Stupid Stupid Stupid

I hesitate to even bring this up, but I think it will be educational to some folks out there. I've been dealing with depression for some time. There. I said it. I used to work in a very competitive, confrontational, and political environment. That was when the depression really got a hold of me. I eventually jumped ship, but the damage was done. I'm in a MUCH better place now, but I'm still suffering. Worse, I basically had to hit reset on my career and now feels very much like a dead-end job. Yeah, I shouldn't be complaining when I have a job in this political climate, but depression flips the bird at reasonable arguments. It's a real bastard.

Credit to "Hyperbole and a Half"

Credit to "Hyperbole and a Half"

Anyway, I hope this goes some way toward explaining why I haven't been dedicating the attention to the blog that I would have liked. The funny thing about depression is that it basically removes anything that could be related to "gumption." You have an almost impossible time convincing yourself that your actions are wanted, or matter to anyone, or are even competent or in any way worth doing. It drains you of the energy to do anything other than subsist, and sometimes you can barely do that. And you can't reason with it.

This probably contributed to what was (financially at least) the biggest mistake of my life. I had several hundred bitcoins in Mt. Gox. In retrospect, I should have withdrawn them months ago. I was stupid. I'll own that. You see, every time I thought of making a withdrawal, I also thought about how stupid I would feel if I transferred to my own wallet and then failed to back it up properly, or lost control of it, or somehow botched it. It was the depression talking, telling me I wasn't up to the task. That's why I was ready to trust Mt. Gox more than I trusted myself.

Credit to "Hyperbole and a Half"

Credit to "Hyperbole and a Half"

Depression effects the way you think. It made me make bad decissions, and of course it's effecting the way I deal with this. The "natural" response is to think about what I could have done with those bitcoins. What could have been. I was going to quit my dead-end job and write a kick-ass series of novels. I'm pretty confident that they'd have been kick-ass because even in my worst times of depression, I was pretty darned proud of what I had so far. Even in my depression, I got 50,000 words into the first draft of book one. I got stopped short when I realized shear size of the world I was making. I needed to fall back and do some Tolkeinesque linguistic, typographic and cartographic development. I also needed to properly flesh out the FULL story ark across the entire series so I could maintain Rowlingish continuity across the series. It was a bigger job than what I could reasonably do in an hour or two a day. I had hope, though. I was going to be able to use the bitcoins to fill the financial gap while I hammered out those details and shipped the books. Maybe I'd find I could make a living that way, or maybe I'd just have some time away from my normal career to heal via "creative therapy."

That's all on hold now. The Mabelliad (working title) is just going to have to sit in the corner, shooting me accusatory looks for bring it almost into being.

Ditto with the blog. I have an "On Hold" folder in Ominfocus with 184 would-be Dadstruction projects. My thought was that mornings would be time for intensely creative activities like novel writing, and the lower energy afternoons and evenings would be spent on the projects that were more hands-on or required the presence of my partner in crime and number one beta tester. So many arduinos, and so little time...

Well, crap. Crap Crap Crap.

I shouldn't dwell on what could have been, but with depression, it's sometimes almost impossible not to. Your brain keeps going there unbidden. They call them invasize thoughts, and they suck like a really negative guest who also refuses to leave.

There's one bit that surprises me, though. I would I thought I'd be bitter. I've been a big booster of bitcoin right from the beginning. My plan was always to treat it as it was meant to be used: as a currency. There was so much talk from the pundits about "inherent value," that treated bitcoins like virtual gold. It's not. It's virtual currency. Folks would ask me when I was going to "cash out" and I would just smile. How do you "cash out" of what is already cash? I was going to spend it in this new and exciting economy.

Now it feels like I've been kicked out of the club.

I would have thought I'd develop a case of sour grapes, but I can't manage it. Bitcoin is still probably going to be the international currency of the future. Even if his Daddy blew it, I owe it to my little man help him learn about it.

