TramBot (Originally published in 1998 or 1999)

The TramBot—When my nephew Dave Matheson (a veterinary grad student at Prince Edward Island) stopped in for a day-long visit, we constructed a TramBot that ran on a string stretched across an upstairs room with a light-activated set of “grabs”—perfect for bombing runs. This was inspired by the “Bomber Fly” seen in assorted Lego media.

Yes, I Always Over-Design

If you’ve seen the Bomber Fly in the Lego publications, then you will immediately notice that my creation is much bigger, and probably heavier. I developed a fear of minimalism after my very first RIS creation quite literally shook itself to pieces in under 10 seconds.

Features and Innovation Details

  • The forward-reverse pulleys are driven by a belt drive, although a geared drive would have been fine in this case.
  • There are bumpers connected to touch sensors on each end that reverse the drive pulley motor when triggered. Because the string is at about a 45º angle to the wall, we added the tires to keep the bumper rods from slipping. (Before this was done, the bumpers would sometimes just glance off the wall without triggering the touch sensors, as the robot tried to keep moving.)
  • We solved the problem of timing on the “grabs” (the name alludes to Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation Thunderbirds program—see by using a belt drive, and setting the motor run time to one second longer than the absolute maximum necessary. This allowed the grabs to automatically re-synchronize, be movable by hand, and grip objects of various sizes.
  • The grabs are light-triggered. We used the Lego light sensor, and programmed it so that a flashlight beamed on it would trigger the grabs’ open or close sequence. This allowed for precise payload delivery.


My sons Isaac and John, my Nephew Dave, and I perform some final adjustments and testing.

To Boldly Go …

Photos via Picasa Web Albums

I started experimenting with Picasa’s (Google’s) free Web Albums last night. One gigabyte of storage, seamlessly integrated with Picasa, which is the free photo management software God would use if He didn’t run Linux.

Check out our new Picasa Web Albums, which I’ll be updating over the next week, and which are also linked to our sidebar. You can even subscribe to them via RSS!

And, here’s the photo I promised of my Mom and her fiancé, George Fortini:

And here’s another image of NaNi, the world’s cutest 3-year-old. She’s got the Wii controller in her hand, and is beating nearly everyone at bowling. This was taken at Nichelle’s birthday party in March:

