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There must be intelligent life down here

Last Build Date: Fri, 19 May 2017 05:41:52 PDT


Note Taking App

Fri, 19 May 2017 05:41:52 PDT

Time for yet another post wishing I had an app to do a certain thing...Over the past few months I've been waffling between written (with a pen) note-taking and taking notes via a computer.  These options both have their trade-offs.Analog note-taking requires a notebook to take notes in.  I've been using a Classic Squared Moleskine with grid paper for note taking, and I'm not a fan.  I was previously using a notebook that worked with my Livescribe pen, which had a much better feel to it than the Moleskine, but now that I've started in this Moleskine notebook, I feel like I have to finish it out.I've given up on the Livescribe pen, not because it's not useful, but because the software support isn't great.  I have a whole notebook of stuff stored in my pen, both written and audio, and the only way I can get it out currently is by using the notebook and the pen together, which is cool, but doesn't acheive the goal of getting my notes digitized.My favorite physical notebook right now is the Rocketbook.  The Rocketbook is designed to be used with Pilot Frixion pens, whose ink can be erased. The whole Rocketbook can be placed in the microwave with a mug of water, and after a minute or two, the whole notebook is cleaned out of ink.  The Rocketbook has a grid design on the pages and a QR code that is used with their app to digitize the notes and send them to any note-recording application they connect with.  It's an interesting feature, but one that I haven't been able to make good use of.  My favorite characteristic of the notebook, however, is one that is provided by the notebook's need to be safely placed in the microwave: The binding is a plastic, snap-together set of rings that allows the notebook to be laid perfectly flat (take that, Moleskine!) or be folded back onto itselff without the typical problems of spiral-bound notebooks.  I have not yet opened my Rocketbook Everlast (a Rocketbook made with plastic pages that feel like paper) shipment, but I think they've changed the binding to a standard metal one, which is rather disappointing.Regardless, it's pretty useful to be able to take notes on the computer.  Last week, work issued me a new Mac, so I've been reevaluating my position (again) on what app I want to use to take notes.  I primarily use my note-taking app to record meeting notes and to plan out actions.Previously my go-to app has been FoldingText.  I love this app, and wish that they'd keep supporting it.  Alas, they've basically abandoned it for work on some other task-based app, rather than focusing on their outliner.  FoldingText is neat because you can use markdown to write notes, and while you're typing them, they are properly formatted. Links turn into links, and heading font sizes get big.  You can also fold the text at any heading, which makes taking notes all onto th same file reasonable, since you can focus on only the section that you want at one time.  The todo-list features and tagging are pretty useful as well.FoldingText doesn't work so well these days, though.  Since I've had to reinstall, I need to re-register the app, and finding the registration code that works with the useful beta version is proving difficult.  Plus, like I said, they're not really supporting the app, and the features I was using were largely provided by custom-written plugins that, since I lost my old Mac to battery issues, are now gone.I've considered using a few note-taking-specific apps.  Evernote is always a top suggestion, but I simply can't stand its interface.  Combined with its yearly price to do some of the useful things it does (text recognition), I'd really like to stop using it at all.I've considered nvALT, which seems a capable note-taker.  What I dislike about nvALT is that although it lets you take notes in Markdown, they're not presented in a formatted way.  You can always run the markdown processor, but this defea[...]

Making Friends As an Adult

Wed, 17 May 2017 05:48:11 PDT

I am reminded again how making friends as an adult is hard.  Maybe it was hard as a kid, too - I can't remember having friends as a kid, really.  It's strange that it's so difficult.  One must assume that this is because other people must not want to make new friends, or because people are are very particular about the kinds of people they want to be friends with, even though with how hard it is to make friends, you'd think people would be more open to less ideal friendships.

I may have mentioned before about how even when it's possible to find an adult couple with kids our kid's ages, there may be weird things that make it difficult to relate.  Some differences in religious belief, food tastes, politics, or economic status.  Usually, we're the ones that don't go to church, eat weird food, and are - between the two of us - mostly liberal (even though I registered as a Republian after the 2016 election, which is a whole different topic), and that ends up being part of what turns people off somehow.

