A Week Without

Sarah Latimer is away camping in the White Mountains for a week.

She doesn’t think we can survive without her.

We aim to prove her wrong.

Day 1.

Grocery shopping has been made greatly easier. A week of this will be a trifle.

Day 2.

Our efficiency in daily tasks has improved dramatically:

  1. Reduction in dishes used by eating out of the same pots in which we cook. (Not that we are cooking; Pop Tarts rule!)
  2. Further reduction in dishes by drinking from containers, rather than wasting time and resources dirtying glasses.
  3. Juno (our dog) provides excellent dish-cleaning service, indistinguishable from dishwasher processing.
  4. Still more time saved by not showering or bathing.
  5. Who needs to put on clean clothes every day?

Wait, what is that? …

Day 2, Continued.

Holy, freaking crap! There is nothing left of the Pop Tarts but wrappers. Do you children have no discipline at all?!

(The boogers mumble something about apples and trees.)

We’re ruined! Doomed. Do you hear me!? We’re going to starve, or worse, have to eat something I cook! Do you remember fiasco of the pancakes? Ashish remembers the pancakes? (“You cooked steak? I thought you were going to make pancakes.”)

This could get interesting, in a “Define, ‘interesting,’” sort of way.

Day 3.

Someone in this house smells. It seems to be worse around the children. And the kitchen.

Maybe the philosophy of, “Why clean? It’ll just get dirty again,” needs some reevaluation.

At least Juno is happy, although this morning she walked over to me, looked me right in the face, sniffed once, and ran away.

And. We’re hungry. The children are sticking firmly to their commitment to starve before they eat anything I might cook.

What we thought was thunder turned out to be the combined output of stomachs rumbling.

How much longer?

Day 4.

It’s midnight now. The house is dark. I am not sure how this will turn out. The kids are all desperately sick, throwing up. I can hear my son and daughter retching in separate bathrooms. I went in to check on them a few minutes ago, to see what was coming up.

I think I’m okay, at least for the moment. But of course the odds aren’t good: most of the people involved in this business are already dead. And there are so many things I can’t know for sure.

I have a ringing in my ears, which is a bad sign. And I feel a vibrating in my chest and abdomen. The baby is spitting up, not really vomiting. I am feeling dizzy. I hope I don’t lose consciousness. The kids need me, especially the little one. They’re frightened. I don’t blame them.

I am, too.

(With apologies to Michael Crichton.)

Day 5.

We have, at last found something we can agree on eating. Thankfully, we have (had?) a real dog, rather than a Chihuahua or something tiny.

Naomi is … Clara!

We are thrilled that Naomi has been selected as Clara in this year’s performance of “The Nutcracker” by Gate City Ballet.

A black, female ballerina holds an accurately-sized Mouse King in her hand.
(Our friend Ashish Joshi created this doodle about 4 years ago.)

Three performances will be held:

  • Saturday, December 16, 1:00 pm
  • Saturday, December 16, 5:00 pm
  • Sunday, December 17, 1:00 pm

Tickets are available from the Stockbridge Theatre online.

Nutcracker Poster 2017

Nutcracker 2017
Naomi Wilcox is Clara in Gate City Ballet's 2017 production of The Nutcracker. December 16 and 17 at Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, N.H. Tickets are available at https://stockbridgetheatre.com/.
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90 Years in 900-ish Words

This is the summary of my mother’s life that I presented at her funeral.

(Okay, 1,027 words …)

I want to tell you a little bit about our mother.

Our mom, Rachel Adeline Sampson Wilcox Fortini (not her real name, which was Rachel Adeline Wilcox pretty much forever) was born a long time ago. She saw more than a few things in her life: The Great Hurricane of 1938, World War II, the invention and use of the atom bomb, jet travel, the Civil Rights movement, the moon landings (indeed, the entire space program), and the Internet. It won’t be easy to summarize her life in a few words, but there are some themes that stand out.

