Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Baby #3

Here's an ultra sound of the latest addition to our family due at the end of May. Posted by Picasa

Tantrums on a Plane

I saw this news article yesterday about a family that was kicked off an airplane because their 3-year-old daughter was having a tantrum and would not stay in her seat thus delaying departure time. The airline refunded their money and also offered them free travel vouchers.

I have a toddler and a preschooler, so I am very familiar with tantrums. Take a three-year-old, maybe missed her nap, and put Mom and Dad in a high stress situation and a tantrum tends to ensue. The plane was delayed for 15 minutes trying to get the girl to stay in her seat. I feel for the airline because this is going to look bad for them, but in all fairness what could they do? FAA regulations require 3-year-olds to have their own seats and be seatbelted. Some preschoolers can have 2 hour tantrums especially if they have an audience. I don't think it would be fair to ask the other passengers to wait it out. No one thinks very clearly when a child is screaming bloody murder. What I don't understand is why the mom and dad didn't put the daughter between them in a middle seat, belt her in, and physically hold her down. (I haven't tried this personally on a plane, maybe they tried and it didn't work, but I know I can get my kids in full tantrum into their car seats eventually(defined as under 15 minutes).) Yes, she would scream, but that wouldn't prevent the plane from taking off (although it might earn you the undying hatred of all other passengers.) On most flights you only need to have your seat belt on until the plane reaches cruising altitude the girl could go sit on Mom's lap like I assume she wanted to.

I feel bad for the family because they were forced to take a later flight, become a national news item for something embarrassing, and have clueless bloggers like me comment on them.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I'll be Sienna tomorrow

My husband and I recently bought a seven passenger 2007 Toyota Sienna CE. It wasn't intentional. We meant to buy a 2006 Sienna since they were pretty much on clearance and also had a cash back offer. We wanted the CE with Option Package #1 (basically includes cruise control). The dealership we went to had the perfect van: good color, right price, seven seats (my husband didn't want the eight passenger). Got ready to deal and found to our surprise (and the salesman's) that it was a 2007 which meant no cash back. (What, we have 2007s?) Eventually, the salesman made us a deal we couldn't refuse. My husband was the best negotiator, he just looked like he wanted to leave and forget the whole thing and the dealer would drop the price again.

So here's my review/thoughts of the 2007 Toyota Sienna CE:

  • Looks- I like the way it looks. My husband thinks it looks ugly. I wonder if Toyota styled it to appeal more to women since it seems to me women would be more likely to be pushing the purchase of a minivan.
  • Big engine - the engine is bigger than the 2006. I like the power it has (at least compared to my 2000 Honda Civic).
  • I like the lay down seats in the back, although I haven't yet had occasion to use them.
  • The gear shift (don't know what else to call it) is on the dash and in a funny pattern. I used to think it is weird, but now I like it. My civic lets you pull straight down to shift gears and occasionally I would end up in Neutral or 4 instead of regular drive. Since each of the gears is in a different place on the Sienna, this doesn't happen
  • The doors lock when the car is taken out of park and unlock when it is put into park. I can think of situations where I wouldn't want this behavior, but right now I'm finding it really convenient.
  • Day time running lights - The Sienna CE doesn't come with this option by default, but with some simple work, my husband made them work.
  • Cruise Control - I found the cruise control a little weird to work, but I got used to it and like having it.
  • Air bags everywhere. Have to be careful that people don't rest their heads against the side of the car while riding since the side air bags will deploy and could hurt them if they do.
  • Door lights that come on to light the door way.
  • Front seats are very comfortable.
  • Plenty of cupholders and storage areas. Couldn't find a good place to put my maps though. Toyota probably assumes everyone uses one of those GPS based systems these days.
  • The thing is a boat. It is huge. It drives well and is very maneuverable, but still... My one advantage is that I have no clue how big a car really is. This means that entire time I was driving my Civic, I thought it was as wide as a minivan, so driving an actual minivan isn't that much of a change :) I think it stems from having a Chevy Impala as my first car as a teenager.
  • Visibility - it is a little hard to see out the back window when backing up. I've come to depend a lot more on the side view mirrors. Maybe this is the same in all minivans, I don't know.
  • Gas mileage - coming from a Honda Civic (got 30-something), getting 22 mi/gal isn't that great. It is good for a minivan though.
  • My 2-year-old can't get into his carseat by himself when the seat is in the middle row. I have to lift him in. He could manage the back row OK I think, but I don't want to have to get back there to buckle him in.
  • The one door makes a dragging sound when it is closed. I need to look at it and see if something is dragging that shouldn't be.
  • The breaks have seemed to grind a few times, I'll keep an eye on this, but I'm not too concerned.
All in all, I like the minivan. I think it is fun to drive and I like being able to invite friends to go places with me now.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Chocolate Dipping

