A couple of notes on the lightning adapter which I received last week and installed into my Elevation Dock:

First, the build quality of the adapter is just as good as the Elevation Dock itself.  I had no trouble installing the adapter.  The adapter came with two allen wrenches for the screws that hold everything together.

But beyond that, things go south...

The "adapter" is a metal clamp that holds your *existing* Apple lightning cable in place within the Elevation Dock.  The adapter does not include any electronic components like the original dock parts.  You must use the lightning cable that came with your phone or buy one aftermarket, and it MUST be an Apple-brand $17+ cord, or it won't fit in the clamp properly.  (Oh, if you find a brand of lightning cord that both fits in the adapter and doesn't set off the "unofficial product" warnings on the phone, let me know.)  Do not buy a $3 cord and expect it to fit in this adapter properly.

When I dock my iPhone 5s into the port, the rubber support no longer supports the phone like it did with the 4 and 4s.  In fact, I can't insert the 5s with case (a thin iFrogz case) into the dock without removing the rubber support.  What I'm left with is the entire phone resting on the lightning connector that extends from the base of the dock.  There is nothing supporting the phone but the lightning plug.

Why not adjust the connector down into the dock so that the phone can sit flush, you ask?  Because to put the lightning connector into the dock in the first place, you need to practically crimp the cord at the stress relief sleeve just to get it to fit into the adapter.  Simply looking at the strain on the cord at this point makes me cringe.  I'm sure it's fine, because it's locked in, but it's really bent, and there's no room for movement.

The extra cash I spent on the Elevation Dock with audio support?  Wasted.  There is no audio connection on the adapter.  There is also no 1/8" headphone jack on the adapter to pass through audio.  Thankfully the one audio dock (of the three I backed) will serve my wife's iPhone 4s well enough.

One of the big selling points of the Elevation Dock was that you didn't need to push down on the Dock to remove the phone.  Since the lightning adapter uses a standard connector, and the connector is designed to remain fastened to the phone unless using some force, the weight of the dock is no longer sufficient to hold the dock down when removing the phone.  A Nanopad sticker is included in the package to affix the Dock to a surface.

I applied the Nanopad to the bottom of the Dock, then placed the dock back in its original location.  The Nanopad was successful in suctioning the Dock to this surface -- too successful.  I had great difficulty removing the Dock after it stuck to reposition it.  I was finally able to pry it up, but it is still disconcerting that this behaves so much like adhesive, which is what I was trying to avoid with the Elevation Dock in the first place!

Also, finally, the adapter is red.  No idea why.  Not really an issue, but somehow unnerves me to know that it's in there... Being red.

Generally, I like the look and build quality of the Elevation Dock, but I think some significant effort needs to be undertaken to update the lightning adapter to bring it in line with the quality expectation of the rest of the Dock.  Hopefully Elevation Lab's got something good up their sleeves for the future, because this adapter alone is insufficient.

Back in June, I noticed a Kickstarter project for the FluxFluxmob Boltmob Bolt, and decided that it would be worth a pledge. The Bolt is a combination wall charger and battery backup for USB devices. 

The first thing you would notice about the Bolt is that it is very small and attractive-looking. It comes in multiple colors, of which I chose blue. The finish of the device has a nice quality tacky/rubbery feeling, not the slick plastic of similar devices.

The size is pretty remarkable for what the device offers. The small box includes a fold-out wall plug, the transformer required to convert outlet power (90-240V) down to USB's 5V, a 3000mAh battery, and the standard USB port. There are other similar batteries on the market, but they do not include all of these components, often leaving out the transformer and plug features.

Fluxmob BoltOn the facing side of the device are five LED lights and a button. My favorite feature of the Bolt is using the button to turn the USB power on and off. If you hold the button in for five seconds, it toggles the USB power. Simply tapping the button lights up the other four LEDs to indicate the charge status of the battery.

Although the power toggle is my favorite feature, I wish that the duration of the button push was shorter. This seems like a trivial thing, but I wonder how many support requests Fluxmob has had to field about their USB port being non-functional because the button requires a longer press than what one might expect.

Fluxmob BoltCharging is simple and fast, but leads to my second issue with the Bolt. While charging, the LEDs flicker to indicate... well... something, I guess. I suppose if I stared at the flickering lights for long enough I could suss it out, but let's just say that the lights blink. A lot. And they're bright.  In a dark room like a hotel, where you would most likely want the features of the Bolt, exposure to the blinkenlights could keep you awake. Another small quibble, but it's there.

Hooking devices to the Bolt is as easy as plugging them into the USB port on the bottom. Charging a device from the wall or via battery works the same as long as the USB power is toggled on. The USB power toggles itself off as when you unplug the Bolt, which is an important note.  You could easily think you're charging a device, then unplug in the Bolt, expecting the battery power to take over, but in reality the USB power was automatically toggled off.

