Monday, June 15, 2009

Help Your Teen Set and Obtain Goals

Just six months ago my 14 year old son was a struggling student who liked football. When asked what he wanted to do when he "grew up", his answer was vague and ill-defined. As a parent, this didn't bother me much. He will likely change his mind a hundred times between now and his first job. What bothered me was that he had very little enthusiasm for the next five years. When I spoke of college, he just looked at me as though I was pushing him to become President by age 20.

Five months ago, he asked me how to play in the NFL without going to college. Without fully understanding the true meaning of the question, I just laughed. I told him it wasn't done. I couldn't have popped his bubble worse if I had taken away his cell phone.

Four months ago we attended a seminar at the local Texas high school featuring Randy Rodgers. The seminar was put together by the new football coach at the high school. All current and (potential) future players were invited. My son was only interested for two reasons: first, he would get some face time with the new coach and second, Randy had coached at his favored University of Texas.

Randy is now a recruiting consultant. For a fee, he will come into your home and advise you on the best practices for getting noticed by colleges. He is also hired by college coaches to provide portfolios on prospects. As a middle man, he has it figured out.

His story carries impact and instant credibility with young kids dreaming of playing college football. As mentioned, he has coached in Division I. He also has two sons who played college football and are now coaches in the NFL. My son sat up straight when he told their stories.

During the hour and a half seminar, Randy reviewed the criteria for getting into college as a football player. He reviewed the optimal timeline for contacting schools, taking tests, applying, etc. He noted that eighth graders (like my son) were entering a four year period of opportunity during which to prove themselves not only academically, but personally. He illustrated how grades made as a freshman were equally weighted to those made as a senior. Basically, he drew the kids a roadmap and made it clear and simple.

As a parent, I was most impressed when he declared that while most kids do not play Division I football, if a kid wants to play there is a place for him. It may be as a non-scholarship Div. III player, but the opportunity existed.

At the conclusion of the seminar, I asked my son what he thought. His answer told me volumes,"I thought college was harder to get into than that."

"How so?" I asked.

"I thought you had to have straight As to get in, so I figured I never would." His tone was even and resolute.

That is the moment that I realized I had nearly failed as a parent. I was always a good student and, as such, never thought of college as being out of reach. Now I realized that much of the attitude my son had toward school was that he saw the entire effort as fruitless. Sometimes you have to remember that your kids do not have the same insight to things that you do. Sounds obvious, but this mistake is made all of the time by well-meaning parents.

My son just got his progress report heading toward final exams. For the first time in his career as a student, he has an A in math (during his previous seven grades he averaged maybe 75). On average all of his grades have increased at least 10 percentage points. I have not noticed any change in his study habits. I have not hounded him at all to "buck up". The only reason I can cite for the remarkable improvement is that now he has what we all need: hope. He has a goal and has been shown the steps required to attain it. And, most importantly, the goal no longer seems out of reach.

Sometimes your best moments as a parent require you simply to chauffeur your kid to the right place at the right time. Does this mean that he will be the starting line-backer for the University of Texas within the next six years? Not necessarily, but at least he has a purpose for the next four that will bear fruit for the rest of his life regardless of what he chooses to do.

The Parvovirus and Your Dog

Until yesterday, I had never heard of Parvo
I am nearly 35 years old and have had a dog in the family since I was at least 2. Currently, my family has two wonderful dogs: Girl, the black-lab/dobie mix and Jasmine, the white rescued American Staffordshire Terrier.

Until yesterday, I had never heard the word Parvo. I had to consult Google just to learn how it was spelled. I learned of it as a result of my wife's efforts to assist in finding a home for a rescued pit bull puppy. The preferred recipient could not adopt the wanting lad because their home was infected with the Parvovirus. "The what?" I asked.

All of our family animals have always had their shots up to date. Never has a vet illustrated the need for caution in relation to the Parvovirus. Heatworm? Sure. Rabies? Less likely, but worth the shot. I must say, it sounds scary. And it is not nearly as rare as I would think considering that I had never heard of it.

The Parvovirus is a highly contagious disease that transmits primarily via fecal matter although it can continue as a contagion on virtually anything the infected dog contacts. And it is hardy. The virus can survive for nine months or longer and is not eradicated by most household disinfectants. Most resources I have found recommend a heavy dose of chlorine bleach to any area suspected of contamination. If you have ever stepped in doggy doo and, despite a good cleaning, wore those shoes into your house at any time over the next nine months, you have created quite an opportunity for the virus to contaminate. How exactly do you bleach your coach, your carpet, your rugs? If you've ever tried to rid your home of fleas, you may just be able to understand a smidgen of the difficulty you would face in ridding your house of this virus.

The Parvovirus affects puppies more aggressively than older dogs although any dog is susceptible. The virus attacks the digestive system of the dog. In younger dogs, the virus can attack the heart and lead to what is described as "sudden death." Any death sounds bad, but "sudden death" would be particularly difficult to describe to my six year old son.


Are you ready for some good news? Professionals estimate that 80% of puppies infected will survive if treated within the first day that the illness presents itself. However, they are left simply with the task of keeping the puppy alive while they fight off the virus themselves.

There is a vaccine, but it must be given when the puppy is very young. The vaccine requires multiple shots every three weeks from age 6 weeks to age 20 weeks. Since our animals are almost always adopted as a result of a rescue, this is not often feasible. Jasmine was over a year old when we adopted her.