I've put my wallet address on the site. Maybe some kind soul will shove a few Satoshis my way to play with. Maybe little man can learn from my mistakes. He's the part I put the most effort into not thinking about. I've missed so much of his childhood so far to long hours and pressing deadlines. I tried to be around more, little guy. I just screwed up and I'm sorry.

From "Life Hack" to "Kickstarter Hack"

@dhulser brought this to our attention yesterday.  It kinda walks the border between brilliant and scam, although I guess those aren't mutually exclusive. 

We all have cable management problems. Well here's a solution.   Some guys over on Kickstarter have designed a nifty holder that lets you keep a bunch of cables nice and neat. 

They walk us through their design process with sketches of earlier designs, then show use the final design and even show us a picture of the "mold-making" process. For a mear $10, you can own of these amazing devices and support their development efforts. 

Now check this out ----->

That's right, it's a tie rack, available from Amazon for 4 bucks, and Alibaba for $0.25 lots of 5000.  The "bread clips" are there too for a price that makes we wonder if there would be value to filling a pool with them and swimming in it.  It would probably be pretty "owy," so never mind.

I'm still trying to decide if I should be angry or envious.  They came up with a new use for an existing device (or found it on pintrest), and basically asked for enough money to cover the minimum order.  The rest is repackaging and fulfillment. 

Köans from a 6 year old.

Junior and I were just having a discussion of creativity, and the question came up of "Do you get more creative as you grow up, or less?" The best I could come up with was "If you keep practicing your creativity, you get more, but if you don't you get less." Then he zinged me.

"Well I think that grown-ups have a kid world in their brains, and if they open up their brains and find the kid world, then a whole new world of imagination opens up for them."

He wins. I won't top that.

Father/Son Mining

minecraft.png

The other day, PP and I each made boats and set off to explore an island that we'd noticed was just visible in the distance out to sea.  We both managed to fall out of our boats and had to swim most of the way.  When we got there, we didn't have a lot of time to explore before dusk. Caught that far from home, there wasn't much to do other than climb a tree and hunker down for the night. Fortunately, zombies can't climb trees, but skeletons can shoot arrows if they notice us, so we'll be keeping a low profile. 

We've been playing Minecraft together for a few weeks now. Minecraft time has become the go-to reward for doing all his homework and coming home with good school reports, and removing Minecraft time is the punishment of choice. 

Being an "old guy," it still seems odd to look at a video game as educational. It's still considered good parenting to limit "screen time." I'm slowly coming around to the idea that "screen time"  is a ridiculously broad term. Does watching a nature show in 3D count as screen time. If so, than does looking out a window at the bird feeder? The content and level of interaction matters. Is the kid being educated or learning useful skill sets. If so, than I have a hard time getting down on it. During our Minecraft time we have to make long term plans, observe processes in the correct order, balance the need for caution with the drive for exploration. 

Is time spent building virtual houses as valuable as building them out of Lego or Lincoln Logs? Probably not, but having the variety of both is probably better than either by itself. I would also argue that the costs that Minecraft imposes on "doing it wrong" (eaten by zombies, swimming in lava...) tends to guide you to think a bit harder about designing your defenses and mining that ore. 

It's also interesting to see how our virtual interactions mimic those in real live. I still find myself making dinners and laying out clothes (or armor) for him. He's much more comfortable exploring with Daddy than wandering off on his own, even though we are actually sitting a few feet apart.  "Come be with me Daddy," he'd say, and I feel a pang of guilt for going off to mine coal and leaving my 6 year old home alone to ward off zombies and skeletons.   I guess that's the cost of being a single parent. Maybe it's time to get Mrs. 'Struction an account. 

Sick Day Math Activity

The boy has been sick for nearly a week. The latest diagnosis is pneumonia.  He's doing well, but starts every morning with a request to go to school.  Hanging out at home with Cluquah and Daddy is obviously starting to wear thin.  He's been too sick to even sit up at the kitchen computer and play Minecraft. 

We spent some time reading The Further Adventures of Penrose. As an aside, this is a great book for any kid with a liking for math.  The chapters are short, bite-sized introductions to various concepts and fun facts from geometry and number theory.  We read through both books, lost them for a while, and now are making our way through them again. 

