGET shouldn’t be trying to hide negative reviews but rather trying to make a better quality product.

Update 1/8/20:

I sent a response to their last email hoping to get more information.

My 2nd Response:

Created at: Tue, Jan 7, 2020 at 9:02 AM (Delivered after 0 seconds)
From: Ryan Cragun
To: Bessierh5 Nielsenqvl99
Subject: Re: $30 Amazon gift card

Hi Anna,
I’d like to know your real name and who you work for. Please provide that information and maybe I’ll consider your request.

Here’s their response:

Email Five:

Created at: Wed, Jan 8, 2020 at 3:32 AM (Delivered after -325 seconds)
From: Bessierh5 Nielsenqvl99
To: Ryan Cragun
Subject: Re: $30 Amazon gift card

I understand your mood,but
On the one hand , this is not a bribe,this is just a compensation,we just hope that you are satisfied with this transaction.
On the other hand , this is not a violation ,because this shopping platform has this option after all,and the choices are in your hand.I just need you to delete it ,not a good review.
So what do you think of it ?
please give me a chance.
If you have deleted it ,please let me know, thank you!

And my final response:

3rd Response

Wed, Jan 8, 2020 at 6:41 AM (Delivered after 0 seconds)
From: Ryan Cragun
To: Bessierh5 Nielsenqvl99

Definition of BRIBE: “persuade (someone) to act in one’s favor, typically illegally or dishonestly, by a gift of money or other inducement.” You are trying to persuade me to act dishonestly with a gift of money. It is literally the definition of a bribe. Please stop emailing me or I will report you to directly.

To be fair, this is probably some underpaid individual in China who sees this as an opportunity to make enough money to survive. It’s just a job to someone. And my ethical pleadings will never persuade them to stop doing what they are doing because they need to eat. I get that. But it’s still a bribe.

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National Youth Leadership Forum (Envision Experience and Envision EMI) – Pricey Summer Camps of Questionable Quality?

My son was “nominated” by his 3rd-grade science teacher for what both the teacher and we thought might be a nice opportunity – a week-long summer camp that focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The camp is put on by the “National Youth Leadership Forum” (or NYLF) and was called “Pathways to Stem.” The teacher let us know that they had “nominated” our son – and only our son because of his interest in the natural sciences – and then, a few weeks later, we received this really opulent package of information about the program (see scan below).

When we opened the package, we were simultaneously impressed and disturbed by the contents. There were lots of gold seals and what looked like official language and endorsements.

shiny gold seal
Shiny gold seal!

But then we saw the price for the camp and balked!

summer camp price scan
The price… and a payment plan? Why would a summer camp need a payment plan?

Yep, you’re reading that correctly: $2,195!

For a week-long camp?!?

Our son has been doing summer camps for a long time since both of us work. The most expensive summer camp he has done has cost just over $200 – for a full week (most are around ~$150 per week). Granted, that didn’t include room and board, but the tuition only option for this summer camp was still almost $1,700, which is over 8 times as much as we had ever paid for another camp.

I hate to admit that we actually spent a little time considering this as a possibility for our son as we should have immediately been more skeptical. As we thought about it, we considered that college admissions are competitive and wondered if this might be beneficial. But we both quickly realized that, as college professors, we wouldn’t care if a student had spent a week at some summer camp unless that camp had led them to do original research and publish a paper or create some world-altering invention. That… That would be an impressive camp. But what was being proposed for this camp wasn’t all that compelling (see the sample schedule in the PDF below).

Even so, as busy professionals, we didn’t really have time to look into this right away, so we kind of just sat on it for about two months until I had a free day one weekend to look into a little more. I’m glad I did.

As it turns out, the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) is part of a collection of camps and programs run by a for-profit company called Envision, EMI. The link we’d been giving in all of our paperwork (see the scans below) was to, but that redirects straight to the main Envision website: That was a little weird.

As I googled around, I found more and more information. Yelp actually provided some good starting places based on the reviews. From there, I ended up reading this very good (and amazingly balanced yet subtly critical) article in the New York Times. That article notes that there is no empirical evidence that such summer camps do anything for: (1) improving leadership or other skills in young people (they are too short and no one has tested their efficacy), or (2) improve the odds of young people getting into competitive colleges.

