Tag Archives: jacob

Glockenklang, Forever

Jacob (and Oliver too, somewhat) has taken quite the interest in Christmas music this year. Perhaps it’s singing in the choir at school, or perhaps it’s just him getting older, but in any case, Christmas music fascinates him.

And no song more than Jingle Bells. I have recordings of it by several artists in different styles, and he has his favorites and often wants to hear them – again and again.

The other night at supper, he said, “Dad, can you sing Jingle Bells in German?” Kind of a random question. I normally try to keep books and devices of all sorts away from the table, but my son had just asked me to sing. In German. I don’t believe that had ever happened before, so I wasn’t going to say no! I got my tablet, pulled up Google, and found some German lyrics. Not exactly a translation, but it fit the tune, so that’s what counts.

So I started singing, and when I got to the chorus, and sang Oh, Glockenklang, Glockenklang both boys bust up laughing. They thought Glockenklang was a hilarious word, and loved to hear it. Oliver requests I “sing Glockenklang” every so often now. He has this eager anticipation when he does it, as if he knows I’m going to be hilarious — so much so that he almost starts laughing before I even say a word.

Then yesterday at breakfast, Jacob requested more German songs. I finally got a couple of hymn books (one of which, Gesangbuch mit Noten, really is a German songbook). I sang some songs in German for the boys, while they enjoyed their blueberry crepes. Sadly Stille Nacht and O du fröhliche did not prove as hilarious as Glockenklang, but they got impatient as I looked through the idnex between each song, saying “Dad, just sing more German! Don’t look at those pages!” So I guess it was a hit.

I’m not sure where this sudden fascination with German music came from, but it appears to be leaving me hungry.

While driving around, Oliver requested I sing Glockenklang in the car. I said yes, despite not remembering even one German word to that song except for, well, Glockenklang. So I just filled in with some random German words I do know. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to have memorized the rest of it either.

The other day, we went to the annual Christmas concert at the local high school. It was perfect for the boys – various styles of music, an interesting old auditorium, nobody was going to care if they weren’t perfectly quiet, and the price was right, too.

The band played first, and both boys sat there, paying great attention, soaking it all in. They loved the cymbal crashes and Jacob seemed to dream of playing the chimes and bells. At one point, I whispered to Jacob that I could feel the timpani on the wood floor in the auditorium, and he tried it, and made his “Hmm, I just learned something interesting!” reaction.

As is tradition, the concert concluded with singing the Hallelujah Chorus – and anyone in the audience that wants to sing is invited on stage to join the choir.

I remember being in high school for that concert, and after practicing it in school, the great fun of being joined by many powerful voices from the community all around me on the risers. So this time, while my parents stayed with the boys, I was one of the many that went up to join the choir. It was no less thrilling all these years later. Ending with “Forever and ever, Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Hallelujah!”, and feeling it, right then, put a huge smile on my face.

Pooh, Books, and Dads

If I think back to fond memories of being with my dad during my childhood, there’s one thing that always comes back first. It’s those late summer evenings outside. Dad often had outdoor projects going on of some sort. I’d go out there hanging around, maybe chatting, maybe playing with cats, or maybe doing something of my own.

Dad often had an old AM radio sitting around and would be listening to a baseball game while working. As it got darker, lights would come on, and the bugs would start flying near them. Sometimes dad would be working just inside the barn, and the bugs would start flying in there, while some light poured out the big front door. There’s something about that scratchy AM signal, the evening slowly getting darker, the slow pace of the baseball game, and just being around dad and a peripheral part of whatever he was doing that stirs a wonderfully fond recollection in me.

I don’t remember the specifics of any one of those times, nor do I really remember how often it happened, but it does stick with me.

We’ve had a routine in our house, starting early enough that neither of our boys know anything different, where right before bed, I read a book and sing a song to each of them individually.

