Using the Wii to Learn to Ski

29 08 2009

I have a Wii Fit program to motivate me to exercise when the weather’s not conducive to outdoor activity.  And yes, I do some of the muscle strengthening, yoga, and aerobic exercises.  But the activities I really enjoy are three of the balance games:

  • Balance Bubble: Shift your weight to guide your character down the river.  Avoid the river banks and the circulating bumble bees.
  • Table Tilt: Change your center of balance to roll balls on a simulated table top, dropping them all through holes in the table.
  • Ski Slalom: Lean forward to accelerate, left and right to maneuver through pairs of flags.

I don’t want to suggest that I am addicted to these particular “video games with a physical component.”  But it would be safe to say that I’ve done them many times.

My husband, on the other hand, tunes in once in a great while, skis down the hill a few times, and that’s that for several more weeks.

wii-fit-skiWhat vexes me is that in those few downhill trips, he manages not only to break into the top ten scores list maintained by the computer, he walks away with  TOP BILLING!  I’m exasperated that it’s so easy for him.  On the other hand, just seeing that top score displayed there with his baseball-cap-wearing face on it inspires me to ratchet up my game.  Whereas before my times had stagnated and I could improve no more, suddenly I find myself thrilled to pick up speed and then beat his first place score!  And then, slowly but steadily, he drops down the leader board–second, third, fourth…By the time he’s seventh or eighth I’ve pretty much mastered my newer, faster technique and in short order I eliminate him from the list altogether.  And then I find myself stalled again…until he waltzes in and ups the ante.

This cycle has gone through several iterations, but neither of us could reach the Final Frontier: a FOUR STAR RATING awarded by the computer.  But yesterday, all by myself, with no motivation from him, I broke the 50 second mark and got FOUR STARS!  Take that, big boy!  (I better not say too much.  Next time he gets on he’ll probably beat 45 seconds.  Aargh!)

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Three Coincidences

26 08 2009

Coincidence #1: Pondering Pinker

Remember the Steven Pinker volume I’ve been viewing?  I was engrossed in it one evening, and hence not paying much attention to what was on the telly.  PinkerBut when I heard the name Pinker mentioned I looked up.  And sure enough, there was the fine gentleman, looking like a somewhat older version of the picture on the back cover of my book.  He was in an episode of the PBS series Nova scienceNow about DNA testing.  He commented that he carries the genes that would indicate baldness.  As you can see from his photo,  a shiny scalp is surely not in his future.  A week ago I knew nothing about this chap; now I feel like an intimate acquaintance (or is that an oxymoron?)

Coincidence #2: Contemplating Comey

During drop-off day at The College of William and Mary, we attended a “keep the parents occupied while we whisk away your offspring” speech.  We were told about a chemistry/religion major who has had an illustrious career including service as a federal prosecutor overseeing terrorism cases and a stint as  US Deputy Attorney General.  Though the person’s name wasn’t mentioned, my husband immediately made the connection that this was a bloke named Jim Comey, class of 1982.

ComeyLater, at a “keep the parents occupied” reception, we mentioned to a student that my husband and I and now both our offspring have attended W&M.  Both her parents are alums also.  When she learned my husband edited  the student newspaper, she said her dad was a columnist.  It turns out that she’s the daughter of this Comey fellow.

And that evening while my husband related this tale to our son, I was reading the latest edition of the aforementioned student paper.  The main front page story was an announcement that Comey would speak next week at the convocation marking the beginning of the school year.  It feels like all Comey, all the time.

Coincidence #3: Focusing on MSFocus

I’m an ambassador for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, a truly altruistic organization that seeks to meet the needs of those affected by multiple sclerosis.  They have loads of programs, including ones that provide home MSFlogocare, assistive technology, cooling devices, and  computers.  They fund Brighter Tomorrow Grants, sponsor public education and awareness programs, provide a lending library, and maintain a website and internet forums.  Their quarterly publication is mailed to up to 100,000 homes.  In one sense they’re a compact group that hails out of Fort Lauderdale, FL.  But in another sense they’re huge as they provide these services to people all over the county.  Thank goodness for the internet, the telephone, and, yes, even USPS.  (Pardon my plug, but they’re a great group and if you warrant their services they can be a godsend.)

While many people have benefited from the existence of this association, few people would consider ordering a vanity plate with the name of their quarterly magazine on it.  So I was shocked when we were driving down the highway in little old Williamsburg, VA and I saw in front of me a car with Virginia license plate MSFOCUS.  I wish I knew what that was all about.  But the car quickly disappeared into traffic.





Peeking at How Pinker’s Mind Works

25 08 2009

I’ve been reading a book by Steven Pinker called How the Mind Works.  Actually, the term book doesn’t capture the essence of this volume.  It would be better described as a tome, with all the connotations that includes.  And reading doesn’t really describe how I’m approaching the literature.  Looking at the pictures totally misses the boat, because beyond the sketch on the front cover and the author’s image on the back, there are no pictures.  I guess what I’m doing is turning the pages until I find something that

  1. I can understand, and
  2. Is interesting.

Really, either one of those requirements is enough to make me slow down and ponder the page.  And I loved this passage that I found on page 11:

Legs come with a high price: the software to control them.  A wheel, merely by turning, changes its point of support gradually and can bear weight the whole time.  A leg has to change its point of support all at once, and the weight has to be unloaded to do so.  The motors controlling a leg have to alternate between keeping the foot on the ground while it bears and propels the load and taking the load off to make the leg free to move.  All the while they have to keep the center of gravity of the body within the polygon defined by the feet so the body doesn’t topple over.