In any case, we read the section on rep-tiles. These are shapes that can tile together to make a larger version of the same shape.  The little guy was very enthusiastic and asked for his crafting basket.   

Of course, this being the modern age. It was no longer sufficient to just cut and draw. You have to make a "click-stop" video as well.   

On the whole, it's a nice pass-time that was both educational and not too strenuous.  The making of the stop-motion is also a time that kept him occupied enough that daddy can get away for a few minutes and get some work done. 

Creative Children, Creative Parents, and Creative Projects

Here's a lesson that I'm still in the process of learning.  I have this tendency to jump into projects with both feet, to think big, to go for the big splash. Of course that often means that I find myself over my head, or short of time due to the complexity of the project.  On the plus side I learn a lot.    

Planning art projects with PP is no different.  I've more or less committed to building an entire Nerdy Derby for his birthday party (shhh, it's a surprise.)  Like I said, thinking big. 

 

That said, sometimes it's good to remember just how much creative play and satisfaction can come out of just a few simple materials laying around the house.  Take the picture below for example.  A few used boxes, a pair of scissors, and some packing tape can make a robot costume that will have junior proudly walking around the house making "meep meep" noises, and comically failing to navigate doorways for a good hour.

It's a good lesson for me.  Sometimes you should just relax and say "what do you think we can make with this" instead of dreaming about what you could make with an arduino and 16 servo motors.   

Addendum: One funny story about the above costume.  He cut the eye, arm and neck holes in the boxes, then put them and AND THEN had me attach the head to the body.  When it came time for him to take it off for further modifications, we found that the neck holes in the body and head weren't alined.  There was room enough of his neck, but absolutely no chance his noggin could pass through the opening. It was a tricky maneuver, but I managed to cut him out of it.  That cardboard sickle in his hand is one of the resulting scrap pieces.

Quicky Comb Jelly Halloween Costume

Our little guy is into sea creatures big time, and it really comes out at Halloween.  He's been a shark a couple times, an orca (don't you dare call him a killer whale), and an octopus.  Not to be left out, I figured I needed something to blend in, but I didn't want to spend a lot of time, and I'm not quite geeky enough to be comfortable spending 45 minutes on the metro in a full manatee costume.  So I went for jellyfish.  It's simple, doubles as an umbrella, and folds up for travel. Here's an idea of what it looks like. It was a BIG hit at the invertebrate house during "Boo at the Zoo."

The design was something I could through together thanks to having the necessary ingredients lying around or available from Amazon.  These included: 

It took me a couple hours to put it together.  Most of the time was figuring out the best way to route the wires.  Everything is held together with packing tape. It's a bit makeshift, but it's not particularly noticeable from any distance.  Here's a closeup. 

After this Halloween, it'll probably be time to retire it.  I haven't decided yet whether to re-purpose the light strips into more writing productivity porn, or some sort of Christmas decoration. Any other ideas?

Here Kitty Kitty

I don't know if this is a happy sound or an angry sound. Then again, maybe it's a hungery sound, since we had a yummy small mammal running around us.