The Yelp reviews also pointed me to the Wikipedia article on the company, which has a very helpful section on “criticisms” of Envision, EMI. Not surprisingly, one of the main criticisms is that the company employs slick, high-pressure marketing techniques, like requesting that parents respond within 24 hours to reserve their child’s spot. Why do I have to respond in 24 hours?

card insert that suggests a need for urgency
This included card makes it seem like there is a reason to make a quick decision on this camp. There isn’t.

The other Wikipedia criticisms focus on how the company doesn’t deliver on its promises of an amazing educational experience.

The Yelp reviews had largely convinced me that this wasn’t the opportunity it claimed to be. The New York Times article sealed the deal. The Wikipedia section was just icing on the cake. Our son won’t be attending the National Youth Leadership Forum: Pathways to Stem summer camp. I’d much rather take the $2,195 and buy him a 3D printer (~$1,000 and $1,000 worth of supplies) and let him design and print 3D objects all summer long. That is a much better use of our funds.

Below is a scan of all the materials sent, from the various letters to the teacher, to us, and to our son, along with the promotional and informational materials and even some scans of the envelope (the seal on which is shown above):

NOTE: Throughout this blog post, I have not used the words “scam” or “fraud” or anything like that to describe the company or the camp. That is intentional. Technically, the company is delivering “a camp experience.” That the experience is less impressive than what the company seems to suggest does not mean this is a “scam” or a “fraud.” I have been very careful with my word choices here so as to avoid a lawsuit or libel claims. I think it is safe to say that this company offers summer camps that are WAY, WAY, WAY more expensive than almost every other summer camp we have considered for our son (the one exception is astronaut camp in Birmingham, Alabama, which involves some pretty hands-on training and is still just $1,000). For instance, here is a list of available summer camps (for summer 2017) in our area. None of them come anywhere close to the cost of Envision, EMI’s camps. Again, that does not mean Envision Experience, Envision, EMI, or the National Youth Leadership Forum are a “scam.” I think it would be more accurate to describe what Envision Experience offers as very expensive, possibly under-delivering camp experiences for people who really want their kids to succeed but may not realize that there is no scientific evidence these camp experiences will help their kids succeed.


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remove mold and mildew stains

Despite our best efforts at keeping our shower clean, we managed to get a small buildup of mildew in our shower that, by the time we cleaned it, stained the caulking.  I looked around on the internet to see if I could find any recommended products for cleaning mildew stains and mostly just found things like bleach or vinegar with a lot of scrubbing.  I tried that and it didn’t work very well – you could still see some stains in the caulk and grout.

Since I had to go to Home Depot for something else anyway, I decided to check the cleaning supplies aisle while there for products.  That’s where I found Zep Mold & Mildew Stain Remover.  It is a commercial strength stain remover.  I’m always skeptical about products as I’ve bought plenty of other products over the years that make over-stated claims.  This product, however, was relatively under-stated – it came in a nondescript blue gallon bottle and didn’t over-hype it’s claims.  And it was relatively inexpensive.  I bought it, skeptical that it would do anything, but figured it couldn’t make things worse.

On the back of the bottle it says to spray it on the stained areas and only let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes before rinsing it off.  I thought to myself, “There is no way this will have any effect in 2 to 3 minutes.”  So, I sprayed it on, thickly, and left it for a good 8 to 10 minutes.  When I went back into the bathroom, I was stunned.  Our tile, grout, and caulking were all glistening white.  I couldn’t stay in there, though, because the fumes were so bad they started to burn my eyes.  I sprayed the shower down as quickly as I could with water then left.  I came back about 10 minutes later and sprayed the shower down again.  All of the stains were gone!

Now, this isn’t exactly a miracle product – it did eat away at some of the caulking, which we ultimately had to remove, but that just speaks to the power of the product.  This is some serious stuff!

If you have mildew stains or even just mildew build up and don’t really want to expend a lot of elbow grease trying to get rid of it, give Zep Mold & Mildew Stain Remover a try.  I’m not getting paid to say this (though if Zep wants to send a check my way, I wouldn’t refuse it), but I’m recommending it highly.  If I had found out about this stuff before I spent an hour scrubbing my shower, I could have saved myself an hour scrubbing the shower and ended up with the same result.  Just be aware that this stuff is caustic and works fast – use with caution!