More Than Meets the Eye

24 08 2009

It’s not just about the milk or the washing machine:

Realization  #1:  Milking the issue

milkI stopped to buy milk the day before we were to drive my son to begin his freshman year at college.  When I reached into the dairy case, I suddenly found myself fighting back tears.  My standard two gallon purchase was going to be way too much.  With our biggest milk drinker out of the house, one gallon would be plenty.  I had always been able to convince myself that his departure was way in the future.  Suddenly, it was imminent.

Realization #2: Coming clean

Our washing machine has annoyed me for several years because water level sensor is set incorrectly.  I end up pouring in additional water myself sometimes.  Recently it’s developed two more problems.  The cold water fills VERY slowly, and the agitator barely moves.   After disconnecting the hoses and peering at the agitator my husband announced that this old washer (How old?  We don’t know…It came with the house.) should be retired and we should get a new one.washingmachine

Alas, buying a washing machine is not just about buying a washing machine.  Of course I have to consider standard stuff like size, cost, manufacturer, and options.  But I also ponder the possibility that at some point during the life expectancy of this new appliance I may have more mobility issues, in which case a front loader might be the way to go.  But I’m just superstitious enough to wonder if I would be jinxing myself by buying the front loader.  So I’m in a quandary.





Where’s an English Teacher When You Need One?

23 08 2009

sleepingcatSomething that’s been puzzling me…

catsCat is singular; cats is plural.  If you have one of them you have a single cat.  If you have several of them you have multiple cats.

Sclerosis is singular; scleroses is plural.  If you have one of them you have a single sclerosis.  If you have several of them, why don’t you have multiple scleroses?





A Post About Nothing

18 08 2009

Countless reality shows have aired in the last ten years, but none of them seem to have any relation to the reality that is my life.  The program that best reflects how I live ran from 1989  to 1998  but its impact has been magnified many times because I see it so often in reruns.

In recent days I have been reminded of these specific Seinfeld shows:

Our vacation began with cramped seats on a cross  country airplane flight.  Who could endure such torture without remembering the episode showing Elaine flailing about in coach while Jerry luxuriated in first class?

The rental car we picked up when we landed overwhelmed us with the smell of cherry, which was obviously there to mask something much worse.  After one day, we had to return it for an alternate car, all the while thinking of Jerry’s car with the body odor problem brought on by the restaurant valet.

My son is temporarily vacating the house in which he’s renting a room so the owner can set off a bug bomb to attack a pest problem.  Remember the episode centered around the bug bomb in Jerry’s apartment, necessitated by fleas from Newman’s apartment?

seinfeldDuring a supermarket run, I bypassed my regular parking spot, opting instead for a location more convenient to additional stores I needed to patronize.  When I emerged from the market, heavy laden with groceries, I crisscrossed the lot four times in search of my vehicle.  The parking garage episode, complete with Kramer toting around a carton containing a television set, is a classic.

And finally, consider the episode that started me on this line of thinking.  Elaine is tasked to pen Mr. Peterman’s memoirs.  She sadly discovers he has little of interest to offer, so they resort to buying stories from Kramer to add a little spice to the saga.  Hilarity ensues.  As I mull over material to write about in my own life, and find the subject matter somewhat mundane, I consider whether I need to add some excitement to my existence.  Or maybe I just need to adjust my approach to the life I already have.  Because in a way that’s the point of the whole Seinfeld series–a show about nothing.  Finding humor–or drama or romance or adventure–in the minutia that is our lives.

So, with that in mind, let me tell you about my experience with cleaning the cat’s litter box this morning.  Ha, ha…(to be continued)





Follow-up to: A Post About Nothing

18 08 2009

In fact, I do have some thoughts about cleaning the cat’s litter box.  But first I must explain the quest I’ve had for the past, oh, maybe fifteen years.

The February issue of magazines tend to be a little, well, skimpy.  After pulling out all the stops for Christmas and New Year’s, having never really recovered from back-to-school, autumn, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, the staff must be totally spent.  Because when February issues arrive they’re usually very thin.  An article on Valentine’s Day and that’s about it.  So it was that, many years ago, I read about Valentine’s Day activities in Family Fun magazine, and after they’d covered various arts and crafts projects and maybe a game or two, they mentioned looking for heart-shaped rocks.  An interesting challenge.  Because I have kept my eyes open in all the ensuing time and never found what I considered to be a passable heart-shaped rock.  I’m not going to go to my grave regretting it.  It’s just a little disappointing.

But, in a way, I did discover  a consolation prize. It wasn’t even in my cat’s litter box.  I’m taking care of a neighbor’s cat.  And there it was, when I went to clean out the box.  A heart-shaped clump of kitty litter.  It’s not really the kind of thing you would save.  Or even take a picture of (though if I’d had the camera with me, I might have.)  But for one brief moment, I saw it and pondered my good fortune.