Last November, I was looking for some books to challenge Jacob a little more than what we had been reading. I found The Complete Winnie the Pooh used for $4 on Amazon. This contains the original A. A. Milne stories, not the Disney series. It had a few line drawings, but there were many pages without any. It’s 352 pages and written in a rather dated form of British English. So for all these reasons, I wasn’t sure if Jacob would like it. But it was $4 so I bought it.

And Jacob was hooked. Each evening, we start bedtime with looking at the “map” of the 100-acre forest, just inside the cover. He gets to pick out 4 things for me to describe, and then we turn to our story. We usually read somewhere between 2 and 5 pages at bedtime, depending on how well he got ready without wasting time. And then we sing.

A. A. Milne has his Pooh character make up songs throughout the book. They are printed with words only, no tune, so I make up a tune for them as we go. Jacob has taken to requesting these songs for his bedtime song as well.

Jacob always gets to choose his bedtime story, and sometimes he chooses a different one — but about 75% of the time, it’s been Pooh.

A few weeks ago, he started noticing that we were almost to the end. He got very concerned, asking what we’d do next. I suggested a different book, which he didn’t like. Then I pointed out that we could restart the Pooh stories from the beginning, which was exciting for him.

Last night, we finished the book. The very last story was an interesting one, suggesting Christopher Robin growing up and no longer having imaginary adventures with the animals, but making Pooh promise to always be there for him. I don’t think Jacob caught onto that meaning, though. When we finished it, we had this conversation:

Jacob: “Dad, is that the end?”

Me: “Yes.”

Jacob, getting a big smile: “Yay! So can we start back at the beginning tomorrow?”

Me: “Sure!”

Jacob then gave a clap, shouted “Yay!” again, and was a very happy boy.

Sometimes I wonder what our boys will remember in 25 years of their fun times with me. I don’t know if Jacob will remember all the days reading about the animals in the 100-acre wood when he was 4, or maybe he’ll remember watching train and combine videos, or playing radio hide-and-seek, or maybe something entirely different.

But I have no doubt that I will remember sitting on the couch in his room, holding him on my lap, and reading a 350-page book to a loving 4-year-old. As Pooh aptly put it, “Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

A Proud Dad

I saw this on my computer screen the other day, and I’ve got to say it really warmed my heart. I’ll explain below if it doesn’t provoke that reaction for you.

Evidence a 4-year-old has been using my computer

So here’s why that made me happy. Well for one, it was the first time Jacob had left stuff on my computer that I found later. And of course he left his name there.

But moreover, he’s learning a bit about the Unix shell. sl is a command that displays an animated steam locomotive. I taught him how to use the semicolon to combine commands. So he has realized that he can combine calls to sl with the semicolon to get a series of a LOT of steam trains all at once. And was very excited about this discovery.

Also he likes how error messages start with the word “bash”.

Jacob & Dad & Trains

Back in July, our family took a train trip from Kansas to New York for Debconf10. And then in September, we went to Indiana.

The only train service from here leaves at about 3AM in both directions. So starting about November, Jacob started asking me, “Dad, will you wake me up in the middle of the night to go to the train station TODAY?” He didn’t seem to get it through his head that we didn’t have another trip planned, although we surely would at some point. It just couldn’t possibly be, right?

So around Christmas, I booked a round trip from here to Galesburg, IL for just Jacob and me. We’ll get on the train at 3AM Saturday morning, get to Galesburg about noon, and then head back home at 5PM, getting home again at, well, 3:30AM.

Jacob is super excited about this. When the tickets arrived, he didn’t yet know about the trip. I thought he’d be excited then, but the ticket sleeve had a picture of a toy train that he didn’t own, so he was somewhat sad. But starting the next day he was very excited. We wrote “Amtrak” on the Jan. 15 spot on his pharmacy calendar (a local pharmacy gives them away free each year). He carefully checked off each day as it went past. And he’s been getting increasingly excited all week.

