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November 2021 Stockpile

Here are random things to post that don’t deserve their own post:

One-Mile Slipper

If you’re looking for something to buy an old man (or a young man who is old at heart), I highly recommend these One Mile Slippers. They are super comfortable and warm, but most importantly they are easy to slide on. The heel backstop is just low enough to slide past without hands, but just big enough to keep the shoes from coming off.

I recommend you buy slightly small because the slippers will get worn in and mold to your foot. I’m usually a 10.5 or 11 and I purchased a Medium size.

(For an extra $12 off, you can use code “THETALKSHOW” when you check out. A podcast I listen to was sponsored by this company a while back and the coupon code still works.)

A Couple More Apps I Like

A while back, I did a thorough review of CoPilot. I still use it and highly recommend it.

Flighty: I use this app to track all my flights, past and future. The free plan offers really accurate information about gates, delays, and arrivals. There is also a subscription if you want even more info.

Deliveries: This is a package tracker app that I have used for many years. It’s really smart to automate any tracking URLs or numbers that you send to it.

Saving Bananas

I only sort of like bananas. The taste is good, the texture is not. When I use a banana in cereal on toast, I only ever eat half of it.

Luckily there is an easy way to keep the other half fresh:

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Add an AirTag to a Harmony Remote

In our house, the remote in the main room is always misplaced. Somehow it is in cushions, below couches, and in the wrong room constantly. We get tired of looking for it.

Today we purchased an AirTag and just used gorilla tape to attach it to the top of the Harmony Remote. That was easy.

Then my youngest said, “That doesn’t seem like a dad way to do things.”

Challenge accepted.

First we took apart the remote to see what was inside. It’s real easy to remove the battery, extract two screws, and separate the top from the bottom. Once inside, we saw that there was a weight in the bottom half. It’s only purpose it to add heft to the remote.

It looked like a perfect cavity to use for the AirTag.

While the width was almost perfect, the depth did not allow for the remote to go back together.

We decided to bore out a hole large enough to let the AirTag have the space it needs.

We started small and used bigger tools until we landed on a sanding wheel. The plastic on the remote was actually quite soft.

We widened it enough for the metal part to poke through. It was a perfect fit.

It also shows a cool Apple logo.

Unfortunately, the sound of a ping was so muffled. Apparently the beeping speaker comes from the white side of the AirTag.

We widened the hole just enough so the white part could have space, but not big enough that it could slip out. Be very careful because the room for error is small.

Once we had the space, we placed the AirTag, put the remote back together, and it all works great.

Now when we replace the remote we just ask Siri to find it for us.

Now that’s a much more “dad way” to do it.

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October 2021 Stockpile

Here are random things to post that don’t deserve their own post:

Sharpie Makes a Pen

Even though signing a receipt at a store is mostly useless, I still do it when asked. Recently it paid off.

Candace and I were at a bakery and I signed the receipt with what turned out to be a Sharpie pen. That’s right, the maker of everyone’s favorite permanent marker, now makes gel pens as well. I ordered some on the way home. They’re wonderful.

I went with the 0.7mm (obviously) but they also have 0.5mm and 0.38mm.

Learn to tie your shoes…again

It’s strange how some small articles you read online can really change the way you do something meaningful in life.

For instance, I’ve been negotiating like a kindly brontosaurus for nearly a decade because of this one article.

I had another one lately about how to tie your shoes the right way. No more granny knots that fall out during the day. No more double knots that are impossible to loose on dress shoes.

Learn to tie your shoes the right way. (And be surprised how often you see others with crooked bows.)

Social Media is a Casino

I recently heard a speaker liken social media to a casino. The infinite scroll of posts is likened to no clocks in casino.

Each like or comment is a small dopamine hit that is enough to bring you back but rarely lasts.

You talk yourself into staying just a little longer because the next post is going to be the one that pays off big enough to make up for all the lost time and attention.

There are a number of parallels in the comparison. As a Las Vegas kid, it made sense pretty quickly.

The Friendship Oak

In Southern Mississippi, there is a 500+ year old oak tree called the Friendship Oak. It has a massive but worn canopy and this sign posted nearby:

It is said that “those who enter (it’s) shadow will remain friends through all their lifetime.” That’s pretty neat.

We were excited to visit recently. And we are happy to report that we all fit under the tree just fine and there is plenty of room for all of you.

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On Screen Time in iOS 15

Today is the release date for iOS 15, the latest operating system for your iPhone. You can see all the new features here or read an in-depth review here. Overall, it’s a nice upgrade.

