I know…that saying is dumb. But I’m going to use it, because I did set a new high score on Donkey Kong this week. Did you? What’s up now?

I’m currently working in my garage…somewhere I’ve probably spent 50 hours in the last week or so. I have 233 worksheets completed, with an estimated 40 to go. My art guy has my first book basically done. I had to take 5 minutes out of my work to make this post.

I have the “Shark Tank Feeling.” First, I love Shark Tank. Second, no, I shouldn’t go on that show. I don’t need their money, and my business is far too small for them to care. But I say I have the shark tank feeling because I have this motivation that I’ve rarely felt in life. This is literally consuming 90% of my energy right now. I must get it done. It’s beyond wanting to do it, or hoping I will finish it…no, it’s moved onto a whole ‘nother level. This bad boy is going to happen, there is no doubt, and I won’t rest until it is done.

Luckily I have the summer to finish it, and an awesome wife that understands and is giving me the time I need to get it done.

OK, back to work.

Still Alive!

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Lately I’ve felt an urge to make a blog post…not so much for any grand audience to read, but to sort of do a spring cleaning of the brain.

I’m still in the middle of my big worksheet project, and lately I’ve kicked it up a gear. I now have a 2 page per day goal that I’ve been really good at sticking with. If I keep up that pace, the project should be mostly done by early July. As a result of this new push, I haven’t had a lot of time for much else. Running has completely taken a backseat during the last month. I still want to run, but right now I’m putting 100% of my energy into getting my project complete.

Other than that, we’ve been enjoying spending Wednesday nights at church and doing the family program there. This has led to some awesome opportunities to start reading the bible with Luke. And speaking of kids and their spiritual health, the last year or two have been really big for our family. We’ve realized how important it is to make church a priority, and pray as a family, and read the bible as a family. And starting when your kids are young is key. If you never read the bible with your kids, and then one day when they’re 13 you decide it’s important…it’s not that it can’t be done, but I’m sure it is much more difficult than the child that grew up seeing the bible read everyday, and prayers said everyday.

Besides those two things, I’m really just trying to make it through the end of the school year. Today is the last day of testing, and then we have 5 weeks left! No huge summer plans to speak of, but I’m sure we’ll keep busy. :)

One Down, Two to Go

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Back in April I posted about a new project I was working on: Math Worksheets! I started them sometime last March, and 10 months later I have finished my first grade level. It currently has 94 pages, needs to be proofed, and needs artwork, but 6th grade is basically done!

It’s been slow going since Summer, but getting one book done is good motivation. I’m moving on to 7th grade now. What I really need to do is set a goal: I have to complete one or two worksheets a day. If I did two a day, I’d be done in 3 months! But we’re talking about an hour per worksheet.

I’ve also decided that at this point, the most useful thing I can do is create books. Originally I wanted to incorporate some sort of support, where people could request new worksheets, but I think my time would be better spent creating books. I want to do grades 6-8 first, so I can sell that as a set, but then I would probably do an Algebra book, and then start working my way down the elementary chain.

My greatest motivator is Shark Tank. Granted, I’m not making a product I would ever take on that show, but seeing how passionate those people are about their inventions makes me want to drop everything and get to work!

That’s an update on my progress. Hope to be back sooner next time to say I’m done with 7th grade!

Blasts From the Past

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My last post I talked about how I spent the summer rebuilding the videogame collection of my youth. I don’t have room in the house to have them all hooked up at the same time though. One day I will have an awesome old CRT with every system hooked up in a game room…but for now, we have room for one system at a time. What Luke and I have been doing is hooking up one system, and playing one game at a time.

Kirby’s Adventure

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First system we hooked up was the original NES. While we did own an Atari growing up, the NES was the first new system I ever got. Never played a Kirby game in my life though, and other than playing as Kirby in Smash Bros., this was my first Kirby experience. It came out super late in the NES lifecycle in 1993, about a year and a half after the SNES came out. By now, if I hadn’t sold my NES to finance an SNES, I’m sure all my attention was squarely on the SNES at this point.