Tonight he couldn’t really think, couldn’t really play, couldn’t really calm down. He jabbered about how he would sit by the window, how precisely I would wake him up, and his eyes would open up “right away” and we’ll go straight there. He talked about how he will look out the window at the dark night, and was extra excited when I told him he’d see snow out the window like one of the Amtrak videos he likes to watch on Youtube. He already placed his order for breakfast in the dining car: “French toast with syrup on top.”

He ran past the computer while I was looking at things to do in Galesburg, and saw I had a map up, and immediately noticed the train tracks. Then he pointed to the station, and said, “Dad, that says ‘Galesburg Amtrak’.” A rather stunned dad replied, “Yes indeed it does, Jacob.” I guess it was some combination of pre-reading and detective skills, but that surprised me.

Anyhow, this is the first trip with just Jacob and me. We’re going to have a blast, I’m sure. I may, however, wind up going 24 hours without sleep if his adrenaline level is any guide…

Really Dark Blue

As we were walking home tonight, Jacob started singing, over and over:

Really dark blue,
really dark blue,
really dark blue…

The tune changed a bit, but the words didn’t. Terah and I wondered what was really dark blue, until finally we heard:

Really dark blue,
really dark blue,
really dark blue sky.

Really dark blue…

Then a little while later, we heard:

Really dark blue,
really dark blue,
really dark blue with morning stars.

It was such a cute moment that it’s hard to convey it in words.

I even got an audio recording of it on my phone, which I’ll perhaps post someday.

Update 21:05: For Jacob’s usual bedtime song tonight, I offered to sing the “really dark blue” song for him. When I sang “really dark blue with morning stars,” he said, “no, that’s not it. It’s MOONLIT stars.” So I guess my 3-year-old just corrected my blog post.

I see a career in copy editing in his future…

Once, We Were Makers

I saw an article on Wired today: The Lost Tribes of RadioShack. It is well worth the read even if you’re not into electronics. A key quote:

[H]is shop is a lone outpost; in a single generation, the American who built, repaired, and tinkered with technology has evolved into an entirely new species: the American who prefers to slip that technology out of his pocket and show off its killer apps. Once, we were makers. Now most of us are users.

I remember as a kid eagerly awaiting each year’s new RadioShack catalog. I’d read them pretty much cover to cover for fun. And who wouldn’t? The catalogs had fun things like radios, telephone gadgets, calculators, tape recorders, electronic “lab kits”, books, components, LEDs… I loved the catalogs and loved the store.

My parents bought me a electronic kit (if memory serves 20 years later, it’s the “deluxe 160-project electronic kit” from page 156 of the 1988 catalog, though it may have been purchased a different year). I had endless fun with that thing. It had resistors, diode, capacitors, oscillator, speaker, LED, relay, etc — plenty to make a bunch of kid-friendly projects.

Just looking at the catalog makes me excited even today. On the next page from the kit I had is a $5 crystal radio kit which needs no power source — “Solderless. With earphone, instructions, theory.” On page 28 there was a revolving red light, and some microcassette recorders on p. 36 (I had one of those for awhile).

I had enthusiasm for building and figuring out things for a long time. My dad let me take apart an old lawn mower for fun once — I’m sure he knew ahead of time it would never be back together. One of his friends from work built homemade contraptions out of things like an old vacuum cleaner (attach a cardboard tube to the exhaust and you get a great tennis ball shooter). And there was always all sorts of fun junk to discover up in the barn.

I eventually shifted to a different sort of “making things”: programming. It has kept me busy for quite a number of years.

But the Wired article has a point. RadioShack is struggling. Many people have no interest in making or fixing things anymore. The best-selling smartphone in the world comes sealed in a metal case where not even the battery can be replaced, the software is dictated by a company in California, and good luck trying to program for it without signing your life away first. A far cry from the first computer I used, a TRS-80 Color Computer II, bought, yes, at RadioShack. Turn it on, and in a few seconds you get a BASIC prompt. Can’t really use it without programming. Being able to read its manual was an early motivation for me to work at learning to read.

