Saturday Jan 31, 2009

Pinewood Derby Racing 2009

Just like last year, the Pinewood Derby races for Duncan's Boy Scout troop took place at his school this afternoon. Some very smart person decided that it should be on the Saturday this year, so as to not try and compete with the Super Bowl tomorrow afternoon.

Last year, Duncan's car got the prize for wackiest car. This year Duncan was a Webelos 2, so it was his last chance to go for a trophy (unless we adopt a kid, enroll him as a boy scout and then let Duncan enter as a sibling -- probably when he's just entering high school).

Duncan came up with the design and I helped with getting the weights hidden in underneath, and polishing the axles. His car won two heats, and was in the Webelos 2 den final with one other car. His car lost that by about four inches. He was very excited to have second place and a trophy.

Pinewood Derby veterans will know that there is an electric score board on the track that gives first to fourth positions as the cars go through the finish line. Earlier in the afternoon, there was a dead heat in another two car final (both cars coming in first according to the scoreboard). Pandemonium occurred. Even in the next race between these two cars, the winner only won by an inch or so.

The final races of the day were for siblings, and it was nice to see a block of wood (the original piece that comes in the kit) win a couple heats and take second place in their final. I presume there must have been some weights embedded underneath to get it as close as possible to 5 ounces, but it was good to see data backing my theory, that it's mostly in the polishing of the axles and the wheels and not the aerodynamics of the body shape.

This father & son racing team will now be disbanded. Hopefully look for future teaming in a science or robotics project.

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Wednesday Jan 21, 2009

Academy of Sciences Museum - January 2009

While President Obama was being inaugurated yesterday, we were at the Academy of Sciences museum in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We'd thought about visiting this relatively new museum a couple times before, but were put off by others telling us of long lines and their own web site providing Insider Tips telling you to arrive late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. It also didn't inspire hope when the tickets you could buy via the web were sold out two days in advance.

Yesterday though, Duncan has a "teachers day" at school, so I took vacation and we arrived just as it was opening at 9:30am. We couldn't have picked a better day to do this. The lines were short to non-existent. We quickly picked up passes for the Bugs 3D show and the Planetarium and then went off to visit the other exhibits until those shows started.

There were a few "wow!" moments during the Buys 3D show. An even bigger wow moment, is the new Morrison Planetarium, which is a must-see.

"It's the largest all-digital planetarium in the world. State-of-the-art projector and software technologies allow the planetarium to produce the most accurate and interactive digital Universe ever created."

It can even induce vertigo, which admittedly isn't hard to do for me nowadays. A nice touch was taking the time at the end of the normal presentation to describe the latest findings (in the last few weeks) on exoplanets. I got to visit the London Planetarium when I was 9, which was state-of-the-art at the time. This is one or more orders of magnitude better.

And so much more to see. See their web site for more details. The images above will give you some ideas. See if you can work out which animals were alive, stuffed or painted (or in one case, made out of Fimo clay).

A couple insider tips of my own, now we've been:

  • If you want to eat and save money, consider bringing your own packed lunch. Maybe we just made a bad choice yesterday, but our meals from their cafe, were poor quality and expensive.

  • If you park your car in their underground car park, note that you don't have to pay at the under-manned cashiers office. You can also pay at the exit barrier.

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Monday Sep 15, 2008

Doggie Social

Here are some images captured on my cell phone last night, at the doggie get-together at Duncan's school. The phone is adequate for taking still pictures up close, but pathetic for action shots in the distance.

At one point there were 14 dogs (and their people) present. Plenty of opportunities for treats. In fact, we've been over doing that a bit lately, and there was a slight kerfuffle between Dusti and one of the other dogs. As you can see, when the treats come out, the person with the treats becomes the immediate center of attention for several dogs. Some dogs behave well. I wish Dusti was one of them.

The star of the show was Angel, an Australian Shepherd, who is the Energizer Bunny of the local dog scene. She chases her large purple ball all over the place and just keeps going and going and going. Doesn't matter if you or your dog is in the way. She can't see where she's going so you'll just get whacked by the ball. She's also exceptionally talented at keeping it in the air for several seconds. Which got me wondering what she'd be like with a flock of sheep. Visions of small lambs being bounced around.

