Friday, March 25, 2011

Ten Commandments for Helicopter Parents

Ten Commandments for Helicopter Parents

Helicopter parents are those parents who hover over their kids, guarding their precious snowflakes against all the bumped knees, skinned noses, and hurty feelings they may encounter throughout their life. Some helicopter parents have not only been known to call their children's colleges when there are problems, they will call their children's employers to help negotiate job offers and pay raises. I'm especially starting to see helicoptering in the 20-somethings as they become new parents.

As an experienced father of three children, I have some advice I want to offer these new parents. These are commandments I think every new parent should hear, and in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to having violated a couple of these myself.

1. Thou shalt not let your kids run around in restaurants. This is not a chance for your kids to explore their world. That's what your house and back yard are for. Other people are trying to enjoy each other's company, not your children's. Keep them in their seats at your table.

2. Thou shalt not let your kids shout to get your attention because you're too busy chatting with other parents about how devoted to your kids you are. There's nothing more annoying than "MOMMY! MOMMY! MOMMY!" over and over again.

3. Thou shalt not let your kids express their anger through thundering, guttural cries that can be heard two states away. Especially if you're the kinds of parents who believes in letting your kids "cry it out." Please just attend to their needs, or better yet, remove them from earshot of the general public. I hear Iceland is nice this time of year. While I don't believe in "children should be seen and not heard," I do believe that if your kid hollers for minutes on end because they're not happy about something, I'm going to holler at you next.

4. Thou shalt not use a double stroller when you only have one child. A double stroller is not a combo cargo/child carrier. If the crap you're carrying outweighs your child, you're carrying way too much stuff. If you have diapers, backup diapers, spare clothes, backup spare clothes, secret stash of double backup diapers, and enough baby food to feed a baby army, you'd better be packing for a week out in the wilderness, not a two hour jaunt to Mommy and Me.

5. Thou shalt not leave your stroller out in the aisle of restaurants, stores, or on sidewalks. Leave it at the front of the restaurant, coffee shop, or wherever you're dragging that off-road vehicle you call a baby stroller. No one is going to steal it because frankly there's not a big market for 4x4 Hummer strollers. If you're worried about it being stolen, jack it up, and take one of the wheels off.

6. Thou shalt not put older children in strollers. If your child is old enough to be in school, they're old enough to walk. I've seen 8-year-olds riding in strollers, with no signs of younger children anywhere. Rather than being one of those parents who wonders why their kids are fat, make sure your kid learns to hike it out when she's four.

7. Thou shalt not change your children's diapers in public. Use a bathroom or your car. Come on, it's a poopy diaper. No one else thinks your kid's crap smells like roses, so don't change your kid on your lap.

8. Thou shalt not live your failed sports dreams through your kids. Introduce them to sports, and let them play in the fun leagues when they're young. But if you sign them up for ultra-competitive kids' teams, and scream at them from the sidelines, you'll make them hate your favorite game before they're 10. If you keep pushing them in it, they'll hate you by the time they're 15.

9. Thou shalt not make your child wear a helmet to ride a tricycle or scooter. I've seen 3-year-olds riding trikes and 5-year-olds riding Razor scooters, clad in helmets and elbow pads. Trust me, you're hovering over him so much, he's not going to fall, let alone go fast enough to suffer major head trauma if he ever did.

10. Thou shalt not bury your children under organic, soy bean dusted, gluten-free, cruelty-free, all natural, sugar-free foods. Thou shall loosen up once in a while and let them enjoy Twinkies, or cake, or soda. Strike a balance, and let your kid be a real kid at least once a month. At the same time, thou shalt not bury your children under nothing but junk food and sugar, and then wonder why they have ADHD. They're called vegetables, and it won't kill little Junior to eat them once in a while. A steady diet of hot dogs and mac and cheese will only give him scurvy, and teach him to be a picky eater who fusses when he can't get his way (see Commandment #3). Be the one in charge and make him eat stuff that's good for him.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

What Does "Dinosaur" Smell Like?

