Crazy to Get to Space

Remember Scotty’s remark about his nephew in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? (No, of course you don’t.) Scotty explains to Kirk, after an inappropriately emotional response by Midshipman Preston: “My sister’s youngest, Admiral. Crazy to get to space.”

going-to-space
“Come on, R2, we’re going.”

Although I never pursued a career as an astronaut, I certainly remain, “Crazy to get to space,” and the description from Khan still resonates with me. I may yet get there, in my lifetime, especially with companies like SpaceX competing to make the cost of getting to orbit as low as possible.

For now, I’m going to have to settle for a proxy. Eliszabeth* MacDougal, one of the human family members I inherited when I married Sarah Latimer, has a friend, Cian Branco, who offered her the chance to send something small up on the Terrior Improved Orion rocket as part of the RockSat-C program. Eliszabeth realized this would be thrilling to me, and passed along her opportunity.

I ordered a new Lego R2-D2 minifigure, and a few parts to complete another mini-me as an astronaut, and shipped them off to Eliszabeth. They will be going up on Thursday, June 23, 2016, somewhere between 6:00 and 10:00 am, from the NASA facility at Wallops Island, Virginia. (My son, David, and I stood on our roof in the cold in October, 2014, to watch a night launch from Wallops.)

Geeking out!

Thank you, Eliszabeth!

New: I have just learned that my minifigs will have company on this voyage: Benny, from The Lego Movie will also be on this flight.

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*Yes, this is the correct spelling.

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Update: (June 23, 2016)

:: sigh :: Postponed until tomorrow.

postponed

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Update: (June 24, 2016) I got up early to watch the launch today! In my mind, I was thinking, Saturn V. Long, slow acceleration. This is, uh, quite a bit smaller, and it zoomed upward so quickly I missed the rocket itself in the launch video screen capture. (The video will be posted soon by NASA/Wallops, anyway.) The crew was worried about missing the launch window due to weather, and debated skipping the camera alignment step. In addition to the pad camera, there was a UAV (drone) flying around, as some of the pictures below show.

The rocket got to its apogee of 119.08 km (74.0 miles) almost immediately. The payload detached successfully, and hit splashdown in the Atlantic, where it would be recovered, only 8 or 9 minutes later.

Very exciting! I reiterate my gratitude.

Here’s the official NASA post: NASA Successfully Launches Suborbital Rocket from Wallops.

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Update: (June 24, 2016, 16:05) Just got the official word from Cian: “Hey Doug, will send pics a bit later, currently wrecked. Your minis all went up and returned fine. I have pics of reintegration. Cheers!”

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Here's the recovered payload module, showing where my guys were attached in their Crew Module.
Here’s the recovered payload module, showing where my guys were attached in their “Crew Module.”
The Crew Module was carefully sealed with electrical tape.
The Crew Module was carefully sealed with electrical tape.
 Another view of the Crew Module.
Another view of the Crew Module.
Here's how the minifigures actually traveled.
Here’s how the minifigures actually traveled.
 And here they are, reassembled, along with Benny, who was glued into another part of the payload module
And here they are, reassembled, along with Benny, who was glued into another part of the payload module.

Video of the Launch:

Video from an observer to whom I am grateful.

Here is the launch from the NASA/Wallops feed!

LARP or Party Game: How to Play “Zombies”

There’s something fascinating about zombies, and a current cultural meme seems to have made them even more popular than the silly idea that the world will end in 2012. (One of the most popular video games around now is the second installment of Left 4 Dead, called Left 4 Dead 2, which is a teamwork-based game pitting humans against hordes of “infected.”) I’ll remind readers that I was a fan before the current massive popularly, generally ever since reading Max Brooks’ brilliantly-written survival-guide parody The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, and his captivating World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War novel.

Zombies seem to be everywhere. There’s even a Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me parody centering on a zombie apocalypse.

LARPing—live action role playing—is detailed in Little Brother, which can be downloaded for free at Corey Doctorow’s site, or, of course, purchased in hardcover.

Somewhere between reading Little Brother and being inundated with zombies, it occurred to me that a zombie hunt LARP would make a great party game for David and his friends on his 11th birthday. Here’s what we did:

  • One person is elected to be the starting zombie.
  • The zombie “infects” others by giving them a gentle Indian sunburn.” (I didn’t want the kids biting each other.)
  • Once infected, a human has wait 30 seconds and then become an active zombie, hunting any human he can find.
  • The only way to stop a zombie is to shoot the zombie in the head with a Nerf gun. Such a shot removes the zombie from the remainder of the round.
  • Zombies move slowly and relentlessly, generally while moaning loudly.
  • The round ends when all human have been infected, or when all zombies have been killed.