Yet Another Writing Productivity Tool

As I've been hinting about on twitter, I'm working on a fiction writing project. I'm discovering I like writing, but still am finding my feet in terms of getting my productivity up. When you're in that situation, there is always the geek approach: "I know, I'll spend several hours making a tool that will make me more productive!" That was exactly what I did last Sunday. I happened to have an RGB led strip lying around, and I thought that it could make a good accent light for those times when I'm working in the middle of the night. As I mentioned in my biphasic sleep post, if you have an inspiration to get some work done either right before bed, or during a bout of midnight wakefulness, the last thing you want to do is to be exposed to bright light that's well represented at the blue end of the spectrum, at least not if you want good quality sleep afterward.
My solution in that post was to cover the screen with a make-shift red filter. That worked fine if I was satisfied sitting in the dark with the computer screen as my only light source. That can be a trying work environment, however. No matter how low you turn down the brightness, you're still stairing into the only light source in the room. It's very tiring on the eyes, and it makes it nearly impossible to see anything you may have put on your desk to reference, or if (for some reason) you want to see the keys on your keyboard. That was where the idea of making a night-work-friendly light came from. As sometimes happens with such projects, it grew a bit out of control. I could have found a potentiometer and wired the LED strip up with that, but I had a spare arduino uno laying around, so it was a relatively quick job to wire up a circuit so it could provide the dimming. But it didn't stop there. An arduino can communicate with the computer, and my first thought was to just use the arduino IDE to send signals to control the light, but why should I have to do that manually? In fact, couldn't the light, in addition to giving me a bit of ambient illumination, provide some important feedback? Couldn't it well me how well I'm doing and by extension, when it's time to give up and go to bed? This is what I ended up with. It's still pretty raw, but I'm frankly amazed with how well it works.

On the arduino is the following bit of code.

/* Drive the RGB LED strip with an arduino
*
*/

void setup()
{
Serial.begin(9600);
}

void loop()
{
int REDPIN = 10;
int GREENPIN = 11;
int BLUEPIN = 9;
int i, input, color;
int r = 0;
int g = 0;
int b = 0;
while (1) {
if (Serial.available() >= 1) {
if ( (i<48) || (i>57)) { // i is a letter from the previous loop
color = i;
} else {
color = Serial.read();
}
input = 0;
i = Serial.read();
while ( (i>=48) && (i<=57)) {
input = input*10 + i-48;
i = Serial.read();
}
if (input > 255) {
input = 255;
}
if (color == 82) { //ASCII 'R'
r = input;
} else if (color == 71) { //ASCII 'G'
g = input;
} else if (color == 66) { //ASCII 'B'
b = input;
}
Serial.write(color); //Write-backs are just for debugging purposes
Serial.write(r);
Serial.write(g);
Serial.write(b);
analogWrite(REDPIN, r);
analogWrite(GREENPIN, g);
analogWrite(BLUEPIN, b);
//clear the buffer
// while (Serial.available()) {
// i = Serial.read();
// }

}
delay(20);
}
}

All the code does is read the stream of bytes coming in from the serial bus and parse them into Red, Green and Blue values. It then sets the corresponding PWM values on pins 9,10, and 11. As you'll see in the picture, the circuit is still sitting on a breadboard. Knowing me, I'll keep it there until I need the breadboard.

In fact, I've already put the electronics in a case and mounted it to the underside of a shelf. The LED strip runs under the front edge under the front edge of the shelf with a wooden lip in front of it so no light can go direcly into your eyes. The result is a nice even glow on the desk and back wall (dinosaur wallpaper is essential) that greatly reduces the perceived glare of the screen.

On the computer side of things I have this thrown together and very poorly written Perl script, which you can find below. Every minute it totals the number of words found in all the files within Scrivener's document store. When you're writing, that number should be going up, of course. The script tallies the number of new words and uses it to maintain a running average of your words per hour. The color and intensity of the light is set according to that. It uses the nifty arduino-serial command line app to handle communications with the arduino.

You may scoff, but the effect has been impressive and immediate. You may ask why should a slightly different color of light make any difference to your creativity or your productivity. I can answer that in one word: feedback. We humans may be the peak of reason within the animal kingdom, but we’re actually still pretty darned bad it it. We can fool ourselves into all sorts of fictions.
“Just one cookie won’t make that big a difference.” “I only smoke when I’m stressed.” “I’ll just work on it extra hard tomorrow.” “Just one more level. “ The first day I hooked up the light, I found it was giving direct and very helpful feedback. I was writting for a bit, and had driving the light through the red, and was getting some quite sharp shades of green, when a text message came in from Mrs.'Struction with some questions about shopping, child drop off, etc. I switched over to chat and started a conversation. Aa we chatted, the light lost its greenish hue and started falling back to red. “Chatting is fine,” it seemed to be saying, “but there’s writting to be done.”