This is one of the few NES games that has a battery backup, so first thing I did was replace that with a fresh battery. Game follows a pretty simple formula. You pass levels that open up more levels, and you access those from a fun level select screen where you can fly around to the different “doors” for each level. There are some fun mini

Much like the original Super Mario Bros., it feels really weird to be thrown into a game with NO story. Here’s a level, start playing! The game mechanics are definitely ungames thrown in where you can earn extra lives and some special weapons.

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It only took us a week or so to beat the game, but it was fun. I have some of the follow-ups on the SNES and N64, so we’ll have to check those out. And since there are no such thing as trophies or achievements (even to this day, come on Nintendo), pictures will have to do! Even that felt old school…I remember taking pictures of my best Mario Kart times to send to Nintendo Power.ique and fun though. I haven’t played all the Kirby games, but I think this is the first one that allows you to swallow an enemy and assume their “power.” Between that, flying, and sliding, there is a good variety of gameplay. It does suffer from a LOT of slowdown though…poor little NES cpu.

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Super Mario World

mario worldNext up we plugged in the SNES. This was the second system I ever owned. I have vivid memories of selling all my NES stuff to a company in the back of a videogame magazine. They listed prices in the back of the magazine, but what you would do is call them, tell them what you had, and they’d quote you prices. Then you mail it all in, and they send you a check. Like Gamestop now, but old school. Now that I think about it…I couldn’t have been much more than 10, so my parents must have helped me package it up and mail it, so thanks parents.

This is another game though that I don’t remember owning, so I must have got it just long enough after launch (a year or two at least) that they weren’t packing this in with the system anymore.  A lot of this game was brand new to me, and that was a lot of fun Thankfully, unlike the NES Mario games, this one has a battery backup! You don’t have to play it all in one sitting thankfully.

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My first thoughts on this game are…it’s stinking hard. There are some areas that are downright challenging, where I’d die and start punching my leg. Overall though, one of the best entries in the series. There are different colored switches hidden throughout the world, and they turn on colored blocks in later levels…sometimes with a power-up inside, or sometimes to block bad guys and make levels easier. We didn’t 100% the game yet (there are hidden star levels you can unlock and beat that are extra), but yesterday we beat Bowser! Was quite challenging and very rewarding. Was also fun to play this game in the age of youtube, where you can look up stuff like where are the hidden switches, and if you go to this level and do this one thing you can get 50 lives. Very helpful. :)

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To be honest, I played most of the games, because they’re still a little too challenging for Luke. But he had a lot of fun watching me. In fact, I have memories of watching my own Dad beat games on the old Mac Classic we had back in the mid 1980′s, when I was too little to be very good at hard games. I hope some day he remembers when he and his dad sat down and beat some old Nintendo games.

My Summer

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Since I won’t have any teachers making me write about my summer, I’ll have to make myself do it!

This summer has been great, and I’m sad to see it come to an end. It got started with a bang when Logan was born. It’s been fun to stay home all summer and help take care of him. Having three kids is definitely challenging, but Luke is old enough that he’s pretty self-sufficient. In a way it’s only like we have Logan and Lorelai to take care of, and Luke can actually help out a lot. Logan is finally getting to the “sit and be happy” stage, where he doesn’t always need to be held. He’s sleeping pretty well too, and that will only improve. Big brother and sister have handled the transition wonderfully. For some reason, loading all three of them up in the minivan is fun. There’s this sense that our family is “done,” which is nice. I know who all the members are, and now we get to watch them grow up.

Earlier this summer I decided that I wanted to expose Luke (and eventually Logan and Lorelai if they want) to old school video games! There weren’t always fancy HD graphics with characters running around in 3D! I put out a request on Facebook looking for some old systems, and my sister-in-law came through with an NES and some cool games. It didn’t work out of the box, so I had to do a little repairing…and that started a small summer hobby. At one point I had just over 20 Nintendo systems in my garage in varying states of repair. I’ve been able to buy them for about $10 a piece broken, and have sold them for as high as $45. I even made a few deals on Craig’s List that turned out really good. You can make money doing this, but not that much…maybe $10/hour type money. I’d be much better off working on my math worksheets project. That being said, I learned a ton about the old school Nintendo systems and how to fix them. I have the nicest revision of the SNES, and the newest version of the N64 they made. I have controllers with nice and responsive rubber that I replaced. My N64 controllers are still a work in progress, but soon they will have upgraded Gamecube style analog sticks. I can also put battery holders into SNES games! (I also got a Dreamcast…system, cables, and three controllers for $27 shipped!)