Overall, this went very well. Next time, I’ll include a couple of minor improvements:

  • The kids kept barricading themselves in bathrooms. This sort of interior door will absolutely not stop a zombie, but will slow one down for a moment or two. I think to account for this, I’ll have the zombies go back to a central location, and get a paper sign that, when slid under the door, requires those within to open the door.
  • I need to figure out a way to allow for simulation of decapitation by sword. I think a Nerf or toy sword to the neck should work. Water-based magic markers would be fine, too.

There were a couple of really great moments. One was when my sweet daughter Naomi came up to me and gave me the “Indian sunburn.” This was perfectly reflective of the psychological difficulty of fighting zombies who were formerly loved ones. I should have shot her on sight!

Lego_Left_4_Dead_by_XenoPrime
Lego Left 4 Dead: Coming Soon (image thanks to XenoPrime).

(Sadly, you probably won’t see this anytime soon, but you never know. I remember when Lego wouldn’t manufacture Lego weapons for their minifigs.)

Kid Conversations this Morning

NaNi:

While I was getting ready to go to work this morning, Naomi stood in front of the refrigerator, and said, “Dad, watch what I have learned.” She opened the refrigerator, and demonstrated how she could press the switch in the front to turn the refrigerator light off. She proudly announced, “I figured out how this works. See,” she closed the refrigerator door slowly, “when you close the door, it presses this switch, and the light goes off.”

“Good investigation, Naomi,” I praised. “My little engineer.”

“Just like her daddy,” she responded, with her usual smile.

David:

David was watching an online episode of “Bleach” anime at the computer. “So, watching some Shōjo manga?” I asked, sneakily.

Unusually, I fooled him. “Yes,” he replied, “Wait! NOOOOOO!”

(Laughter)

To Boldly Go: Star Trek Online

A couple of weeks ago marked a watershed moment in MMORPGs: Star Trek Online wrapped up its mostly-open-beta program, and went live with its early-access-for-preorders launch. Delighted with the quality of the game, we sprung for a lifetime membership, which is approximately as costly as paying per-month for a year and a half. (I wish World of WarCraft would offer such a deal.)

The boys and I have been hooked. (Isaac, the weasel, has remained several levels ahead of me, and is about to get a promotion that will give him access to even better ships.) The game features space exploration and combat, and ground exploration and combat. The missions are described as “episodes,” and, like the plots of a television series, often require following unexpected developments and changing tasks as the plot unfolds across planetary surfaces and space. Each player captains his or her own starship, outfitting it with weapons, equipment that gives bonuses, and senior officers who also provide special abilities. I’ve attached a couple of screen shots of the gorgeously-rendered space exploration scenes below. The planets are beautiful, often including moving cloud layers that partly cover the ground below, as well as appropriate atmospheric illumination by the planet’s star, depending on one’s location in orbit.

The USS Naomi, approaching a planet within the Delta Volaris sector.
The USS Naomi, approaching a planet within the Delta Volaris sector.

(My first ship is named the USS Nichelle.)

The USS Naomi, exploring a system in the Delta Volaris sector.
The USS Naomi, exploring a system in the Delta Volaris sector.

Ground locations are often also highly detailed, with a wide variety of plants and terrain. Some of the outdoor ground locations (there are also caves, and starbase and other complex interiors) sometimes seem very reminiscent of the ToS set locations, although generally with more detail than the show’s budget allowed.

Combat and exploration are both integral to the game. Combat is far more skill-intensive than most MMORPGs, particularly as one commands an “away team” to whom orders must be given, and as space combat works in three dimensions and often against multiple enemies. Some missions automatically draft the cooperation of other players, and nearly everything can be accomplished by choice as a teamwork exercise. Like the best MMOs available, there are also large PVP combat areas where players can earn even more rewards.

The game is still in early release, and is apparently only going to get better, but it still shows some weaknesses of an early release with higher-than-expected levels of demand on its servers, and some frustratingly common bugs, such as the game locking up.

Overall, though, our romps through the Star Trek universe have been delightful, with much future enjoyment anticipated.

Addendum, Stardate 201002.18: I am fully convinced that this game was worth every penny. Even my beloved World of WarCraft has never captured me with this intensity.

Beaming out after an away mission.
Beaming out after an away mission.

Rescuing diplomats taken hostage; the end of a truly well-crafted mission series.
Rescuing diplomats taken hostage; the end of a truly well-crafted mission series.