Mom grew up on a small farm in Freetown, Massachusetts, purchased by her father after a whaling voyage out of New Bedford on the bark Sunbeam. She moved to a tiny house on the same property after she got married, a house that would rapidly become far too small.

Mom's High School Graduation Photo
Mom’s High School Graduation Photo

There are those who merely repeat the errors of their parents. Mom was the opposite. She had a strict policy of laissez faire for her adult children. If we wanted advice, almost always, we would need to ask for it. Cutting the umbilical was never a problem. In fact, my parents moved to Florida the same week I left for college, and they never gave me their new address. (I’m sure it was accidental.)

Mom seemed eternally young. She survived two husbands: My father, Paul Wilcox, and George Fortini, whom Mom married when she merely 80 years old. (This never fails to evoke a huge smile when I tell people.) My children, until a few weeks ago when it stopped being funny, insisted that Grandma would outlive us all. And, she will, having preceded us to Eternal Life.

I often think of Mom’s incredible practicality. In a time when women didn’t have bank accounts, it was my mother who always managed our finances, because she was a trained bookkeeper, and Dad wasn’t very good at it. She shoveled snow, painted the house, fixed things.

She was willing to defy social conventions in other ways: I am, like Paul John and Aaron, an adoptee. I never remember learning I was adopted; I do remember discussing it with Mom when I was young, but clearly learned about my own adoption at a very young age. She even made it clear that she would support me or help me in any way, if I wanted to contact my biological parents.

Mom and Dad, long ago.
Mom and Dad, long ago.

In the early days of the Cold War, my sisters remember Mom’s reaction to heading down into the basement in Easton, Massachusetts, evaluating it as a fallout shelter. Mom declared, “This isn’t going to protect us at all.” Scary, perhaps, but correct.

More importantly, we never learned prejudice in any form. Even in New England, this was unusual.

Although Fran often gets the credit, Cindy claims to be the one to first encounter saving faith in Jesus Christ—but, it seems she was merely the first to be vocal about it. Joyce remembers trusting Christ, albeit without much publication, even earlier than Cindy did. Fran followed soon after Cindy, but it was probably Cindy who was first actively praying for her family. (Cindy suggests that following Christ was an act of rebellion.)

Mom embraced Christ fully. Cindy remembers an immediate reduction in worry and even a slight reduction in the fanaticism of cleaning. (Mom used to lock the girls outside so she could clean.) That faith was evident her entire life. I got chewed out only a few weeks ago for taking too long to return one evening, because she wanted someone to pray with her, although she did nearly all the praying.

Indeed, she was, “a light of Christian faith, shining in a dark world.”

But our mother was, most of all, a Mom. All caps. One hundred percent. She elevated what is a noble duty and profession to a veritable ministry.

Mom had more than few children. Four inferior biological ones, all girls. Fran, Cindy, Joyce, Martha. (Or, as Mom spoke, Mah-thuh.) When those started to become less fun and move away, she began the 15-year process of adopting three boys. Myself, Paul John, the brother I prayed for for years, and finally, Aaron.

Mom was an excellent parent. Strict but never, ever unfair. (Except when I, at a young age, called her a liar because she, for the first time ever, accused me of something I hadn’t done.) My perspective may be a little skewed, because, as my sisters point out, I had older parents, who had been well broken in by the time I came around. Judging from some stories I’ve heard this week, this is almost certainly an accurate interpretation.

When, at 2 or 3, I needed to be instructed in the art of, “Don’t get too close to the street,” Mom painted a line on a rock at the edge of the driveway, and said, “Don’t go past that line.” When I broke a treasured piggy bank at age 4, she explained that she would fix it this time, but if I left it on the edge of the bed again, and it broke, it would be destined for the rubbish bin. I did, and it did. I was sad, but she was true to her word, and eminently just.

Mom and Dad, before They Improved the Family with Adoption
Mom and Dad, before They Improved the Family with Adoption

She would often explain how things worked. I remember seeing the Apollo 15 or 16 launch on TV, and having her explain that the Saturn V was bringing people to the moon.