The power pack seems to have enough juice to charge my iPhone 5s fully. The LED status indicators seem like a complete waste, though. They will frequently report 2/4 lights, and then the Bolt battery will go completely dead. I have also seen the Bolt report only one light's worth of power, to then have it increase to two lights without having plugged it in. It's pretty inconsistent as a gauge, but if you use the lights merely to determine whether it has been fully charged, it should be ok.

On the whole, I like the Fluxmob Bolt. In the market for devices like this one, the build quality is a level above the others, in spite of its small flaws, which are rampant and more severe in the competition. I would love to see revisions to the design in the future that made the LEDs more useful and the power toggle more consistent. As it stands though, the Bolt will likely permanently replace my Zagg Sparq for portable USB power, simply due to its capability and size in my laptop bag.

Fride CalWe use shared Google Calendars for our family calendaring. Each of us has his/her own calendar, and we have a shared calendar for stuff that we all participate in. But when we're sitting in the kitchen with the kids at meals, particularly while getting ready for school in the morning, it would be nice not to have to fish out the phones and cross-reference, and blah blah blah.

I set out to find a solution to this issue. The obvious solution is a traditional calendar. Berta bought one and added October's events to it, but it had some of the traditional problems.

First, there wasn't anywhere useful to put the monthly paper calendar.  We never had one before, so we didn't have a place to keep it. The spots it ended up were first on the kitchen island, where it was always in the way, and then on the wall under some hung photos, which not only wasn't a readily visible location, but was behind some hung photos.

Second, it had these weird "Mine/Theirs" rows. I assume this was a nod to some parent who organizes the family events. Personally, I find this insulting.

Third, and this is really where my imagination starts to kick in, you can only see the current month on the paper calendar. When half the month is over, half of what is being shown is useless to you.  Worse, when you get closer to the end of the month, you have to flip back and forth between pages to see what's coming up.  What's coming up is the most important part!

One might suggest that we use one of those dry-erase magnetic fridge calendars. As you can see though, it fails for many of the same reasons that the paper calendar fails.  Worse, there's no next month at all on a single magnetic calendar.  And they also all seem to have that demeaning "Mine/Theirs" crap, too.

What's a person to do?

My Solution

It's not complicated. I bought a large sheet of dry-erase magnet from Amazon. The sheet was 11x17, and I cut it down to two strips of 5.5x15. On each strip, I drew a week's worth of boxes for each day with a Sharpie, labeling them with the day name and a blank box.  At the bottom of each box, I included two rows of small boxes labeled H, C, and P, for Homework, Chores, and Practice.

Here's the plan: With a fine point wet-erase marker, I fill in the current week's worth of date numbers in the blank boxes next to the weekday names. In the large area, I write all of each day's events and their times, just like you would on a paper calendar.

The bottom area is a bit of an experimental hack.  The idea is that there is one row for each kid (they're labeled A and R), and as they each complete the task for which the box is designated, they mark it with an X.  Consecutive X days will earn prizes, and (even better) end up with all of the homework, chores, and instrument practices being completed.

I follow this same process for next week, and then put both magnets on the fridge, one above the other.  When this week is over, I erase the events from this week (easily done, while leaving behind the permanent Sharpie-rendered calendar design) and fill in the next week. I move up the existing week and put the new week underneath. And so on.

The weird and important bit to mention is that although the sheet is a dry-erase board, I'm using it with wet-erase markers.  Why?  Dry erase markers can be too easily erased by casual bumping.  With a high-traffic area like the fridge, you want a slightly more permanent solution.  Wet-erase markers actually require some water to remove the markings. They also come off of the board more cleanly, whereas the dry-erase markers leave ghost images and odd smudges.

I'm enthusiastic about this solution. I think it's a nice compromise between writing a ton of future dates that could get stale onto a paper calendar and being able to see what's happening in the near-term. I like that it's analog and easily editable, and how it solves many of the issues with a traditional calendar. It won't be our canonical reference - the Google Calendar will still serve that function - but it will at least give us the "at a glance" reference that is useful for planning our weeks while simultaneously tracking essential chore completion duties.

Over the summer, I signed up Abby for GEYA Soccer, based on the appeal of her experience in their spring soccer program, which she really enjoyed.  I didn't realize what we'd ultimately be getting into.

The fall soccer season is apparently not a popular one among "sporty" types.  The sporty kids seem to rotate their sport experience each season.  I'm not sure what the girls play in the fall, but they seem to leave the soccer field either for other sports or for other pursuits.  A similar thing happens to the boys soccer program in the fall, since a good number of boys leave the soccer program to participate in fall football.  The end result is that not enough players were signed up for fall soccer to have separate leagues for boys and girls at Abby's age group, and so the leagues combined for co-ed teams.