Next weekend I'll try to remember to take over a proper camera and go slightly earlier and see if I can get better shots. .

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Wednesday Apr 23, 2008

Muir Woods 2008

Another trip we did about a week ago was up to Muir Woods in Marin County. The weather was perfect, there were not a lot of people around, we had great parking karma and this time I even remembered to take a better camera.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the creation of this park.

We went out on one of the high trails this time and we could look down on the creek that runs through the woods. Then we came back along a lower trail.

The cross section is from a tree that is over 1000 years old. It was planted in 909 AD and fell in 1930. You can see some important dates in history labelled across its rings.

The black shadows in the water shot are from a water strider.

From the distance we walked, I think that next time, Duncan will be up to walking one of the other longer trails that are available to the public. We may even get to see the ocean.

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Monday Apr 21, 2008

Princeton By The Sea 2008

Just over a week ago, we headed over to the coast to visit our favorite tide pools. According to the tide tables, the low tide that day was going to be -0.2 feet just after mid-day. As you can see from the images above, this gives you great viewing. We were able to go out further then we'd ever been before. We even took the dog out with us. She loved it and totally exhausted herself.

We also discovered pools which were teeming with wild life. "Just like Hawaii!" as one of the other tide-poolers said. I saw how shells were used to protect against the heat of the sun. I wasn't sure the creature inside was still alive until a little girl poked it and it closed right up. After that, I started seeing these little shell mounds everywhere.

Yes, that really is bird guano. Charming isn't it? Did you spot the big odd man out in that photo?

The giant ping pong ball building is on top of the cliffs over looking the tide pools. Here's its location. Anybody know what it is?

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Thursday Mar 06, 2008

Dog Biscuits

Our dog Dusti loves Jerky Tenders or similar products as a treat. This is like crunchy chicken jerky for dogs. The problem is that they are really expensive for what they are. A little while ago I tried googling to see if I could find a way to make something similar at a fraction of the cost.

I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for (if anybody has a recipe, then please share), but I did find this one for Peanut Butter n' Honey Oat Crunchies. It's got two of the main food groups that dogs love: crunchy peanut butter and chicken (broth).

Earlier in the week I made up a batch. I think I used every flat metal baking tray we have. And both ovens. I now have a huge ziplock bag full of them. Luckily Dusti likes them too.

There are several other interesting dog recipes on that web page. We'll have to give them a try when she's finished this lot.

When you start cooking just for your dog, then you know that she is no longer just a pet, but has become a loving member of your family.

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Wednesday Feb 13, 2008

What The Best Dressed Dogs Are Wearing These Days

Whatever it is, it's not this. Lynea and Duncan went to Target last night. One of the things they came back with was this pink sweater for Dusti. Complete with pink fluffy baubles.

I can just see all the women going, "oh, isn't she cute!" Maybe, but I don't think I want to be seen in public with her wearing this. Where's the little leather doggie bomber jackets and the cool shades? That I could handle.

Maybe if we cut the baubles off it'll be okay.

I feel sorry for Dusti. The expression on her face clearly says "why are you doing this to me? Haven't I suffered enough?"

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Sunday Jan 27, 2008

Pinewood Derby Racing 2008

Earlier this afternoon was this years Pinewood Derby racing event for Duncan's Boy Scout troop. After last year's abysmal performance we were determined to do better.

I read all the advice we got from comments to last year's post (thank you), and we applied some of them (the legal ones) to the design of this year's car. More on that later.

I also wanted to have a fall-back plan. Each den in the pack races against each other, and there are prizes for first and second place. Winners go on to regional events. There are also special prizes for categories such as most authentic design, most colorful, most creative etc. I wanted to make sure we had a running in one or more of those.

So we came up with the melon car. It was actually called Melon Car "Lee Baby" (geddit?), and labeled as such on the bottom of the car, just in case there was a special prize for best name, but the judges totally missed this.

