Baking, writing and Geek Dad book winner

Yesterday I tried to bake a cake. I say ‘tried’ because although in the past I used to bake a lot, I am obviously out of practice. In the mood for comfort food with the rain coming down outside and thinking it would be nice for the kids to wake up to the smell of freshly baked anything, I baked a chocolate chip loaf. After 30 minutes, I stuck a knitting needle in it to see if it was done, and it came out clean as a whistle. So I took the cake  out of the oven, let it sit for 15 minutes, and then turned it over on a cooling rack. Next thing you know, I see raw cake dough dripping in butter  and studded with chocolate chips oozing out of the loaf. It obviously was still raw.   I guess I should stick to writing. Either that or spend more time practicing my baking.   Writing and baking are kind of similar – you have to practice often to get good at it, and if you are not careful you could end up with a gooey mess. Luckily, you can always start over…

Thanks to all who wrote in for a try at getting a free copy of Geek Dad.  The winner is  Garry MacPhail, an advocate in the UK.  I loved all your comments, but his ‘retro geek dad’ description really hit a nerve:

“Being a retro geek dad this is just up my street – why should if fall into my palm? Three reasons why: –  I still own a Thinkpad T22.  I refuse to pollute the air with petrol fumes – I ride a bike (classic Geek mode of transport) and yes I tuck my pants in my socks – last but not least – My Christmas would be complete .   Thanks for the post Chantal”

I’m a bit over  40 so retro is comforting, but the image of having his shirt tucked into his socks really is hilarious!

I’m sure Garry will  be more accomplished  with his  Geek Dad projects than I was with my baking yesterday.  Let us know how it goes, Garry!

Carmel Valley woman devoted to autism education

10 Questions

Published in Carmel Valley News, Del Mar Times  December 16, 2010

Carmel Valley woman devoted to autism education

Carmel Valley resident Chantal Sicile-Kira is dedicated to educating others about autism, a passion that has driven her to author several books on the topic. She began working with autistic adolescents more than 20 years ago, helping them prepare for their de-institutionalization. Little did she know that several years later that experience would prove invaluable when her son was born and eventually diagnosed with autism in Paris, France, where the only treatment offered was psychoanalysis. Her search for appropriate care led her family to England, and then the U.S.

Her son Jeremy, severely impacted by autism, graduated from Torrey Pines High School in June 2010 with a full academic diploma and currently attends Mira Costa College. Her daughter Rebecca graduated from Canyon Crest Academy in June 2010, as well, and attends UC Davis. Sicile-Kira is currently writing her fifth book to be published in April 2012 by Macmillan, and is preparing to launch an online resource:

1. What brought you to this neighborhood?

My husband was brought over by Lego from the UK to help project manage the construction of Legoland. We chose Carmel Valley for its excellent schools, nearness to the beach, closeness to the airport and to downtown San Diego.

2. What makes this community special to you?

The people, and closeness to the ocean.

3. If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add or subtract to improve the area?

I would add more variety in terms of the architecture in Carmel Valley.

4. Who or what inspires you?

My son, Jeremy, and all those like him. It is really difficult for them to do many of the ordinary, everyday things we take for granted. As well, my daughter Rebecca, and all the autism siblings out there. It’s not easy for them growing up 24/7 in a home impacted by autism.

5. If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

I would invite the President and Michelle Obama, Stephen Spielberg, Tim Ferriss, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Jamie Oliver, and I’d like to squeeze in Arianna Huffington as well.

6. Tell us what you are currently reading.

The Neighbors are Watching, which takes place in Carmel Valley; The 4-Hour Work Week, and Age of Autism.

7. What is your most prized possession?

I’d say my family, but you can’t possess people, so I’ll have to say my iPhone. It can help me out, entertain me and inform me wherever I am. It can also take messages so I can disconnect from real life whenever I like.

8. What do you do for fun?

Read, travel, walk Torrey Pines or the beach, cook and dine with friends, watch movies, and exercise.

9. Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

Raising my two children to be the best that they can be, and writing four practical books on autism. I often get emails from parents telling me how much my books have helped them when their children were first diagnosed, or when they are going through a rough patch. There is no better feeling than knowing you have helped someone with information they need in order to feel empowered to move forward in a positive direction.

10. What is your motto or philosophy of life?

“What is important is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us.” — Jean-Paul Sartre

“Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activites for Dads and Kids to Share” Free copy available

Geek Dad book

I’m not trying to out any Geeky moms or Geeky dads for that matter (notice I haven’t mentioned autism or Asperger’s Syndrome). But I couldn’t resist posting this – my publisher offered to send a free book to  a person of my choosing –  and I thought it would make a great present for winter break – lots of time to try stuff out, right?

I am not considered a Geek, yet I have always loved cool activities to do with my kids. I have always completed activities, they just never looked or turned out the way they were supposed to.  Let’s face it, I’ve always been a geek wannabee.  This book, Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share by Ken Denmead speaks to the inner geek in all of us. Ken is the editor of GeekDad, a blog on Wired magazine’s Web site.  A professional civil engineer, he lives near San Francisco with his two sons, who are both geeks in training.

Here is a great book and I can send you a free copy. Just write a comment below (or send me a private email if you are too shy) within the next 48 hours, and I will pick one of you to get a copy from the publisher for free.