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new recipe – spring vegetable risotto

I occasionally try new recipes, when I can find the time.  I have a pretty good repository of favorite recipes that I make regularly (you can see most of them here).  I’d say 90% of the new recipes I try don’t make it past the Debi test, meaning Debi doesn’t eat the leftovers and I know that I shouldn’t make it again.  So, when I tried this new recipe, I was skeptical, as I usually am.  But the leftovers were gone in 2 days.  Ergo, it’s a keeper:

Spring Vegetable Risotto

  • 1/2 pound sugar snap peas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3/4 cup white wine (or cooking wine)
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 package firm tofu (optional for added protein)
  1. Cook peas in boiling water about 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse with cold water; set aside.
  2. Pour broth into a medium-size saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat; reduce heat to low and keep broth warm.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, salt and pepper (and tofu, if using tofu) and cook for 6 minutes, stirring frequently, or until softened. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute.
  4. Add remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil in saucepan. Stir in rice and carrots and cook 1 minute. Add wine to saucepan and stir until almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in warm broth and cook for another 22-25 minutes.
  5. Add peas to saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until heated through.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese, butter, and lemon juice (you can also put the Parmesan cheese on separately after dishing up servings).
  7. Note: You’re supposed to slowly add the broth, but it didn’t seem to make a difference when I didn’t.

Spring Vegetable Risotto @ Group Recipes

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how to open Google Reader links in a new tab without changing focus

If you’re a fan of Google Reader, like I am, that means it is now part of your life – something you’re not sure you could live without.  I use Google Reader pretty much every day to read the news and keep up with the blogs that I can (mostly family, some friends).  I love Google Reader.  It’s easy to use, feature-rich, and keeps track of what I have read and haven’t.  It even let’s me read my news on my cellphone (try it; it’s pretty slick).

So, while I shouldn’t complain about this awesome software, there is one thing it doesn’t do that I’ve wanted it to do for years: open links that I want to read in a new tab without changing the focus using a one-key shortcut.  See, Google Reader has lots of great shortcuts – though the only one I use all the time is ‘n’, which moves me to the next item.  When I’m reading through Google News items, I usually read all the short blurbs first, opening the ones that really interest me in new tabs to read at length later (using a right-click with my mouse and “open in new tab” options in Firefox).  Now, that’s really not that terrible, considering I’ve been doing it that way for years now.  But wouldn’t it be nice to simply hit one key and have the items you want to read at length pop up for you to read later?

Well, there is a way to do it, but it requires a few steps.  First, Google Reader doesn’t have the ability to do that, but a plugin for Firefox does: Tab Mix Plus.  So, here’s what you do:

1) Install Tab Mix Plus in Firefox.  Restart Firefox and you should have Tab Mix Plus installed.

2) Go to Tools -> Add-ons.  Click on “Extensions.”


3) Scroll down to “Tab Mix Plus” and click on “Options”.

4) A new window will pop up.  You only need to change one setting (though there are some fun goodies in there you can play with).  Click on “Events” then click on “Tab Focus.”  The only one you really need to unselect is “Links.”  Unselect it.  Then click “Apply.”


5) Once you’re done, go back to Google Reader, start reading, and when you want to open a story in a new tab in the background, hit ‘v’ and it should pop up in the background.

6) Voila!  You now have a one-key solution to breeze through your Google Reader News faster than ever.

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the holy grail of pitchers

Rubbermaid Mixer Pitcher, Blessed be the Holy Pitcher
Rubbermaid Mixer Pitcher, Blessed be the Holy Pitcher

A couple years ago I brought you the holy grail of lids (a lid for tin cans).  Now I bring you the holy grail of pitchers.  Right around the time we got married, Debi and I bought a pitcher that seemed well-suited for mixing orange juice, the Rubbermaid Mixing Pitcher, Blessed be the Holy Pitcher.  Little did we realize then that what we had purchased was the world’s best pitcher.  Okay, that may seem a bit hyperbolic, but let me explain why I believe this is the world’s best pitcher.  First, you can obviously use it to mix juices without making a mess.  And, the mixer is built into the pitcher, so you don’t have to dirty a different kitchen tool.  Second, because the entire mixing/lid mechanism comes off the top, it makes cleaning the pitcher a cinch.  You can throw both pieces in the dishwasher and they both come out clean with virtually no effort on your part.  Third, they are sturdy (the one we bought when we got married is still running strong after nearly 9 years of very frequent use).  The sturdiness also means the lid doesn’t come off during pouring.  But, in addition to all of the amazing features of the Rubbermaid Mixing Pitcher, blessings be upon it, the competition sucks.