You might think that getting that message would be a source of stress, but in fact it was quite liberating. I didn’t have to constantly have some ticker running in the back of my head. “What if I’m chatting too long. Will I be able to catch up? How will I even know?” Instead I could watch the light go red and start to dim knowing that as long as I didn’t let things go too far, I would catch up, and it was all being tracked for me. At the same time, I knew that the longer I waited, the longer it was going to take me to win back the green, and maybe power through to the blue.

It was even more useful when it was time to do some research. “What were the different sizes of ale barrels called?” Wikipedia is a dangerous place, and it’s so easy to get lost in an orgie of learning, but now if my excursion to the browser takes too long, there’s a subtle reminder that maybe I’ve spent enough time and it’s time to get back to scrivener.

There are a lot of possible improvements I can see. Maybe an OS X native app. Maybe something that can just monitor keyboard input directly so it's program agnostic. How about a hot key to add info to the logs, or something that can log what I'm listenning too for later corolation against productivity. I see a lot of possibilties, but I should get back to writting. I've spent more that enough time work-crastingating.

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
#use strict;
#my $filename = shift @ARGV;
use POSIX;

my $filenum = 1;
my @files; #list of files in the docs directory
my $wordtotal; #sum of the words from each file.
my $target = 500; #target words per hour
#(Actually half your target if you goal is to get to green)

my $wordcount = 200; #Sets the starting state of the light.
my $max_brightness = 200; #Adjusts how bright the lights can get. Strictly a matter of taste
my $oldwordtotal = 0; #Used to keep track of the delta in words per minute
my $scrivener_file = "/Dropbox/Writing/Mabelliad/The_Mabelliad-2.scriv";
#Name of the scrivener file
my $logfile = "/Dropbox/Writing/Mabelliad/Writing_Log.dat";
#file to track writing productivity
my $home = $ENV{HOME};
my @wc;
#Open the log file
open LOG, ">>" . $home . $logfile or die "Couldn't open log file.\n";
my $ofh = select LOG;
$| = 1;
select $ofh;

while (1) {
#get the list of the files in the directory
opendir(D, $home . $scrivener_file . "/Files/Docs") || die "Can't opedir $!\n";
my @files = readdir(D);
closedir(D);
$wordtotal = 0;
foreach (@files) {
if (/\.rtf$/) { #only process the .rtf files
my $fullpath = $home . $scrivener_file . "/Files/Docs/" . $_;
(@wc) = (`wc -w "$fullpath"` =~ m/(\d+)/);
$wordtotal += $wc[0];
# print "Processing file $fullpath \t wc = @wc\n";
}
}
print "wordtotal = $wordtotal\t oldwordtotal = $oldwordtotal\n";
$wordcount *= 55/60; #'Decay' the old words
if ($oldwordtotal) {
$wordcount += 5*($wordtotal - $oldwordtotal); #add the new words you just wrote
}
print "Wordcount = $wordcount\n";
if ($wordtotal > $oldwordtotal) {
print LOG POSIX::strftime("%m/%d/%Y %H:%M:%S", localtime) . "," . ($wordtotal - $oldwordtotal) . "\n";
print POSIX::strftime("%m/%d/%Y %H:%M:%S", localtime) . "," . ($wordtotal - $oldwordtotal) . "\n";
}
$oldwordtotal = $wordtotal;

#now determine the color and send it to the arduino
if ($wordcount < $target) {
my $brightness = int($max_brightness*$wordcount / $target);
system("./arduino-serial -b 9600 -p /dev/tty.usbmodemfa12731 -s \"R" . $brightness . "G0B0\"");
} elsif ($wordcount < 2* $target) {
my $brightness = int($max_brightness*($wordcount-$target)/$target);
system("./arduino-serial -b 9600 -p /dev/tty.usbmodemfa12731 -s \"R" . ($max_brightness - $brightness) . "G" . $brightness . "B0\"");
} elsif ($wordcount < 3* $target) {
my $brightness = int($max_brightness*($wordcount-2*$target)/$target);
system("./arduino-serial -b 9600 -p /dev/tty.usbmodemfa12731 -s \"R0G" . ($max_brightness - $brightness) . "B" . $brightness . "\"");
}
sleep(60);
}

Breaking the Rules Can Be Fun

Some games get even more fun when you break the rules.