Life: A Quick Update

  • Nichelle’s health has been amazing. Actually, Nichelle looks amazing. She is doing Tae-Bo and weight training almost every day. She is absolutely transformed, to the point where that picture of Storm I posted for her birthday is truly not very different than reality. This is a far cry from the woman who two years ago sometimes had trouble holding a fork and knife at dinner. This is by far our biggest blessing.
  • Since Nichelle can now kill me with her pinkie, I started on the weights with her and our friend Phil about a month ago, and get in several days a week of Tae-Bo or cardio stuff as well. It’s already made a big difference, although Nichelle puts me to shame. Phil is cracking the whip on the weights and controlling our diet as well. Last night we got to eat a single piece of cheese for the first time in about 3 weeks. My doctor should be very pleased with these lifestyle changes. I will say having Nichelle working on the same things has made it immensely easier. What would I do without her?
  • As far as we can tell, David made highest honors again. Although Isaac needs to apply a slight amount of effort in math and history for the first time in his life, he did very well also. I love Isaac’s wit, and David amazes me with his insight, especially because he’s only 8.
  • Isaac bought a ball python about two months ago, which he named Knotty. Ball pythons are really cool, although we’ve learned that they really do have poor eyesight, and have become familiar with their striking distance …
  • Command and Conquer 3 and Jaws Unleashed have overtaken us for gaming, even to the point of neglecting World of WarCraft and our beloved Wii. C&C 3 is every bit the game C&C/Red Alert lovers have longed for, providing that magical balance of interesting units and fast-paced strategy for which Westwoood Studios was famous. In Jaws Unleashed, one controls Jaws himself, attacking swimmers, dolphins, boats, and other sharks and sea life. Isaac and David love it to the point of addiction, although it hasn’t received very good ratings from adult gamers.
  • We officially resigned from our old church a week ago—a decision which was clearly God-directed—although we have not yet joined a new one. We believe we will end up at Heritage Baptist in Hooksett, which we attend most, although we are checking out the Wednesday night program tonight at MVBC—Heritage doesn’t have anything yet for the kids on Wednesdays.
  • Nichelle will compete in the National Chicken Cook Off on May 3–4, in Birmingham, Alabana. I get to go with her. She is up against some tough competition, but the first prize is $100,000. That wouldn’t be too shabby.
  • John seems to be doing well for the first time since he left last June. We’ll see how things work out—he hasn’t had a very good track record—but he’s working again for the first time in months, and seems to be much more rational than previously.
  • We’re also planning a trip to Florida to attend my Mom’s wedding in June. Did I mention my Mom is 80 years old? I have a great picture with her and her fiancé George, which I’ll post shortly. The whole family is very excited.
  • NaNi is still the world’s cutest and smartest three-year-old. I had always wanted to have a daughter, but she is more awesome than I would have imagined. She has a delightful sense of humor, too. Last Saturday she woke me up by hitting me repeatedly with a chain saw, chanting, “Dad! Banana bread!” She’s also informed me, “You don’t get any hugs: Hugs are for Mommy. You get knuckle sandwiches,” and I assure you she means it. She can also locate Alabama on a map. Every time she says grace, she includes, “Thank you that Mommy is feeling better.”
  • Work has been excellent. We are winding down, mostly fixing small bugs, in preparation for the release of version 6.0 of our product. I’ve been working on the user interface revamp, which has been a year in the making, and is absolutely amazing. For the first time in years, our software will look as good as it runs. Navigation and other user operations have been dramatically improved, and everything is consistent end-to-end.
  • We finally got caught up with “Lost.” Now it’s agony to wait a week between episodes! We also are backwatching “Gray’s Anatomy” and “Smallville.”
  • Last Friday, NaNi, Isaac, David, and the Dunn children were sitting in the bleachers at a basketball game, and were all singing “Chiron Beta Prime.” I was so proud of those little geeklings.
  • Keith Lancaster’s acapella CD “Glorious God” is amazing. Thanks to Bernard Farrell for recommending this CD, as well as its predecessor, “Awesome God: An a Cappella Worship Series.” Nothing warms my heart like hearing NaNi and the boys singing “Our God is an Awesome God” around the house, and we love to listen to these while traveling.
  • After reading Michael Crichton’s Next, I’ve added about 9 books on genetics to my list of books to read near immediately. (I may never finish Mao’s China and After or The 9/11 Commission Report, but I’ll keep plugging at them.) My goal is to be able to talk the language of genetics fluently with a PhD friend of ours. I’ve already got my DNA screen saver!
  • We’re getting new carpet in the basement, courtesy of a water heater failure about two months ago. ServiceMaster came out at the request of the insurance company, and saved us from serious long-term problems from water damage. Too bad our insurance doesn’t cover the water heater itself (due to its age), but as disasters go, this one wasn’t too bad.
  • Sorry for not posting more of late. I was very busy getting my accounting caught up so we could file our taxes, and I’m working on a very long post that analyzes (refutes) a popular KJV-only tract.

Geek Man Attends Professional Sports Event

[Editor’s note: This post is really old, dating back to January 20, 2006. So, call me a slacker—as you will, anyway, although this time you’ll be justified in the attribution!]