Tupperware Heathen Pitcher, curses be upon it

Since we purchased our first Rubbermaid Mixing Pitcher, Blessed be the Holy Pitcher, we have bought several additional pitchers.  We figured the Rubbermaid Mixing Pitcher, Blessed be the Holy Pitcher, was ideal for orange juice, which settles after awhile.  But we figured other pitchers would be better for big batches of lemonade or grape juice, also frequent juices one might find around our house.  Oh how wrong I was.  All of the other pitchers, curses be upon them, had so many flaws that I’m ashamed we put up with those other pitchers for years.  Take, for instance, the Tupperware Heathen Pitcher, curses be upon it.  While a classic and widely worshiped pitcher, the lid is prone to coming loose at inopportune times, releasing a flood of ice and juice when it goes.  This pitcher consistently lets its followers down.  We owned one of these for a while but decided the risk wasn’t worth it.  A pitcher that does not offer the existential rewards we expect in a pitcher is not worthy of our admiration.

Rubbermaid Screw-On Satanic Pitcher, curses be upon itRubbermaid Satanic Pitcher, curses be upon it

The pitcher that has been the bane of our existence for the last several years is the Rubbermaid Satanic Pitcher, curses be upon it.  The person who designed this worthless pitcher apparently never had to wash one of these out.  The opening is too small for an adult man’s hand to fit inside (though a small woman’s hand will fit).  It also doesn’t allow for easy dishwasher cleaning because of the opening.  Thus, what ends up happening is crap gets washed inside the pitcher during the wash cycle then lodges in the bottom corners.  And because you cannot reach inside to clean it out, you end up with a disgusting pitcher.  This pitcher made us unhappy, which is what always happens when you allow the influence of unholy pitchers, curses be upon them, in your home.

We have owned several additional pitchers, curses be upon them, all of which suffered from a combination of poor lids, poor cleaning ability, or poor pouring function.  They were all very flawed pitchers, curses be upon them.  Luckily our interaction with those evil pitchers was very short-lived.

We also have a really nice pitcher – crystal nonetheless – that we received for our wedding, nearly 9 years ago.  We now consider this a sacred version of the Rubbermaid Mixing Pitcher, blessings be upon it, only for use when we are hosting worthy guests.  (Guess how many times we’ve used it?  Zero!  It’s not that our guests are necessarily unworthy, we just never remember it exists; we have not been good followers of the holy pitcher.)  Thus, we treat our sacred version of the one true pitcher in the store-it-in-a-cupboard-and-forget-about-it-forever fashion.  Only those worthy to see the sacred version of the one true pitcher will have that honor (if we remember it exists).

Thus, after years of interacting with pitchers, we finally decided that we are a mono-pitcherist home: We have thrown out all of the other pitchers (except, of course, the sacred version, which remains forgotten in the cupboard), removing their cursed presence from our home.  We now worship just the one pitcher, the Rubbermaid Mixing Pitcher, blessings be upon it.  The One Pitcher, blessings be upon it, is actually okay with multiple manifestations of itself in the same home.  Thus, we have recently purchased two more manifestations of the Rubbermaid Mixing Pitcher, blessings be upon it, from this online website (since I can’t find it in any local stores).

Since we are now a mono-pitcherist home, I have also become more fundamentalist and evangelical in my pitcher worship.  I think about pitchers in a black and white fashion – either you worship the one pitcher or worship the evil oppositional pitchers, which means I must (according to mono-pitcherism) make fun of you for dealing with the evil pitchers, curses be upon them.  I am encouraged by the One Pitcher, blessings be upon it, to hang around with evil pitcher worshippers, as doing so may allow me to convert them to the one, true pitcher-religion: the cult of the Rubbermaid Mixing Pitcher, blessings be upon it.  As my first act of pitcher-evangelism, I am posting about my poured-again conversion to mono-pitcherism on this blog. But be warned, if I visit your home and you do not worship the Rubbermaid Mixing Pitcher, blessings be upon it, I may have to tell you about the advantages of mono-pitcherism and the One, True Pitcher, blessings be upon it, and mock your worship of inferior pitchers (and oh can I mock).  In the name of the One True Pitcher, blessings be upon it, amen.

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The UFC Diet

Roger HuertaMost people probably don’t know this about me, but I’m a fan of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).  I wouldn’t say I’m an over-the-top fan; I have yet to go to a live event (and probably won’t).  But I do watch the events I can and even read news about the UFC online.  So, after a couple years of following the UFC, the repeated exposure to fighters who are often very cut kind of got to me.  It’s not that I was super fat or even obese, but I had been wanting to loose 10 pounds just to get down to the weight I’ve wanted to be at for years.  Inspired by guys like Roger Huerta (the fighter in the photo to the right), I finally decided to just do it:  This summer I dropped the 10 pounds I’ve been wanting to drop for a couple of years.

