Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Liam's Comic Books

Liam Schradie, a 2nd grader at North Oakland Community Charter School, would like to announce that he is selling a stack of comic books that he has written and illustrated.

There are eight books available. Titles include "King of Careo, Part I" and "Star Wars Book 4." The prices range from $5 to $11 each.

Please leave a comment here if you want more information.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The 50th Wedding Anniversary of Joe and Marge Schradie

We just spent an incredible weekend with Jen's family in Santa Cruz, celebrating her parent's 50th Wedding anniversary. With one sister living in South Korea, and one living in North Carolina where her parents are also, they had folks coming from long distances to be here.

As part of the celebration, Jen's nephew, Mikael, who is a student filmmaker, made this moving video from the family's old 8mm home movies and photos. There's something about the dated quality of the old film that you just won't ever get from the mass of digital video being created these days, something that evokes the time and place. It's a wonderful, short video and I don't think you even need to know the people to be touched by it.

Another one of Jen's nephews, Daniel, made this video greeting from her sister's family (with six kids!) in South Korea, who were not all able to make the trip. Kalian has been singing this non-stop, and is convinced "All You Need Is Love" was written by her cousins, and not those copycat Beatles.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Dispatch from Oakland

Clearly, my intention to blog here on a more regular basis has not happened. In part, that's because I made a personal decision to scale way back on all my extra projects and blogging outside of writing my twice weekly column for the San Jose Mercury News. And in part, it's because Facebook has made it seductively easy to post quick updates and photos that keep many friends and family in the loop on our latest news.

Still, it doesn't capture all the big moments, or the context, in a thoughtful way. I still hope to get back to doing that here. And even now, I'm just trying to recount some of the things have taken place in the past six months. This will be more of a jumble, than a complete accounting. But still...

The big news: Jen passed her qualifying exam in May, meaning she now moves on to her dissertation. A great achievement and I'm very proud of her.

Liam, after struggling with reading for a long time, suddenly began reading just a few months ago. A joy, and a relief. I had been anxious for a long time and even explored some rather pricey private reading programs. Now, it seems he's excited about it and at that stage where he wants to read every sign he sees.

And Liam played t-ball this spring and to my great delight, seemed to truly love it. I'm always wary of pushing him too much, and yet wanting to encourage him to try new things. We weren't sure how he'd do with any kind of organized sports. But even a couple of months later, he asks to go play catch, and talks about practicing for next year when he moves up to coach pitch.

Kalian had her last day at Hearts Leap North. A big transition, as there were several close friends she won't get to see on a regular basis. And several families that became our friends, ties that can be a challenge to maintain after such changes, as we found when Liam moved form pre-school to kindergarten.

And speaking of diving right in, both Liam and Kalian took private swim lessons at the Berkeley YMCA, and have now become like little fish. Easily some of the best money we've ever spent as parents.

Liam at the start of last school year (top), and the end of the year(bottom)

We are settled back into life in Oakland after an amazing month in Bolinas. All of the fruit has fallen off the trees in the backyard. More on Bolinas in a follow up post.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Liam's First Lego Animation

It was only a matter of time before I relented, and made a stop-action Lego video with Liam. Aside from the shoddy quality, it was really a lot of fun. And he was so proud once I showed it to him. He also insisted we add music, which definitely does help.

Friday, February 12, 2010

So it begins....

Kalian said the other day:

"I'm beautiful and Liam's cool, right?"


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why we didn't get a Wii for Christmas

I wanted to share a column I wrote Monday for the Mercury News on our decision not to get the Wii this year. Enjoy:

by Chris O'Brien

Before the holidays, I knew exactly what I was going to write in this space.

My wife and I were planning to buy a Wii for Christmas. It would be my first video game system since my Atari back in the early 1980s. And I expected to wax joyfully about our family's plunge into the world of video games.

Except things didn't quite work out that way.

We did buy a Wii. But 24 hours and one panic attack later, I returned it with immense relief.
Perhaps this makes me a traitor to the economy, or an unwelcome Luddite in the gloriously high-tech Silicon Valley. But before a geek lynch mob hunts me down, let me explain why we opted — mostly — for a tech-gadget-free holiday.

I've had almost no interest in video games since I was in junior high school. I came of age in the Pac Man-Donkey Kong generation. After bowling league on Saturday mornings (yes, I was on a bowling team), I'd head for the arcade and play Galaga or Ms. Pac Man. But as games became more complex, more lifelike, I lost interest. I owned the first Atari, and I played Frogger on it.

But that's about as far as it went.

When I became a columnist almost two years ago, I felt pretty comfortable writing about most topics because I've covered just about everything in my decade in Silicon Valley. But video games were a definite blind spot for me. As the XBox, PlayStation and Wii consoles made video games one of the most popular and lucrative forms of entertainment,

I abstained.

Filling in that knowledge gap was one of the ways I rationalized getting a Wii: I needed it for work. Yeah, that's it.