For those of you who went out and bought hive after our last review. We just may have a reason for you to go out and buy it again. When both of the families got together for summer vacation, we found ourselves with two sets of Hive. What do you do with two sets?

Four player Hive tournament!

You need to make a couple modifications to the game. Firstly, since we didn't have the forethought to buy the carbon version of the game, we had to modify one set so it was possible to tell one white player from the other. We opted for star stickers since we had those handy in abundance.
A couple modifications to the rules are also needed.

  • The rule that you must place a new piece on the table so that it doesn't touch an opponents piece is waved when it's not possible to do so. This can come up early in the game when you just have one or two pieces down and three other players have taken up all the available spaces.

  • This is the big one. You win by being the only person left on the board with a queen that isn't surrounded. That may not sound like a big change, but it means that if your queen gets surrounded, you haven't necesarily lost the game. There are other people playing, and they may choose to release you back into play, either strategically or out of desparation.

That last bit makes this just about the most dynamic game I've ever played. Weaker players can gang up on the stronger players, but even once that player has been subdued, the survivors may choose to "release the Kraken" during the subsequent skirmishes.
Here's a time lapse of one of our games. I apologize for the sound quality, but I'd rather get this out than spend the day perfecting the commentary.

Another Year at Maker Faire

We had another great year visiting the World Maker Faire in New York City. As usual, it was bigger and better than last time and we completely failed to capture it all. The young master wanted to do some interviews again, so here is one we had with the lovely people from the Vex IQ challenge. We're going to have to see if there are any events near us, although it's another couple years before the nerdlet will be within the target age range.

Further Adventures in Pool Noodle Construction

In a previous post, we described a construction project with pool noodles, PVC pipe, and some scrap wood.  This time we decided to jump the shark with it by adding some duct tape, and webbing ratchet and a plastic storage tub. 

The idea was for the pool noodles to provide some stability and a little extra floatation.  As kids we used to love when it was time to "clean" the aluminum rowboats.  Cleaning usually involved getting all the surfaces wet and passing over them once with a brush. Of course, the easiest way get every part of a boat wet is to sink it.  That was when we discovered that sunken boats are a lot of fun, with proper adult supervision, of course. 

Alas, I think the pool noodles did their job too well.  There was none of the excitement of balancing on the edge of disaster, only to feel that sucking sensation as the boat finally breaks free of the surface and starts its plunge to the bottom.  In fact the darned thing stayed afloat even when completely full.  Next time I'll go with the smaller noodles.  Hmmm.  Or maybe I'll keep the big noodles and go with a larger tub so the grownups can play.  Now if I can just work out a keel, rudder and sail...

Hive Review

A hive game in progress

When I was growing up, I was a bit of a Mancala prodigy.  I could beat just about anyone, child or adult.  On the summer before entering high school, my father and I helped a family friend take his sailboat through the Champlain canal as part of his trip down the inland waterway.  I brought mancala along with the full expectation of remaining the reigning champion.  Instead, the guy's six year old son started trouncing me in game after game.  I was confused, to say the least, then I was fascinated.  This kid had a strategy that was completely new to me, and had me completely wrong footed.  I've come to love games like that.  You can think you've mastered it and then somebody comes along and teaches you that there's more to it than you thought.  I think I've found a great example, and it has everyone in the family hooked.

Hive is one of those games with a small set of pieces and a simple set of rules that then creates an incredibly complex set of possible games and strategies.  For the southern branch of the family, it's become a regular tradition during our Sunday morning trips to Panera.  The northern branch has had several delayed bedtimes for "just one more game." 

The basic ideas is that you take turns either putting down one of your tiles, or moving one that is already in play.  The pieces need to be placed to create a single, continuous "hive."