It is sad that so many devices can’t be worked on anymore, and that so many people don’t care. It is difficult for me to give Jacob (and later, Oliver) the sort of experience I had as a child. Companies would love to sell us $50 DVD sets, $300 “educational” game systems, $40 educational games, and any number of $30 plastic toys (some of which we have and the boys enjoy).

I’d rather give him a $10 bag of resistors, capacitors, wire, battery holders, LEDs, and a book, and see what he can come up with (when he’s a bit older, of course). And, in fact, he and I built his first computer together. We installed the ultimate in operating systems for tinkering: Linux.

This all brings me back to RadioShack. I’ve been working on ham radio lately, with an eye to that being a project for Jacob (age 3.5), Oliver (just turned 1), and me to enjoy in the future. I needed some cable, and had been told by many people to visit the RadioShack in Derby, KS. It’s like the one mentioned in the Wired article: huge, selling everything from washing machines to bulk cable, except this one specializes in amateur radio.

I asked Jacob if he would like to come with me to a radio store. “Dad, I would LOVE that!” He brought his little semi-broken walkie-talkies with him to use during the hour drive there. At one point, he was concerned that a radio store is like a library and he might have to leave them on a shelf. I assured him he could keep them.

We got to the RadioShack and he loved it. He couldn’t even really contain his excitement. He ran back and forth along the bright green stripe running down the middle of the carpet. He excitedly watched them measure out 60ft of RG-8 coax for me. He pushed buttons on the demo clothes dryer, looked at all the antennas, and just had a great time.

And he’s been interested in my radio, too. When I was talking to somebody on it the other day, he said, “I think he is at the radio store. He is having fun there.” Right now, everybody I talk to on the radio is at the radio store to him. Jacob loves the fact that the backlight on my FT-857D can change colors, and often comes into the office just so I can put it into setup mode and let him spin the big wheel to change the colors. He enjoys opening boxes of components, and came out to help (and run around) while I suspended a dipole from some trees last Friday.

I had told Jacob when we got to the store that “This radio store is called RadioShack.” He obviously took that to heart, because now if he hears me talking about “a radio store”, he will say, “Dad, actually it is radio SHACK.”

So I say thank you to the Derby RadioShack for keeping the magic of making things with your dad alive for another generation.

Jacob has a new computer — and a favorite shell

Earlier today, I wrote about building a computer with Jacob, our 3.5-year-old, and setting him up with a Linux shell.

We did that this evening, and wow — he loves it. While the Debian Installer was running, he kept begging to type, so I taught him how to hit Alt-F2 and fired up cat for him. That was a lot of fun. But even more fun was had once the system was set up. I installed bsdgames and taught him how to use worm. worm is a simple snake-like game where you use the arrow keys to “eat” the numbers. That was a big hit, as Jacob likes numbers right now. He watched me play it a time or two, then tried it himself. Of course he crashed into the wall pretty quickly, which exits the game.

I taught him how to type “worm” at the computer, then press Enter to start it again. Suffice it to say he now knows how to spell worm very well. Yes, that’s right: Jacob’s first ever Unix command was…. worm.

He’d play the game, and cackle if he managed to eat a number. If he crashed into a wall, he’d laugh much harder and run over to the other side of the room.

Much as worm was a hit, the Linux shell was even more fun. He sometimes has a problem with the keyboard repeat, and one time typed “worrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm”. I tried to pronounce that for him, which he thought was hilarious. He was about to backspace to fix it, when I asked, “Jacob, what will happen if you press Enter without fixing it?” He looked at me with this look of wonder and excitement, as if to say, “Hey, I never thought of that. Let’s see!” And a second later, he pressed Enter.

The result, of course, was:

-bash: worrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm: command not found

“Dad, what did it do?”