Often referred to as “übergeek,” “LegoDoug,” or, “that dweeb,” I’ve actually attended a professional sports event only one other time in my life. In fact, I can be considered so Geeky that Weird Al actually did a music video about me. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself:

I spent about $30/ticket for John, John’s friend AJ, my friend Phil Luchon, and myself to attend this game of the Celtics (which is universally pronounced wrong—it should have a hard C sound). I should have just gone for the $10 seats, which ended up being two rows behind us. Next time I’ll just cheap out. It was advantageous to have Phil along to answer technical questions. (“What’s that shorter timer that keeps counting down while the ball is in play?”)

There’s a whole lot of stuff that goes on at a basketball game. First were a number of “pre-shows,” some good and entertaining, some otherwise. One that interested me were two choriography teams from one of the local public school systems. First out was a group of 20 or so elementary-school-age girls; their choreography was well-coordinated and quite good, reflecting a high degree of skill and practice, with well-coordinated movements. Then out came junior-high or high school girls: They were terrible. Their movements were uncoordinated, and it was almost painful to watch. I later concluded that the vastly better quality in the performance of the younger students was because they had not yet discovered boys.

John clearly enjoyed the game.

The Celtics “mascot”—a person dressed as a leprechaun—and his team did some amazing gymnastic/acrobatic moves, kind of like Peter Pan meets the Harlem Globe Trotters. They set up big mats and springboards, and would do things like a reverse backflip culminating in a slam dunk. That was an amazing display, and fascinating to watch. (In fact, they displayed more skill than the Celtics, and appeared to have a higher percentage of successful shots.) There was also a “ball handler” demonstration, which was interesting, but not nearly as impressive as the mascot’s work.

Then came the game! The players came out and warmed up. There was tension and excitement building in the air. At last, I would experience the action and excitement of a live, professional basketball game!

Except that every single player on both teams stank beyond belief, and they were all the laziest slackers on the face of the earth.

Q: What’s the difference between this warmup and the first 70% or more of the game? A: Only the warm-up suits.

Does that sound harsh? I disagree. Your average athlete ought to be able to maintain a good level of physical activity for twelve minutes—that’s how long a quarter is in professional basketball. In fact, an overpaid, professional athlete ought to be able to “push it” for the 48 minutes that would cover an entire pro game. Now, 48 minutes is generous—the “real” games are broken up by between-quarter breaks, and time outs within each quarter, so 48 minutes would be extreme, but if a zilllion-dollar player can’t hustle for 48, he ought to be thrown off the team so someone deserving can take his place.

Instead of intense action, we were treated to a performance, up until no more than the last quarter-and-a-half, that could best be described as pitifully lethargic. The players were nearly walking around the court, rather than running. Then, as the game approached the 75% mark, the players actually began to hustle in a way that might have been worthy the exorbitant salaries they were earning.

Play Intensity Plotted Over Time

But hustle wasn’t enough. The Celtics (pronounced “kell-ticks,” remember?) missed enough free throws to change the balance of the game from the close match it was to a slaughter that would have sent the Nets home crying. If I had been the coach, they all would have been doing laps every day until several of them collapsed in exhaustion, then suicides until the rest did, and anyone who missed a free throw I’d make walk from city-to-city between games. Inexcusable!

In the end, the Celtics won, albeit just barely. I was disgusted at their pitiful performance. Where has the professionalism of Larry Bird gone? He used to walk every inch of the court before a game to find out where there might be an irregularity in the flooring, and he would endlessly practice free throws.

Other distractions abounded. The guys behind us were constantly yelling profanity. In contrast to our economic stereotypes, they were well-dressed “Yuppies” who must have come to the game from white-collar jobs in Boston. Also, apparently, all it takes to operate the “interactive” things on the big scoreboard is the ability the launch the “DE-FENSE, DE-FENSE” animation whenever the Celtics didn’t have the ball. Duh! Salter once wrote that you never see basketball coaches explain their victory strategy as, “Well, what we really need to do to win is get more baskets than the other team.”

There were, of course, other highlights to the game, especially from an engineering perspective. One of the things I found fascinating was the superbright LED displays that ringed the entire balcony. It was only relatively recently that the semiconductor doping of blue LEDs became commercially practical, which is what enabled these RGB displays to be used for such applications.