I just want to make thre quick observations on Apple’s Screen Time. It is a tool to limit and monitor the screen time for you and your family. It was released a few years ago and is definitely worth the time to understand and organize your tech.

With iOS 15, there is one great new feature and two pain points that still exist for the way we use Screen Time in our family.

Improving but more needed

Ignore Downtime Until Schedule: In our family, we have set it up so the majority of the time, the phones are useful tools for our kids to use. Productive apps like Calendar, Day One, and iMessage are always available to be used. We do this using “Downtime” which is set for most of the time.

On Fridays after school and on Saturday, the games and other fun apps get unlocked and the kids have a fun time playing.

From time to time though, we’ll be on a trip or want to play a game together with the family. In the past, this meant turning off the downtime manually and hopefully remembering to turn it back on later. That didn’t always happen.

With this new feature, you can ignore the current state of Downtime temporarily. The next time it’s supposed to turn off or on, it will automatically fall back into the schedule. Very useful.

Alway Allowed apps list struggles: Three years into screen time, there are still some rough edges.

With the “Always Allowed” section, you can list out apps that are available all the time no matter the Downtime settings. This is how we provide the productive apps at anytime.

The two issues that are still outstanding, even in iOS 15, are iMessage apps and Mac apps. (Allowing Watch apps used to be a struggle, but that has improved.)

My kids like to keep in touch with their grandparents and cousins by playing little GamePigeon games in iMessage. GamePigeon is an iMessage only app and there is no way to enable that to be always allowed.

The other issues is Mac Apps. Since your Screen Time settings can sync between Mac and iOS devices, you’ll see Mac apps listed on the phone. Most of them have no icon and don’t have equivalent apps. (see Font Book and Harmony Desktop in the above screenshot.)

Do Not Share Access Devices: There is a setting to not share your usage data across devices. That’s useful for people like me who work on a Mac all day and regularly have apps open while doing other things. Turning the sharing off will more accurately show my iPhone/iPad usage.

However, what I’d really love is the ability to turn off Screen Time completely on my Mac but leave it turned on with my iPad and iPhone. There is no way to do that.

This is also needed for our kids. We’re pretty intent and protective about how iPhones are used because they’re private and mobile. However, our Mac is in a public place of our home and is often used for other things like homework and projects.

Currently, since Safari is limited on the iPhones, it’s also limited on the Mac. There is no way to disable Screen Time on the Mac without also turning it off for the phone. I suppose you could just log out of iCloud completely, but that removes all sorts of useful parts of using a Mac.

Screen Time, Still Worth It

Even with these limitations, taking the time to configure screen time for your family is definitely still worth it. (Even if it means you have to manually merge two Apple IDs to one so your Family Sharing is set up right.)

Screen Time is free, it is built into the operating system, and it’s improving each year.

Update: One more thing I’d love to see in Screen Time management is a read-only Safari. Maybe this should just be a 3rd party app but I’d love it in any form.

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Helping kids organize their money through teaching and technology

Our kids are good savers. They stash most of their money away to plan for big purchases. 

The most difficult part of this habit was trying to keep track of it all. There were random bills and coins placed here and there. We’d take trips to the store and they didn’t recall how much they had to spend on something. It was difficult to remember what they had paid tithing on and what was yet to be tithed. 

I know the importance of a personal budget and keeping track of money for adults.We decided to get organized and help our kids take a more intentional approach to their money as well. It is good training for the future and it’s much easier on Candace and me.

We created the Youth Personal Finance Record for use in our family. It is a Numbers spreadsheet that can be used on any iPhone, iPad, or Mac. (Download available at the end of this post.)

Talk with your kids about money

We sat with the kids to see how they would like to organize their money. It was decided that they would like to save ten percent for tithing and ten percent for savings. The rest they would spend however they’d like to do so. 

We talked to them about the role of a bank. Since they are young, we decided to open an account with Mello Bank (us) and keep a ledger for each of them.

Whenever they receive money, they make a “deposit” with us and we update the ledger. It is fun to watch as they realize that digital money is the same as cash in hand without the stress of losing it. 

They all felt comfortable with the plan. 

An Example Youth PFR

The spreadsheet consists of three automated main categories for and five columns for recording:

Spending – This is the total amount that each child has to spend at anytime. Eighty percent of each deposit goes here.

Tithing – This is the amount of tithing that needs to be paid. It is a running total. Ten percent of each deposit is shown here.