The co-ed teams were not so bad.  There were so few boys playing that between the five teams, each team was only allocated 3-4 boys.  Still, the aggression in the boys' play compared to the girls was apparent on the field, and at least for the first half of the season, the boys and girls avoided being near each other on the field during play, resulting in some humorous moments.  One referee explicitly told one of our girls, "I won't call it if you trip a boy."  That kind of thing.

Another downside of a diminished roster besides the small number of teams was the lack of coaches.  I assume that most of the "sporty" kids have "sporty" parents who follow them to whatever sport they're playing and help coach those teams.  Just before the onset of the fall season, the league sent out an email to all parents suggesting that if nobody volunteered to coach, then the five teams would be reduced to four, and that would be bad for the team sizes.

Thinking that I'd really like Abby to get a real chance to take the field, I replied to the email and volunteered to coach a team.  Yeah, crazy like that.

Luckily, (since I don't know anything about soccer) another parent with soccer and coaching experience volunteered to coach the team, too.  I think the reason they needed more coaches is because (as seems reasonable) not every coach can make every game.  And if there's only one coach, it's hard to field a team when the coach can't attend the game.  Anyway, I ended up not doing much, but simply helping out where I could -- running drills, herding kids, setting up cones, etc.

I have to admit, attending the games was something I looked forward to most for the past couple months.  Our team had some really good players; some willing, but inexperienced players; and some unwilling and inexperienced players.  We tried to encourage everyone to play their best and get them all playing well together.

The thing I'm most proud of in my coaching experience is something that seems pretty trivial, but it's more than what it seems, and it makes me happy:  I was able to remember all of the kids' names.  I thought it would be much harder.  I think my ability to remember all of their names indicates my own commitment to participation.  I find it hard to explain, but in spite of our team's record (I think we won maybe two games all season), it was an oddly rewarding experience for me.

How did Abby do?  Abby started out the season pretty strong for her experience level.  Being in the middle age of the range (6th-8th graders) gave her a slight leg up this season, having been on the young side for her spring soccer team.  Unlike the spring, Abby frequently played ball for the whole game, many times as a mid-fielder, running up and down the field like a madman.  I think last season and running in the summer really helped her performance this year.

Toward the end of the season, it seemed like she was waning a bit.  There are obvious ball skills that she has yet to master.  Too frequently, she'd run full-speed to a ball only to miss kicking it entirely and having it stolen from her.  Sadly, this is the kind of thing that she'd be able to improve on with practice; practice that the team didn't have time for -- the season was two practices at the beginning, and then entirely games.

Abby did do soccer clinic on Friday afternoons through the season.  They practiced ball-handling skills for an hour.  This was not part of the team exercise, but something that she signed up for separately.  It helped a bit, but regular practice with the team would have been more helpful.

There were a lot of things that the team needed to work on that seem to be a recurring theme with soccer players at this age and skill level.  The biggest thing that they all needed to work on was the concept of "one to the ball", meaning that only one player should play on the ball. We were constantly telling the kids to "spread out".  They'd all stand next to each other and wonder why there was never anyone to pass the ball to.  Of course, getting some of the kids (particularly the boys, who often seemed to think that the girls were just some moving obstacles for them on the field) to pass the ball at all was a trial.  Setting up and discovering passing lanes, shooting the ball at the far post, and dribbling/ball control were also things that everyone needed to work on.

Abby and I went to see one of Paige and Sienna's games in the middle of Abby's season. Watching those two girls and their team work was an enlightening experience for us both.  I would love to encourage Abby to the point were she could play soccer like that.

Abby is certainly going to play soccer in the spring, and we've already signed her up for a winter indoor clinic.  The big question at this point is whether I will sign up for coaching again.  In the spring, there are bound to be more competent coaches available, and the teams should be all-girl as the boys return from football to the spring soccer league.  I think it would be a lot of fun to continue to coach, even to take some classes of my own on coaching and soccer, just so I can better learn how to bring the team along.

In all, it was a fun experience.  I think the only real downside was that the season conflicted significantly with Riley's baseball games, which I would have liked to be more involved in. Since Riley's team only had one official coach, it would have been nice to commit to helping out his team with a sport that I have actually played before and knew well enough to teach. We'll see what Riley wants to do in the spring, whether baseball or soccer (he's wanting to sign up for the same winter soccer training program as Abby), and maybe decide what to do from there, since as with fall vs spring soccer, baseball tends to be more popular in the spring as well, bringing with it more experienced and enthusiastic coaches.

I usually document the start of weird illnesses here, so that later, when the doctor asks what my symptoms have been, I can tell her my list of grievances with my biological existence.  But for whatever reason, I did not do it this time, opting instead to do it now, amid treatment.