But there's also finding common ground about which to have even an initial conversation.  I find smalltalk simultaneously tedious and essential for this purpose of feeling out people or even just passing the time when you're stuck with them for a while during some event.

Recently I've evnjoyed my conversations with people in a hotel elevator.  For whatever reason, these micro-conversations were always reasonably interesting.  They're short, because, you know, "elevator".  They're low-stress because you're never going to see this person again.  There's always something going on in the hotel for some reason, so there's hardly ever nothing to make smalltalk about.  And everyone at the hotel is away from home on some adventure, which makes for a generally happy attitude.  I found this an interesting observation.

Why I find it so difficult to strike up a conversation with people I've known for years via the kids' school functions is beyond me.  Where I seem to get stuck is when talking about the kids.  I think our kids are generally pretty great.  (Don't tell them that.) As a result, I like to talk them up.  It's not so much that they're better than everyone else's kids, but that they do things that I find interesting, and I don't do a whole lot that I can surprise a potential new friend with on a first conversation.  But in the end, sometimes, it turns into a, "Well my kid does this"-battle, unintentionally, and that doesn't lead to a useful outcome.  I suppose I could listen a bit more and respond with questions about their kids instead.

I'm amused and disheartened by the idea that my grade school friend-making instincts, which were terrrible, are what I'm using to make friends as an adult.  I wonder it there's something that can be done about that.


Streaming TV Service Review

Tue, 16 May 2017 05:49:27 PDT

There has been a recent torrent of releases of streaming TV services by companies both expected and unexpected.  Since they mostly provide a free 2-4 week trial, I've signed up for all of them! Here's what I found.Sling TVI've been signed up for Sling TV for a while now. Sling was a good service for getting me the channels that I could not get ofer-the-air.  The antenna in my bedroom is connected to a device that can stream TV throughout my home network.  Supplemented with Sling TV's live TV from a handful of channels, things didn't seem like I was missing cable TV so much.Sling's major downside is that they are missing key local channels.  For whatever reason, I can only receive 2 of the 3 major networks via Sling, and the one that's missing is the one that my antenna can't pick up due to this stupid Philadelphia-area VHF/UHF issue.  I simply can't get channel 6 over the air.  Nonetheless, since I primarily was using this to supplement my antenna, I most often use Sling to watch SyFy and CNN.Sling also doesn't provide DVR functionality for TV shows that you want to "record" for later viewing. This is handy for when you don't really want to sit in front of the TV while the show is airing, something that I would do very rarely anyway.Sling TV runs on my Apple TV, iPhone, Roku, and XBox One.  There is no smart TV app for Sling on my LG TV.  You can watch Sling TV on the computer pretty easily, which is good for travel.YouTube TVYouTube TV was the first to market in the new "streaming local channels" marketplace.  I signed up immediately.YouTube TV has all of my local channels.  It's possible to DVR any show, and YouTube TV surprisingly surfaced old airings of shows that I told it I like.  For example, I told it that I wanted to "record" Elementary, and old episodes from the current season (those that have aired in teh past few months) appeared in my saved show list.  Pretty neat.YouTube TV wins the UI contest hands-down.  When you navigate the interface, the live video from the channel highlighted in the listing appears behind the description of the show.  The audio plays as well.  This is pretty darn awesome.  It is actually better than normal TV, because you get a preview of the actual thing you want to watch.  For this reason alone YouTube TV stands out as one of the top contenders for best streaming service.Channel availability is great on YouTube TV, and it seems like they intend to add new channels to the offering over time.  While I was glad to have Fox News added to my list of available channels, YouTube TV curiously omits CNN, which I was relying on Sling heavily for.YouTube TV has some weird device restrictions currently.  It's very nice on the computer, but the only streaming device they support is Chromecast, which basically means I have to throw the TV to the Chromecast input, then use my phone to send the video to the TV. There is no app for my smart TV.  I do not like this, and have never really liked that Chromecast ties up my phone while I watch TV.  I can watch it on the iPhone and iPad, which is nice, and has the same clever interface as the computer.Hulu TVI was surprised when Hulu added streaming live local TV to their offering.  As an existing Hulu customer, primarily to fill in gaps that Netflix leaves with cable network shows, it was a pretty easy sell to add live TV to the plan.Unfortunately, Hulu continues their complete disregard for sensible user experience when presenting their TV solution.  It's nearly impossible to manipulate their TV interface.  I found myself lost and frustrated several times while getting started, and this is simply not something you want when you're replacing a very simple TV experience.  Compared to YouTube TV, Hulu looks like something a fledgeling web consultant would throw together in a weekend -[...]

