Friday Apr 11, 2008

autonomous robots come to San Diego

The International Autonomous Robotics Competition is coming to San Diego in June, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds! Thanks to the San Diego Java Users Group and Wintriss Technical Schools, kids can compete in building and programming robots. The kids will use Sun SPOT which are - of course - the open source robot tool kits. They'll program the robots in Java. Eric Arseneau writes all about the robot competition. I think my boy is a bit young to be writing software, but he's taken me by surprise many times before. Contest or not, he wants me to get him a robot kit, which he thinks I must be able to pick up in the office any day.


Friday Dec 21, 2007

Merry Christmas!

When did that holiday wish turn into a political statement? I don't know whether to blame the left for political correctness and excessive caution not to offend anyone; or to blame the right for excessive sensitivity being so offended by non-offensiveness. I think I'll blame them both, since now if you wish someone Merry Christmas you're suspected of leading a new crusade to forcibly convert your neighbor from Judaism. And if you instead wish them Happy Holidays you're suspected of renouncing your faith.

Well how about this? When I wish you Merry Christmas it simply means that I hope that you and your family are happy this holiday, on and around Christmas day. I am not imploring you to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, nor am I imploring you not to. And if I should wish you a Happy Diwali next September it will simply mean that I hope you have a happy holiday, perhaps even enjoy seeing the festival of lights. Not that I wish for you to revere the goddess Lakshmi or Lord Vishnu.

So I also hope you have a nice Alban Arthuan, Las Posadas, Kwanzaa, Twelfth Night, and a Happy New Year!

Saturday Aug 18, 2007

New elementary school

photo of schoolWe're all excited here. In just over a week school starts, and we have a brand new elementary school we can walk to. The design, by San Diego architect Frisco White, is both elegant and practical. I took half a day off work to help move furniture, unpack boxes, and shelve books. My sister, a library manager, will probably be amused that I have finally worked my way up in my career to become a library page.


Tuesday Aug 14, 2007

Calvin and Hobbes - guide to raising children

It's amazing how Bill Watterson, who has no children of his own, has such insight about them. Forget all those books by psychologists; Calvin and Hobbes tell you what it's really like to have a boy. Here's a practical example from the first Calvin and Hobbes book.

 1. [Calvin is building in his sandbox.] "Here we find a thriving city: brand new buildings, a bustling economy."

2. "A scenic thoroughfare winds through this happy municipality. Here, a farmer drives his livestock to market."

3. [Calvin fills a bucket with water.]

4. [Standing in the sandbox, smiling.] "Tragically, this serene metropolis lies directly beneath the Hoover dam."

Sometimes it can be hard to get kids off the computer, and outside to play in the sunshine. Taking my cue from "Dr. Watterson" here's all I had to do: I filled a bucket with water and built one small building in the sand box. Then I said "the people in the village were very happy, but they didn't realize there was a giant dam nearby," and walked away. Slowly a smile came over my boy's face very much like that smile Calvin sometimes gets.

Then he started building the village. The rest of the afternoon computer games were forgotten as, alas, the unfortunate villagers suffered a series of disasters: dam collapse, flood, hurricane, tornados, earthquake, and tsunami.


Sunday Dec 11, 2005

San Elijo lagoon trail

We walked through the San Elijo lagoon in Encinitas, CA, yesterday. A sunny winter day is a good time to visit, though it's open year round and a lot of joggers and dog walkers from the neighborhood go there regularly. The San Elijo Conservancy gives guided walks every other weekend, and the volunteers really add to the experience. Now I can say I know what a real pack rat's nest looks like, and it's not exactly like my office. We saw ducks, teal, coots, cranes, sandpipers, and a California gnat catcher - and walked through a cloud of California gnats. On the way out we passed a group of true bird watchers, each one armed with binoculars, telescopes, and notebooks.

It seems like all the lagoons, though protected from development, are suffering from water flow changes that block the periodic floods that used to flush sediment out to sea and rebuild the beaches. Now the water drops sediment in the lagoon. Finally the outlet to the sea is blocked, marine animals can't go back and forth, and finally becoming stagnant. The conservancy raised money to endow lagoon opening by bulldozer each year to let the sea water come in an replenish the lagoon. Many native plants and animals have re-established themselves in the lagoon since this program began. What I can't understand is why every city that opens its lagoon has to go through a legal battle to prove it's good to do, when the arguments and conclusion are always the same, time after time.

Monday Dec 05, 2005

When is Santa coming?

The one sure way to recapture the magic and wonder of Christmas is to get yourself a 5 year old boy. My son insisted that we put up our Christmas tree last Friday. Okay, I thought, what's the harm in putting it up a bit earlier than usual? Then I found out. He set out a plate of cookies and glass of milk by the fireplace, despite all my attempts to tell him what 3 weeks aging at room temperature does to milk and cookies. The next morning he flew down the stairs at sunrise and yelled No Fair that Santa had not come. Every day now we have to go through the calendar count-down, and why Santa hasn't already started visiting all the houses.

There's a danger in talking about Santa Claus with a 5 year old, that he may also lead you through all the theological ramifications of jolly old men who have lived for centuries. I tried the old chestnut, "Santa is still alive because of all the boys and girls who believe in him. So Daddy, all the boys and girls in my kindergarten class believe in me, so will I live forever? And on and on it went...


I am a software engineer in San Diego, president of the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (, formerly a mathematician and a violist.


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