All posts by Richard

In Memoriam: Sir Terry Pratchett

The sun is a little less brighter today. The sky a little less blue. The spring blooms a little more drab. Sir Terry Pratchett is dead.
At age 66, Sir Terry died yesterday after a long battle against early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the debilitating dementia, Sir Sir Terry PratchettTerry managed to continue writing books, each one of them filled with the righteous anger and sparkling wit that first drew him to the attention of his adoring reading public all those many decades ago.This man quite literally changed for the better how I view the world. I have him to thank for my ability to look at the most mundane thing and possibly find something magic within. His sense of humor is so deeply intertwined with my own, I’m surprised when I find something funny and realize he didn’t actually produce it. He was strong, friendly, supportive, angry at all the right people and causes, loving and more productive than almost any writer alive.

I realize that not many of you might know of Sir Terry, but he was, in my opinion, the finest English-language satirist of all time. His crowning achievement was the 40-books-full Discworld braid. It wasn’t a series, because the books weren’t necessarily designed to be read in any certain order. But they weren’t all stand-alone books either as each one used characters from other books. It was like life: Messy, busy and chock full of more amazing things than most people could find with both hands, a map and a GPS.

There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.

On the surface, the Discworld looked a lot like pre-industrial England, had a social structure of about the same, with lords and ladies and serfs and all, and resembled just about every single fantasy novel that had ever been written prior to Sir Terry beginning his work. You see, he enjoyed nothing more than taking the tropes and cliches of fantasy literature and subjecting them to the burning eye of daylight. He liked to rip away the cover of darkness, find the pomposity lurking underneath the silliness, and begin poking at it with very large, pointed sticks.

It was several books in to his Discworld braid that Sir Terry began to realize that the Discworld didn’t have to content itself with skewering only fantasy tropes, when there were so many cliches, so many horrible wardrobe choices, so many appalling people right outside his window that deserved to be finely skewered and roasted over the slow-burning coals of satire.

And it all started with the Discworld. A flat disc or a world, the round Discworld rested atop four gigantic elephants, which, in turn, stood astride a humongous turtle that swam through the depths of space. As silly as that seems, it once was one of the theories of what the actual Earth actually looked like. I like it much better when it’s serving as home to the characters that made these books come alive.

I have no use for people who have learned the limits of the possible.

There was a wizzard (spelled correctly. If you don’t believe me, just look at the man’s pointy hat.) who couldn’t do magic because one of the eight great spells that created the universe has set up camp inside his head and is blocking all lesser spells from getting in.

A clothing wardrobe named Luggage, with hundreds of horrible little legs, a snapping lid with a penchant for closing on the fingers (and toes and entire arms or legs) of the unwary, and a surprisingly lively love life for something that’s supposed to follow its owner around and give out fresh clothing.

A young girl who saves her brother and single-cast-iron-pandedly holds off an invasion of faeries. Although she did have a little help from a tribe of loud, unruly, frequently drunk, frequently cursing blue men of incredible strength. And each of them less than two inches tall.

And, of course, DEATH. The personification of death on the Discworld looked astonishingly like our idea of death: skull face, bony fingers, long black robe, large scythe. All the trimmings. But DEATH had an unusual fondness for the humans of Discworld, which, sadly, often didn’t turn out all that well.

The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.
And then there was the tribe of mice who became intelligent and learned to talk once they ate garbage from the dump out back of the Unseen University, the Discworld’s preeminent school of magic. The mice would travel from town to town, breaking into homes and messing up the place. In each town, though, a young boy and cat would appear and offer to chase the mice away for a payment. Once the job was finished, the boy and the cat, who, after a delicious encounter with one of the mice, suddenly found himself able to speak and think and was far less hungry, would meet up with the mice and split the loot.

As much as I loved Sir Terry and his work, as much joy and wonder and wisdom and laughter as I found within the pages of his books, I wouldn’t be writing about him here if it weren’t for one thing. Sir Terry created some of the most amazing young reader books ever written.

The Wee Free Men (starring the aforesaid blue men) and The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (starring the aforesaid intelligent mice, intelligent cat and a boy) were a revelation when I read them out loud.

See, when the Spawn of Our Loins were young, I used to sit with them for an hour every night and read to them from whatever book caught my eye or theirs. I would read them out loud, often using outrageous (and outrageously bad) accents. But it was with these two books that I really hit my stride. We all laughed so hard we had to stop and catch our breath nearly every page.

I urge you to please, if you have youngish children, or even kids who just love a good read, go out and get copies of these books right now. I’m frequently asked for recommendations for kids to read. No matter the gender of the child, I will recommend these books by Sir Terry and I’ve never heard one complaint, only thank you and please tell me there are more.The world is a better place for Sir Terry’s having been in it, and a poor one for him having left. But he did leave behind a legacy of laughter and love and wisdom that will stand the test of time and be delighting readers for centuries to come.

And you can get in on the ground floor of that. Go buy one of his books. Read it. Laugh and you can thank me later.

So much universe, and so little time.