And, Mom loved babies. She did foster care for, we think, 57 of them. She retired from foster care, later in her life, at least four times. My friend Tim called them “trade-ins.” One time, while returning a trade-in back to Boston, she was in tears. A young Paul John patted her on the arm and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you another one.”

Mom was very humble about this, indeed about everything. “I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to do some big thing … I didn’t want the Lord to think that I was bragging.” Even days before her death, she was fretful that she hadn’t done a good enough job. I suppose all mothers suffer this unending guilt, and she had so many children who called her Mother.

We were so very blessed to be entrusted to her.

(September 5, 1926 to July 26, 2017)

Living to Die

It is the 5th of July. Despite only a 3-hour flight, I’ve devoted most of the day to travel. Finally, after almost 12 hours of driving/waiting/flying/waiting/driving, I make it to Hospice House. Surprisingly, this is my first time visiting a hospice location. Although hospice was very helpful with my father’s last weeks, that situation was very different.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4, ESV)

Main sign for Hospice House

The lobby is beautiful. With fireplaces and chairs, it reminds me more of a relaxed hotel than a hospital setting. There is a tiny chapel off to one side, and a beautiful stone list of donors, decorated splendidly with a carving of a great blue heron in flight. But, I barely notice it.

Hospice of Citrus County Donors Mural

I make my way, of course, to the wrong end of the hall. It is relatively late, although not at all dark, yet, and very quiet. When I get to the other end, I quietly inquire for my mother’s room number, describing the various ways she might be named. Addie Wilcox? Rachel Wilcox? Wilcox-Fortini? Mom’s legal name is Rachel Adeline Wilcox, but she never liked her first name, so she was Addie to nearly everyone.

Room 12. Give us a few minutes, we’re getting her cleaned up. So, I wait a few minutes for the nurses to finish. Finally, I get to see Mom.

“Oh!” she greets strongly, “My ugly son!”

“Ugly?” I exclaim in disbelief, “Compared to Paul or Aaron? I don’t think so!”

I last saw Mom in October, when Sarah and I had a long-weekend visit because, as Sarah insisted, “Your mother is not going to be alive forever. We should see her while she is well.”

A motley crew at Charlie's Fish House, October 2016
A motley crew at Charlie’s Fish House, October 2016. Yes, that is how my mother smiles, a genetic gift from her own father.

Now, not much later, Mom is markedly older. She looks tired. She is painfully thin, massing definitely under 45 kg. Her speech is slow, but clear. I also discover she can’t hear me unless I speak very loudly. She’s good at covering this, but her responses to questions she pretends to hear are often non sequiturs. (Later in my stay I will tackle this problem and diagnose a bad hearing aid, and come up with a good-enough-for-this-lifetime solution.) However, she is “all there.” Her mind and memory are, for the most part, intact. This is something of a disappointment to me, as I was hoping to be able to re-frame a few minor incidents from my childhood. This won’t be the case.

Mom watching a video of her favorite grandchild
Mom watching a video of her favorite grandchild

I know, given the hour, that Mom will be tired, soon, so this visit will be short. There is one complaint Mom mentions at least once a day, and today is no exception: “I don’t know why the Lord still has me here, but He must have some purpose. I just wish I knew what it was.”

I understand her impatience to meet the Savior. She knows the time is soon. She is nearly 91. In less than a year, she has gone from driving interstate, living alone in her own home, and being in near perfect health, to having trouble walking, needing in-home care, and frequently visiting the hospital. The past two months have been particularly difficult.

My children often claim that Grandma will outlive them. This joke, which we have enjoyed for years, doesn’t seem as funny this week. I can’t keep a few lines from a song in The Muppets Take Manhattan, out of my head: “Saying goodbye, why is it sad? / Makes us remember the good times we’ve had.” The brain does strange things at times, as I will discover tomorrow.

I don’t know, of course, if this will be my last visit with this woman of many children: Four biological, three adopted, 87 (we think) fostered. I wonder if, sometime between my leaving this night and returning in the morning, my mother will go from seeing the object of her faith “in a mirror, dimly,” to “face to face.”