But really, my interest in video games has been rekindled because of my two kids, Liam, 7, and Kalian, 4. They've become increasingly curious about computers. My wife and I, like many parents, have been trying to strike a balance between letting them explore computers, and keeping them from becoming techno-obsessed shut-ins who spend all day online and have no friends. Our current rule is that each kid gets 30 minutes of "screen time" once a week to play games online, surf the Web or print out coloring pages.

Beyond that, Liam has been playing with Wiis when he visits friends, or his cousins in Scotts Valley, or believe it or not, our local YMCA. The Wii seemed by far to be the most family-friendly gaming system. And with the price falling to $199, this seemed like the right time to dive in.

So the week before Christmas, I drove over to the nearest Best Buy. And that's when the anxiety set in.

There were plenty of Wiis in stock, so no problems there. I picked one up and was asking an employee a couple of questions when he noted that the console came with only one controller.
Hmmm. One controller + two kids = eye-gouging fights Christmas morning. I knew I needed another one, which cost $49.

Then I began looking for a couple of games to go with it. I knew we'd be paying a bit more for these. But as I looked at some games we wanted, like "Lego Rock Band," I realized that I needed other controllers, like a microphone, drums or guitar. These could run another $100 or more if I got all of them. So I passed and didn't get any games, figuring they could just play the games that came with it for now.

As I examined the box, I realized that I had forgotten that the Wii could also be connected to the Web. The problem here was that our cable modem is in the kitchen (don't ask) and the TV is in the living room. Guess that's a headache I'd have to figure out later.

As I was finally checking out, the cashier asked if I wanted any batteries. "Batteries? For what?" I wondered. She explained that the controllers ran on batteries. Gulp. I grabbed a package of rechargeable batteries, for about $30.

Having spent about $90 more than I expected, I had a few knots in my stomach on the way home and was kicking myself for not doing my research. Bad columnist. Bad.

Back on the couch, as my wife and I were discussing this, we also started trying to figure out what the new policies governing this device would be. Would we still have only 30 minutes of screen time a week? Could they play it every day for 10 minutes? One thing was sure: They'd be asking for it every second of every day.

Cue the panic attack. The next day I returned the whole thing. No questions asked, thank you very much.

Come Christmas morning, I knew I had done the right thing. First of all, had there been a Wii, it would have overshadowed every single other gift. As it was, Liam was excited by his Lego sets and Bakugan ball. Kalian was tickled by her Groovy Girls dolls. (Our attempts at gender-neutral parenting have not been 100 percent successful.) And both of them have been enjoying some basic board games we got this year: Trouble and Operation (which technically is a consumer electronic device). All of these would likely be gathering dust on a shelf somewhere if we kept the Wii.

Now, it's not like we're anti-video games. In fact, Liam's favorite activity during his screen time is to play "The Hunt for R2-D2" on the Lego.com Web site. And Kalian likes to play some Barbie games online. Both of these are free. The graphics are richer than anything I could have imagined back in my Atari days. Why shell out $10 to $30 for new games when there are so many free kids games online at places like the Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network sites?

Now, in all likelihood, we will probably — probably! — get a Wii next year. But for now, the kids seem quite content with the other consumer electronic gadget we did buy this year: a calculator.
If I can maintain that childhood innocence, that appreciation of simple things, for one more year, then passing on the Wii this year was the right move.

Contact Chris O'Brien at 415-298-0207 or cobrien@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sjcobrien and read his blog posts at http://www.siliconbeat.com/.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Liam gets a job

Yes, you read the title of that post right. Liam, age 7, now has a job at our local public library. A couple of weeks ago, I took Liam and Kalian to the library to kill a couple of hours there. And out of nowhere, Liam walked up to one of the librarians (who he knows and loves) and asked if he could have a job. And to her credit, she didn't just laugh it off. Instead, she started talking to him about what he'd like to do and when he'd like to do it.

Liam said he wanted to help put books back on shelves. She said that was something he could work up to, but instead suggested she needed help putting stickers on books (the ones where you stamp the date on). She wrote up a small contract and agreed to pay Liam 25 cents an hour.

And so, after a couple of phone calls, Liam went to the library for an hour and helped her. Jen and Kalian hung around, but everything seemed to go fine. And it was clear, when I got home that night, how proud he was.

Nothing epic, but just one of those reminders that somehow, despite our parental bungling, he's actually growing up and becoming his own, independent guy.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Liam Turns Seven

A two-week marathon of holidays and birthday parties came to end, at last, today, with Liam's birthday party at Albany Bowl. Because his birthday falls on Dec. 30, we go overboard making sure he doesn't feel like he's getting short-changed because of the proximity to Christmas. So, instead, he gets four parties: school, at Mickey's, at home with us, and then an official party party. He asked for a bowling party, perhaps remembering how much he enjoyed his fourth birthday party in Cambridge which was also a bowling party.

We had a phenomenal afternoon, bowling and playing arcade games. I'm not sure how much Liam was really interested in the bowling. But he was clearly delighted to be surrounded by friends. I was very happy for him. Happy birthday, buddy. I can't believe it's already been seven years.