Oh, I didn't see you there

Mon, 15 May 2017 05:24:47 PDT

It has been over a year since my last blog post was published, and yes, this does feel a bit like a confession.

I have a handful of new habits I'm trying out.  Maybe blogging again will stick.  I think there may be a change coming that will facilitate this, but I'm not yet ready to say what that is.

I wish I had more time to go into some of the topics in my head in detail, but for now suffice with a list:

  • Note taking on the computer - Apps to use, which ones work, why, and what I'd really like instead.
  • Lessons learned while building Brewfest - How the new site is designed and built, and why WordPress code simply no longer factors into my life.
  • Building constant insanity - A continuous process of always surprising others and expanding my horizons.
  • Re-learning to solve problems - Using the ToC Thinking Process to solve problems, by first figuring out how to use the ToC Thinking Process.
  • The diet, again - A new strategy for getting fit, this time setting a long-term goal and putting money into it.

It'd probably also be worthwhile to bring the site up-to-date, both from the CMS standpoint (poor, ignored Habari) and from the perspective that much has happened since I bothered to write last.  It was recently pointed out to me that this blog is deep; there are 2500+ posts in here ranging back to 1998, and it's primarily long-form.  It seems kind of a shame to let it languish, although, having some target in mind to accomplish seems like a better idea than just randomly deciding to post something every so often for no reason.  Maybe I'll come up with that target soon - I'm still working that out.


Soccer Positions and Substitutions

Thu, 05 May 2016 06:55:32 PDT

Well, I signed up to coach Riley's soccer team this spring.  It's been fun so far, but the same issue I dealt with every season in the past seems to be rearing its head again -- how to do substitutions.Every season, I think that I would like to concentrate more on the live game than having to deal with the substitutions, and if I could have someone else take care of that task, I'd have less on my mind during the game that I'd be able to participate/encourage/coach the players more.  Alas, I have not been able to accomplish that.  Still, I have spent a lot more effort this season trying to keep my head off of the bench and in the game.When you've got parents instructing their own kids from the sidelines, kids on the bench begging to go back in at positions that they can't play (after 7 seasons of coaching, I swear that any player that asks to play at striker has no business doing it), and a live ball in the game, trying to keep track of who's at what position and who's been subbed where is a living nightmare.  It's absolutely the worst part of coaching soccer, in my opinion.I used to use this app called Soccer Dad, which is pretty neat, but isn't always the easiest to use on the field.  It actually does a lot that would be great if I could concentrate on only that instead of that and the game, like keeping track of scores and assists, and tracking time played along with substitution data, and aggregating it for the whole season.My main problems with Soccer Dad are not obvious.  You'd think the drag-n-drop features of the app would be easy on the field, but they're not.  To access who is subbing where is a bit of a chore.  If you want to work the game a little different than the app expects, it can resist what data you're entering, which is not what you want while everyone's screaming and the opponent has the ball.With 14 players playing 9v9, there's just no way to juggle 5 kids on the bench without some kind of aid.  And so, as is typical with me, I've come up with a design solution.I want a way to do a number of very basic things, and so I have this list of requirements: The entire plan must fit on a 3×5 card. It should be easy to start a new game with starting positions. It should be obvious what players play well in what positions so that they can be subbed into the correct place. There should be a way to indicate alternate starting positions in case some intended starting players don't show up. It should be possible to see at a glance which player is currently in a particular position. It should be possible to see at a glance what position a player is currently playing. The card should indicate the frequency with which a player is subbed so that they don't spend a lot of time on the bench. The card should be fully operable with a pen/pencil. There should be room on the card for parent phone numbers in case of an emergency.I want to be able to run the entire game from a single card, and not have to think too hard about where a player can best play or who they can sub for (based on their time on the field).Initially, I created a card with a simple grid.  Players were listed down the left side, and I wrote in their positions in the grid boxes.  This proved inconvenient, because you couldn't tell at a glance who was in a particular position.  As I subbed in players, I couldn't update the card fast enough to keep it accurate, and the whole thing became useless before the end of the first half. There was also no obvious way to keep track of how many times a player subbed, or where a player on the bench best fit into the game, and thinking about these things cost me precious time in the game.  (Seriously, I've missed many major plays because I had to mentally negotiate which player to put in where.)My current iteration is a bit more thought through.  Inste[...]

