Since the inception of TRS in 2000, I have written about life "on the road". By plane, train, or automobile, I tell the story of trips; but the real story in each one is about the journey, not the destination. On March 15th, 2008, Daddy's Little Speed Bump was born. 21 months later, Speed Bump Number Two arrived. I thought it fitting to create a place, with a Road Scholars theme, to share this new journey.

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Technologically Challenged

When Jennifer and I decided to move to Texas, we were also deciding to move 1200 miles away from our families. This of course has some inherent advantages and disadvantages, many of which should become apparent by the time you finish reading this. From the family’s point of view, one of the disadvantages now that Kaitlyn is here is of course a lack of access to their grandchild/niece. I think this has hit the grandmothers hardest of all.

A few weeks ago my wife was talking to her mother. She was waxing on about a friend of hers who also recently became a grandmother and who is also geographically challenged when it comes to seeing the little one. But every morning this friend has breakfast with her daughter and grandchild through the miracle of the Internet. “Oh by the way our new laptop has a built-in camera”…hint hint. This got me thinking, and last week I went up to the media room, dug through a box of miscellaneous technology I have sitting in the closet, and found…tada! webcam I bought seven years ago in college.

I’ve been out of the videoconferencing circuit for awhile, so attaching the web cam to the computer left me with a bit of a conundrum: what software should I use? Surely there have been some advances in videoconferencing technology in the past seven years. I think the last time I used the web cam I was using Microsoft Netmeeting. The video was choppy at best and it was usually easier to call the person you were conferencing with rather than deal with the shoddy audio of a video conference. To my disappointment, my usual go-to source for software solutions does not appear to have anything in the way of video conferencing, not even in the Google Labs. So I did an old fashioned Google search and decided to try Skype.

For those of you who’ve used Skype before, you know how easy it is download, install, and set up a free account. It’s very similar to downloading GoToMyPC or AOL Instant Messenger in that you follow a setup wizard to create an account, install a small piece of software, and you’re off and running. I told my wife to call her parents and tell them to install Skype. My father-in-law was taking a nap when Jen called their house. He is the designated technologist in the household, and grandma was quite adamant about not waking the sleeping giant. We got tired of waiting and went to bed.

Sometime the next day we got a phone call. Grandpa was ready for his close-up. We brought the Fuzzy Headed Oracle to the office and with amazing ease, dialed up the grandparents. A lot has changed in seven years. The video quality streaming in from California was about as real-time as it gets; none of that hokey every fifth frame stuff we saw during the first Gulf War when correspondents would report using a videophone. And the audio—it was just like being on the phone. For an hour we broadcast Kaitlyn in all her glory, scooting across a blanket on the floor and sitting in her Command Center.

On most Sunday evenings you’ll find my grandfather, a.k.a The Silver Fox, at my parent’s house for dinner in Orange County. Having had success web casting with one set of grandparents I knew it was only a matter of time before I got the disgruntled phone call or the snappy email from my parents—specifically my mom—saying “how come we don’t get to see Kaitlyn on the computer?” I decided to head this one of at the pass and maybe even kill two birds with one stone. While Jen was at work Sunday afternoon, I called my house.

As predicted, the Silver Fox was there for dinner, but my dad was still working. I asked my mom, a.k.a. Miss Daisy, if she wanted to see Kaitlyn scoot. Normally she wants nothing to do with computers once she’s left work, but the thought of seeing her granddaughter LIVE ON THE BIG SCREEN must have appealed to her. She and the Silver Fox eagerly marched up to the room formerly known as mine.

Over the next thirty minutes or so we somehow managed to get Skype installed on my parent's computer, a process that ended with this conversation:

Sean: “Is it done?”

Mom: “Yes. It wants my Skype name.”

Sean: “You need to set up an account.”

Mom: “How do I do that?”

Sean: “There should be a link that says set up new account or I don’t have an account or something to that effect.”

Mom: “No, it just wants my Skype name.”

Sean: “See where it says ‘Skype Name’?

Mom: “Yes.”

Sean: “Just below that, it doesn’t say ‘Don’t have a Skype name?’?”

Mom: “Oh yeah, there it is.”

Sean: “Kaitlyn, when you learn to read make sure you learn how to read ALL THE WORDS”.

Mom: “Don’t talk to your mother like that.”

Once we finally got the web cast up and running, I set the Fuzzy Headed Oracle in her Command Center and she pushed some buttons which caused a series of LED’s to start flashing with some sound effects.

Mom: “Kids these days can’t just sit and be, they have to have constant stimulation.”

For the love of Pete. My mother is turning into one of those people that would have me surrender the color pixels in our television because she didn’t watch color TV in 1955. Along those lines I asked her, speaking of constant stimulation, to remind me how big her brand new 47” LCD COLOR television is with flashing lights and sound effects??

Mom: “That’s different.”

Of course it is. I know, I know, don’t talk to your mother that way. I’ll probably get voted off the family island now.

As if this all weren’t excitement enough, my dad, a.k.a. The Cozy Bear, came home. Grandpa Cozy is ultimately responsible for the Fuzzy Headed Oracle’s morning Star Trek habit. It didn’t faze him one bit seeing baby Kaitlyn sitting in her Command Center, pushing buttons that open trap doors underneath grandma. His first comment was critical, but not of the technology his granddaughter was enjoying (after all, in 1966 his favorite program was aired in color). His comment was critical of the technology we were using: “Can’t you clear up that picture?”

And not to be outdone, grandma weighed in as well: “yeah, it looks like you’re broadcasting from Iraq.”

I’m so glad Kaitlyn and I took this opportunity to chat with Frank and Marie. Clearly these people have no appreciation for how far videoconferencing has come in the past seven years. Star Trek has spoiled them! I pointed out that my camera was not exactly representative of the most up to date technology.

Mom: “Well can’t you get a new one?”

Sean: “Maybe the grandparents will buy us one so they can see their granddaughter better!”

To make an excruciatingly long story a little bit shorter, they did. I must admit, the new camera is much better. And the best part: it has a built-in flashy LED light.

Kaitlyn loves it.


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