The other day I took it into my head to try and make some of those chocolate orange sticks. I've made gummy things before using jell-o and a lot of gelatin, so I figured I'd use orange jell-o then dip it in chocolate. Worked pretty well and tasted great. I still had plenty of melted chocolate, so my sisters, kids, and I dipped plenty of other things.

Other Things I dipped
  • pretzels
  • strawberries (actually at a pretty good price right now considering it is February)
  • tangerine (clementines)- these were surprisingly good. Chocolately goodness with a burst of citrus juice
  • bananas - ok, but I'm not a big banana fan

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Panasonic DMC-FX01 - initial review

Yesterday I got my Panasonic FX01 digital camera. It seems to be everything I want (or at least would settle for) in a camera: small size, image stabilized, decent pictures, good movies, low cost, and a starry sky mode for my husband. I have taken some excellent, sharp pictures with it along with a bunch of mediocre to terrible pictures. Now I just need to learn how to increase my number of good pictures.
Panasonic DMC-FX01
First Impressions
The camera is small. I keep accidentally putting my finger in front of lens when turning it on. I find the interface intuitive (or at least not too bad after reading the manual). My husband thinks the interface is laid out well, but he gets thrown by needing to use the arrow keys to go "deeper" into menus instead of selecting set. That part of it doesn't bother me. As a lot of other reviews have said, the pictures can be noisy although this is mostly in low light situations. I got the white camera, which looks fine to me. It was the cheapest of the color choices. Here are some pictures I have taken:
pancake pile

First mountain shot with FX01
I did take plenty of pictures of my kids and family, but I don't usually post those publicly. I'll see if I can get a few pictures of myself that I don't mind posting.

The movies are great. They look really good to me, very smooth and clear. The sound sounds OK to me as well. No zoom during movies though.

Starry Night mode (long exposures 15, 30, or 60 s) seems to work OK. My husband tried it out last night on 15 seconds. It looks pretty good.

Here's the moon taken by my husband through his telescope (astrophotography) exactly as it came out of the camera. There's some chromatic aberation, but all in all it looks pretty good. (click on the picture to see the full sized image):

  • Set PICT ADJ to natural or change iso sensitivity (otherwise your pictures will be noisier than they should be)
  • If your pictures are coming out darker than you see on the LCD, check the exposure compensation and also change the Slow Shutter setting to be longer. By default it is at 1/8 s but you can change it up to 1 s. (If it picks a longer exposure, you'll need a tripod or table to stabilize the camera)
  • Use Mode 2 for image stabilization
  • If you want to take movies, get a 1 GB or 2 GB card. (FX01 can't handle any bigger than 2GB.) I have a 512 MB card right now and I can fill the thing up in a couple of hours if my kids are being cute.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Reining in

I bought my husband a leash this week or rather a cell phone, he calls it a leash. I've had a cell phone for a while now and it's been great to be able to call when ever I want. He's never wanted one and has actively resisted getting him one. I was planning on getting my husband a prepaid phone in a month or two when it was close to the time for the baby to be born. His work doesn't have individual phones since all the developers have cell phones. I wanted to be able to reach him if I went into labor while he was at work. I am not driving myself to the hospital.

Tuesday night my husband went out to take pictures at night and his car broke down. Fortunately, he I had given him the cell phone before he left, so he was able to call for help. That made me speed up my phone purchasing schedule.

I bought him a Virgin Mobile Oystr. I don't think we'll use that phone much, so the higher per minute rates won't affect us as much. Virgin Mobil uses the Sprint network (the same as my "real" cell phone) so we knew it would work everywhere we needed it to. The phone looks like a storm trooper and has no decent ringtones, but I think it will do the job.

Hurray for frilly dresses*

My husband and I are expecting our third child at the end of May. Yesterday we went and had an ultrasound done. Everything looks great: brain, spine, heart, kidneys... and we found out the baby's gender. It's a girl. This means I can start shopping for something cute and extremely useless for the baby to wear. (Not that I don't still have a huge amount of clothes from when Sarah was a baby, but I want this one to have a few new things.)

