The Great Underwater Debate

TechyDad-UnderwaterThis past summer vacation was a momentous one for the boys. After years of trying to find the right place to teach them, we finally got the boys swim lessons that worked. They learned how to float, how to tread water, how to jump into the pool, and how to propel themselves forward. The boys took to the water quickly and going to the pool became a new favorite activity. Of course, this was fine by me because I love going to the pool. There’s just something about swimming that has always appealed to me.

Of course, our increased pool time also revealed a slight problem. You see, unlike my boys, I never had swim lessons. My sister and I would go over our neighbor’s pool and I wound up teaching myself how to swim. I’m fine with swimming above water, but when I go underwater, I do something that drives B up the wall. I hold my nose.

Yes, I never learned how to blow out of my nose to prevent water from flooding back in. JSL and NHL know how to do this thanks to their lessons. They can go underwater without clamping their nostrils shut. I, on the other hand, can’t. I’ve tried, but no matter what I do I always wind up with water going up my nose. Then I emerge from underneath the surface gagging and coughing.

I know that B wants me to stop with the nose holding out of a fear that the boys will pick up on my bad habit, but I’ve made it clear to them that they are better swimmers than I am because they don’t need to hold their noses. And given that I can one up them in so many ways in the pool (swimming faster, holding my breath longer, etc.), they love being ahead of me in at least this one area.


I began to think that I was alone among adults. That I was the only one who held his nose when he went underwater. As I mentioned it during various pool trips, though, more and more adults confided in me that they too held their noses when they go under. Perhaps I’m not such an outlier after all.

When you go underwater, do you hold your nose? Or can you submerge without obstructing your nostrils?

The Journal – A Short Story

write.pngI’ve been hanging out on Reddit for awhile and stumbled upon a subreddit (a forum dedicated to a single topic for those of you who have ever been on Reddit) called Writing Prompts. Here, people will post simple ideas and other posters will run with it creating amazing short stories. Earlier this week, I posted the following premise:

You receive a mystery book in the mail. Every page begins “Today I will…”. You soon find that if you write something on the next blank page in the morning, it will happen by evening. One morning, you wake up to find someone has already written “die” on what was the next blank page.

I’ll admit, I didn’t get many responses.  Only two people replied and each kept their story around two or three sentences long.  I began to think of a short story to fit my premise and came up with the following short story. I’ll admit that I deviated from the description a bit, but I’m really happy with the result. I might have to write more of these short stories and post them.

The Journal

Andrew put down his pen next to the bottle of white-out. What had he just been doing again?

“Why did you do that?” Gerald asked.

Andrew stifled a laugh. Gerald’s voice always became high-pitched and squeaky when he was upset.

“What do you mean?”

“You wrote in my journal.”

Andrew looked at the book lying on the table. Each page began “Today I Will…” and Gerald had a habit of writing in the book first thing every morning. He wasn’t sure why Gerald kept this thing anyway. Maybe as a motivational tool? Andrew was always more of a take-life-as-it-happened sort of guy.

“Yeah, sorry about that. It seemed funnier in my head, but looks kind of lame actually written out.”

“Now this is going to come true.”

“Dude. It’s just a journal.”

“That’s just it. It’s not a normal journal. I got that months ago. It just arrived out of nowhere. Whatever I wrote in the journal in the morning happened by sunset that day.”

“You’re pulling my leg.”

“No, I’m serious. Remember three days ago when I won $100 in that Lotto drawing?”


“Look at the entry for that day.”

Andrew turned the page back. Sure enough, that entry read “Today I Will win the lottery.”

“Total coincidence,” Andrew scoffed.

“What about a week ago when Mary agreed to go on a date with me after months of rejections?”

Andrew turned a week back. Gerald had written “Today I Will get Mary to go out on a date with me.”

“You could have written this afterwards,” Andrew said.

“You’ve seen me writing in it every morning,” Gerald replied.

“Okay, let’s say I believe you. That’s just normal day-to-day stuff. Well, maybe the Mary thing was extraordinary but what I wrote just isn’t possible.”

“That’s what worries me. Who knows what will happen now.”

“Fine,” Andrew sighed. “I’ll just white it out and write something else.”

Andrew picked up the bottle of white-out and used it to erase the words “Get stuck in an infinite loop.” As he picked up his pen, Andrew felt a strange tug on him, as if his entire world were rewinding.

Andrew put down his pen next to the bottle of white-out. What had he just been doing again?

Happy Birthday To My Teenage Son

Today is NHL’s birthday. It’s not just any birthday, though. It’s his 13th birthday. This means that NHL is officially a teenager. How did this happen? It seems like only yesterday that little NHL came home from the hospital with us.