You can see Duncan's car lined up with three others for its first heat and then the actual race. It came fourth. In its second heat it came second. Surprisingly, I'm not disappointed. In that first heat was also the eventual first and second placed cars overall for his den, and as you can see we were not that far behind. For a car that's totally not aerodynamic, this was quite an achievement.

After all the dens had raced, the special prizes were announced and the melon car won the category of wackiest car for the whole of the pack!

So what did we do?

First of all there is an area on the bottom of the car that was especially hollowed out, and a slice of weights was screwed in there. At the "weigh-in" a couple of weeks ago, we were quite a bit overweight, but it was easy to pull bits off until we were very close. There we just super glued a couple BB's to get it exactly at 5 ounces. There was nothing special about the position (front or back) for those weights. If anything, after they'd been trimmed, it was probably slightly heavier towards the rear of the car.

But I think the major factor was axle preparation. I used my Dremel in its drill press stand to take each axle, file down the rough part near the head, then applied a mixture of pumice and water with a cloth. Then we put the wheel on the axle, and the axle in the Dremel, and applied a generous puff of graphite dust, and let it spin at max. RPM's for about thirty seconds. We repeated this for each axle.

We also sand-papered the outside of each wheel to get the imperfections off, then applied wet-and-dry paper at max. RPM's, to make sure that was smooth too.

Finally, we set the wheels so that only three were touching the ground track.

Next year, I think we will try for an aerodynamic car and see if that improves things. I'm also not convinced 3 wheels are better than four, so I think we'll try for them all touching the track.

Anyhoo, even though Duncan didn't win, he came away with a big smile on his face and happily pinned the special certificate to the wall of his bedroom when we got home.

A vast improvement over last year.

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Monday Jan 14, 2008

Where The Dogs Are

Over the weekend we took our dog down to the dog park next to Googleland in Mountain View. It's divided into two areas, for large and small dogs.

We'd been there once before on the weekend just before Christmas, and that time it was very quiet, with just a few other dogs. On Saturday, it was very busy. Most of the time she spent sniffing everything. She was very methodical, working her way around the complete enclosure. Every now and then she'd greet another dog. There were times when there were 3-4 dogs in a line, each sniffing the butt in front of them.

Close by, there is a great area for kite flying, with about 15 kites in the air whilst we were there. Plus a load of Indian gentleman playing a knock-up game of cricket with a tennis ball and fold up beach chairs as wickets.

A great time was had by all.

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Thursday Jan 10, 2008

More Dog Tales

We've had Dusti for three and a half years now. It was my first dog. I wasn't always sure what to expect. I think I'm understanding a lot better now. I've also got a copy of the book How Dog's Think which I need to read rather than just skim.

I have three more observations.

  • Positioning: I've noticed that during the day, as I'm working at home and Duncan is at school, she'll position herself, if possible, so that she can see what both Lynea and I are doing. That usually involves lying on the back of a chair in the living room, so she can look into the office where I am, and down a corridor to the room where Lynea is. As we move around the house, she'll adjust accordingly.

  • Farting: Yes, all dogs do it. I can remember a pub I used to go to by the canal in Exeter in England that had a large Irish wolfhound that used to lie in front of the fire and every now and then let one off that would clear the room. Dusti is usually more dainty then that. They typically are silent-but-deadly, and only occur after she has eaten some people-food that disagrees with her. We have noticed that when it's an audible fart, she'll look back with a disgusted look on her face as if to say "where did that come from?" and quickly scuttle across the room as if to try to get away from it. It would be quite amusing if it wasn't for the smell.

  • Burrowing: At night, Dusti sleeps on the bed with us. If it's cold she'll wedge her butt right into one of us, and try to put her nose under the top blanket to keep it warm. Some of the last few nights have been quite cold. We've got a smoke detector where (I think), the battery is starting to die. It'll give a beep about every 45 seconds. The strange thing is that it'll currently do it only in the dead of night when it's really cold. When I go looking for the particular detector that's doing this, later in the morning after I've got up, and the heat has been on, the beeping has stopped. Presumably this is a natural property of electricity. Feel free to educate me here. Anyway, this beeping is affecting Dusti at night. She tries to push up the blanket with her nose and get completely under it. As you can imagine, this is not conducive to getting a good night sleep. I suspect the only solution to this one, is to get up in the middle of the next cold night, hunt down the malfunctioning detector, and replace the battery then and there.