A close-up of the LED arrays that create the wraparound displays.

The final score was Boston 99, New Jersey 96. There’s a recap available here on Yahoo Sports, but to be honest, reading it is more boring than watching American football.

Message from John

[Editor’s note: John e-mailed this to me yesterday. There’s much to respond to, but I don’t have sufficient time, and probably won’t for a couple of days. However, I promised to put it up today, so here it is.]

Dear all blog members

I am sorry for consistently lying on here about my life and all of my problems. The truth is ive been lying bout alot of things and I want to get everything straight. First off I would like to apologize to you about lying about my parents. I have said in the past that they had been controlling my life. But the truth was that I was controlling my own life and wanted to do everything myself and I made bad decisions. And the outcome of that I have lost the two people in my life that took me in and cared for me. And that shouldnt have been so. I should have made the right decisions and not blame them for all of my bad ones. Second off I would like to apologize for lying to everybody about my enrollment in the GED course. I was never enrolled into one. I only told all of you that and my parents that so that they would not think I would be a failure. But I would just like to aplogize for everything ive done. I am trying to turn my life around and my heart towards God again. So if you could please give me another chance and find it in your heart to forgive me I would really like to appreciate it.

Educational Update

Isaac and David both earned highest honors for their first quarter. That means they get a $1/week raise in their allowances, which will now compensate for the $1/week they contribute toward our World of WarCraft subscription. David has become very proficient in handwriting, which is always difficult for a lefty; there’s a huge improvement over last year. Congratulations to them both, the weasels!

Last night I took the second of two “midterms”—our single major exams—for my Boston University graduate courses. I got a stinking “B” on my first exam, in “Object-Oriented Analysis and Design.” I think I did better on the Software Engineering exam yesterday.

Both classes have projects due within a couple of weeks. The Software Engineering course is a group project with three of my co-workers, and we’re building, using Ruby on Rails, a Web-based calendar that is idea for families and small organizations. This is a program I’ve always wanted to put together, and it will be fun finishing it up. So far we’ve learned that Rails is amazing in putting together the data connectivity and display pieces virtually automatically.

In OOAD, I am having a blast designing a simulator of a Star Trek transporter, including replicating the Enterpise D transporter control panel. For this I’m uisng Adobe’s Flex Builder 2, at the suggestion of co-worker RaviShekhar Gopalan, to create my application programmatically for Flash. Although far from finished (I should be “mostly done” by Monday), I’ve published my incomplete-but-working project to . There are some fun hidden features (and I’ll be adding several more), although the simulation/demonstration code isn’t in there yet. I fell victim a bit to a common programmer’s overconfidence: “If I know one object-oriented language, then I can learn another one in minutes!” I’ve figured out just about everything I need to do in Flex (I have one more technical problem to solve, and it’s a small one), but I’m my no means a master yet. You can also take a peek at the PowerPoint presentation I gave to the class for that project. (Can you spot the big omission from my Domain Diagram? It’s a real forehead-slapper!)

(It’s been determined that I will get real credit for the courses I am taking, but that I cannot get my Certificate in Software Engineering, because I don’t have a baccalaureate. I will investigate, after the next two courses are done in the spring, what it would take to convert these credits into undergraduate credits and fill in the missing pieces to get a B.S. in computer science.)

John (we still hear from him occasionally) has been telling people for a while that he is enrolled in a GED review course at Massasoit, but if he is, he’s taking on days it isn’t offered, at times of the day it isn’t offered, with an instructor who isn’t teaching it, using a textbook that isn’t part of the course, and getting a ride from people who claim they aren’t giving him a ride to the class.

And NaNi continues to learn letter recognition and writing from Nichelle, although the impending holidays have cut down on the teaching schedule a bit. Naomi can spot capital As anywhere, and writes them perfectly, except for tending to draw them upside-down.