A year later we celebrated his first birthday and he discovered the joys of cake. And that the messier the food, the better.


As the years progressed, NHL grew bigger and bigger. Eventually, he started school and discovered the joys of learning. NHL loved math and would work it into every project that he could. We would get lovely artwork sent home from school with “1 + 1 = 2” painted in the middle because NHL always wanted to show off his math skills. He loved school and loved playing. He was getting bigger and more expressive. We’d constantly be in awe over what a bright, sweet, and cute kid he was turning into.


Years later, after many attempts to figure out what was going on with NHL, we received an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis. This changed both NHL’s world and my own as I quickly realized that I’m an Aspie as well. Suddenly, all of the “difficulties” that NHL was facing in school, at home, and out in the world made more sense and we found the proper tools to help equip him to tackle challenges that neurotypical kids (and adults) saw as just mundane day-to-day events. It seemed like every hurdle we climbed over was replaced by another, bigger one. Through it all, NHL kept up his love of learning.

This only increased once he hit middle school.  I’ll be honest, we were terrified of the prospect of middle school. The chaotic hallways, overwhelming workload, and rotating mix of teachers/classmates seemed like they would conspire to crush our child. We pictured him having a meltdown in the crowded hallways as he struggled to open his locker while being buffeted by kids rushing to his class and the bell threatening to ring any second. Yes, he would have a one-on-one aide, but would the aide know how to support our child while still letting him handle enough on his own?

In hindsight, we needn’t have worried. The aide was great. He and NHL hit it off immediately and got along great. And those class-to-class transitions we feared? It turned out that he thrived on them. NHL loves schedules. He wants to know just what is happening and when. In elementary school, his teacher could make math run long if need be and postpone English. This would cause NHL to flip out over the schedule being broken. (Being able to roll with schedule changes is one of the many things that neurotypical people take for granted.) In middle school, though, once the bell rang, math was over. The math teacher couldn’t declare that the class was running over for 10 more minutes because all of the kids had to get to their next class.

In his first semester of middle school, NHL got silver honor roll, having gotten one B on a report card otherwise filled with A’s. After his honor roll ceremony, he told us that next semester he’d get gold. We reassured him that what was important was that he did his best. He insisted that he’d get gold next time. And he did. He worked harder, raised his grade to all A’s, and got gold honor roll that very next semester. And the semester after that.  In fact, in the two years he’s been in middle school, he’s only had two B’s. The rest of his report cards were straight A’s.

When he’s not acing tests with a GPA that makes me both jealous (I only got one straight A semester in school) and proud, NHL loves watching TV and playing video games. He’s a total binge watcher. He’ll find a show he likes on Netflix or Hulu and will watch every available episode (usually while his brother complains that NHL is hogging the remote) until he’s an expert on everything there is to know about the show. He’ll also play and ace video game after video game. When it’s just us in the car, he loves telling me – in excruciatingly exacting details – just what is going on in the video games he’s playing. I’ll admit to only half-listening most times (in my defense, I’m driving while listening and the safe operation of the vehicle does take precedence), but I love how excited he gets over his games. He’s a geek and is proud of it.

Speaking of being a geek, NHL also loves playing Munchkin and other games with me. Unfortunately, time doesn’t allow for much in the way of game-play recently, but we still get a game in every so often and I love seeing his smile as he beats me yet again. (I never let him win. He’s just good at the game.)

Now, NHL is a teenager. In one month, he’ll be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. I couldn’t be prouder of NHL. He’s smart, kind, and unashamed of being a geek. In so many ways, he’s my mini-me. He’s turning into such a wonderful young man, but he’ll always be my sweet baby.wp-1471394318472.jpg

Happy birthday, NHL!

Trading My DSLR For A Smartphone

wp-1471229621006.jpgThis past weekend, we went to B’s aunt’s house to see some family that was in town.  In previous years, this would mean that I would grab my DSLR and spend much of the time snapping photos. For the third time, though, we went on a trip and either didn’t take the DSLR with us or took it but didn’t use it at all. This isn’t to say that I didn’t take any photos.  On the contrary, I took a ton of photos during our trips. The difference is that I used my smartphone instead of my DSLR.

Now, to some I know this might seem like heresy. A good DSLR camera can easily produce better photos than a smartphone’s camera. It can handle different light conditions and can allow you to change many settings to produce the best photo. DSLR photos tend to be higher resolution and can be printed into bigger sizes. So the DSLR would seem to be the better camera for the job in every case, right?

Well, not quite.