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Tuesday Jan 01, 2008

Monterey Bay Aquarium - December 2007

We visited our favorite aquarium on the last day of last year. It was definitely a lot less busy then usual and we got a great opportunity to spend much more time looking at each exhibit. That unfortunately didn't always help improve my photographic skills.

Here are the best shots with a little commentary below.

The latest new exhibit was the river otters (as opposed to the sea otters that are always there). The river otters were mostly lethargic although there was one guy swimming like crazy; (I need to practice my panning skills).

There was a batch of sand dollars and we got to see what they look like alive (as opposed to collecting them dead off a beach over at Half Moon Bay).

A couple of the creatures were doing a great service to the public and hanging out right next to their labels.

The jellies are still my favorite show though, and since the last time I was there (February 2007), they've changed a few of the tanks and are showing new species.

The last shot above is an Ocean Sunfish, (which thankfully is not in the same tank as the jellies). The aquarium has two of them and they are huge.

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Sunday Dec 09, 2007

Christmas Letter 2007

Carrying on the now yearly Christmas tradition of replacing a written letter in with the Christmas cards for friends and family, with an online collection of family related blog links, here's this year's list (with a few personal and fun ones thrown in).

Previous years: 2006 2005 2004

Non-friends and family feel free to ignore this.

Happy <Insert your religious festival or holiday here> everybody!

Chronological order (latest first). One thing is clear; I'm doing less and less family related posts each year. Maybe one of my New Year's resolutions should be to change that.

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Friday Nov 23, 2007

Caffeine Free

Just under eighteen months ago, I stopped drinking sodas and switched to drinking just tea. I also tried to drink more water.

Over the last couple of months, I've been weaning myself slowly off the caffeine, hopefully for a healthier, cleaner lifestyle. For the last week, I've had no drinks with caffeine in them. During this last week, I've been over-tired, getting really bad headaches and suffering from lack of focus. I understand this is par for the course. I can now better empathize with all those mothers-to-be that give up the pleasures of coffee and tea while they are pregnant and breast feeding.

There's still a little bit of caffeine in the chocolate I eat (can't give that up), but I've cut that way down too.

To help compensate for all of this, I've been taking a multi-vitamin call Centrium (the silver edition). I particularly like that the vitamin B12 dosage is 417% of your daily requirement.

It's still earlier days, but after a week, with the headaches now eventually gone, I'm sleeping better and have a bigger appetite.

Now I just need to work on getting more exercise. Of course a 2-3K caloric intake and a lazy day yesterday didn't help at all with this goal. Still there is always tomorrow, um today.

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Wednesday Oct 31, 2007

Instant Answers

I've mentioned this before. It's wonderful having the power of the Internet to instantly find answers to your kids questions.

A couple cases in point.

We were "reading" some Calvin and Hobbes cartoons last night, and we came across the word donor. I of course pronounced it dough-ner, and Duncan came back and told me I was wrong and it should be don-er. He was emphatic. We had quite the argument about it. So I went to the MSN encarta dictionary and typed in donor. I then clicked on the audible link. Several times. With a grin on my face. "But how come one of Santa's reindeers is called don-er?" he replied. One more Google search quickly showed him that the reindeer in question is called Donner. (It's actually Donder but I didn't want to go there just before bedtime). "Ah!" he said. He was finally convinced.

We went back to his bedroom and continued reading.

Then we had an earthquake. I initially thought it was a cat or heavy squirrel thundering over the roof. We get a lot of that. But no, we could see his lamp stand and a bookcase shaking away. We gave it about fifteen minutes, then I looked it up. It was of magnitude 5.6 but only about 12 miles away from us. Very exciting for a 9 year old (and his Dad).

Now if we hadn't been living in the age of instant answers I would never have been able to satisfactorily reply to a young child's questions so quickly.

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