Savings – This is the amount that goes to savings. Ten percent of each deposit is shown here. Spending from this category requires permission from parents. The kids anticipate that this will go toward a large purchase in the future like a car, a church mission, or an international trip. 

Date – We record the date when any transaction happens

Income – All deposits are entered here whether it is a gift or earned money. They give us the cash and we record it while sitting with them. When a deposit is made, it is automatically divided between the top three categories.

Expense – All purchases are recorded here. This column subtracts from the “Spending” category

Tithing – When tithing is paid, it’s added here. It only subtracts from the “Tithing” category. 

Note – We all decided that it would be a good idea to require a note for every transaction. This way they can go back and see the things they spent money on and decide if it was worth it in the long run.

In the images above, you’ll see the changes that are made when a deposit, tithing, and expense is recorded. Note that the top categories change as items are recorded. (tap to enlarge)

The Benefits of Organization

We created a spreadsheet for each kid and then shared it with only them through iCloud. This allows them privacy and direct access anytime from their phone or the family Mac.

Sharing the spreadsheet with a child

My wife and I can edit the document (like a bank would) and our children can view it. They are encouraged to talk with us about their purchases, but they make the choice on their own and then we all record it together. 

This new way of organizing their money has encouraged more conversations about financial matters. This is a sorely lacking subject in school. There is some real benefit to talking about finances at home. It’s fun to watch them learn, understand, and then connect the dots on just how powerful money management can be in their life. 

And I no longer have to organize random piles of small bills and coins.

If you’d like to download a blank copy of the Youth Personal Finance Record to use in your family, you can do so with the link below. I’d love to hear how it goes. 

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Beat The Algorithms

Social media is all about the algorithms. They are designed to keep you on the site, steer you to make purchases, and keep you enraged and engaged. 

This isn’t good. It’s profitable (for them) but not healthy for you. 

Controlling the time you spend online is one more way of being 100 percent responsible for your life. I prefer an organized approach where everything has it’s place.

Here are three things you can do to have more control of the time you spend online: 

Learn to use RSS feeds

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. When you subscribe to an RSS feed, you are notified anytime a website puts up a new post. The technology has been around for decades. I’ve been suggesting it for nearly as long. It’s a really good way to be intentional about what you read, rather than just reading whatever the algorithm puts in front of you. 

The best app for iPhone/iPad/Mac is NetNewsWire. It’s free on all three platforms and syncs through iCloud without any additional cost. 

After you have it installed then add any URL to the app and it will look for a feed to follow. Once subscribed, you’ll receive a notification anytime a new post is made. 

I like James Taylor. But even I, a super fan, won’t check his official site every day. Instead I subscribe to the site and I’m notified anytime there is something new.

You can subscribe to a newsroom site and see all the articles without all the extra stuff that shows up when you follow them on Facebook or Twitter. You can even subscribe to my site

Make YouTube more useful for You

I watch Youtube videos but I don’t subscribe to any channels. I don’t use YouTube Explore or Recommended videos either. I don’t even stay logged in to my account. In fact, I try to use my Google account for as few things as possible.

Part of it is a desire for privacy, but the bigger part is a more intentional control of how I spend my time online. 

My YouTube interaction consists of specific searches and also a handful of specific accounts from which I want to see all videos. For the videos that fall under the latter category, I subscribe to them via RSS in NetNewsWire.

With this approach, the videos are delivered to me and I’m sure to see them.

Just put the Youtube URL right into NetNewsWire and you’re set.

Four steps to add a Youtube channel to NetNewsWire

This saves you from being pulled into the time warp of Youtube-land. It will let you choose what to watch rather than than being told what to watch next.

Own your thoughts and words

One way to avoid the algorithm of social media is to be sure your personal thoughts are posted in a place you control. You can stay focused on what you want to put into the world instead of just consuming.

I write things here on my site and just link to them from social media. Sometimes I wonder how many quality facebook posts die because the author opens the app and is sidetracked.  

As I’ve written before:

When you blog at a domain that you own, your words belong to you. When you use a social media platform, the words belong to the company. Also people tend not to use social media wisely.

Using social platforms feels temporary. On social media the posts are hard to find, link to, and just seem to disappear over the years. I worry about those who “use Facebook as a journal.” It won’t end well. 

-Brian Stucki, A certain number of words

If you want to write things that will still be available in the future, make a blog of your own.

You could signup today on WordPress.com and have a place where you write. Pay a nominal amount and you can do it at a domain of your choice so it can live through different platforms and technology shifts.