Last weekend at the soccer and baseball games, I accrued a pretty bad sunburn on my forehead. I didn't really think that the sun on a 60-degree day at 9 am would be enough to do much damage, but I was - as usual - quite wrong.  Or at least, that's what I thought when at the end of the day, my head felt like it was pretty well baked.

Over the course of the next couple of days, the burn wasn't improving much, but hey, sunburn lives to be annoying.  During that time I also received the pièce de résistance component of my Halloween costume this year, a full-face respirator mask. Excited by its arrival, I unpacked it in the car at the post office, put it on, and took a photo - without much inspection.  Used from eBay.  Probably not wise.

So on Wednesday when the sunburn had turned into a weird, isolated red splotch on the right side of my forehead, I went looking for other explanations.  Actually, what was bothering me more than the sunburn itself was this other strange pain in my ear area.  It felt kind of like a earache or maybe a toothache, but feeling around over in that area there was definitely some sort of weird, painful lumpy thing.

I did the thing you're not supposed to do, and entered all of these random symptoms into Google and got a nice little anecdote about someone's bout with shingles. Normally, I wouldn't read a lot into what people write about their crazy scary illnesses online, but this case was pretty much on the money in terms of describing what I felt.  And with what little I already knew about shingles, I figured it was time to get a doctor's opinion.

The confirmation of my own diagnosis that morning by the doctor was pretty swift.  She also said that my throat looked like it had a lot going on in there, and could have been what put my immune system under the stress that it needed to allow the shingles to emerge.

For the uninitiated, shingles is what happens when the dormant chicken pox virus re-emerges. Chicken pox doesn't leave your system when you get over it.  Instead, the virus nests itself in your nerve tissue, and becomes dormant.  When your immune system is getting kicked in the teeth by some other illness is often when the virus tends to randomly emerge.

When the shingles virus does emerge, it usually attacks a single nerve trunk, so it is localized to one side and one section of the body. In my case, it's the right side of my head.  The nerve endings that feel things on your skin are what the virus infects, but the blisters are the symptom of the attack.  The blisters themselves don't hurt, but the nerve endings in the area underneath do.  Pretty weird.

You can't catch shingles from someone who has it, but you can catch chicken pox (if you've never had it) from someone who has shingles. People who are vaccinated against chicken pox shouldn't catch anything from a person with shingles.  Shingles affects 1 in 4 people who have had chicken pox in the past, which is a lot more common than I expected.

It's kind of funny how every time I go to the doctor for something in my throat, several things happen.  First, I don't really feel super-bad, but I know enough about what goes on in there to know something is wrong.  I'm pretty oblivious to throat pain that others apparently would curl into a ball and die from.  Second, the doctor's veil of calm always breaks for a moment upon inspecting the infection.  It's like all of her years of training didn't prepare her for what my throat was brewing.  I have to remind myself that this happens, or she'd totally freak me out.

I should have known something was up.  The doctor was all super-extra-calm.  "Do you have any questions for me?" Like what?  But after all of the stories I got afterwards about how debilitating shingles can be from my friends (GEE, THANKS, GUYS!!!), I can see why she was a bit trepid about answering questions that would have me completely freaking out, even if it was - as she said - a mild case of shingles.

In any case, lots of antibiotics, lots of antivirals.  She said I might have a touch of conjuntivitis, too, probably a spill-over from whatever beastly bacteria was inhabiting my throat.  Lovely. Added eye-drops.

Back to these stories.  I mean, from people who went temporarily blind, to others who were laid up for months, to others that were permanently scarred... I had a lot to worry about.  But what is it actually like?

Well, it's hard to describe.  Really, it feels like a cross between sunburn and a headache. That's probably the closest description.  The rash is spread under the hair on my scalp, not as much as on my forehead, but enough to be amusingly uncomfortable.  Laying in bed feels like my scalp is not attached.  I would expect a sunburned scalp to feel pretty much like this.  The only real difference in feeling between this and sunburn is that every so often there's a weird shooting pain.  It's not too bad; just enough to make me wince sometimes.

Today, the rash seems to have turned into the blisters everyone keeps talking about.  They're small, smaller even than the size of a zit, and differently colored.  I'm told that when the blisters all scab over, that I'm no longer contagious.  I'm looking forward to not being contagious because, well, not being able to simply go outside - among all the other things that I had planned to do this week - is a real bummer.  Especially for what is (at least so far) amounting to an inconvenient sunburn-like illness.

On the other hand, the doctor called on Thursday and told me that the culture in my throat was a strep variant, so I'm pretty much all kinds of diseased and should be quarantined for everyone else's good.  Hopefully I'll be done with the antibiotics (and the strep) sometime this coming week, too.  I've got other plans than being sick!

In all, it's been an interesting brush with illness.  It's not over, I suppose, but I'm not feeling too bad about my prospects right now.  I just wish it would run its course so I could get on with things.