Developing Man Skills

Mon, 25 Apr 2016 10:02:22 PDT

Owning a house is fraught with endless repair and improvement work.  Last year we had a new paver stone walkway installed from the driveway to the front porch.  We've had to replace appliances, paint 2-story high rooms, repair holes in drywall, fix broken hanging ceilings, replace sink faucets, rewire switches and lights... the work is endless.I hear friends and coworkers tell me how they're constantly fixing and upgrading things.  They build whole new walls in their house, or repair kitchen fascia, or any number of construction projects of wood, glass, or plastic that leave me wondering a simple yet mind-boggling question:  Where did you learn to do this?Sure, anything these days is as simple as looking it up on the internet and following some instructions you find there.  But, at least for me, there is a wide chasm between the simple instructions I find online to the actual production of a finished project.  I'll frequently find what I feel are simple instructions for a particular project, only to end up at the hardware store staring at fifteen different kinds of raw materials, each with their own specific purpose, none of which were indicated in particular in my instructions.For example, over the weekend, I planted a couple of posts in the back yard with the intent of hanging some garden wire for my hop vines to grow across.  I knew from when we built the raised-bed garden that good wood for this would be cedar, since it's naturally resistant to bugs, and didn't have the preservative chemicals in it that would ruin my plants.  Beyond that, I didn't really know much of anything.Berta kept telling me to get cement.  I don't know anything about cement.  I've seen my dad pour cement into post holes to set them, but we'd had a wheelbarrow for mixing the cement, and had a lot of holes to fill, and a lot of stone, too.  I don't know what mixture of stone to cement is required, or even if stone is necessary for my small project.  Would I need a wheelbarrow, or could I mix it in the hole somehow?  When I arrived at the cement aisle in Lowes, there were ten different kinds of cement, and none of them gave a good indication of what particular use they were good for, nor any mention of the tools required for their use.I suppose I could look all of this stuff up.  Yes, in fact there is a video on the Quikrete website explaining how to do exactly what I need to get done.  I guess I should have looked there first?  How would I even know what to look for, though?  And this is a topic that I've even seen someone else do.  How am I expected to know these things?  And how did the people that seem to know how to do this without having to look things up learn them?I'm guessing this is at least similar to how I can do computer things that people ask without having to look up a ton of stuff.  Nonetheless, in some ways I feel more helpless without the knowledge of home repair than about computers.  I mean, everyone has a home (to some extent).  You should know how to do some basic home repair.  I get excited when I replace a kitchen faucet, and it seems like that should be basic knowledge.I'd like to learn how to appropriately, effectively, and quickly run wiring through my walls.  That would solve a lot of my problems, and could actually save me some money.  I guess I'll have to look this up.I've got a project with my scroll saw that I'm anxious to start and get some practice using it.  This should be fun.  Now I just need to learn where and how to buy wood.  And saw blades.  And how to stain wood.  Sigh. [...]