The Parvovirus is specific to dogs. Humans, cats, fish, and other common household pets are not susceptible.

So what to do? If you're like me, you're going to stop by the vet with a few questions.

Have Google Adwords Ads Become Transparent?

Advertising is quite literally everywhere. The average magazine places its content after 10 pages of ads. A 30-minute sitcom is actually only 22 minutes long because of commercials. Tiger Woods wears Nike gear by contract in Gatorade commercials. You cannot browse the web for more than 5 minutes without encountering a Google Adwords ad.

Obviously, the key to success in advertising in this cacophonous world of advertising is to stand out. Viral marketing is a term that did not exist ten years ago. The DVR has threatened to kill television advertising revenue. Google discovered the largest cash cow since the discovery of a use for petroleum by providing economical, scalable and simple to use advertising venues for anyone with a website.

But Google's success, and subsequent omnipresence begs a question: Have Google ads become as transparent as the hum of a fluorescent light or a speed limit sign? We all know they are there, but we rarely take notice.

Take your experience while reading this article. What did you notice first? Second? Not until I pointed it out?

Google Adwords has created a cottage industry of individuals trying to make money online. I'm just as guilty as the next guy. I have an e-commerce website with Adwords. I have a blog with Adwords. I have this profile on Hubpages with Adwords. In theory, I should be laying the groundwork for an infinite flow of cash as my online identity grows. With any luck, my children will never have to work so long as they inherit my ID.

There are success stories of course, but most are from individuals trying to sell you their unique "system" for making money using Adwords.

The operating principal behind Adwords is solid. Place no cost (unless clicked) ads on a site in the hope that visitors might stick around long enough to explore similar (but not identical) sites. It is akin to opening a specialty store in the mall next to RadioShack. You know visitors are coming in to buy batteries at RadioShack, and with a little luck some of them will be curious enough to stop in your shop.

But have Google Adwords ads become more akin to the wedding apparel store that is the first store you pass as you enter the mall? You know it is there but you stroll right past it because not only do you not need what they have, but their store has blended into the background. If they had a neon sign advertising a wedding lingerie model show, you might at least glance at it as you head for Sears.

Obviously, by writing this article I have not completely given up hope that the process might just work, but the question is worth pondering.

What do you think?

Ever Lost Everything Due to a Hard Disk Crash?

The Advantages of Flash Memory Drives Over Traditional Hard Disk Drives

Have you ever had a hard drive crash resulting in the loss of all of your pictures, music, financial statements, etc.? Try using the new mini-laptops utilizing flash memory combined with an external hard drive for media storage. If you are still nervous, use a second external hard drive for monthly back-up. Why?

Solid state flash memory has been around since first invented in 1980 by scientists at Toshiba. Its use has continually expanded as its price has diminished. In the late 1990s, flash memory became the storage media of choice for the exploding digital camera market. Apple's iPod turned flash memory into a commodity.

Gigabyte for Gigabyte, flash memory remains infinitely more expensive than traditional disk drive media, but we are rapidly approaching a threshold where functional advantages surpass capacity differences. You need look no further than the introduction of the world's first flash-based personal computer designed for mass markets as proof.

So, what is the main advantage of flash memory versus traditional hard disk drives? It is quite simple: no moving parts. Traditional HDDs contain a platter than spins at very high speeds as it reads and writes data utilizing a specific process of magnetization. As any automotive mechanic will tell you, moving parts ultmately lead to failure. It may take two years or twenty minutes, but failure is inevitable. Flash memory contains no moving parts as data is read and written utilizing exclusively an electrical process. Almost without exception, the electronics around the flash memory will fail before the memory will.

Over the last five years, I realized the full potential of flash market as developer of digital signage appliances for use in North American retailers. Companies like Fisher Price, DirecTV and Sony found it challenging to maintain video-based displays throughout retailers like Wal-Mart because they typically utilized DVD players. DVDs, like HDDs, spin continuously as data is read. Since the technology typically ran 18 hours a day, if not continuously, the typical DVD player failed almost every six weeks. Replacing the DVD player with a video player with data stored on flash memory led to over 200,000 displays that could run continuously for years rather than weeks. At the time, the process was more expensive on the front-end, but did not require weekly monitoring and substantial downtime or equipment maintenance.

So what does this have to do with the title's question? Until recently, every home computer in the world utilized a hard disk drive. Familys store digital pictures, music, tax files...the entirety of their digital existence on the home PC. My family is no exception. At least twice in the last ten years we have lost everything due to a hard disk crash. The typical techie will cry foul because of the notion that we should all back-up everything. This sounds great in a computer magazine, but in practicality the average person backs up their data about as often as they see their dentist. The process can be time consuming and intimidating for the typical novice. Fact is, a hard disk crash is inevitable and never happens the minute after a back-up.

A personal computer with a flash-based drive will never suffer a hard disk crash. But, since the current PCs feature only 16GB drives, you will eventually run out of space as your music collection grows. To solve this problem, utilize an external hard drive. Yes, it has a traditional hard disk drives, but since the operating system does not run on the external drive it is only used when reading or writing your data and its life is immeasurably extended. Still worried about an external hard disk crash? Get a second for back-up. A hard disk drive accessed only during your annual back-ups will last longer than it takes to fill a terabyte with i-Tunes.