I know you can emulate NES, SNES, and N64 (mostly), but there is something about having the original system, original controllers, and a real game that make it so much more fun. Luke and I have started playing through Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. I don’t want him to have access to the WHOLE collection at once…maybe just a game or two at a time, and when he “finishes” them I can bring out some more. I put together a list of some of the best games that were made on each system that I’d like to collect. I figure if I’m ever going to collect anything, at least video games can be played over and over…it’s not something that simply sits on a shelf for you to stare at. You can see my want list here.

With each kid I’ve had fun staying up late and letting mommy sleep as much as possible. With Luke, I watched every season of the Office (that had been on up to that point). With Lorelai I watched 3 or 4 seasons of Dexter. With Logan I’ve watched Orange is the New Black, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, and the most current season of Dexter.

I also started going to a “Young Dad’s” bible study once a week. First time since High School that I’ve done something like that. I’ve really enjoyed it, and it’s been a great way to get to know people at church. I won’t be able to go with work starting back up, but I’m hoping to find something at a different time that will work.

That’s what has been keeping me busy…but it’s back to work I go!

This is a post I’ve wanted to make for a while. Back in 2006, I had a hard drive crash…and there is about a 6 month period of my life with zero pictures! Luckily it was before kids, and there wasn’t probably anything too exciting in those pictures, but ever since I’ve been determined to never let that happen again. This post is about how to make sure your precious family memories are safe, and also organized!

Photo Organizing

Before I get to making sure your photos are safe, we need to talk about how to manage your digital files. We take SO many pictures, and if we don’t have a system to organize them, we’ll never be able to make sense out of our digital mess.

I use a very simple file structure, and I organize the folders myself.

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I start with a main “Image Folder.” Inside that folder, I have folders for each year. Inside each of those folders, I have a folder with a date and description. I organize my photos by individual day. The only exception to this are some multi-day trips. I’ll use the first day of the trip in the title…but I don’t need 8 separate folders for our honeymoon. A nice benefit to this setup is that you can quickly access photos from different times in your life. I can find photos of any children’s birth in seconds. More on “viewing” photos in a second.

Usually I take photos off the camera every few weeks. What I do is I open a folder view of the SD Card, and a folder view of my “Image Folder.” I look at the photos on my SD Card, then create a folder with the correct date and description, and I move the photos off the card and into the folder. Once I go through the whole card, every photo should be moved off, the card is empty, and it can be put back in the camera.

Now, even though the pictures are off the card, they need to be “edited.” Personally, I only do light editing. Photos come out of the camera now looking near perfect, so major editing isn’t usually necessary. Instead, I edit only for quality of shot. I don’t need 15 copies of the same shot, trying to get a good smile. Often times a folder with 100 pictures will shrink down to 30 once I’m done getting rid of the “bad” pictures. I don’t want multiple shots when one is clearly better. I don’t want blurry photos. I don’t want pictures of the floor. Save the best! This makes looking at the pictures much more enjoyable, and ultimately will save you a LOT of space.

So how do I do this easily? Picasa. If you don’t have it, download it. I have it set to “watch” my image folder, so as soon as I copy photos off the SD Card onto my hard drive, they instantly pop-up in Picasa, and I have the same beautifully organized folder view with pictures separated by day. I go to the newly created folders, open the first picture, and start arrowing through them. When I see a good picture, I star it with spacebar. Sometimes when I have multiple versions of the same picture, I’ll star all the good ones. Out of 15 shots trying to get the kids to smile, I might narrow it down to 5. After I star everything I want, I go back to the main view, and click the “Select Starred Photos” button. This picks all the GOOD photos. Then, hit ctrl-i to “invert” your selection. Now you have all the BAD photos selected…and hit delete. This leaves only your good photos. I usually unstar all of them, and if necessary, go back through if there were some I wasn’t sure about.

