Yes, I made the kid cry this morning. While I suppose I can be an evil stepfather, these were, in fact, tears of joy.
Yesterday evening he and The Dulcinea were bickering over his use of the laptop. It's been an ongoing issue. Well, last night I'd had enough and so I went and bought a laptop for the kid. He was asleep when I got home and I spent a couple hours removing bloatware, updating, installing, and configuring. I installed his one of his favorite programs Stykz
, a stick figure animation program. Miles is the creative type and he likes to animate stick figures being killed in various ways. His other killer app, Blockland
, a 3D Lego-like building game, would have to wait until we found his reg code for the Mac version he has.
The poor kid had a bad night last night which meant that I was awoken from my slumbers 2-3 times by his exceedingly forlorn voice asking for his mother who was fast asleep. I am now aware that we have a centipede of extraordinary magnitude roaming our place (why hasn't the cat caught it?) and that Miles must be the only 10-year old boy who doesn't like squashing them. Since he'd fallen asleep on the couch early he was up fairly early this morning and I decided to lay the laptop on him. At first he just looked at it with his tired, crusty eyes not knowing what to make of it
"It's a laptop I bought for you."
He was in shock. I figured he'd get over it quickly and went to get myself a cup of coffee because I felt like the walking dead suffering from a yawning attack. When I emerged from the kitchen he was staring at the Windows splash screen, his mouth agog at his good luck. And tears had welled in his eyes. He was crying. Now, I've made him cry before just not out of happiness. It was a very touching moment. I tried to recall how I reacted when I got my first computer – a Commodore 64 – back in the 1980s but couldn't. Very similarly, I'd imagine. It felt good to see him so happy. I'm not the best stepfather ever to walk the Earth and I realize that buying a laptop doesn't make up for my failings otherwise but I'm working on them.
Miles is 10 years old so I don't have to change diapers or bathe him. He's in good shape so I'm not driving him to the hospital once a week for kidney dialysis or any such thing. All in all, I've got it easy or at least not more difficult than average. But it's those easy things which often prove the most difficult. As I remarked above, I'm working on them. I'm working on giving him more of my time, paying attention to his endeavors, and being complimentary. To be sure, I've got a long way to go but I think I've gotten better over the past couple months. Nowhere near perfect, but better. My own father showed little interest in my activities when I was a kid – he was more keen on getting us to do work around the house and acting as disciplinarian – so I'm starting from a bit of a disadvantage here.
Part of the problem was that, when I moved in with The D and Miles, I focused on living with my girlfriend and gave too little consideration to being a stepfather. So there's work to do. But the way I figure it, if Miles turns out badly, I can blame his parents. And if he turns out well, I can take some credit. (Ahem.)
Of course now that Miles has his own computer, he'll not want to spend any time with me at all. What's a poor stepparent to do?
Setting the laptop up was my first go at Windows 7. Being used to Vista, it wasn't too difficult but I discovered that nothing makes an IT person feel old like configuring parental controls. I didn't have parental controls on my C64 and have never needed them. Until now. I created an account for Miles and set it so that he gets booted off at 8PM on school nights. This will hopefully put an end to his not getting ready for bed due to having to just one more thing to do in Blockland. I also installed the Windows Live Family Safety pack. It allows me to monitor his web usage, restrict sites, view a log of all the programs he runs, etc. I'm not particularly worried about this stuff right now but I suppose installing it makes me feel like a responsible adult or something like that.
The built-in parental controls give you the ability to restrict what programs a user can run. It presents a list of all the executables in the Program Files folder and their paths. Being in IT, I appreciate the rather granular nature of the list but I can imagine less than computer literate parents being confronted by the list and throwing their hands up in the air in total confusion. We got Blockland installed this morning but it didn't end up in the list for whatever reason. I'd like to limit the apps the kid can run just to make sure he doesn't accidentally do something which forces me to fix the thing. Aside from this, the only other snafu I ran into was that the laptop couldn't connect to our wireless network unless I turned off the firewall. I'll have to reenable it and create an exception.
My only other worry at this point is that now is viruses. I have phishing filters enabled, pop-up blockers are on, and MS Security Essentials is running. Still, he got a couple of those fake anti-virus pop-ups already this morning. Hopefully the firewall and the fact that he does not have admin rights will curtail viruses/malware.
Here are some of my first impressions on Winders 7.
1) It took me a long time to find the laptop's MAC address. While it is probably in the same spot as it is in Vista, I don't have wireless on my desktop so it took some hunting and pecking. Technical info should be easy to get at.
2) Presumably because of anti-trust lawsuits, Windows Movie Maker isn't included in Windows 7 and for some reason the latest version you download from Windows Live doesn't include the ability to record from a webcam. I bought a laptop with one built-in because Miles likes to make videos so I had to search the Net to discover that the utility included with the image called Lifeframe will capture the footage. Couldn't they have chosen a name that indicated just what the hell the program did instead of one that was creepy in an Oprah kind of way? This must be easier on a Mac.
3) The new Mac-like taskbar. I hate it less than I thought I would. But I haven't filled it up. On my Vista box, my Quick Launch bar is full and I've got tons of shortcuts pinned to my Start Menu. Not sure how the shiny new taskbar would handle all that. Also, there are some new icons so I have to concentrate on a few to figure out what they are. Not sure if you can use text labels or not here.
So let us hope that my investment will help keep the peace at home and ensure the undying love of my stepson.
Next projects: get him to use the bathroom's exhaust fan and to turn off lights and the TV when he's not watching it. The advantage of the former is obvious. As for the latter, my dad got all anal about such things during the energy crisis of the late 1970s so all I can say is that the sins of the father are visited upon the stepson.