I read the text back, and told him it means that the computer doesn’t know what worrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm means. Much laughter. At that point, it became a game. He’d bang at random letters, and finally press Enter. I’d read what it said. Pretty soon he was recognizing the word “bash”, and I heard one time, “Dad, it said BASH again!!!” Sometimes if he’d get semicolons at the right place, he’d get two or three “bashes”. That was always an exciting surprise. He had more fun at the command line than he did with worm, and I think at least half of it was because the shell was called bash.

He took somewhat of an interest in the hardware part earlier in the evening, though not quite as much. He was interested in opening up other computers to take parts out of them, but bored quickly. The fact that Terah was cooking supper probably had something to do with that. He really enjoyed the motherboard (and learned that word), and especially the CPU fan. He loved to spin it with his finger. He thought it interesting that there would be a fan inside his computer.

When it came time to assign a hostname, I told Jacob he could name his computer. Initially he was confused. Terah suggested he could name it “kitty”, but he didn’t go for it. After a minute’s thought, he said, “I will name it ‘Grandma Marla.'” Confusion from us — did he really understand what he was saying? “You want to name your computer ‘Grandma Marla?'” “Yep. That will be silly!” “Sure you don’t want to name it Thomas?” “That would be silly! No. I will name my computer ‘Grandma Marla.”” OK then. My DNS now has an entry for grandma-marla. I had wondered what he would come up with. You never know with a 3-year-old!

It was a lot of fun to see that sense of wonder and experimentation at work. I remember it from the TRS-80 and DOS machine, when I would just try random things to see what they would do. It is lots of fun to watch it in Jacob too, and hear the laughter as he discovers something amusing.

We let Jacob stay up 2 hours past his bedtime to enjoy all the excitement. Tomorrow the computer moves to his room. Should be loads of excitement then too.

Introducing the Command Line at 3 years

Jacob is very interested in how things work. He’s 3.5 years old, and into everything. He loves to look at propane tanks, as the pressure meter, and open the lids on top to see the vent underneath. Last night, I showed him our electric meter and the spinning disc inside it.

And, more importantly, last night I introduced him to the Linux command line interface, which I called the “black screen.” Now, Jacob can’t read yet, though he does know his letters. He had a lot of fun sort of exploring the system.

I ran “cat”, which will simply let him bash on the keyboard, and whenever he presses Enter, will echo what he typed back at him. I taught him how to hold Shift and press a number key to get a fun symbol. His favorite is the “hat” above the 6.

Then I ran tr a-z A-Z for him, and he got to watch the computer convert every lowercase letter into an uppercase letter.

Despite the fact that Jacob enjoys watching Youtube videos of trains and even a bit of Railroad Tycoon 3 with me, this was some pure exploration that he loves. Sometimes he’d say, “Dad, what will this key do?” Sometimes I didn’t know; some media keys did nothing, and some other keys caused weird things to appear. My keyboard has back and forward buttons designed to use with a web browser. He almost squealed with delight when he pressed the forward button and noticed it printed lots of ^@^@^@ characters on the screen when he held it down. “DAD! It makes LOTS of little hats! And what is that other thing?” (The at-sign).

I’ve decided it’s time to build a computer for Jacob. I have an old Sempron motherboard lying around, and an old 9″ black-and-white VGA CRT that’s pretty much indestructible, plus an old case or two. So it will cost nothing. This evening, Jacob will help me find the parts, and then he can help me assemble them all. (This should be interesting.)

Then I’ll install Debian while he sleeps, and by tomorrow he should be able to run cat all by himself. I think that, within a few days, he can probably remember how to log himself in and fire up a program or two without help.

I’m looking for suggestions for text-mode games appropriate to a 3-year-old. So far, I’ve found worm from bsdgames that looks good. It doesn’t require him to have quick reflexes or to read anything, and I think he’ll pick up using the arrow keys to move it just fine. I think that tetris is probably still a bit much, but maybe after he’s had enough of worm he would enjoy trying it.