Camp-in at the Franklin with Riley

Tue, 23 Feb 2016 11:10:59 PST

Riley and I recently visited the Franklin Institute with Pack 32 as part of a "camp-in" event.  We packed our sleeping bags and camping mattresses, and rolled up to the Franklin, ready for some science.We arrived quite a bit early so that we could have dinner outside of the museum.  We took an Uber to a ramen place I know, since Riley loves ramen.  We both had a bowl of utterly unreal ramen -- There's nothing like real ramen, not the dried kind you get in the little orange bags.  We both opted for the hard boiled egg. It was super tasty.After dealing with some taxi weirdness getting back to the Franklin (the Uber we requested got pulled over by the cops on the way to pick us up!), we met up with some scouts near the big statue of Ben Franklin, and headed with our gear to our "camp site" in the Earth Science exhibit.In the camp-in, each group is assigned an exhibit in the museum in which they make camp.  You simply spread out your bag on the floor and you're set up.  No tents!  The Earth Science exhibit we were in talked all about global warming, earthquakes, and erosion.  We camped down in the erosion section, which had a padded rubber floor since there was a water trough.  It was the only padded floor I saw anywhere in the museum, so we had a good pick!After we were set up, we went to a presentation about sports science, where a scientist gave some demonstrations about why warming up is important and how it affects your body if you don't warm up before doing sports.  Several of the scouts in Riley's den assisted the show.After the show, we headed to the observatory, where we got to look through the big telescopes on the roof of the museum.  This is a special treat since you can't ordinarily use the telescopes during the museum's open hours (since it's daylight).  Unfortunately, there was a lot of light pollution, and only a few stars were visible.  It's almost a shame to have these big telescopes in a location that has such poor visibility.  Nonetheless, it was neat to be able to look through them.We spent some time in the sports science exhibit.  Many of the other scouts were interested in the sports exhibit, and that's it.  I think that our scouts do not get as much exposure to awesome science as Riley, because he quickly (in comparison) became bored of trying to run faster or jump higher than everyone else over and over, and wanted to see other exhibits.  So from here, we parted with the rest of the pack to check out some of the other cool exhibits in the museum.We spent a lot of time in Ben's Lab, where there were physics experiments and optical illusions.  That is always a fun place in the museum.  We played with some experiments with light, which were really neat.It was then time to re-join the pack for our planetarium show.  I think at some point while we were in Ben's Lab, the rest of the pack decided to order in pizza, but we were ok since we'd already had ramen.  But as a result, the rest of the pack showed up just before the show started and got different seats, whereas Riley and I got to lay down dead-center, which was pretty cool.  The show was narrated by Neil Degrasse Tyson, although I can't even tell you now what it was about.  Some pretty generic space content, is what I suspect.After the planetarium, we all had to head to bed.  We were worried that some of the lights on the displays wouldn't be off, but they were all eventually turned off by some custodians.  The floor was not too uncomfortable, but some of the other scout dads snore pretty loudly, and it was hard to stay asleep.  One of the other scouts was sleeping opposite me from Riley and kept rolling over and slapping me all night.  He also kept asking me where [...]