Beautiful environments abound: This is Regulus.
Beautiful environments abound: This is Regulus.

Scanning with my tricorder. What could be better?
Scanning with my tricorder. What could be better?

Approaching Starbase 114.
Approaching Starbase 114.

Halo Warthog Cake

Nichelle has been experimenting with making custom cakes for the kid’s birthdays. Like most things she attempts, she’s done great right out of the box. She invented some cool new techniques this time, and I was able to lend some engineering expertise.

Halo "Warthog" Cake, made by Nichelle
Halo “Warthog” Cake, made by Nichelle.


Halo “Warthog” Cake, made by Nichelle, with model for comparison.

Here's a ballerina cake Nichelle made for Naomi.
Here's a ballerina cake Nichelle made for Naomi.

FIRST LEGO League: We Won!

Since the school year began, I’ve been teaching Lego Robotics two morning’s a week at Isaac’s new school, the Academy for Science and Design Chartered Public School, in Merrimack New Hampshire.

Many of you know I’ve been teaching Lego Robotics twice a week at the Academy for Science and Design, in Merrimack, N.H. As a function of the class, we had two teams competing in the FIRST LEGO League branch of the FIRST Robotics program, founded by Dean Kaman. (See http://www.usfirst.org/community/fll/ .) The ASD is a chartered public school, now in its second year of operation.

At the “MindStorms Madness” qualifying tournament in Merrimack, N.H., on Saturday, the two teams from the ASD came away with three trophies:

The team I officially coach, Robotic Revolution, won first place in the Technical category (Robot design and programming), and will go on to compete at the state competition on December 6 at Nashua South High School.

The other team I taught (but did not officially coach) won 2nd place in Technical, and got the top score during the seeding matches. (Sadly, they were eliminated in the finals.)

The photos from the slide show above are available here on PicasaWeb.

I’ll update this post with more details about the team and the event sometime in the next day or two.

The Photos I Promised


NaNi, on her second day riding.


This is the scene that made Nichelle all teary-eyed, NaNi taking off up the street with Isaac. (We threatened to send her off with a Brides magazine in one hand and a college application in the other.)


Cuteness, as usual.

The two weasels (Nichelle and NaNi) went to DisneyWorld without us.


Phil taught Naomi to blow bubbles. I couldn't even chew gum without swallowing it until I was 6.

Sky Venture, Indoor Sky Diving, Nashua, New Hampshire.


Isaac at Sky Venture, Nashua.


Indoor skydiving: This flight suit makes me look fat.


There’s a really amusing story that goes with this picture, but I need to wait a few years for Nichelle’s anger to calm down before I can tell it.


Isaac and David with Jim, a former sailor who served on the boomer USS Henry Clay. This was taken at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut, home of the world’s first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus.


Isaac and David at the helm stations of a nuclear submarine.

A quick family update….

When Naomi woke up this morning, I asked her if she slept well, and also told her that I was happy she slept all night in her own bed. With the cutest glimmer in her eyes, she then told me that she had “the most wonderful dream in the world.” She then explained that she dreamt about Speed Racer, and that she was 5, and they went on vacation and they visited her and they talked. She had this twinkle in her eyes and the sweetest smile. She said that she never had this dream in her whole life.

Naomi’s been using Isaac’s scooter in the house for a bit now and has great balance. Phil pointed out to her that she may be ready to use her bike without training wheels because she can balance so well on the scooter. Man, oh, man, did she like that idea. She was quick to ask Doug to take the training wheels off her bike and is doing amazingly well. We took video of her mastering her skill at the two wheeler. It’s too soon for my liking, although that’s a mom thing!!! I’m, of course, proud of her accomplishments, but she’s growing up too fast.

David, after years of begging for glasses, got his wish. Doug took the kids to their appts a few weekends ago (Naomi’s first eye exam, too), and David was told that he needed glasses. He picked out the ones he wanted, and was told that they’d be ready in a week, but … the week came and went and still no glasses. He was disappointed to find out that he needed to wait several more days because there was a problem with the lenses and needed to be returned to the company to have them corrected. He finally got his glasses yesterday, and of course, he’s thrilled.

Isaac celebrated his 13th birthday the end of April and we’ll be celebrating with a party this weekend. Can’t believe he’s already a teen. [Doug’s note: He’s had the attitude of a teen for at least five years now, it certainly doesn’t surprise me.]