What Does "Dinosaur" Smell Like?

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2003, which is why some of the references are a little outdated. (Besides, Adam Sandler has turned into a fine actor.)

It was bound to happen someday. In the 1950s, we were given 3-D glasses to make movies "come to life." In the '80s and '90s, it was Surround Sound that put us "in the middle of the action." And in the 21st century, odor is the Next Big Thing that will make entertainment and education more realistic.

But we have to draw the line somewhere.

At the Dewa Roman Experience in Chester, England, museum officials thought adding certain odors ("odours" if you're English) to the exhibit would make it more interesting to visitors (not "visitours"). So they added the appropriate smell to their reconstruction of a Roman latrine.

Unfortunately, the "pong" (that's British for odor) was so realistic that several children from visiting school groups became sick, and four of them vomited on the spot. The product was diluted and returned, but two more children got sick the next week.

Needless to say, the staff exchanged the original smell for a less vomit-inducing one.

The original smell, Flatulence, was created by Dale Air, an aroma manufacturing company in Lancashire, England.

"The smell was disgusting. It was like very strong boiled cabbage, sweet and sickly," supervisor Christine Turner said in an interview on the BBC's children's website.

Dale Air also makes Boiled Cabbage aroma

In fact, Dale Air makes nearly 200 different odors, both food and non-food related. They have wonderful smells like Coffee, Eucalyptus, and Lavender. But they also have a few that will wrinkle your nose, like Dinosaur, Mustard Gas, Sweaty Feet, or my personal favorite, Old Drifter.

Surprisingly, Dale Air does not make Vomit aroma, although I'm sure they could.

The center already uses different aromas to add realism to the exhibit of Roman life in Brittania, including Fish Market and Public Bath, also produced by Dale Air.

And while I applaud the Dewa Roman Experience and Dale Air for creating realistic historical displays, the big question is why would you want to exhibit a Roman latrine in the first place? Or more importantly, why would you want a realistic smell for it?

One website on English culture describes the latrine experience: "We look through a window into a small dark room and jump with alarm as a voice rudely shouts 'Who do you think you are looking at?' to discover a Roman soldier sitting on a Roman toilet."

Now I'm a big fan of the total educational experience. I love visiting the World Showcase at Disney's Epcot Center. I enjoy recreations of historic battles, events, and everyday life. And it would help me understand the life of the Romans in Brittania if I smelled Roman fish markets, public baths, and horse stables.

But do we really need to know about the Ancient Romans' toilet habits? Definitely not.

I like to think of the Roman soldiers as historical figures who fought epic battles and oppressed entire cultures, not ill-mannered brutes who perched on toilets and shouted at bystanders. So how did an idea for something like this develop?

Museum Administrator #1: Attendance is down this month. We need something to bring more visitors to the center.

Museum Administrator #2: How about life as a Roman horse groomer?

Museum Administrator #1: No, we've already done that.

Museum Administrator #2: What about a Roman latrine, complete with realistic poo smell?

Museum Administrator #1: That's brilliant!

And so with the proper marketing and advertising campaign ("Now With 67% More Poo Smell!"), the Dewa Roman Center seeks to become an educational stop on any British family vacation.

British Mother: Children, where would you like to go on holiday this year? Euro Disney or the Roman Latrine exhibit in Chester?

British Children: Roman latrines, Mummy, Roman latrines!!

British Mother: But children, you could meet Mickey Mouse.

British Children: Yes, but the Roman latrines have Realistic Poo Smell!

But Dale Air says theme-based aromas are the wave of the future, and they're bringing them to the world. They provide realistic odors to places like the smell of horses at Scott's Hut in New Zealand, coal fire smells in the Tenement Museum in New York, and even the smells of a swamp and a Tyrannosaurus Rex's breath at London's Natural History Museum.