March 13, 2015 8:21 am
Written by: Richard E.D. Jones


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Dude Review: HighView iPad Hangers

Written by: Richard E.D. Jones
Listed in: Charlotte Parent Stay-at-Home Dudes

Sofia Rodriguez was traveling on an airplane and barely made it through an appalling First-World Problem.But that’s not why I’m talking about her here. And it’s not what happened directly after. You see, Sofia decided to use the solution to her First-World Problem to work on solving a Real-World Problem. And that’s important. Read on to find out more.A First-World Problem, for those of you who don’t know, is something that could only go wrong for people who have more money than the vast majority of people throughout the world. Not being able to find the charging cord for my iPhone 6 Plus. . . That’s a First-World Problem. Not having enough to eat. . . That’s a Real-World problem.

So, Sofia was having a real First-World Problem.

“I was on a flight, watching a movie on my iPad when I realized how uncomfortable I was,” she told me in an exclusive e-mail question and answer. “There was no way to watch my movie, be comfortable, and have space on my tray table for food or drinks.”

Yeah. A real First-World Problem. The thing of it is, though, instead of whining about it and complaining on Twitter or Facebook, Sofia decided to do something about it.

“I decided to create a solution. After several months of sketching, designing, and trying out different options, the HighView iPad hanger was born!”

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign that was funded in October, Sofia started up her own company selling the HighView iPad hangers to whoever would buy one.

Which, you know, good and all.

Before we get much further, I do want to say that I’ve spent some time with the HighView iPad hanger and thought it was a really nice solution to the problem of how to use an iPad and still have use of your hands and feet. (Feet, because I’m sure some of my readers more closely resemble chimpanzees than to the rest of you.) The hanger comes in all different sizes, one for every type of iPad. You slip it into the hanger and then, using the straps that come with it, you (hang on, this is the brilliant part) hang it on something.

That way, you get to watch whatever is on the iPad while also filing your nails, or eating or, and this is the case of the young Spawn on whom I tested my HighView, doing unspeakable things with a broken pencil and nasal excreta. While I can’t say I approved overmuch about the activities themselves, we both thought the HighView did an admirable job of making sure the iPad stayed watchable. It stayed snugly attached and out of the way. Really, it was all you could ask for in something like this.

I’d highly recommend this to dudes who do a lot of driving in the family mini-van with young spawn in the backseat, screaming for entertainment that just isn’t coming unless you pull over to the side of the road, stop, hop out of the car and suffer a complete nervous breakdown from all the screaming, with a breakdown consisting of break dancing, twitching like St. Vitus and spewing ball lightning from your ears. Well, come one. No doubt about it: That’s entertainment.

I’m going to suggest, however, that having a HighView iPad hanger on hand to hold the all-knowing source of Spawn-ish entertainment might be better for your long-term electability prospects. I do highly recommend it. I also need to point out that Sofia sent me one for my iPad Mini for free in return for a review. This isn’t that review. That review is going up on Amazon.

This — what you’re reading right now — is because of what I found out while talking to Sofia about the product.

Sofia, being a native of Guatemala, knew first hand the grinding poverty experienced by many living there. Things that we here in America take for granted — access to food that won’t kill us as well as access to water that also has no designs on our lives — isn’t available to large numbers of rural Guatemalans.

“I believe education is very important to end poverty, and, unfortunately, one of the main reasons why Guatemalan children miss school is due to drinking unclean water,” she said. “These water-borne diseases can also create a strain on a family’s finances. By providing clean water to children, we are able to help them stay healthy and in school.”

The question remained, though: How to address the issue of providing clean water to children in need? Which was when Sofia had her epiphany. She decided throw money from her solution to the First-World iPad problem at it.

HighView partnered with Ecofiltro, a Guatemalan company with designs on providing safe drinking water to more than 1 million rural Guatemalans by 2020, to give a month’s free water to a class of school children with the purchase of every HighView iPad hanger.
Ecofiltro’s business model consists of selling water filters to rural villages and then having the new owners charging a small amount to receive the safe, filtered drinking water. It’s basically the same as the city pumping water into your home, for which you’re charged, only it’s out in rural Guatemala, it isn’t pumped into your home (yet) and means the difference between life and death.

When someone buys a hanger from HighView, the company donates enough money to Ecofiltro to pay for one month’s free water at schools in the rural areas of the country.

“I’ve always admired companies that are able to be profitable and also give back to individuals or communities that are less fortunate,” Sofia said. “An example of such a company is Toms. We decided to follow their model which is One for One. In our case, it’s One HighView for One month of clean water to Guatemalan children in need.”

So, yeah, I’m a big fan of Sofia and HighView. I love the idea of socially responsible corporations making money for themselves, but also making sure to spread some of the wealth around to those less fortunate.

If you’re looking for something to keep the Backseat Spawn busy and — oh, please, FSM — quiet, give the HighView iPad hanger a try. Of course, you’ll need to have your own iPad, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

Unless you’re suffering from out-of-date-iPad blues, which is, really, sort of a definition of a First-World Problem.

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Charlotte Parent: Asking For Help Doesn’t Make You Weak

What is it about the Y chromosome that prevents dudes from asking for help?

Dudes need to stop trying to muscle their way through life and ask for help.Heck, the Human Genome Project, which mapped every single gene on every single chromosome in the human genetic code, was formed specifically to answer that question.*

Yet it remains unanswered.

Today, over at Charlotte Parent, I’ll be talking about why dudes don’t and dudettes do ask for help, why that might happen and why most of those reasons are straight-out wrong. As usual, I’ll be blogging under our Stay-At-Home Dudes column name.

Join us, won’t you?


*It really wasn’t.

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