* Not that I wouldn't have been just as thrilled had it been a boy.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Ultra Compact Digital Cameras for a busy, cheap mom

I've been wanting a little camera to take places with me. My husband has a great camera that takes very nice pictures, but it is larger than I want to deal with. Here is my feature set:
  • Small -When I'm out with my kids with my purse and a diaperbag I don't want to have to haul a third bag for the camera. I want something that will fit in my purse or pocket and not add a lot of weight.
  • Decent movie mode - I want something that takes at least 30 fps at 640 X480 (this is TV resolution so it will look good (instead of blurry and shaky) on the family DVDs I make). Our camcorder uses minDv and it is a pain to capture the video to the computer. Basically it takes as long to capture as it does to play and I have to babysit the capture program to make sure it doesn't suddenly start not capturing. With a digital camera, the movies are copied much faster.
  • Image stabilized - I blur photos in low-light situations because I can't hold the camera still. Also, this is great for movies so they aren't bouncing. Unfortunately, this requirement threw out a majority of small cameras. The choices were Canon and Panasonic. (I think Sony had one too, but cost way too much.)
  • Not way expensive - I know this is relative, but I have kids and I will be sticking this camera in my pocket. I don't want something that costs so much that I'm scared to take it with me or totally depressed if it gets scratched.
  • Fast - I want to have it up and running quickly to catch my kids being cute.

The contenders
  • Panasonic dcs-fx01 - price $200 , ultra compact
  • Canon SD700 - price $300, cute elph
  • Canon a710 - not compact, but good movies and zoom, $320, compact, about the size of a regular point 'n shoot
  • Canon S2 - this thing is the size of my camcorder, but it kicks butt in taking cool pictures and good movies. It also has a 10x zoom. (most regular cameras have a 3x zoom.) Cost $270. A lot of people who have a dSLR get this camera so they have something more portable, but the thing weighs over a pound. It does zoom during movies, unlike most other digital cameras.
I ended up choosing the Panasonic fx01. It had the features I was looking for and the price was what I was willing to pay. I wish the S2 was smaller, because that is a cool camera, but I really didn't want to lug a large camera bag around.

So here are the pros and cons of the FX01:
  • price
  • image stabilized
  • good movies
  • small
  • will do long exposures (up to 1 min) (This is a feature my husband would like)
  • Image quality (some lowlight pictures just look noisy. Check out some of the reviews to see if this bothers you.) To me, it seems this would only become a problem if I wanted to print an 8X10 of a picture, which I don't usually do. I print 4X6s or watch them on TV.
  • Movie sound is mono, it will not sound as good as a camcorder, although I didn't think it sounded bad.
  • Movies are stored in QuickTime (.mov) format. This means that Windows Movie Maker will NOT handle these files. I own Nero 6 which will grudgingly handle .mov , so I'm OK.
  • proprietary battery - (all ultra compacts do) this means if your batteries die while you are out, tough luck. The battery from Panasonic costs around $35, but I can get ones on eBay for $20 if I need to.
So the camera is now on order and should ship today. I'll review it after I get it.

If I didn't care about the image stabilization, I would have probably gotten either a canon SD600 or one of the Casio Exillims. (Exillims are very cute cameras.) If I didn't care about size, S2. If I didn't care about price, SD700.


A Philosophical dilemma

I love shopping on the Internet. I can get great deals, check out features, read the user's manual in advance, etc. Here's where my dilemma comes in. One day I ordered something from an e-tailer on Saturday and they packaged and shipped it on Sunday. Now, because of my religious convictions, I believe in keeping the Sabbath day holy and that includes not shopping on Sunday. I don't want to do anything that would encourage companies to make their employees work on Sunday, so I've tried to avoid ordering anything late Saturday.

Here is where the dilemma comes in: I ordered from a store that said they ship Mon, Tues, Wed, Thur, Fri, Sun. They don't ship Saturday which implies someone is perhaps Jewish and is keeping their Sabbath holy by not working. So the issue is, if I order from them and they fulfill the order on Sunday, but had Saturday off, have I broken the spirit of the Sabbath?

(This isn't really a huge deal to me, but it is interesting to think about.)

(Another thing about this store is that they take 24-72 hours to process the order, so even if I order on Thursday there is no guarantee it won't go out Sunday. Prices are great though.)