John Is Leaving

John turned 18 last Thursday. He celebrated this by launching a covert attempt to move out of the house. (Why it was covert is beyond me. He has every legal right to live where he wants; whether he was ready to do so, or whether this was in his best interests, is an entirely different question.) We did allow him to stay with his sister in Brockton for the past week, partly because we believed a break would do us all good.

Yesterday we phoned John at his sister’s house. We’ve talked to Felicia a number of times this week, but this is the first time we called to speak to John. We wanted to find out what sort of John would be returning today. We were hoping to see reflection and perhaps even repentance. Instead John told us he would be returning today to get the rest of his things. (This was one of the possibilities we were prepared for.)

When we asked where he was going, he wouldn’t tell us. He said he’d tell us eventually.

We told the kids. David cried for a long time. He is so loyal and so loving.

From last fall to late winter, John was all that we’d hoped he would become. His grades were quite good; he was clearly working hard in school, and had a part-time job in an accounting office. His attitude was excellent. He was helpful at home, and even managed to get along well with Isaac and David. For the first time in years, he behaved like one of the family, and it really felt that he was finally “home.” It was absolutely wonderful! I was so proud of him, and relished being able to brag about his achievements. We don’t know what precipitated the change, but all that disappeared, to our sorrow, by the early spring. Of late, especially the past few weeks, he has intentionally (as he admitted to our assistant pastor) been attempting to foment strife at home in the hope he could use that as an excuse to leave, not generating the level of discord he sought, but making life less-than-pleasant for all of us.

It appears John plans to live in Brockton, paying some rent, with someone he knows; perhaps a [biological] family member. He said “might have a job,” and that he intends to attend a vocational school in the fall.

I truly hope he succeeds.

Mind-Body Connection: Rheumatologist at Brigham …

Or, how much pain can you work through on a daily basis?

How much would your body allow you to do with pain on the scale that’s typically 7 to 10? I’m frustrated, because I’d prefer to be active, being able to minister and do for my family like I once did…. and no one seems to “get” that.


Yesterday we pulled off the usual logistics nightmare that involved a trip into Boston. Trish Dunn took the kids, except for John, who after a very disheartening and inexplicable episode, is spending a week in Brockton with his biological sister and her husband.

Dr. Anderson, a highly-recommended rheumatologist based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston (where Isaac was born), seemed to be highly skilled, and asked excellent interview questions. He is, unless we’ve missed some, the tenth doctor Nichelle has seen in the past two years.

Primarily, we forcused on the constant, very severe pain she is experiencing. He was able to rule out bone disease, tumors, diseases involving musculare weakness, nervous system disorders, and joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and synovitis. This left him with our old enemy diagnosis: Fibromyalgia. He explained that Nichelle had already tried most of the medications (and all of the types of medications) that normally help alleviate Fibromyalgia symptoms.

He suggested and later reiterated that he believed exercise would provide the most benefit. We twice explained very clearly that the recurrence of the debilitating symptoms occurred during a period of consistent and signficant daily exercise, and that the inability to do things like walk more than a few steps without intense pain makes exercise very difficult. He spoke of the “mind-body connection,” and how things like Yoga (although he does not “believe” in it per se) or meditation and other things that have to do with the mind-body connection can, in conjunction with exercise, be of benefit, indicating that one can change “how your body talks to you.”

He asked if she’d tried any of the various restrictive or eliminating diets, but we don’t know if he was thinking about the consideration of food allergies or sensitivities, or just throwing out possibilities. We discussed other alternative therapies: chiropracty (provided only very temporary relief), therapeutic massage (provided only very temporary relief), and accupuncture, which we are willing to try (there’s an opiate receptor model for how accupuncture actually works, which may make it ideal for treating pain), but we haven’t been able to find a practitioner covered by our insurance.