Meanwhile, here is  an  activity from the book – making coloring pages:

Because there are levels to artistic ability and interest, I’ll show you two different coloring pages you can make. First, the classic dot-to-dot, then coloring sheets. They are all made from images you can find online or scan into your computer from sources at home.

Dot-to-Dot Coloring Page

To start, you have to pick the image you want to turn into the coloring page. For dot-to-dots, it’s going to be a lot easier to select simple images, though if you’re patient and want more detail, you can go for the gusto with more detailed pictures. But dot-to-dots are great for younger kids who are learning about staying within the borders. And they love to be amazed by what they can create by drawing a series of lines between dots.

For this example, we’re going really simple—an image of the sigil of the Rebel Alliance.

(Advisory: If you are reasonably experienced with graphics software and know what a layer is, you can skip down a couple of paragraphs to the one that starts “Select a pen . . .”.)

Assuming you’re a geek, we are going to figure you have some manner of graphics software, probably for touching up pictures from your digital camera. Common (and pretty good) examples of such software include Photoshop Elements (the cheaper, easier-to-use version of the industry standard Photoshop) available on Mac or PC; Pixelmator for the Mac; or GIMP, which works on PC, Mac, or Linux and is FREE FREE FREE. Maybe you haven’t played around with the software that much. If that’s the case, here’s a quick lesson about the first feature you’re going to use.

A layer is a standard concept in image editing software. Conceptually, it’s very simple. Imagine if you took a printed picture and laid a piece of tracing paper over it, and then copied the features by hand on that tracing paper. Well, a layer is just like tracing paper, only it works digitally on the computer, and you can have as many of them as you want.

Step 1: For this project, you open your base image in the editing software of your choice. Then you  add a layer. Most of these pieces of software have a menu actually called “Layer” from which you can “Add a Layer.” Once you’ve done that, there is a perfectly transparent layer of digital tracing paper on top of your image, upon which you can now trace, without affecting the original picture.

Step 2: Select a pen or pencil tool and a fairly small brush size to make your dots with. Draw black dots all around the edges of the image, at relatively even intervals. Straight lines need only one dot at either end. Curves need more so that, when they are connected, they will better re-create the curve.

Step 3: These programs should have a separate control window that shows all the layers in the current project. From this window, you can now “turn off” the layer with the original image on it so that you see only the dots.

Step 4: If you want to go all the way, you can also use the program’s text feature to add numbers next to each dot to give your artist a sequence to follow. Or you can just save this file and print as many of them as your kids want to color, letting them be creative and decide how to connect the dots.

Coloring Book Pages

Obviously, older kids and those with more advanced coloring skills are going to be hankering for something a bit more challenging than connect-the-dots. What’s great is that these graphics programs have filters that let you kick out coloring pages by the ream with only a couple of clicks. They require even less work than the dot-to-dots.

Pick an image. For this example, I used a snapshot I took of my classic Nauga ( in my office. I opened the image in Pixelmator and then used “Filter-Stylize-Line Overlay” to automatically find the edges in the image and drop everything else out, making a perfect coloring sheet (there are settings you can tweak to get it “just right”).

In Photoshop Elements, the process is nearly as easy. Open the image, and use “Filter-Stylize-Find Edges.” Then use “Enhance-Convert to Black-and–White” to drop out the colors, and you have much the same effect.

In GIMP, you can try “Colors-Desaturate,” then ”Filters-Edge Detect-Neon” and “Colors-Invert” to get a similar effect. You may need to play with some settings to get an optimal result (and you can save those settings for future uses). GIMP is just as powerful at the other programs in many ways, but it is not quite as user-friendly, so there’s a bit more of a learning curve.

Once you have the technique down, you can whip these out en masse and build your kids (or get your kids to build) their own coloring books, using images they find online (Google Image Search is excellent for this, though make sure you keep an eye out for inappropriate content; or try the Web sites for the cartoon shows they like—Disney or Nickelodeon) or scans from other books or sources.

One other way to do this—with slightly less creativity (and therefore less geek factor) but without the need for special software—is the Coloring Page Maker at the Crayola Crayons Web site:

If the kids are still alive at five…..

I say, if the kids are still alive at five, I've done my job.

It’s been one of those days –  support person can’t come in because her puppy is sick and I’ve got tons to do.  Meanwhile, I find suspicious stains and matter on the floor and rug, and I’m not sure who is responsible for them (we do have a cat and a dog….). It takes a good hour to clean it up, because the matter  somehow  ended up on Jeremy shoes, which of course he then tracked all over the house.  I’m still finding stains hours later. Jeremy edits his homework assignment, but I can’t seem to upload it on his college blackboard assignment page. I get an extremely rude email from a person (who could use some tips from Miss Manners) demanding immediate  information  about a Taskforce I am co-chairing  and a California insurance bill (Just FYI – I’m not in charge of updating the Senate Autism Committee’s website where the Taskforce information is supposed to be posted, in case anyone was wondering… ).

In the middle of all this, Jeremy walks by where I am sitting as I try  to  resolve a problem on his computer. He gently drops the above postcard (which is usually taped up on our refrigerator) near me. Yup, Jeremy, it’s one of those days. Thanks for acknowledging it.

But there’s always tomorrow…..