In fact, Facebook will even allow you to export all past posts and put them on a blog of your own. Do it.

Just start somewhere

These are three little steps that will help you beat the algorithms. Keep an eye out for other places that control your time and then make an effort to minimize the ulterior control in your life.

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Experts In Their Field

It was my first day attending an arts class in college. The teacher stood in front of the class and clarified the purpose of the class:

“In this class we will learn about the great artists in history. We will look at paintings, music, architecture, poetry and sculptures. All of these pieces from history have come from the experts in their field. This is not a class to decide which of this art is a masterpiece and which is not. This class will help you to recognize fine art. It’s not the pieces that are on trial here. It is your ability to recognize them.”

A building in Barcelona by Antoni Gaudí

I was not expecting that. It sure set the tone for all of us. I learned about many pieces in that class. I can’t remember most of it. More than anything else, I came to appreciate “experts in their field.”

In an internet era, we all are susceptible to false expertise. Social media, Wikipedia, and even search engines can bring confirmation bias. You find what you are looking for even if it’s not right. 

First hand experience is often filtered until facts are lost and agendas are found. False expertise can be deceiving.

Expertise and the pandemic 

Early in the pandemic there were a lot of questions. That’s a good thing. In science, questions are how we make progress. If you use the scientific method for long enough, then you find answers. The experts in the scientific world got to work. It took months but things we didn’t understand at first have became more clear. 

The vaccines brought even more questions. In our home, we were vaccinated at the first opportunity possible. It has been a relief for our health and we feel like we are part of the solution. Many friends and family were hesitant early on and at the time that was acceptable. 

That is no longer the case. 

While we are still learning all this pandemic brings with it, we are far enough along now that the experts in the scientific field have spoken: The vaccine is incredibly safe, effective, and is the only way out of the pandemic. 

You no longer have to hold onto scientific misconceptions from early in the pandemic. We’ve reached the conclusion stage of the scientific method. It is safe. It is helpful. It is an “overnight success” that was decades in the making.

If you have questions about safety, breakthrough infections, immunity through infection, pregnancy/infertility and would like information from experts then start here.

If you are ready to receive a vaccine, find a location here.

Like my college class taught me long ago, the experts in their field have spoken and now it’s our ability to respond that is on trial. 

An expert I trust

While I feel comfortable writing all of the above, I am not an expert. I am educated and confident in my research of original sources, but not an expert. 

But I do know an expert. 

The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes 1843-1927

He’s a close friend and talented physician. His mind is as sharp as his scalpel. He’s cared for me, my family, and so many others. I trust him. If he told me I needed immediate life saving surgery, I’d make my way to the table without asking a single question. 

I’ve struggled over the last year as I watch him balance knowledge with kindness. He’s been accurate in predicting every stage of the pandemic. He strongly recommends the vaccines.

I’ve watched as people bring to him “evidences” that contradict his expertise. He’s repeatedly explained that vaccine research and anti-vaccine “proof” is simply not two sides of the same coin. He’s been thorough in his advice even when it is ignored.

It turns out that he is an an expert in patients and patience.

I wouldn’t blame him if he was keeping a mental list of all the people who are ignoring him now. You know, Edmond Dantés his way through the list over time with hesitant medical advice. He’s a better man than that. He just keeps helping.

He was recently told to cancel all his scheduled surgeries (again) because the hospitals have no room. I know this affects his income and livelihood. I asked him about it. Can you guess what his first concern was?

“I feel bad for all the patients who scheduled their lives around surgery and recovery time and now are told it can’t happen.”

When my friend has to postpone surgeries, he tells his patients to “get vaccinated and tell all their friends and family to get vaccinated as well.” That’s the only way to get the surgery schedule available again. 

This makes it personal for the patients and those who care about them.

Let’s wrap this up

I worry about the longevity and stamina of these experts. I hope they can hold up

I admire the constraint when their decades of expertise is questioned by someone who spent days or weeks on YouTube and Facebook. It must be tiring. Medical experts and scientists are not robots. 

The hardest part of all is to know that we could be six weeks away from shutting the door on the pandemic. It’s as simple as widespread vaccination and yet we delay. I will never understand how we got to this point. 

But I do know the experts in their field have spoken. 

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August 2021 Stockpile

Here are random things to post that don’t deserve their own post:

Knuckle Bender

I recently learned about a tool called a “knuckle blender.” It’s a wrench that is specifically designed to cleanly bend the hinges on doors. I ordered one from Amazon last week and my sons and I fixed all our sagging doors. Tap out the pin, bend the hinges in our out, replace the pin. It’s an easy fix that you can appreciate every day as your doors open and close easier. 