Each player has a queen bee, that must be put down within the first 4 moves.  The object of the game is to surround your opponent's queen. Sounds simple, but your opponent has other ideas. 

The different arachnids (since we have both spiders and insects) can move in different ways, giving them different strengths and weaknesses.  Most can only move around the perimeter of the hive, with a varying number of steps.  The beetle can also climb on top and move across it.  It is handy as a "pinner" because the tile it's sitting on is prevented from moving.  Grasshoppers can jump in a straight line over as many tiles as necessary to get to the next open space. 

The game comes in a zippered pouch and can be played anywhere there's a flat surface. There are also a couple expansion tiles that we've jumped on.  The Ladybug, as a member of the beetle family, can climb on top of the hive, but must move exactly two spaces on top and come down again each turn.  The Mosquito  is a shape-shifter that can assume the movement abilities of any piece it is in contact with. 

The game has several levels of strategy, and can still hold some surprises.  I've been legitimately beaten by a six year old because while I had a strong strategy, I just didn't see what he had in mind, just like those Mancala games of my youth.

I think we'll be playing this game for a long time to come. 

Duct Tape Regatta

We made a family trip to the Annual Duct Tape Regatta in North Hero, Vt. yesterday.  

The rules are simple.  No power boats, strictly paddle, and your materials are limited to cardboard and duct tape: no glue, staples, struts, ballast, or flotation.  Paint may be used for decoration, but not as a waterproofing element. The only non-duct tape materials I could see being allowed were the crew, their PFD's and their paddles.  

In spite of the material limitations, we saw an impressive variety of designs.  Boats ran the spectrum from the "tape-coated box" to Land Tortoise, to kayak, to rafts of cardboard tubes.  We learned a few things along the way.  

Cardboard boxes simply coated in duct tape are not very stable.  

Ditto for approximations of boats, but they're fast if you can handle them.  Steering is clearly a challenge, though.  

Rafts made from cardboard tubes are sturdy, stable, and all around dependable, although not necessarily very fast. They seems particularly well suited for larger groups of passengers.

At least some of the competitors managed to stay dry, and it looks like all of them had fun.  Maybe we'll have to look into competing next year. 

DIY Pool Noodle Erector Set

Inspiration stuck a couple weeks ago when I was at the local Five Below.  They have pool noodles for a dollar apiece.  That just invites some sort of project.  Here's what I came up with, thanks to some scrap lengths of 2x4 and 1/2 inch PVC pipe.  It's part erector set, part Tinkertoy, and part geometry lesson.

I'm still working on the best configuration for the connectors.  All the ones I have so far lie in a plane: triangles, squares, pentagons.  While effective at making some platonic solids, they're a bit limited.  I guess I'm showing my geeky biases here. It's a work in progress.  

Jig for drilling the holes.   

Construction was as simple as I could make it.  With a chop saw, you can convert an eight foot 2x4 into a set of blocks in a couple minutes.  Drilling the 3/4 inch holes in the sides takes longer.  Alas, I don't have a shopbot handy, or I could have streamlined construction even more.  It was still relatively quick work once I put together a jig from the scrap generated by the block production.


To hold the PVC in the blocks, I went with drilling and screwing.  It's probably much faster than gluing and it gives the kids the flexibility of removing some of the pipes if their design doesn't use all the possible connections in a given block.  

Close-up of the connectors

Elk Mugging

We don't make it up to Parc Safari nearly enough.  Every trip is memorable.  It's also a great opportunity to work on some animal anxiety that has been building up over time.  What we weren't expecting  was how quickly, and which anxieties would go first.  Feeding animals with big wet lips and foot-long tongues is on thing, but when an ostrich, with that nightmare beak, comes at you, I can understand a little anxiety.   Feeding ostriches is invariably at list a bit painful as they peck at your hand, and somehow always manage to find bit of flesh at the top to pinch.

Of course, that's not at all what we saw.  The "Osty-Ostriches" were a huge hit.  As were the Wapitis (Elk) that towered over the car clearly gave Cluquah the willies.  Here are a few excerpts.