Ask The Readers: Tips for Traveling With Toddlers?

So, I don’t have any deep thoughts this morning as most of what I’ve been thinking about is an upcoming trip and how we are going to make it smooth and entertaining for two toddlers. Any advice? Mainly, these are the specific things I’ve been thinking about…

  • Easy to pack, exciting, lightweight snacks for the road
  • How to entertain a 2 and 3 year old during a three hour plane ride
  • What toys/activities to pack that won’t take up much luggage space, but will keep toddlers entertained for an entire week
  • OR what cheap but entertaining toys to buy once we get to our destination
  • Tricks to hauling carseats, strollers, backpacks, and kids along through an airport
  • And any other tips for traveling one might have…

Quick Question About Comments

Just a Friday off-hand question: What do you think of the comment system on Trying To Follow?

I switched a month or so ago to this comment system called InstenseDebate, mainly because it allowed for commenting replies via email (an amazing feature). I had one or two glitches along the way, but I’ve been happy with it so far. Curious if any of you are using the reply by email feature when you receive replies to your comments. If so, what do you think? If not, would you consider trying it?

The other related question is that I was considering implementing the ability to comment through your facebook account. So many people are already on facebook, this switch would both make commenting easier for you and allow your comments to be posted in the Facebook news feed. Does that interest folks or not really?

Just checking in, thanks for humoring me by engaging in conversation

Please Don’t Buy Chocolate This Easter

I’m going to make this appeal extremely short and straightforward: Please don’t by chocolate this Easter (unless it’s certified Fair Trade). Here is why:

  • Nearly half of the worlds chocolate comes from Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa.
  • Thousands of children are forced to work on cocoa farms there (not family farms, forced labor: slavery)

This is different then the fair-trade vs. free-trade argument that comes up regarding coffee and some other commodities. This is a certified (meaning independent regulators, investigation etc) vs. unregulated (meaning enslaved children are likely harvesting the cocoa for your chocolate).

I’m very glad that legalized slavery was eliminated in this country many years ago, but our unconscious consumers is fueling slavery today. Buy jelly beans or something this Easter, but if your going to buy chocolate please make it fair trade.

Fair Trade chocolate options: Equal Exchange, Global Exchange, Cadbury (but not this year, they have that there Dairy Milk product will be Fairtrade certified by late 2009)

Will you avoid buying chocolate this Easter?

My Twitter Rant: They Sold Out The Text Messaging Users (SMS)

twittersink(this might be a little too geeky for some of you, sorry. It just seems like everyone and their mom is getting a twitter account, like it’s the next facebook or something, so I figured it was time for me to chime in with a little rant)

I am not impressed with Twitter. When I heard about the concept, it seemed interesting. This was my understanding. Basically it was a social network of individual mini-blogs. Everyone was limited to keeping their blog post to just 140 characters and the focus was to be on answering the question “What Are You Doing?” It wasn’t terribly unique or anything, but it’s been catching on. Why the 140 character limit? Well, that’s about the size limitation of a standard SMS Text message. This is unique. The goal, or so I thought, was to create a blogging platform and social network so that you could update your status from your mobile phone, wherever you are. In turn, you could also receive updates from your friends that you choose to follow on your phone as well. Neat. And when I got a phone with an unlimited text messaging plan I decided to give it a shot. But a few months in and I realize, twitter wasn’t for the simple Text messaging plan user like me. The actual platform and site itself isn’t geared toward or friendly toward simple SMS users and thus the community and users that make it up aren’t friendly toward typical SMSers either. No, this is an elite crowd of blackberry, iPhone and G1 users, the truly geeked out ones among us.