First off, there’s the weight factor. DSLR cameras are pretty heavy. If you add in some extra equipment (lenses, extra batteries, memory cards, etc.), a DSLR can really weight you down. The smartphone, on the other hand, is extremely light and portable. Not to mention that you’re likely going to have it on you anyway.

What about printing photos, though? It’s true that DSLR photos can make better prints at larger sizes, but nowadays we rarely print any of our photos. We mostly post them online or text/e-mail them to people. This is extremely easy with a smartphone. Simply click on the share icon and select the app you want to use to share the photo with. You can even send it to an image editing app first to crop the image, add a watermark, or combine multiple photos. With a DSLR, on the other hand, you need to offload the photos to a computer before you can upload or send them. Unfortunately, most times, you won’t have a computer with you so your “on-the-go” photo share will turn into a “I’ll share it later.”

Then there’s the problem of taking my camera to the pool. With a DSLR, I’d either wind up sitting on the side of the pool snapping photos or would need to place my bulky, obvious camera bag on the side hoping that someone didn’t take it. With my smartphone, though, I bought a waterproof case last year when we were going on our cruise. It keeps my phone dry even if it’s underwater. What’s more, I can use the touchscreen and even take photos with the case on. Sure, the touchscreen doesn’t work underwater, but I can set the timer, submerge my phone, and wind up with an underwater photo.


Yes, there are waterproof cases for DSLR cameras, but they can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The one I bought for under $20 works perfectly for my smartphone.

I’m sure my DSLR will still get a workout. I might still take it with us when we next go to Disney World, for example. Still, more and more I find myself relying on my smartphone instead of on a dedicated camera.

Do you still use a stand-alone camera (either point and shoot or DSLR)? Or have your photo taking habits shifted to smartphone-only?

Extreme Geekery: Giant Sun Birthday Cake

sun_birthday_cakeHappy Birthday to me! Today I turn 41. Luckily, I’ll probably have a single candle on my cake (or two candles: a four shaped one and one shaped like the number one). I won’t have to deal with blowing out forty-one candles. Still, I began to wonder exactly how bright you could get with candles. Let’s suppose that the Sun was a giant birthday cake. How many candles would it need to keep outputting as much light as it currently does. (Since this is a thought experiment, we’ll ignore such mundane details as "How do the candles burn without an atmosphere" and "How do the candles not melt down with time".)

The Sun outputs about 6.84 x 1027 lumens. Written out, this is 6,840,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That’s a LOT of lumens.  The best reference I could find for a candle’s output was 12.56 lumens. Of course, the birthday candles I use tend to be smaller and so likely generate less lumans than other candles. Let’s round down to 10 lumens for a birthday candle. (Plus, this makes the math easier.)

If each candle is providing 10 lumans of light, we would need 684,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 candles. That’s 684 trillion trillion candles!  I wonder if the warehouse stores carry ultra-mega packs of candles.

So we’ve got our candles and are ready to light them… Wait, first we need to put them in the cake.  So we make a HUGE spherical cake and place the candles all around it. How big of a cake do we need? Well, if each candle has about 1 square centimeter of space around it (we’re packing them in), the cake would need a surface area of 684,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 square centimeters or 68,400,000,000,000,000 square kilometers. (That’s over 26,000,000,000,000,000 square miles.)  The Sun itself has a surface area of 6.09 x 1012 square km.  That’s a big cake!

How much bigger, you ask? Stand back, I’m going to use Math!

Now the surface area of a sphere can be calculated by pi*d2.  Let’s say that the cake’s diameter is d1 and the Sun’s is d2. This gives us:

68,400,000,000,000,000 = pi*d12

6,090,000,000,000 = pi*d22

Obviously, the cake is some number, N, times bigger than the Sun so we can say:

d1 = N * d2

Plugging this into the first equation we get:

68,400,000,000,000,000 = pi*(N*d2)2


68,400,000,000,000,000 = pi*N2*d22

Now the second equation can also be written as:

d2 = square root(6,090,000,000,000/pi)

Plugging this into our calculations, we get:

68,400,000,000,000,000 = pi*N2*(square root(6,090,000,000,000/pi))2


68,400,000,000,000,000 = pi*N2*6,090,000,000,000/pi

The Pi’s cancel out and we can divide each side by 6,090,000,000,000 to get:

N2 = 1,123.15

This means that N is about 33.5.

Our birthday cake would need to be almost 34 times the size of the Sun just to be as bright as it is.

I think I’m going to need more frosting!

NOTE: The Sun Birthday Cake image above was made by combining Decorative Sun by ivak and Chocolate Birthday Cake(brown) by version2. Both images are available from

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