At the end of April, Naomi and I spent 4 days in DisneyWorld. Yup, just us girls, with two of Phil’s sisters and niece. We had a great time. Loads of fun watching Naomi’s expressions on the rides and just the fun she had with MacKenzie. Doug and the boys had a great time, too, as expected by me anyways. He took the boys indoor skydiving, which I’ll be doing sometime soon. We have a video of that along with pictures that David took. Those should be posted soon, too.

More from Doug. Nichelle is the biggest weasel in the world for going to DisneyWorld without us. I would certainly never go on such a trip without my wife.

In addition to indoor skydiving, David, Isaac, nephew Andrew Roberts, and I visited the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum, which is home to the USS Nautilus, the world’s very first nuclear-powered submarine. For technophiles like us, this was a perfect trip. In fact, we were late picking Nichelle and NaNi up at the airport because we got to talking to a submariner who was stationed on the USS Henry Clay (a “boomer”—a ballistic missile submarine) in the 1960s. In addition to touring the Nautilus, we got to play with various submarine control stations, see a lot of weapons, including a disassembled Polaris 3 MIRV, use working periscopes, and learn a lot about the history of the US submarine force. Jim, the sailor from the Henry Clay, also answered a question that was very important to me: Which movies about submarines are actually accurate. He said the Widowmaker was highly accurate, but admitted that others could still be entertaining. I’ll post pictures from this trip soon.

2008: Year of the Nerd

I hesitate to include this, but this is the sort of thing that goes on at a New Year’s Eve party at Heritage Baptist Church.

In addition to “praying in” the new year, we also spent several hours playing board games and doing improv skits. Lynn B., our great game organizer, ran a Family Feud session, which was quite fun, although at first we demonstrated our vast lack of knowledge in how this particular game show operated. Once it got going, the competition was fierce.

I loved the fact that all the kids were involved as well. David was interviewed by me in one of the skits as an eyewitness to the events of “The Ugly Duckling”; in his version he ran over the Ugly Duckling with his car! Tom H. brought a snowball inside, which ended up recycled a number of times by being thrown or dropped down the back of people’s shirts. Pastor Erik told people (not necessarily children) not to run about 4,328 times. Phil L. and David E. carried Isaac outside a couple of times and threw him in a snowbank.

Afterward we went home and let the kids stay up as long as they wanted, as is our tradition on New Year’s. NaNi didn’t make it much after 1:00. David was up until about 4:30. Isaac stayed awake until 6:40 p.m. on the first. We woke him up for dinner, and trounced him at Halo 3, which is extremely unusual, but shows how drastically sleep deprivation can affect performance and critical skills.

Late afternoon on the first, we were in the process of getting ready to go see Enchanted, when David came in calling, “It stings! It stings!” I thought he’d hurt or frozen his hands, until he pointed to his head. Isaac had accidentally hit him across the eyebrow with a snow shovel, splitting the skin open quite deeply, so we went to the emergency department at SNHMC instead of to the movies. (The physician’s office had just closed.) David was very worried about stitches, but got to have his skin superglued together instead.

While David and I waited, and waited, and waited in the waiting room, Nichelle was at home making beef enchiladas, our last bit of holiday eating-too-much-for-our-own-good.

Welcome, 2008!

Skvid Number One

Skvid = SKit on VIDeo

Last week our pastor asked me to put together a video skit to help illustrate a sermon in a series of lessons on stewardship: What happens when we overwhelm ourselves with choices and activities? Of course, it also illustrates beautifully the quirkiness of the Wilcox family.

I did the video in Windows Movie Maker, a free download for Windows XP. I had to overcome a quirk that kept locking the software up, discovering that previewing clips in the preview window wouldn’t work correctly, unless I dragged the clips to the timeline first. I can’t explain that, but wish I’d found the answer hours earlier. Movie Maker isn’t bad, but I need something that will let me treat the audio track from the video separately, as well as add more audio layers.

The film was shot entirely out of sequence, in order to meet the availability schedule of the actors (my kids), over the course of a very busy Saturday. The Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back clip was created by shooting our own HDTV, the quickest way I could think of to get the piece I needed.

Background music includes Ella Fitzgerald’s, “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” and the title theme from Back to the Future.

Overall, it’s a tad too long at just over 6 minutes (the goal was 5 minutes), and I never got around to including any video transitions. I may tweak it a bit in the next few days, especially if I try out a more advanced software package, and hope to get it down to 4 to 4.5 minutes. I recall seeing George Lucas talking about an old filmmaker adage, “Films are never finished, just abandoned,” and how he had the technology (and money) to keep going back to his films to finish them the way he wanted.