All too soon, Mom slips into a quiet sleep, and I drive the rest of the way to her house, navigating through tears, to where my sister Cindy is “holding down the fort,” as Mom would say.

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8, ESV) 

To be continued …

A Teacher Worthy of Notice

(A reflection from November 9, 2016)

While my wife—Sarah Latimer—and I were walking our dog, Juno, we chanced upon an outside window of this history classroom at Nashua’s Fairgrounds Middle School, where our daughter, Naomi, attends.

I was moved to tears at the display, particularly given the anniversary of Kristallnacht. This was a meaningful reminder that, despite what we have seen all too often on social media and propaganda outlets, there are, indeed, those like this English teacher who are quietly and efficiently going about making the world a better place for all our children.

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 https://www.gis.net/~fm/) 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 …

Weasley Clock Code

Note: I’ve finally gotten around to a much-needed rewrite for WiFi. You can find that code and another video here.

Back at Veracode’s last Hackathon, I published the video below. People have started discovering this and asking questions about it, so here is the code for it:

/*
  Weasley Clock
  -------------

  Created by Doug "LegoDoug" Wilcox for Veracode Hackathon IX.

  Video of the completed project is at https://www.youtube.com/embed/oRUViFnxKsg.

  "Share and enjoy."

 */

// Arduino SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) library - https://www.arduino.cc/en/Reference/SPI
#include <SPI.h>             
// Arduino Ethernet library - https://www.arduino.cc/en/Reference/Ethernet
#include <Ethernet.h>        
// Arduino Stepper library - https://www.arduino.cc/en/Reference/Stepper
#include <Stepper.h>         
// Adafruit REST IO library - https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-io/arduino
// See also https://www.arduino.cc/en/Tutorial/WebClientRepeating
#include "Adafruit_IO_Client.h"    
                                   

// assign a MAC address for the ethernet controller.
byte mac[] = {
  0x8C, 0xDC, 0xD4, 0x4A, 0xC9, 0xC2
};

// initialize the library instance:
EthernetClient client;

// last time the Arduino connected to the server, in milliseconds
unsigned long lastConnectionTime = 0;        
// delay between retrieving updates, in milliseconds
const unsigned long requestInterval = 5000L; 

// Configure Adafruit IO access. You will need to create your own 
// Adafruit IO account (free), and set up a feed, and provide your
// feed and AIO key in the code below.
#define AIO_FEED   "weasleyclockstatus"
#define AIO_KEY    "XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX"

// Create an Adafruit IO Client instance.  Notice that this needs to take a
// WiFiClient object as the first parameter, and as the second parameter a
// default Adafruit IO key to use when accessing feeds (however each feed can
// override this default key value if required, see further below).
Adafruit_IO_Client aio = Adafruit_IO_Client(client, AIO_KEY);

// Alternatively to access a feed with a specific key:
Adafruit_IO_Feed clockFeed = aio.getFeed(AIO_FEED, AIO_KEY);

// States - These are the codes that correspond to specific clock positions.
const String LD_HOME         = "ld_na";
const String LD_TRAVELING    = "ld_tr";
const String LD_VERACODE     = "ld_of";
const String LD_CHURCH       = "ld_ch";
const String LD_MORTAL_PERIL = "ld_mp";
const String LD_GLOUCESTER   = "ld_gl";

// Steps - How many steps the motor needs to move to point to a specific position 
// on the clock.
const int STEPS_HOME         = 0;
const int STEPS_TRAVELING    = 750;
const int STEPS_VERACODE     = 1600;
const int STEPS_CHURCH       = 2450;
const int STEPS_MORTAL_PERIL = 3350;
const int STEPS_GLOUCESTER   = 4350;

// Someday, I will determine what this actually does. (I don't think, functionally, 
// it has any affect.)
const int stepsPerRevolution = 200;  

long motorPosition = 0L;         // Number of steps the motor has taken.
String fValue = "";              // Feed value.