Barebells Protein Bar

Most protein bars are just not good. Barebells is an exception. They are really good. They sell a couple of flavors at our local Trader Joe’s store, but the online store has more choices and ships fast from Southern California. The hazelnut nougat is my favorite. 

New Macaron Champion

I need to provide an update to my macaron post. There is a new macaron champion in town.

Sugar Bees Bakery sells a crème brûlée macaron and Candace calls it a top 5 dessert. The bakery keeps strange hours so be sure to check before driving over there. 

Related: Normal crème brûlée is one of my favorite desserts. I’ve purposefully never looked up the nutritional info for it. As far as I know, it’s healthy. 

Labor Day Countdown

Today marks 35 days until Labor Day 2021. It’s a time for families to gather and other fun activities. As my sister recently suggested, it’s also the exact number of days for the process of full vaccination. (One shot today, one shot in three weeks, two more weeks for full protection.)

Find a vaccine location today. Attend those family gatherings with confidence of health for yourself and your family members.

Airline Refunds

Airlines seem to be back to their old tricks already. The emails declaring “we are in this together” went out the window with the PPP repayment notes. So here is your friendly reminder that if your flight was cancelled, you are entitled to a full cash refund and not simply a credit toward a future flight.

It took a few weeks of back and forth, but we had a sizable refund finally given for a trip that didn’t materialize. Keep fighting the good fight.

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Stay Cool. Have a good Summer.

Stay Cool. Have a good Summer.

It’s not just a way to sign an elementary school yearbook. It’s a formula. If you stay cool, your Summer will be better.

It has been so hot in Las Vegas. Any chance to cool down is a treat. 

I purchased two things recently that have really helped. I thought I’d pass it along so you too can have a good Summer. 

Ooler Sleep System

The sleep system will cool down or heat up your bed on a schedule. It does this by pumping water through a mat that you lay on top of your mattress. It has been incredible. 

Sweating through a hot afternoon in your everyday activities is just a little more bearable when you know you’ll be climbing into a 65 degree fridge bed. (It’s also helpful for the Winter because it can pre-heat a bed when you climb in, cool things down through the night so you sleep deep, and then warm you back up again just before you wake up.)

Here are some answers to the things we wondered about before buying:

  • You can feel the small tubes through the sheet, but not as much as you’d think. The weight of the body seems to push them down enough that you don’t feel them. It’s only in your hands that you might feel it. 
  • Yes, you can purchase a mat that has controls for each side. 
  • You can try the system for a month and still send it back for a full refund. 
  • When the unit is running under your bed, it’s like a very soft white noise machine. (Our whole house sleeps with white noise machines anyway so we don’t hear a difference.)
  • All schedules and settings are done via bluetooth through an app.

It pairs wonderfully for those of us who pump the air conditioning all night. When you have a cool room, you need to be out from under the blanket to enjoy it. With this, you can have the cool room, but you can still keep the heavy blankets on so you don’t roll around too much. 

After years of rolling around for comfort and temperature control, it has been very strange to wake up in the same position in which I fall asleep. 

But above all else, it’s knowing that despite the sun and sweat filled days, the bed is pre-cooled and waiting at the end of the day.

You can buy a unit on Amazon. (There is currently a 25% off coupon available.)

If you purchase direct from the manufacturer, there are more sizes and you can choose to purchase separate controllers for each side of the bed.

We went with a “Ooler Sleep System with Chilipad Cool Mesh” and added the “we” option so each side would be separately controlled. Here is a link that will give you a 25% discount from their site.

Slideback: Self Closing Sliding Glass Door

A few years ago, I purchased a sliding door add-on that will close the door automatically. It has worked very well and is very convenient. 

No more yelling “close the door” long after your kids have run into the backyard. (And then eventually getting up to close it yourself. 

It keeps the bugs from coming in, but most importantly it keeps the cool air from leaving your house. 

It’s also really helpful when you’re going outside with full hands. Just walk through the door and it closes behind you. 

For the cool winter days, it’s easy to unhook the latch so you can keep your door open for fresh air. 

The heavy duty version worked for our doors. They also sell a “Heavy Duty Plus” version. 

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Morning in the Desert

It is 6AM and pushing one hundred degrees. Relief is found occasionally as the sun plays behind the checkerboard of a sky. I return home by 7:30 and find the kids already in the swimming pool. Thus is life in Las Vegas.