Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Retro-Modern Holidays

Having two children under the age of 12 makes Christmas very fun. Everything from setting up the indoor and outdoor decorations to selecting gifts for family members, on to parties, advent calendars, concerts and even cold weather are all part of the season.

Yet every year, I look at the things that keep children fascinated. Every year, there’s something new to keep children interested. Here are some that I’ve seen:

Christmas lights — Over the past three or four years, LED (light emitting diode) lights have become all the rage. Energy efficiency is one of the main benefi ts of LEDs, but they also have a certain look to them that is different than the typical incandescent bulbs most of us grew up with.

A few days ago, we were driving around Westport and my children saw some of the old-style Christmas bulbs on a neighbor’s home. The children started asking about them and ended up thinking that the old style lights are prettier than the new LEDs.

The inside Christmas lights are also the same way. While years ago people used candles on their trees (hugely dangerous), I also remember the light bulbs we used as kids that were hot enough to stretch certain types of tinsel. While not as dangerous as candles, the incandescent bulbs we used provided a level of danger that is surprising nowadays.

The bulbs we now use are very low wattage, low heat types that are still very pretty, but don’t have much of the charm of the old bulbs. But my favorite are the liquid ones that bubble due to a bulb underneath that heats the liquid inside. In fact, that reminds me that I still have to fi nd them in our attic and put them on the tree.

Toys — Sometimes toys just don’t need any improvement. I understand the attractiveness and even compelling nature of some of the digital toys such as Wii, PlayStation, Xbox and even the portable devices, but I fi nd that many children, especially the younger ones, still like the basic toys.

I can’t help but recall past holidays and birthdays when children receive many presents and still end up playing with the wrapping paper and boxes. A few years ago, a friend of mine purchased a new TV and gave us the old box (this is before TVs were flat). As the box measured about 4-feet square, we gave it to our children, cut a few holes in it, and at different times, it became a fort, a castle, a space ship and a home. It was imagination that helped our children turn a box into a favorite play toy. That box stayed in our family’s play room for about a year before it finally fell apart. And even then our children were begging us not to throw it away.

Having grown up with board games, it’s been interesting to see how many games of that ilk now require batteries or some other form of power to operate. While some games benefit from added lights and bells, I find that the vast majority do not. What is disappointing is when a perfectly good game that can be run without electricity no longer functions because an electronic aspect has been introduced and you fi nd yourself with dead batteries.

One very interesting change over the years is the “Easy Bake Oven.” Many of you may remember them. They have morphed from a standard kitchen oven to looking like a microwave oven. But the most serious change is that an Easy Bake Oven requires a lightbulb to provide heat to bake the items inside.

Over the years, light bulbs have become more energy efficient — meaning cooler — which means they don’t work as well in an Easy Bake Oven. About a year ago we had to replace a bulb in an Easy Bake Oven. It was hard to find an old fashioned 75 watt incandescent (not energy efficient) bulb.

As we look toward celebrating this Christmas with my family, I will most of all look forward to the excitement in the eyes of my children in all the events of the holiday season.

It is with adult eyes that I watch my children as they grow and experience this changing world, sometimes improving, yet sometimes being misty-eyed about how things used to be.

Every holiday season is magical. I wish everyone a very happy holiday season and a prosperous new year.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 23 December 2009.
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