I was asked on Twitter why I’ll be using the command line for him. There are a few reasons. One is that it will actually be usable on the 9″ screen, but another one is that it will expose the computer at a different level than a GUI would. He will inevitably learn about GUIs, but learning about a CLI isn’t inevitable. He won’t have to master coordination with a mouse right away, and there’s pretty much no way he can screw it up. (No, I won’t be giving him root yet!) Finally, it’s new and different to him, so he’s interested in it right now.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Color Computer (CoCo) II. Its primary interface, a BASIC interpreter, I guess counts as a command-line interface. I remember learning how to use that, and later DOS on a PC. Some of the games and software back then had no documentation and crashed often. Part of the fun, the challenge, and sometimes the frustration, was figuring out just what a program was supposed to do and how to use it. It will be fun to see what Jacob figures out.


Today, I was sitting on the couch. Jacob crawled up, and pushed me forward, saying “I go there.” He crawled behind me. Then, ready for one of his favorite games, yelled out: “QUISH, daddy!”

So I leaned back gently a bit, and said “squish!” Jacob yelled, laughing, “QUISH!” “Quish again, daddy!”

So I’d lean back a bit, gently, again, this time reaching behind me to tickle him a bit as I leaned. “Squash!”

Louder laughing. “QUASH!!!” Right in my ear — ouch, but I didn’t mind. “Do it again, daddy!”

Right now, being a dad seems complicated enough. You’ve got to have the right touch to “squish” a 2-year-old without really squishing him. Or have the presence of mind to realize that when Jacob was happily playing outside, then suddenly comes running over, very upset, saying “Go inside!” it means he probably needs to use the potty urgently, or just had an accident. (Or both, as it happened today.) Or to recognize that little walk that means he really does need to use the potty even though he’d rather not. And, of course, there’s figuring out what he’s saying, when his words can still be a bit garbled.

But these all seem simple to me, compared to what will come. How will we help Jacob to grow as a person of good character? How will we meet his need to be challenged intellectually? Will we be able to maintain a good relationship, and yet still have the judgment to have the right set of rules, when he gets to high school? Will I have a good relationship with him as an adult? And how am I going to react when the day comes when he tells me I ought to move into the nursing home?

Jacob, of course, doesn’t care about any of that right now. Each night, when I put him down for the night, he wants me to cover him up with blankets. Once I’ve done that, he peeks out and says, “Have a good night, dad!” I always reply with “You have a good night too, Jacob!”

If we can get along that well for the next 60 years, I guess we’ll do all right.


It’s been quite the day.

This evening, Jacob had a new first. He requested I read him an owner’s manual for his bedtime story. Yes, I’m sure years from now, he will still remember how to operate a Motorola W376g cell phone. He had found the manual in its box and had been carrying it around, “reading” it to himself for days already. I can feel him following in my footsteps – I remember pulling the car manual out of the glove box on long trips and reading it. For fun.

So yes, Jacob chose an owner’s manual over nice children’s bedtime books involving caterpillars.

This morning, I set out on what would be a 43-mile bike ride – home to Wichita. It was about 28F when I left. I had been wanting to ride from home to Wichita for some time now, and finally found the right day. The wind was at my back (mostly), the sun was shining (I even got burned a bit), and the ride was fun. It took me about 4.5 hours, including the 1.5 hours I spent for lunch and other breaks. I didn’t take a completely direct route, but that was intentional.

This is my second-farthest ride in a day, behind the time I rode 55 miles in a day for charity. But it is the farthest I’ve gone in winter.

I was taking the bike to the bike shop for its free 6-month tuneup. So I even had the perfect excuse to ride it. I hope to ride it back home if the weather is cooperative.

As for the third milestone, while I was riding to Wichita, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were riding a train to Washington. I recorded it, and have been watching it this evening. Remembering all they said during the campaign, seeing how they act — it really does give me some hope in this country’s government, some hope that some important things will be accomplished in the future. One TV commentator pointed out that the Bush administration carefully avoided using the word “recession” as long as they possibly could, while Obama is trying as hard he can to be straight and direct with people about the situation. I appreciate that. What a milestone the next few days represent for the country.