Here’s 4 reasons why Twitter isn’t for the SMS user:

  1. There is very little mobile following options. Your only customization is to choose the time of day that you can receive tweets, allowing you to block off the evening when you don’t want to be available (or maybe the work day). You can’t block off multiple sections, only one.
  2. You can’t customize your following. Following on your mobile device simply means you receive a text every time they post. You can’t filter, limit, or sort your incoming messages at all. If I’m on my mobile phone without internet I’m not interested in getting tweets that have links in them, which leave me totally in the dark as to what the message was about.
  3. There is no ‘smart’ reply abilities. Facebook mobile is great at this. When I get a text message that someone updated their status, I can hit reply and leave a comment which will post to that unique status update. Facebook does this with unique addresses for each text message they send. If Twitter did this I wouldn’t have to type @username everytime I wanted to reply to someones tweet. I could just hit reply and it would add the @username for me.
  4. I can’t get @replies on my mobile from people I’m not following on my mobile. Unless I follow everyone who follows me on my phone, I’ll miss lots of @replies to my tweets, rendering the ‘realtime’ usefulness of twitter, well, rather useless.

And the non-text message friendly environment has created a non-text messaging friendly community:

  • It seems the vast majority of twitter users have iphones, G1’s, blackberries and other phones with mobile web apps. So, they aren’t even using text messaging generally, rather a simple mobile version of twitter. So, why the 140 character limit?
  • Nearly half the ‘tweets’ I get from friends contain links. That’s not a problem for most since this community also has internet access on their phone and can follow the links wherever they are. Whether it’s a news article or a picture, getting a message with a link on my mobile is pretty useless. It also brings up the fact that twitter, along with ditching the 140 character limit should allow images too.
  • Twitter functions like a RSS reader or inbox to most. The messages don’t come through the same avenue as say a phone call (where as tweets sent to my mobile are mixed in with important personalized texts), so most users simply check their twitter stream in between things, when there is some down time. It’s useful in this sense.

Now that that’s out of the way…

The truth is I’ll probably still use twitter. There are enough hacks, tweaks and third party apps to make it semi-useful for me, but the bigger reason is because there is an actual niche community out there (and I need some adult connection during the day). I probably won’t be as interactive on it as most, but it will probably morph into my mini-blog of status updates running around chasing toddlers. And maybe twitter will get their act together and provide a quality service to the SMSers they seemed to originally be aiming for.

YouTubesday: Johnny Northside, Drinking Water and Are You?

(If You are reading this post via email the videos will not show up. If any of the titles are interesting to you please visit the site and view them here, just click on the link above)


The Adventures of Johnny Northside Movie Trailer. This is a guy from my neighborhood who blogs a ton and someone made a documentary about him. The trailer actually looks really interesting.


Always informative GOOD on Clean Drinking Water (in honor of World Water Day)


Are You Straight? Great short piece (ht. Mak)

Guest Post: I Was A Part Of The Problem…

A guest post today by Steve Fine (my dad) on the insurance industry and Executive pay…

CEO Pay Youre Fired Pay Out w $ I was a part of the problem – well not a direct part, but in the industry.  In the late 80’s, early 90’s, I found myself in the insurance industry. It was a time of innovation, probably still is and probably always will be. From my perspective it seemed like a game of cat and mouse.  Laws were created by congress to create a sense of fairness and the brilliant minds of actuaries and lawyers would work to find loop holes.

A law or ruling that limited the amount of benefits, (i.e. deferred compensation, company paid health plans etc), that the top earners of a company could  be given different than the benefits given to the rank and file would be passed.  Before most people were aware of the law the insurance and financial services industry would create a plan or program that could bypass the new law using a loop hole the legal department discovered. Would it be wrong to assume the law was created with the loop hole in mind?

This game laid the foundation for the disparity between top executives and regular workers.  The following is from the website of the House Committee on Financial Services:

Wages for Regular Workers are Stagnant-Earnings for Top Executives Increase

“CEOs have seen increases in their earnings at a rate far greater than that of the average worker.  In 1965, U.S. CEOs at major companies made 24 times a worker’s pay-by 2004, CEOs earned 431 times the pay of an average worker.[1] From 1995 to 2005, average CEO pay increased five times faster than that of average workers.[2] While CEO pay continues to increase at rates far exceeding inflation, wages for the vast majority of American workers have failed to keep up with rising prices.  In fact, real wages for the 90% of Americans who earn under $92,000 a year have actually fallen since 2001.[3]

When comparing CEOs to minimum-wage earners, the contrast is even starker.  In 2005, median pay for CEOs of the 100 largest companies rose 25% from the previous year.[4] Minimum-wage earners this year, on the other hand, made the same amount as last year, and every year before that since the 1996-1997 increase-adjusting for inflation they actually made less than then (in inflation-adjusted dollars, $5.15 today is the equivalent of only $3.95 in 1995). [5] CEOs, on average, take home 821 times as much as a person working for minimum wage.[6] With this extraordinary ratio, an average CEO makes more before lunch on his first day of work than a minimum-wage earner will make all year.”

