Archive for the ‘The Kids’ Category

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Crazy to Get to Space

June 21, 2016

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!

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Dance Macadam

March 1, 2011

Naomi had been very, very sick for almost 10 days—double ear and ear canal infections, that we finally got under control. Even though she stayed home from school, she hadn’t had a fever all day, and I let her go to ballet. (Isaac took care of her while I was at work—my first day back in the office in a while. I am very grateful that Transparent Language has such excellent work-from-home infrastructure.) So I went home, got her ready for ballet (tights need help), and off we went. Gate City Ballet is pretty much on the same street as my job, so I normally drop her off, go back to work, and pick her up at the end.
Naomi with her artwork.

On the way to ballet, we stopped at the school department offices, where one of her pieces of artwork is being displayed. Naomi was thrilled to see it.

Naomi's Art on Display at the Nashua School System Offices.

Naomi's Art on Display at the Nashua School System Offices.

We got to ballet (on time, even—everything in Nashua is close and convenient), and she exclaimed, “My ballet bag!”

I said, “No problem, you can see if they will let you start in your stockings,” and I went home to get the bag. I picked it up, and realized there were no tap shoes in it. So, I hunted around her room to find tap shoes, and put them in the bag, and delivered them to ballet.

“Dad, these are my old tap shoes. They hurt my feet if I wear them.”

I laughed. “Okay, I’ll be back in a bit.” Back to the house … play the “find the real tap shoes” game—not as easy as finding the wrong pair. Back to the ballet studio. Along with a sweater she forgot to pack.

I hold up the correct shoes and the sweaters. Naomi beams and blows me a kiss.

I am in Heaven.

It's two years old, but this is still one of my favorite ballet photos of NaNi.

It's two years old, but this is still one of my favorite ballet photos of NaNi.

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LARP or Party Game: How to Play “Zombies”

April 25, 2010

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.)

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Kid Conversations this Morning

March 12, 2010

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)

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To Boldly Go: Star Trek Online

February 8, 2010

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.

Scanning with my tricorder. What could be better?

Scanning with my tricorder. What could be better?

Approaching Starbase 114.

Approaching Starbase 114.

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Ethnicity Conundrum

February 1, 2010

We ran into this problem when registering Naomi for kindergarten, and now, changes in government regulation require Isaac’s school to provide this information as well. According to the school:

  1. The school is no longer allowed to report race as “not reported.” This means we are required to report your child’s race starting with the 2009-2010 school year.
  2. The US DOE has modified the collection and reporting requirements for racial and ethnic data starting with the 2010-2011 school year. They now use a two-part question.

Amusingly, the questions the school is required to ask are as follows:

"Racial" Questionnaire

Now, how in the heck are our children going to pick a primary ethnicity?

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Halo Warthog Cake

January 16, 2010

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.

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Ouch: New Hampshire Charter School Cap Proposed

May 29, 2009

I just received this from the Academy of Science and Design, where I teach robotics, and where Isaac attends:

As almost all of you probably know, New Hampshire is facing major budget issues. The New Hampshire State Senate is currently trying to grapple with the deteriorating situation as state incoming revenue declines. This week, an amendment was proposed and approved in the Senate Finance Committee that would cap total charter school enrollment in the state for the coming 2009-2010 year at a level of 850, which is below current enrollment levels.

If this limitation stands as the bill moves through a full NH State Senate floor vote (likely this coming Wednesday June 3) and the following conference committee, this would be a MAJOR issue for the school. Depending on the exact level allocated to the school, this could mean ALL accepted incoming students would have to have their acceptance reversed, and it could even mean that there would have to be a “reverse lottery” to eliminate existing ASD students.

We strongly encourage you to take action on this issue, as it will affect your child’s educational choices and ASD’s quality.

One action you can take is to send mail to your elected representatives. The following link can be used to do this:
http://tinyurl.com/lmku2l

Some parents may also want to call their representatives. While this can potentially be helpful, it is also very important that you express support constructively, perhaps with personal stories, but DO NOT ARGUE with them! Remember that the legislators are dealing with a very major set of issues around funding, and are facing many difficult decisions at this time. Being hostile and/or combative can easily create irate representatives, which would hurt much more than help and can be very hard to reverse. Please only call if you are sure you can keep the conversation positive.

The ASD and other charter schools have been through this before, but it has always required work to get the legislature to see our side. Right now, we are all working through the NH Chartered Public School Association at all levels of government to make sure that this amendment does not get passed into law. While we are working hard with all the charter schools, we will not know the final outcome until the end of June. We will do our best to keep you informed as we move forward.

Kent Glossop
Board Chairman, Academy for Science and Design

Chris Franklin
Director, Academy for Science and Design

Here’s what I added to the petition I submitted:

Please help public education continue to improve in New Hampshire by rejecting the proposed cap on charter school enrollment.

Our son is attending the Academy for Science and Design Public Charter School in Merrimack. We have seen firsthand just how much he has learned at such a place, which is far more challenging than the private school he attended previously.

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Naomi’s Improv Ballet

March 18, 2009

NaNi (now age 5), loves to dance. After her ballet class, while another group was rehearsing for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she improvised this.

Toward the end you can see her looking into the studio room to see what the older students are doing in their rehearsal.

Naomi studies Ballet at Gate City Ballet, in Nashua, N.H.

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FIRST LEGO League: We Won!

November 17, 2008

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.