One of the more interesting things he asked Nichelle was, “If you were on the Western frontier 150 or more years ago, how would you handle this?” Later I thought of a really good answer: “She’d become a judge, and hang a whole lot of doctors.”

Overall, it was a long, discouraging day, especially due to the added concern about John.

This morning Nichelle seemed determined to fight through and determine just how much she could accomplish before completely succumbing to the pain. She even drove herself to the lab (5 minutes away) to get the latest bit of blood work done.

Nichelle made appointments today with the Pain Management Clinic at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, and with who we hope will be a good primary care physician. Both are not until the end of July or first week of August.

Dr. Hall (who ties with Dr. Rescigno for “Best Doctors We’ve Ever Had”) called back with her latest test results: Nichelle’s vitamin D level was good, and her PTH (parathyroid hormone) level was good, which means that the hyperparathyroidism was indeed caused by the vitamin D deficiency. The importance of vitamin D was largely overlooked until fairly recently, we learned from Dr. Hall, and vitamin D deficiency has turned out to be very common, especially in the Northeast.

We’ll have some other test results, such as for hemoglobin disorders and blood cortisol levels, next week.

Later today Nichelle goes in to Mass. General for two bone density tests. The illustrious Debi Costine is providing transportation (we’re bribing her with Middle Eastern food), and Cindy Lavoix and company are coming over to our house to watch the kids (or play with our game systems; I’m not sure which), which means I get to go to work.

Moving, walking, running … little things for some, but not to me …

How wonderful it was to wake up yesterday morning feeling no pain and being energerized!

This week in school for the elementary grades is “spirit week.” Each day the kids get to dress up according to the predetermined selection of ideas. “Hats, glasses and slipper day” was yesterday, and today was mixed-match day. Yesterday, I was able to run downstairs and lie on the floor looking for stuff under their beds, helping the kids locate items that were deep underneath. That, of course, is a big deal. And I was able to get back up without help. On Sunday night, although in some pain, I was able to help Isaac make a meat eating plant (pitcher plant) for costume day. You’ll see the outcome [Doug: Pictures coming tonight.] and he won second place, too. I was thankful that I was able to do that with him, too. David was a fireman, and he had the costume for that, easy work there. Today being mixed-match day, the kids needed assistance buttoning up their clothes backwards, wearing weird ties, suspenders and a bow tie, I believe from the 70’s. Ah, the ties may have been from that era as well. [Doug: I’ve kept a couple of boxes of “costume stuff” for the past nearly two decades. Weird ties are easy to find at any thrift store.] It was great fun. Doug did take pictures of their final results, and I’m sure will get the pictures posted soon. [Doug: Nag, nag, nag …] I’m still feeling well, too.

On one of the days that I was unable to get the kids from school, Isaac and David were eager to watch a new movie that Doug had bought for Isaac the night before, and Naomi joined them. John hung out with me, and we talked for—what I was amazed at—the entire length of the movie. We were just talking about a lot of things/issues. It was great to spend that length of time with him and hearing what God is showing him. What a blessing.

After Naomi got up this morning, I went and sat down with her in her room and just had a praise and worship time in song. I sing along with CDs that we have, but I haven’t just belted out song after song by memory in such a long time. How I long to be back in choir again and singing specials, but for now, I pray the songs continue to come back to memory again, so such a time or praise can be had again.

Something else I was able to do was play with Naomi yesterday in the backyard with her on the swingset/gym set with the monkeybars and “clubhouse.” She is now able to climb completely up to the clubhouse and get down without help. That part is at least 7 feet high. That’s pretty impressive climbing skill for a 2 1/2 yr. old. [Doug: You should see her climb down the center of the ladder assembly; she hoists herself on both arms, legs flailing, and pretends-screaming.] Naomi also for the first time yesterday used the monkeybars. I was under her, of course, for assistance if necessary. She was able to do three rungs by herself. Oh, she also scales the poles on the indoor gym equipement we have. Her upper body strength is amazing, too. I think Doug took pictures of those. [Doug: I have video of the clubhouse climb, but no pictures.]