On Blogs

Tue, 24 Mar 2015 18:27:04 PDT

I recently asked via Twitter whether anyone still followed bloggers that did not have topical blogs.  Do you follow a blogger that diarizes, rather than trying to sell you something, either directly or via ads?  The overwhelming majority confirmed my suspicion that blogging is pretty well dead as an art.  If you're blogging these days, you're possibly screaming into the maelstrom, unheard by anyone, being drowned out by the published content that built to suit.One thing I hear a lot is that social media has taken the place that blogging used to fill.  If you had a desire to write something online in 2005, you published a blog.  These days, you're writing on Facebook or posting a photo on Instagram.  These venues, although they are not owned by the publisher, make sharing this content with peers easier.  It is only possible to receive accolades of disembodied thumb-raised-fists via these venues.  Of course their ubiquity and ease make them attractive even to the non-technical.  Thereby blogging takes a hit.There is a line, I think; one that we have crossed in the past five years.  Blogging is simply not done by personal bloggers anymore.  Sure, there are a few out there.  There may even be many, but the social aspects of blogging are dwarfed by the social cocaine that sites like Facebook let you snort with quick updates, quick comments, quick "likes".  Consuming blogs is even more difficult now that the most popular RSS tools have gone extinct.  My overwhelming gut feel is that the only bloggers that are getting any traction are ones that are getting paid to do it.It's an interesting claim, and maybe this is really what characterizes the line about which I am concerned in drawing.  On the earlier side of this line, bloggers started writing and then became popular enough to earn money.  On the later side of this line, bloggers seek to earn money and so develop a content strategy to do so.  This leads me to think that, if we're not already there, then blogging is soon to be something akin to junkmail.  It'll eventually get so bad that when we're looking at a blog, we won't even know if it's something worthy of our attention anymore.Carrying this assertion forward, I think we could assume that blogging simply isn't something that you do for social sharing anymore.  What does that leave us from the point of view of constructing web applications?We are building sites these days that function at different levels: Single-page sales site - A single HTML page dedicated to giving you the essential details for an enterprise. Multi-page corporate identity - Usually "managed" with a page-editing tool, built with menus for navigating between pages that each describe an aspect of a business. Organization portal - Perhaps also incorporating an identity component, this site usually has an "intranet" that houses private files or functions used by the organization either internally or by the organization's customers/clients/users. News zine - This site aggregates the feature-length publications of authors of different levels of professional skill under a single banner, usually rife with ads. Game - A game. Data mining tool - This is a site that either collects or presents or both collects and presents information that it houses, like Google, IMDB, or even something like Spotify.What's not in this list?  Possibly a lot of things, but I think I've covered things pretty well.Looking at this list, there is nothing here that requires a blog.  No blogs.  This leaves me wondering, if none of these things really require a blog, then why are we using blog software to build the web?Some fool is bound to try to suggest that, for example, WordPress is not blog [...]

Alexa, Read My Amazon Echo Review

Fri, 23 Jan 2015 07:04:04 PST

In December, I received an invitation to purchase an Echo, a niche consumer device offered by Amazon.  I took them up on the offer, and have now been using Echo for about a week.The Echo was easy to set up.  You basically plug it in, then follow the prompts on a phone app to configure the Echo for wifi.  It connects to your home network the same way you'd connect a Chromecast -- You connect to its private wifi network with your phone, then use the software to choose your home wifi network and provide the password.Via the app, the Echo was instantly connected to my Amazon account, giving it access to my music stored there.  Presumably other services could be connected, but connecting it to Amazon Video doesn't make much sense since the Echo has no screen.Echo works by calling out the command word, which can be either "Alexa" or "Amazon", and then issuing a command.  Saying, "Alexa, play the Defiance original soundtrack," would cause the Echo to connect to my Amazon music library and play the indicated album.The Echo is also able to answer basic factual questions, such as "Who was the third president of the United States?" and "What is the square root of 64?" and "Who is Kevin Bacon?"  These questions are most answered with Mrs. Mitchell-satisfying 4th grade-complete sentences that include the salient part of the question, which is great since you then know that the Echo really did understand what you were asking.  I've read some other reviews on the Echo, all of which seem to deride the accuracy of the voice recognition of the device.  This is complete BS.  The Echo is significantly better than Siri in both recognition and response.  Siri hardly ever understands what I'm asking; The Echo underwent rigorous technical trials with 10-year-old Riley at the wheel, and passed with flying colors.  Siri's answers are almost always "I found this for you on the web"; The Echo somehow finds the information you're looking for and provides a summary of it.  Siri's voice even sounds somewhat robotic in comparison to the Echo's fluid tones.Even with the volume of the Echo turned up reasonably loud, the voice recognition has not failed us.  I can only guess that the other reviewers didn't follow the instructions for placement of the Echo, which suggest that you place it away from walls and other audio obstructions.There are some neat features of the Echo.  One of my favorites is the "Flash Briefing" which gives you a quick overview of the day's news, with topics configured via the phone app.  The Echo will tell you the local weather, which seems like a pretty standard feature for such a device.You can add things to a shopping list with the Echo.  This feature seems useful, but there are a couple of problems.  First, the shopping list only appears in the Echo app.  The echo app is fine for configuring the Echo, but is otherwise not what I would prefer to use for my shopping list.  I'm not sure if I can share this list with Berta, or if she can even run the app connected to the same Echo, too -- haven't tried it, but suspect it will not work.  But the real nail in the coffin of this feature is that we've had a SmartShopper for a couple of years now, and stopped using that only a couple of months in.  We simply won't use this feature.There's a to-do list that's similar to the shopping list, but unlike the reminders in the iPhone with Siri, there is only one list.  Once again, the list appears in the Echo app only.The Echo has a great timer and alarm feature.  You can say, "Alexa, set a timer for 5 minutes," and in 5 minutes, an alarm sounds.  You can ask how long is left on the timer, which is nice for baking cookie[...]