Stepper clockStepper(stepsPerRevolution, 7, 6, 5, 4, 8);

void setup() {
  // start serial port:
  Serial.begin(9600);
  while (!Serial) {
    ; // wait for serial port to connect. Needed for native 
      // USB port only, on certain Arduino models.
  }

  // give the ethernet module time to boot up:
  delay(1000);
  // start the Ethernet connection using a fixed IP address and DNS server:
  //Ethernet.begin(mac, ip, myDns);
  // Or, just start it with dynamic DNS by giving it a MAC address.
  Ethernet.begin(mac);
  // print the Ethernet board/shield's IP address:
  Serial.print("My IP address: ");
  Serial.println(Ethernet.localIP());

  clockStepper.setSpeed(20);
}

void loop() {

  // Wait for a bit and read the current feed value.
  Serial.println(F("Waiting ..."));
  delay(requestInterval);
  
  // To read the latest feed value call the receive function on the feed.
  // The returned object will be a FeedData instance and you can check if it's
  // valid (i.e. was successfully read) by calling isValid(), and then get the
  // value either as a text value, or converted to an int, float, etc.
  FeedData latest = clockFeed.receive();
  if (latest.isValid()) {
    Serial.print(F("Received value from feed: ")); Serial.println(latest);
    // By default the received feed data item has a string value, however you
    // can use the following functions to attempt to convert it to a numeric
    // value like an int or float.  Each function returns a boolean that indicates
    // if the conversion succeeded, and takes as a parameter by reference the
    // output value.

    // Want some fun? Learning about "conversion from 'FeedData' to non-scalar 
    // type 'String' requested" the hard way.
    //
    // If I remember correctly, it was a casting error caused by trying to use 
    // the 'latest' variable as a String, directly.
    // The following line casts 'latest' to a string and lets us use it as 'fValue'.
    fValue = latest;
    
    if(fValue == LD_HOME) {
      Serial.println("Nashua");
      stepBySteps(STEPS_HOME);
    }
    
    if(fValue == LD_TRAVELING) {
      Serial.println("Traveling");
      stepBySteps(STEPS_TRAVELING);
    }

    if(fValue == LD_VERACODE) {
      Serial.println("Veracode");
      stepBySteps(STEPS_VERACODE);
    }
    if(fValue == LD_CHURCH) {
      Serial.println("Church");
      stepBySteps(STEPS_CHURCH);
    }
    if(fValue == LD_MORTAL_PERIL) {
      Serial.println("Mortal Peril!");
      stepBySteps(STEPS_MORTAL_PERIL);
    }
    if(fValue == LD_GLOUCESTER) {
      Serial.println("Glostah");
      stepBySteps(STEPS_GLOUCESTER);
    }
    
  } else {
    Serial.print(F("Failed to receive the latest feed value!"));
  }

}

void stepBySteps(int newPosition) {
  if(motorPosition == newPosition) {
    Serial.println("No movement required.");
    return;
  }

  long steps = newPosition - motorPosition;
  
  clockStepper.step(steps);
  motorPosition = newPosition;
  Serial.print("position should now be:" );
  Serial.println(motorPosition);
}

Morally Hazardous Technology

1897 Van Cleve Ad

Voices were raised in protest. Bicycles were proclaimed morally hazardous. Until now, children and youth were unable to stray very far from home on foot. Now, one magazine warned, fifteen minutes could put them miles away. Because of bicycles, it was said, young people were not spending the time they should with books, and—more seriously—that suburban and country tours on bicycles were “not infrequently accompanied by seductions.”

The Wright Brothers, David McCullough

xkcd_1601_isolation

Humans don’t change, do they?

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.

———————–

*Yes, this is the correct spelling.

————————

Update: (June 23, 2016)

:: sigh :: Postponed until tomorrow.

postponed

————————

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.

kdiff3 6242016 60716 AMs

kdiff3 6242016 60327 AMs

kdiff3 6242016 60614 AMs

kdiff3 6242016 60617 AMs

————————

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!”

————————

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!