The Man and the Mouse, and other tales of Florida

Upon planning a trip to visit the little guy’s mom’s parents, we made it pretty clear that a 7-month-old did not have a burning need to go to Disneyworld, considering how excited he is by: leaves, cats, buses, the MBTA, mirrors, office lobbies, and other activities that do not cost $114 for admission. Knowing the little man’s grandmother as we do, though, and proud as we knew she was of her resident pass, we penciled in a day there and acted surprised when she said that’s where we were going.

And you know what? The man really liked it. Sure, what he liked most was riding around at knee level amongst the throngs of people laughing maniacally in his stroller every time he saw other small children. But he also liked rides! (Also: they just let you bring a 7-month-old on most of the rides, which admittedly i hadn’t given any thought to, but had kind of assumed wasn’t a thing). So there he was riding flying carpets, carousels, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion. And looking around wide-eyed, even smiling. The idea of how new and exciting everything is to him is so invigorating, and better than that, you never know, with him—any place might be the next happiest place on earth™.

Other things we learned:

  • The diaper changing room near Main Street at Disneyworld is amazing. Cushy beds, table liners, a kiosk to buy crap you forgot. As it’s probably likely that i’ll be back there before the man is out of diapers, i can tell you i will be looking forward to it next time.
  • Disney’s reputation for experience design is deserved and well-documented, but i thought it was interesting how the barnacle-like growth of strollers on and around pathways clogged the arteries so thoroughly and in such a disorderly way. Immediately, i thought of redesigning it, realizing that like midtown Manhattan, the Magic Kingdom is, in some ways, some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. It deserves an expensive, well-designed solution, don’t you think?
      • Could you do an underground parking elevator-vending machine system like in high-density parking garages? It would have to be extremely fast and foolproof (their existing wristband tech would solve a lot of UI problems), but there would remain the issue of needing to not forget anything on your stroller lest you have to do it all over again.
      • Or what about an underground, self-serve parking area? Naturally, any underground solution would encroach on existing underground infrastructure.
      • Maybe this can be accomplished with policy solutions? Stroller-free zones, or congestion charging? Perhaps a valet service would do the trick, with the human element allowing for efficiency based on knowledge of how soon you’ll be back for it and trust that it’s well taken care of.
      • Stroller standardization could be another way to go. Maybe providing one, well-designed, compact, modular stroller at the parking lot would be a means to de-clutter the random agglomerations of compact (like ours), giant, double, and quadruple strollers.
      • Anyway, on the off chance they read this, and want to hire me and my day job to work on it, this is the sort of shit we rule at.
  • The Haunted Mansion is objectively the best ride at Disneyworld.
  • Experiencing big crowds with the little man is a little bit unnerving, considering he and his stroller are always pointed headlong into it, and i can’t see him. Fortunately, as i mentioned, he sort of loves that. But unsurprisingly, people walking around the Magic Kingdom, particularly at busy times, are badly behaved in the way that Connecticut drivers are. One wonders how many stroller fender-benders occur at brisk speeds.
  • Counterpoint: we spent the day walking so slowly that i barely budged my green ring on my Apple Watch, and not because of my wife’s parents’ slow amble, either.

Regarding the rest of Florida:

  • It’s still terrible. Traffic lights that take hours. Weaving drivers around people doing ten under in the left lane. We saw an American flag with he-who-must-not-be-named’s face on it. Their toll road arrangements, particularly as intersected with what your rental car is set up for are inconsistent and difficult and leave you scared of giant fines.

A Review of Assorted Baby Products

  • Considering that my better half and i live in a tiny basement apartment in a city not known for large… anything, we were accustomed to living our lives with careful consideration of any objects brought into the house.  Readers who’ve known me a for a long time know that this is a substantial change from my impulse-buy bachelor days.  
  • Change, however, is a thing that’s said to happen when babies are involved, and suddenly we find ourselves host to all manner of new products, some we’ve sweated the purchase of, others we’ve clicked buy on and hoped for the best.  
  • Consider this an addendum to my corporate-friendly thoughts posted earlier.  Highlights and commentary on design choices follow*:
    • Ergobaby 360 Carrier: This replaced the other carrier below, and everything about its construction reflects well on its higher cost; the materials and features are excellent and well-considered.  That’s not, however, the same as saying i agree with their choices.  