Doug again, has been amazingly helpful and quite busy. Doing all he can for us. He joked with me that God has blessed me with all the grace. He’s given it to each of us in different ways and I can see that in the kids and in Doug. They have each had to go through a lot, and with more to come, a couple of good days so far, but…. Many people will say, “I don’t know how you can do it,” and that can be said to each person in my family—but the answer is the same, in my eyes anyway. It’s by God’s grace and that alone. For the kids to go about and do things, at times for themselves or just with little help, not having a Mom to do the typical Mom things I once did, can be hard, and the same goes for Doug. The things he’s taken on and does great with are excellent.

This past Saturday, Phil was up visiting and he and Doug went out in search of a new TV. [Doug: We weren’t really searching; I’d already done the research via Consumer Reports and a number of other online product reviews. Conclusion: The 34″ Sony WEGA HDTV is amazing, and, although smaller, exceeds plasma TVs by a huge amount in quality, at a much, much cheaper price.] They found one and it’s awesome. I got to operate it yesterday for the first time. Hadn’t been out of my room since Sunday, except to get a couple of things and then return. It’s also been great seeing Steve Deyesso again, too. He was around one day early enough to pick up the kids for me. David remembered his face, but couldn’t come up with the name. Naomi played the shy girl for a while, but finally came around. Now when he visits, she’s her typical sweet self and goes right to him.

I thank God and praise Him for the grace and strength He has given through this illness and again thank the many of you who have helped for your care, many prayers, and for the assistance you given.

Mostly Mummies: Our MFA Trip

Never visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston without being accompanied by Debi Costine. Back on February 27, we got to do just that.

Nichelle spent the three days before the trip in “intense rest,” hoping to be well enough to go with us. (I hadn’t seen her so determined to do anything major since singing in the Christmas program in mid-December.) Thankfully, she was able to go, although by the end I wished I insisted she use a wheelchair for at least part of it. (In the weeks since, her condition has gotten worse, and I don’t think we’d even try such a trip now.)

We also weren’t sure we could convince David to come. He seemed fascinated, several years earlier, by the mummy at the Museum of Science in Boston, but in the interim years, that fascinating had turned to fear. I spent three weeks trying to psych him up, but it was Debi who spoke to David the night before and convinced him that he would be fine. By the end of her call he was eagerly anticipating the trip.

Above: Debi Costine provides an introduction to ancient Egypt.

What a wonderful trip! The kids loved it, John especially favored this museum over the science-centered ones that I typically drag him to.

Outside the Egyptian wing, Debi sat us down, gave us handouts, and introduced us to things to look for in the Egyptian artifacts. Among them was a cartouche—generally an ellipse with a line on one side, that would be marked with one or two sets of hieroglyphs. This would indicate the name of a god or a king. We also learned about the burial and afterlife beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, including the false door that the spirits would use to retrieve food offered to them.

One of the things Debi stressed was the grain of truth that many cultures preserved after the Flood in their understanding of spiritual things. It was very interesting to see how a proper understanding of death and eternity became corrupted over the years.

Above: Pointing out the hieroglyphs adjacent to a cartouche, indicating the name of a god. (Note Debi’s red hair.)

One of the ideas I found fascinating was that the existence of one’s name carved in stone allowed the existence in the afterlife to be perpetuated. In some cases, pharaohs or other leaders who fell out of favor were “eliminated” after death by having the names chiseled out of their places, as well as statues destroyed. One pharaoh ordered his name hieroglyphs to be carved especially deep. I wonder if it occurred to them to carve it someplace and then hide it.

Above: Barley (along with a crude mortar and pestal) dating from up to 6,000 years ago.