And now their next big venture is movies, where they "aim to change the theatre experience." No longer are you limited to just seeing and hearing car chases, you'll smell the gasoline and burning tires. You'll smell the ocean as the "Jaws" theme plays in the background. And you'll be overwhelmed by panic sweat anytime you watch an Adam Sandler movie, although it may be your own.

But if they ever odorize anything with Anna Nicole Smith, I'm never watching movies again.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. (Okay, maybe not Borders.) I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Walk Out or Lockout, Grown-Ups Act Like Children

Walk Out or Lockout, Grown-Ups Act Like Children

It's been a few weeks of whining and foot stamping, name calling and finger pointing. Arguments have descended to a level of two 5-year-olds crying over who's a poopy head and who's doo-doo face.

Whether it's the Wisconsin Senate, the Indiana House, or the NFL owners and players, we've got three groups of adults fighting and whining and complaining worse than my three kids ever did on their worst day.

Three weeks ago in Wisconsin, 14 of that state's Senate Democrats left the state for Illinois to prevent a quorum in the Senate, and block a vote that saw the state Republicans trying to strip collective bargaining rights from unions for state employees and teachers. The Wisconsin 14 fled to northern Illinois and the two sides lobbed insults over state lines every day, accusing each other of thwarting democracy and hating Wisconsin's families.

Bluster abounds in the dairy state, and the only thing this has really produced is more B.S. than Wisconsin's dairy farmers see in a year.

A few days later, our own state's House Democrats pulled the same thing, racing across state lines to Illinois, after Indiana's Senate passed a bill that reduces public school teachers' collective bargaining rights. Governor Mitch Daniels has insulted the Democrats, and the Democrats have fired back just as childishly. The Senate has begun fining the missing Democrats $250 per day (Wisconsin is only fining theirs $100 per day). Indiana's farms also have more than their faire share of B.S. to spread on the fields, thanks to both sides.

And in Washington DC, it's the billionaires versus the millionaires, as the owners threaten to lock out the NFL players if the players don't agree to an 18-game season with a less-than-equitable increase in pay. While the players are still willing to go to work, they're concerned about the increased risks of season- or even career-ending injuries, and would like to be paid a fair amount for the extra workload. The owners don't want to pay what the players are asking, and so they're threatening to close down the season.

So now, the players are complaining about the Grinchiness of the owners, and the owners are portraying the players as a bunch of money-grubbing babies. Again, B.S. is flying back and forth in the media, as the two sides are sniping at each other about how wrong the other side is, before going into closed-door meetings for another round of "I know you are, but what am I?"

Although the NFL is trying to work it out, Indiana and Wisconsin's politicians are not willing to bend or compromise. And why would they? Why would either side want to be in the same room with people who spent three weeks publicly questioning their ethics, morality, and dedication to their state?

While I have chosen my sides to support in all three arguments, that doesn't mean I condone any of the actions by any of them. The Democrats ran away, rather than face a challenge, but the Republicans aren't even willing to discuss the color of orange juice.

In the NFL, owners are threatening the livelihoods, not only of their 1,500 players, but their front office staff, and even economies of their cities, while the players are complaining their salaries are not enough and they're asking for a lot more money to entertain us in a time that many people are facing unemployment, foreclosures, and other financial hardships.

It's like a fat guy sitting at a buffet, complaining that the steak is a little underdone, while homeless people are sitting outside watching him eat.

It's hard to feel sympathy for players who are demanding an amount equal to the annual income of a family of four just for a day of practice. And it's even harder to feel sympathy for owners who will make billions on this new deal, yet want us to believe that it's the players who are the greedy ones.

I'm not alone in saying I'm sick of the childish sniveling from both sides in all three arguments. You're supposed to be mature adults. You're supposed to be people everyone looks to for guidance. Instead, everyone is acting like a bunch of babies. You insult each other publicly, hatch secret schemes to trick each other, and refuse to have any kind of normal, rational discussion with each other.