So, because I was inspired by UFC fighters, I’m calling this the UFC Diet.  How did I do it?  I followed the tried and true “diet” formula: caloric intake = food eaten – activity.  Rather than increase my activity (it’s actually probably gone down over the summer), I just started eating less.  Less food = fewer calories = lower weight.

St. Pierre

This isn’t revolutionary of course.  No quick fix.  In fact, it’s hard to feel hungry sometimes.  But it’s the price you pay for getting to a good weight.

Now, don’t get the wrong impression.  I don’t have the 8-pack of George St. Pierre (in the picture to the left).  I also can’t say the UFC did anything specifically to encourage me to do this.  But seeing fighters who are physically fit not for the sake of looking good but because they need to be at a physical peak to fight at their best is inspiring.

(Postscript: Hopefully lawyers from the UFC won’t show up here and make me take this down over copyright infringement, etc..  I’m not claiming to represent the UFC or anything of that sort.  But, if lawyers from the UFC do show up, I’m not above discussing a book deal turning my idea/experience into a book.  Hint, hint.)

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Tampa in the News

I’ve found since I started teaching Sociology that being up-to-date on local news can be useful (though it is less useful at my new school where many of the students are from other cities). This leads me to read the local paper, which is often relatively quotidian – thefts, car accidents, political debates, etc. Occasionally, however, I hear about stuff in the national media happening in my local area. There are two big stories (from the last couple of days) that have made national news. First up, the Cuban under 21 men’s soccer team came to Tampa to play for an Olympic qualifier and 7 of the players and an assistant coach defected. This isn’t all that uncommon and there isn’t anything particularly special about Tampa in this case, but it is big news and a commentary on Cuba. The second story didn’t make national headlines in the major papers, but it was picked up by a tech website that has a particular beef with Scientology: Slashdot noted the recent denial by a local judge of an injunction against protests at Scientology’s headquarters in Clearwater (which makes up part of the big three cities here: Tampa, St. Pete, and Clearwater). Again, this probably isn’t a “Clearwater/St. Pete/Tampa” news item so much as a Scientology news item, but I am always interested in things happening locally. (Also, there are supposed to be big protests this weekend at the headquarters… If I had time I’d go watch.)

On an interesting side note, how many of you, my faithful readers, have ever heard of the Dvorak keyboard? I’d heard about it quite a few times and had only ever heard that it was far more efficient and ergonomic than the traditional QWERTY keyboard. In my never-ending attempt to make typing easier on my hands (since I spend a large portion of my days in front of computers), I started practicing on a Dvorak keyboard (you can change your settings on your computer to get it working), only to get frustrated, think things through a bit, and begin to wonder how much of a difference Dvorak could really make. Turns out, not much, if at all. The Dvorak keyboard is often used to illustrate the idea that vested interests can overcome practicality and pragmatism when it comes to the adoption of inventions (in fact, Jared Diamond mentions Dvorak in this sense in Guns, Germs, and Steel). Having heard only that side of the argument dozens of times, I started repeating it (sorry to anyone who heard that from me; I was wrong and am now admitting it). But the frustration of trying to adopt the Dvorak keyboard eventually led me to search out criticisms and I ended up finding the one linked above in an economics journal (I know, it’s an economics journal…). Turns out, most of the “research” indicating Dvorak is (1) faster and (2) more ergonomic was done by… Guess who? August Dvorak, the person who developed it, patented it, and profited from it. Impartial studies indicate minor speed benefits (maybe 2% to 5%) and no difference in ergonomics. Additionally, the time required to retrain an accomplished typist (I type about 110 wpm on QWERTY) won’t ever be recouped in faster typing times – you’re better off spending more time training yourself on the QWERTY as you can actually get faster with additional training. So, if you’ve ever considered switching to Dvorak after already becoming proficient with QWERTY, don’t bother. If, however, you really think the 2%-5% speed advantage is worth it, I guess you could train your kids using Dvorak (though they’ll have a hell of time moving from keyboard to keyboard and changing settings on computers). One final note, I did buy a couple ergonomic keyboards (where the keys are split) and have noticed a substantial improvement in the pain I experience as a result of typing – the angles make a lot of sense and I highly recommend ergonomic keyboards.

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