      In particular, the lift-the-baby-then-secure-the-carrier method is uncomfortable at first, and maybe something that not everybody can even do.  Basically you lift the baby onto your chest, ideally leaning back a little while standing (it’s awkward while sitting), support them with one arm, don one strap, switch arms, do the other strap.  Then, let go of the baby (!) and reach to connect a buckle at your shoulder blades.  Now, the baby can’t go anywhere at that point—the straps can’t go back over your arms if they’re raised—but this is more of a high-wire act than i’d like, and beyond that simply lacks the convenience of front access.  It seems to me that it would be easy enough to design an accessible fastener that only releases when the weight of the payload is held by your hands.  

      Apart from that, for a $150 carrier, charging $20 extra for multiple locations of washable drool covers is a bit ridiculous.  Despite all that, it’s comfortable for both of us for long walks or subway rides or bouts of xmas shopping, and his legs are well-supported with a clever forward-swung sling portion of the carrier.  His considerable weight is distributed partially to the waist, which helps as well.
       
    • Infantino Carrier: We bought this almost on impulse at Target, because it was so inexpensive and it served us extremely well while he was little.  People with smaller babies probably would get longer use out of it.  Ultimately, worn front-facing, it provided inadequate support to his giant fat thighs as he reached the 15-20lb mark.  The four-buckles-for-him, two-for-me system was easy to put on, though, and we miss being able to be securely wearing the carrier before inserting the baby into a stable location.  The downside was (again as he got heavier), the weight was all on the shoulders, which required better posture than i have and meant it got uncomfortable after an hour.  
    • Munchkin Diaper Pail: This has a fun little gear mechanism that operates the sphinctering of the tubular diaper baggie. It sometimes skips due to too much torque on account of being too full, but in general, the sphincter twists shut very effectively, which means that our tiny bedroom with like, half a window, does not smell like diaper. It doesn’t consume consumables excessively, either.  Here is where i say ‘sphincter’ one more time for fun.  At work, i frequently describe mechanisms or concepts using this word, because it’s both funny and scatological and extremely descriptive.
    • Fisher-Price Jungle Gym: A hand-me-down, and a lifesaver of one.  We don’t have this version, and there are clearly a few out there, but there was a good two month period where he couldn’t help but burst out laughing every time those butterflies fluttered overhead. Moreover, it’s a solid framework upon which to hang whichever little toy he’s most into, as he’s progressed from staring at it to beating the crap out of it. It’s on its second use, and as he wrestles it and i trip over it, it is slowly losing some of its rigidity.
    • Thule Urban Glide 2.0 jogging stroller: This is our only stroller, which is a decision we are mostly good with, except when we find ourselves in a tiny store or café, or on an orange line car at too busy an hour (read: we really prefer to keep our stroller off the T).  Put another way, it’s deceptively huge.  It’s long, obviously, but the wheelbase sneaks up on you, and it’s the thing that snags, or runs over strangers’ toes.  Someday we’ll have a cheap smaller one for stuff like that.  

      Having said that, this thing is awesome.  It bounces cheerfully over the uneven brick and cobble sidewalks of the South End and up and over mismatched, nonexistent, or blocked curb cuts, without jostling the (probably sleeping) passenger, thanks to pretty nice, simple shock-absorbing and big, forgiving wheels.  It drives great while running, too, rolls extremely smoothly, but that’s not the same as it requiring no effort; up hills, and especially into Boston’s inescapable winter wind, it’s an additional burden.  Good.  

      The adapter for the (see next) car seat was simple and robust, and also led too short a life.  Now that he’s out of that, though, it’s a lot more fun for him, as he’s got more to see than just the sky (not that he doesn’t love the sky), although he’d probably still prefer it if the stroller had 10-15˚ more uprightness available.  The wind/rain cover is also excellent and means that we can go out on the coldest days with just the (amazing) LL Bean sleeping bag thing that my mom got him and don’t have to coax him into more garments.  