Put your pettiness and your egos aside. Quit your puerile bellyaching. Just shut up and get back to work. You claim to be doing this for the good of your state or sport, but all you're doing is wrecking it. You're supposed to be more mature than a 3-year-old, now act like it.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, March 04, 2011

I Don't Know Nearly As Much As I Think I Do

I Don't Know Nearly As Much As I Think I Do

As someone who works with technology every single day, I pride myself on knowing a lot about it. I manage blogs for other people, I give talks about social networking, and I'm always reading up or playing with the latest gadget.

Whether it's an Android smart phone, a digital camera, or rigging up said camera to my computer and using it for a video conference, I try to stay up with most of the latest consumer technology developments, so I can answer questions for friends.

I recently won an Apple TV, the little black box that uses your home's wifi connection to stream TV shows, movies, and YouTube videos over the Internet. Although we watch NetFlix over our Nintendo Wii, I thought I would try the new device out.

Our TV uses an HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) cable, which produces an ultra-sharp picture that's almost more vivid and clear than real life. When I pulled out the Apple TV — which is as big as stack of 10 CDs — I saw that it only had a plug for an HDMI cable.

Problem was, it had a smaller HDMI plug than I expected. It was actually a mini-HDMI plug, and I didn't have the appropriate cables. I had a regular HDMI cable, which had standard-sized plugs on both ends, but nothing to fit a smaller HDMI socket.

I headed to Fry's Electronics (think Wal-Mart for the geek set) because they have reasonably-priced HDMI cables. I found a guy in the TV section, and explained what I needed.

"Seriously? I didn't think the Apple TV had a mini HDMI plug."

"No, it does. I looked at it last night."

"Huh," the guy said, staring into the distance, trying to wrap his head around the idea I had just presented to him. I waited patiently for the little hamster to get up to full speed on the wheel.

I always have various degrees of success at Fry's. It's not that they don't have what I need, it's that they're not always as knowledgeable about what I'm looking for

For example, a year ago, my wife and I went to Fry's to get her a netbook, a very small laptop that's more suited to surfing the web than storing anything on it. Two different salespeople tried to steer her toward a laptop, saying the netbook would get slower as time went by, and couldn't store photos and music. I explained that she needed it primarily for web use, not photos and music, but they were undeterred We ended up buying a netbook from another store for the principle of it.

My guy finally clicked into gear and said, "let's just go ask the Apple guys which cable we need. They'll know."

We walked to the Apple section, and he explained the situation.

"I didn't know the Apple TV needed a mini HDMI," said the Apple guy. "Does it have the standard RCA plugs on the back too, or just the HDMI?"

"Just the HDMI," I said. "It's the new version."

"I didn't know the new Apple TV came with the mini HDMI," he repeated, trying to wrap his own brain around the idea. "I mean, I've got one, and it needed the regular HDMI cable."

I was getting a little impatient, because my family was waiting out in the car for me. "Look, I know it's the mini HDMI because I checked it out last night."

"I'm not saying you're wrong. I'm just surprised." He pointed me to the right aisle, and I found the right cable for $14. When I got to the car, I told my wife why it had taken so long. She rolled her eyes at the memory of the netbook debacle. When we got home, I opened the package, and plugged it in.

"Uh oh," I said.

"What's wrong?" asked my wife.

"It's too small. It needs a regular plug," I said, my face turning red, little beads of embarrassed sweat popping out on my forehead.

I stared at the Apple TV that had betrayed me. Do I take the cable back and risk embarrassment, or do I just keep it and learn a $14 lesson that I'm not nearly as smart as I thought.

I decided to keep it, because I actually will need a cable with a mini HDMI plug. Also, I didn't want to go back and admit defeat. A man has to keep what shreds of dignity he has left. But I thought I should send Fry's an apology for my impatience and questioning their product knowledge.

Or at least I would have, but my daughter was using my laptop, and my wife's computer is too slow to be much use.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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