The most important thing is to do this everytime you take photos off the camera. Be consistent, and keep your digital photo collection curated and organized! You could do more editing…adjust contrast, crop, etc. I don’t usually do this, usually due to time. Most photos look great right out of the camera, and I’ll usually only heavily edit if the photos are going in a photobook or something like that.

 

Photo Backup

Doing all of the above is pointless if you someday lose all of those precious photos! You could put them on an external hard drive, or burn dvd backups. The problem with that type of backup is you have to actually do it! Months usually go by without backing up, and then something crashes and you have a big whole in your photo history.

I have opted for a much easier solution: Google Drive. I pay a measly $5 a month for 100GB of extra google drive storage. I put my main Image Folder inside my Google Drive folder. The moment I move pictures from the SD Card to my computer, those files start uploading to google drive. They get backed up immediately, without any effort on my part. This is also offsite storage. If the house burns down, all my pictures will be saved. You can also use the google drive app to view all your photos on phones and tablets wherever you are.

This is a good reason to edit your photos though. You would be surprised how fast 100GB of storage will get used, especially if you’re saving thousands of junky pictures you don’t want.

 

Video Organizing and Backup

I have an HD camcorder, and this provides some different challenges. Originally when I got one, I thought I would be editing all my videos and making them look great. No way…I just don’t have time, and they’re usually short enough that I don’t need to edit them much. I simply organize them by year, and then by month. I don’t need specific day folders, because usually there are only 10-20 videos in any given month.

I have a Western Digital external hard drive that has two 500GB drives in it, set in a raid configuration. I copy videos onto that external drive, and it is immediately mirrored on two different hard drives, so I’m safe if one of them fails. I could use google drive, but I would need at least a $20/month plan, so it’s clearly not cost effective for big HD movies.

I bought a $50 bluray burner a few months back when my dvd drive died, and finally today I ordered some blank blurays. Ones I bought are about $0.80 each. Now I can use about 10-15 of them to backup all my videos, and take them to my Dad’s house. I now have triplicate backup, including offsite. Not as convenient or as simple as my images solution, but it will work for now.

 

That’s my general setup. I want to make sure these memories are preserved for year and years for my kids and grandkids to enjoy!

 

My New Project

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A little over a month ago I had one of those “ah ha” moments, where I came up with an idea, and I just knew I had to do it. It felt similar to when I started writing my book…I had no idea how long it would take, but something inside me knew that it was going to get done no matter what. Giving up part way through wasn’t going to be an option.

I started developing my own supplemental math materials. It was something that made me go, “Why didn’t I think of this before?” It combines two things I actually know pretty well…computer stuff and math stuff. Finding supplemental materials for the secondary level isn’t easy. In fact, some of our favorite materials are actually 35 years old, and we’re still using them!

The problem of course is that 35 years ago there was no such thing as standards. And while “math” hasn’t changed since then, the very specific expectations in each grade level has. As those materials age, they become less and less aligned to what we’re supposed to be teaching in each grade.

Another component to this is the Common Core State Standards. Not only do older materials not “align” properly, but this is a brand new set of standards being rolled out nationwide. Most of our materials weren’t even aligned to the California State Standards…and now we have a new revision! As teachers look for material that corresponds with what they are supposed to be teaching, using some of the older materials gets a little difficult.

So I decided to create my own materials, align them to the Common Core, and try to make a business out of it. I’m starting with Grades 6-8, because I’ve taught those and know them the best. I’m taking a lot of inspiration from the older worksheets we use. There is a joke on each page, and each answer fills in a letter at the bottom of the page, eventually revealing the punchline to the joke. At first I was a little concerned about copyright issues…but A) You can’t copyright math (as long as I’m making up my own problems I’m fine), B) You can’t copyright a format (having answers make a joke can’t be copyrighted, and I’ve even seen it used in other books), and C) You can’t copyright little one-liner jokes that can be found all over the internet.