When Nichelle and I attended the MFA last year, we were awestruck by the Egyptian artifacts. They project such a feeling of age. It is truly amazing to walk among them. The barley shown above is a small thing, but it’s astounding to find it preserved for five or six millenia.

Above: King Menkaure (Mycerinus) and queen (possibly Khamerernebty II).

I absolutely love this statue of King Menkaure and his queen. This couple is elegantly and lovingly rendered, and it impresses me that the artists were able to perfectly recreate the effects of sheer cloth in a stone statue. Note that they are actually clothed, at least in the custom of the time. The statue is unfinished. (There is no name on it; the king’s kilt pleats are not carved, and the base is unfinished.) There are more photos, a write-up, and an audio piece here at the MFA site. Note the folded napkins in Menkaure’s hands. These were authority symbols. Some later statues had rectangular napkins that look more like blocks of wood.

Above: The Egyptian kings would place these stories about their conquests on the borders of their lands. Debi was able to explain the story carved here in much more detail than the museum plaque next to it.

Above: Check out the cartouches on the base of this statue. These have the hieroglyph pairs we were hunting: a sun with a bird, and a bee with a sedge plant. David just told me, “I was the first one who found that one!”

Above: All the geeks in ancient Egypt used these these snazzy pocket protectors. Seriously, it’s a scribal palette, belonging to “The royal draftsmen of the Lord of the Two Lands, Amenemwia.”

Above: The center of the Egyptian funerary room. That’s a bolt of linen in the left foreground that is over 4,000 years old. Amazing!

The funerary room was astounding. It offered much more than the few things we think of as stereotypical Egyptian art surrounding the funeral rituals. Interestingly, the Egyptians were quite reluctant to change the formulae of their rituals, even over the centurals. So, even when the custom of removing the organs and storing them in jars had changed, faux jars were still placed in the burial chamber.

Above: These ceremonial eyes were painted on the sides of coffins to allow the body entombed within to see out.

Above: Debi noticed something about this mummy mask that she had never seen before: It has a beard. This mask (dating from the time around Joseph’s life) may show the result of a Hebrew influence, as the Egyptians didn’t wear real beards, perhaps as a result of Joseph’s revelation of his origin and rise to power.

Above: You’ve read the Old Testament many times, but always wondered what Baal looked like. Now you know! (This one is missing his weapon or thunderbolt. Maybe it was a child’s action figure. It’s about the same size. “Hey, kids! Collect all the Canaanite deities!”)

Above: This Hittite stamp-cylinder seal was impressive, as were the other seals and commercial artifacts, including a set of balance weights and numerous cuneform tablets.

Outside of the Egyptian area, was one of the things we were all really looking forward to seeing: A fragment of a plate (probably smashed by the forces of Alexander the Great) from one of Xerxes four palaces. Debi likes to encourage her students to imagine that Queen Esther herself may have touched it.

Above: Fragment of a Royal Plate
Southwest Iran (probably from Perseopolis, Palace of Xerxes), 485–464 B.C. Diorite. Queen Esther just might have used it. (My photo is blurry, so I’ve linked the image to a better one at the MFA.)

By the time we got to the few more modern things we looked at (much of the 1st century A.D. art, especially from Corinth, is, shall we say, inappropriate for children), they just couldn’t compare to the marvel of the ancient Eyptyian work. They all seemed so … recent.

Above: This painting contains owls hidden within it. I was terrible at finding them, but the kids did well, and really enjoyed the task. This photo isn’t perfect, but I couldn’t find the painting this evening when I searched the online MFA database—even though I found it a few weeks ago.

I’ll also include what is one of my absolute favorite paintings in the MFA. When I first saw it, during my company’s “Winter Thaw” event, I was struck by how beautiful it was. The color is amazing, and it seems photographic in its realism. It really stands out.

Above: Portrait of a Young Woman, possibly Countess Worontzoff, by Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée‑Le Brun. French, 1755–1842.

And David, the little weasel, announced that his favorite part had been the mummies.