Bland Food

Wed, 14 Jan 2015 06:18:13 PST

Looking at Facebook the other day, I saw no less than three recipes for what people described (in summary) as "the best easy dish ever".  One of these recipes was for buttered spaghetti noodles with parsley.  Is this the kind of food people typically eat?Buttered noodles is what I have when there isn't anything else in the house.  That is to say, I consider the house empty of food when all that is left in the house is your "best easy dish ever".Yes, it is easy to make food.  Maybe that's what you were trying to suggest with your recipe -- that food doesn't need to be complicated.  But come on.  We must have seriously different ideas about what "complicated" is.This is evidenced again in the recent cub scout father-son cook-off.  Riley and I were the only pair to make something with meat.  We made meatballs.  Granted, some of the other dishes (all but the popcorn mix was a dessert) were multi-step recipes, but were for the most part boxed desserts.Our meatballs were part ground pork, part sweet Italian sausage.  There were spices mixed in.  Egg, cheese, and breadcrumbs.  We mixed the meat by hand.  We rolled the balls by hand.  We (both Riley and I took turns -- yes, he participated in every step) sautéed the meatballs in a pan, then slow-cooked them in a crock pot.  We made tomato sauce from scratch for them to simmer in, with tomato paste, canned crushed tomatoes, and spices.  There was no box, no frozen meatballs.I'm puzzled by what passes for typical homemade dinner in a local household.  Sure, there are nights when reheated frozen chicken fingers see our dinner table, but we also have nights where the kids help cook salmon.  Berta's beef barley stew is pretty tasty.  I can make some mean, flavorful wings from a pack of whole bulk wings.  I am not trying to convince anyone that my sriracha-covered frozen chicken fingers are a delicacy on Facebook.Berta went to a Tastefully Simple dinner night with a bunch of meat recently.  They were set to make meals out of the meat using the Tastefully Simple products.  Well, it went ok, but the recipes were a bit... bland.  Not just bland, but lacking imagination.  With such great spice products, you'd think the recipes would try to make use of that flavor.  Instead, the focus seemed to be on how you could use only their spices to make meat not-too-plain to eat after simmering in a crock pot all day.Berta had to add vegetables to their inexplicable "Italian" beef stew.  What made it "Italian"?  Maybe the parmesan cheese they said to add to the bowl?  There was also cream cheese in it, which I've never heard of in a stew.  Maybe I'm missing something, and that's what stew is supposed to be like?  Based on the flavor, I think "no".Yes, the lack of vegetables was curious.  In their last recipe we tried last night, the chicken was drenched in some flavorless cream-ish concoction.  We put it over plain mashed potatoes (which I don't think were part of the recipe), and the potatoes had more flavor.We were not impressed.  And I am left to wonder, if this is what people consider "great recipes", what the heck garbage were they eating before?I don't begrudge you your attempts at making food in your own kitchen.  More power to you.  But don't think that taking a jar of Prego (ugh, please) and adding some chopped onion to it makes your spaghetti recipe fantastic enough to mention.  Ok, maybe it's a stepping stone for you to greater things, but at least be cognizant of that.My suggestion: Grab yourself a cookbook and learn to make quick meals with real food.  It's not as hard as you[...]