That’s where the similarities end though. Those old materials would switch up the format a lot, to the point where you have to teach students how to fill out that specific worksheet. My goal is to be as consistent as possible, so that students can get straight to their practice without directions. The old worksheets liked to put borders and random “graphics” on the page, but it makes them look a little outdated and cluttered. Mine are very clean, maximizing the page and giving students room to “work” when possible. I’ve also contracted with a friend at work to have original cartoon drawings put on every page, which should really make them standout. The old materials are broken down purely by topic, but I’ve broken them down by Common Core Standard. Need extra practice on Grade 6, Number Sense 3 (6.NS.3)? In my book you turn straight to that standard and can see all 10 pages that relate exactly to that standard. In older material you have to figure out what topic is in the standard, find that topic, and then HOPE that the topic covers it in a way that works with the standard.

I’m excited too because the Common Core Standards have been adopted by nearly every state…and that means I have a huge customer base. I should be able to sell this online to teachers and school districts all across the country. It’s definitely a niche product (middle school math), but they can also be sold for a premium. The “old” books are still for sale at $75 a piece (and they’ve made a couple newer ones that go for $50).

One other component I’m excited about adding is some kind of “curriculum support.” Right now, you buy one of these old books, and you’re on your own. Don’t like a page in there? Need another page? Too bad. But now in the digital age, I can offer digital versions of the answers for teacher’s to display. If teachers request something that isn’t included, I can put it online and make it available to anyone that has purchased a book. A lot of possibilities!

I’ve only been working on it for about a month…but I’m on page 27 out of 300 or so. This is a big project that won’t be done for a year probably, but I’m excited about it. Here’s a sample page I finished the other day.

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Not the most exciting project (unless you’re a math teacher!), but it’s something fun I have going on right now, so wanted to share. For the most part I haven’t had any major setbacks. Designing it all in Publisher, which is working well for the most part. I’d love to offer a digital version of the entire project, but that would only make pirating it easier. There are entire PDFs of the older books I’m using for inspiration on the internet. People have literally scanned all 200 pages of those books, and put them up online. If I offered a PDF version, it would be everywhere. I’ve even tried to think of a way to keep people from scanning an entire binder of pages, but I don’t have any great ideas. My best idea was to bind the pages instead of put the pages into a binder, but bindings fall apart, and they’re hard to put on a photocopy machine. I’m thinking digital versions of the answers is good enough. That would allow teachers to digitally look through the books and display answers on a projector, but you couldn’t share it and let other teachers use it because it would already have the answers (and I could keep the quality a little low so that they could look nice on a screen, but wouldn’t print that well).

But I have another 273 pages to design before I have to worry about any of that. I want Grades 6-8 all done before I even worry about selling them. Having a lone grade level to sell wouldn’t look as good. If I can get a small “set” complete, I can sell them together for discounts, and it looks more professional.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading. :)

Back off the Caffeine…

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During the summer I tried kicking soda, coffee, and alcohol…and I did OK for awhile. And then I went back to work. :( I got back into the bad habit of needing a coffee in the morning (or some sort of caffeine) to wake up.

For the last week though I’ve been caffeine free, and it has been great. I’ve had a sprite, and even a “drink” on Friday night, but the ups and down of caffeine are gone.

I’ve been pretty good about getting to bed at a decent hour. I think my body needs 7 hours of sleep minimum…but more is definitely better.

I’ve been pushing my running this week, and surprisingly that helps with my energy. Usually when I’m done running I feel invigorated. Getting that blood pumping feels so good…like a natural high. And when you really push it, I swear it’s good for your skin!

I’m not sure where to go in my weight training. I have a couple of 15/10/5 pound weights, and I do some different exercises with them. They’re cheap, and don’t take up a lot of space. I think before I do anything else, I just need to be more consistent about using them.

Right now I just need some exercise goals. One of my goals when we moved was that I would run to the end of the local pier….6 miles or so. But that would require someone pick me up.

Anyone have any New Year’s resolutions regarding healthy living?

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