      The wheels come off easily to fit in our car, in addition to the nice folding mechanism (one quibble—the closure latch is just a cheap plastic hasp and tooth that is sometimes a wrestling match.  It seems to me a swinging, detented hook might be better on release.
    • Chicco KeyFit car seat: We got nearly five months out of it, and i’ll always remember it as the thing we brought him home from the hospital in.  He was straining against it almost from that day.   It was a matter of weeks before we were pulling out the inserts for newborns, he was confined and overheated through the hot, humid summer, and practically bursting out of it when we switched to the next car seat.  We used the snuggly winter cover thing exactly once.  It is, however, extremely robust and well-designed, and one of many things we feel extremely wasteful about for having used so little.  

      In general, infant car seats should be easier to carry one-handed (they probably are with lighter babies).  The handle needs to get closer to your body, and there needs to be a way to not be bouncing it off your knees as you walk down the block.  Perhaps i’d be willing to move the handle left or right and trade an addition of ballast for a more convenient center-of-mass.  In smaller cars like ours, some help in clicking the seat in, visual aids, detents/feel features would be nice.  It’s not hard, but sometimes, due to the long cramped reach with an extended heavy object, the insertion-and-click winds up being heavy and jarring for the dude.  
    • Graco 4-in-1 car-seat: He was content for 45 minutes in the old one, provided the car was moving steadily.  With this one, its maybe up to an hour. It’s definitely more comfortable for him to get in and out of, a lot less yelling.  This is a heavily, heavily upholstered thing that i haven’t spent enough time with yet to truly understand.  It is worth mentioning that it’s huge, and that it’s cost me a click of my seat in our Mini Countryman.  The buckles are a little chintzier than the Chicco one too, and get lost and twisted a bit more easily.
    • Qooc Food Processor: This is a relatively new addition, which is fun for me to play with, because someone clearly put some effort into the product design on it.  Especially noticeable is the big, blue, lightpiped, rubberized control knob.  It’s a good, simple UI feature, even if the ‘power’ glyph on the front is maybe not the right choice, given its function (left = steam on, right = blender momentary-on).  i’m more disappointed on their behalf that they almost got the light pipe right, but there’s some LED bleed out the side of the knob.  Bummer.

      The retention of the blade on the bottom of the pitcher is sufficient, but unconvincing—the nut holding it should have a light detent.  Other than that, they did a good job implementing proper food-processor-type safety interlocks with simple, inexpensive parts (i have some experience with this (whaat, it comes in purple now!)).  If it were me designing it, i might have put thru-hole drains in the bottom base under the pitcher for cleaning purposes, too. Chopped-up carrots, especially, are pernicious little bits of debris.  The material chosen for the included spatula discolored almost immediately against carrots.  This thing comes with a lot of parts, too.  It’d be nice to have some means of storing some of them.  Cribbing off our shop at work, i am organizing it (as well as our bottle+formula station) using cheap cafeteria trays.   
    • Baby Einstein Take-Along-Tunes music box: Our better fake child bought this for him based on her extensive babysitting experience, and she was not kidding.  This simple, cheap little thing has comparable effectiveness to a pacifier.  Push the button, music and lights, calm baby.  It’s hard to believe that seven classical-music tunes played with probably the firmware equivalent of .MOD files (look it up if you’re not enough of a nerd) work so well on little folk.  The scant downside is that it consumes AA batteries surprisingly quickly.

      If i were so bold as to redesign this perfect product, i suppose i might spread out the flashing lights so they’re more visible from more places. And maybe scallop the bottom so that it’s harder to inadvertently mute the speaker on carpets and blankets and things.
    • Car back seat mirrors. We’ve tried two, neither of which have done that great a job of hanging onto the Mini’s center headrest. Currently it’s this one, which is fine except the logo on it is deeply hideous. All of the strap arrangements on these are varying degrees of horrible, though. Feels like it could be done with more of a sleeve or sack sort of arrangement, or even bendable hooks.
    More likely to come later.
  • *These are Amazon affiliate links, for the lulz.  Doubt that works out for me.