While the insurance and financial services industry created the instruments which allowed legal manipulation of the laws, it instilled a sense of greed and changed the focus of business owners.  Where once was pride of ownership, pride of making a product or providing a service and creating employment opportunities, now there is only a sense of making money, the more the better and the rest be damned.

Stay educated on all the reasons that the foundation of our free market economy is crumbling. That way you will know where to throw stones and when to duck.

[photo credit]

Power In Numbers: Trying To Follow Activism

fistpumpLess then a week ago, I blogged about a family in South Africa that I knew personally who were raising support to bring an Autism Therapist to their hometown. I’m happy to report today that they’ve raised above and beyond what they needed! Thanks to everyone who donated and contributed to the efforts.


The success of that small effort got me thinking about the power we can have when we collectively rally around something. Reminded me of the famous Margaret Mead quote:

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has."

It does seem these days we are all inundated with email and online petitions to sign about every single cause under the sun. You could probably spend your whole day inside blogging about and signing petitions, and at the end of the day, I’m not sure what the result would be, or if you’d be happy with it. From the little I know about political engagement, a thousand signatures on an online petition doesn’t mean much, a few hundred basically form emails means a tiny bit more, but a small amount of personal hand-written and mailed letters, or intentional phone conversations can have a significant impact.

In the same way, a handful of committed folks taking specific actions could have an impact in many areas far beyond political.


I’d love to form a small group of bloggers and readers who committed to taking 5-10 minutes a week, or maybe a month to start, to take action on a specific action that we choose. The focus would be primarily on non-financial actions, ideally things that could be globally focused, but local specific actions as well.


I just think a committed group would have more motivation to take action on task then individually being inundated with facebook and email requests. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me.


This is just an idea and a brainstorm. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know if your interested and what you think this could look like, or if you’ve had similar success in other areas.

[photo credit]

Thrift Tip: Unlimited Minute Cell Phone Hack

(I’ve decided to start a brief series on money saving ‘Thrift Tips’. It’s practical and I love learning these types of things from others so I figured I’d share mine too)

168108824_8022e0b076 The last thrift tip was a general overview of how we do phones in our house, but I mentioned a great cell phone tip I wanted to share today. Unfortunately, this only applies to T-Mobile MyFaves, Verizon Friends & Family or Alltel’s My Circle, sorry everyone else.

So, here’s the trick.

I mentioned yesterday that we use Grandcentral Google Voice as the number I generally give out to others, and that Google Voice calls are forwarded to our cell phones. Well, this is how I’ve managed to make the incoming calls free using Google Voice and MyFaves.

  • You can set incoming calls on Google Voice to display the callers number in the caller ID or Google Voice’s number, I choose Google Voices (there is still a call screening after you answer so you’ll still know who it is before you actually connect the call).
  • Then, you set one of your MyFaves numbers to be your Google Voice number. And “viola!” any call coming through that number counts as a MyFaves call and is unlimited!
  • In addition, when checking voicemail messages on Google Voice (also free since your calling one of your MyFaves numbers), you can press ‘2’ to connect the call to whomever left the message. I simply keep as new one message from each of the people that I call frequently and I’m able to make an outgoing call to them for free also! (you can even automate this by saving the number with necessary pauses and numbers to go through the voicemail menu).

Now, this might simply be a terrible teaser post, since it turns out Google Voice is not open to new sign-ups yet. They just switched from Grandcentral (bought by Google 2 years ago) to being branded as a Google product. So, my guess is I’ll be getting invites from Google to pass on soon. If you want to be on my list, leave a comment. There are some competitors out there, but I’m not sure that any of them do the same thing. That’s it for the phone related thrift tips. If you have tricks you’ve used let me know!

[photo credit]