Merry Christmas!

Categories: Kids

Michael and Andrew in front of the Christmas tree

This is a rare photo of Michael (12) letting Andrew (15) touch him. I had to tell them they couldn't open their presents until they posed for this shot. Whatever works. (You can see Michael's favorite panda hat in this shot; he wears it all the time around the house now.)

Here's wishing you and yours a joyous Christmas!

Posted December 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A call for reason

Categories: Random junk

Like people around the world, I'm truly devastated by the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary; I definitely feel extra grateful my kids are safely at home tonight.

In the wake of an event like this, it's understandable, admirable, and very human to want to prevent it from ever happening again. My Facebook feed seems like a microcosm of our society, with some making fervent calls for increased (or even total) gun control while others assert that armed teachers might have made a difference. Most just express deep sadness and disbelief.

I'm not making any statements here about what, if anything, we should do; rather, I'd like to suggest how we might go about it.

First, although I appreciate the desire to do something now, I think reacting immediately can lead to poor policy choices. One has only to look to America's recent past for examples: the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor and the passage of the Patriot Act after 9/11. These seemingly well-intentioned actions made at the height of emotion limited Fifth and Fourth Amendment rights in the name of public good. However, the internment has been officially acknowledged as a national injustice and disgrace, and the Patriot Act has already had several portions ruled unconstitutional. I believe it will be seen by history as a similar injustice.

If we choose to limit or eliminate our Second Amendment rights, we should do so with clear heads (and in a legal fashion). There are no absolute rights, but I certainly think we should be cautious whenever there are calls to suspend, curtail, or overturn our liberties for the public good.

Second, we owe it to ourselves and each other to be informed and intellectually disciplined, that those who make policy or vote on it should understand the facts. For example, many people were shocked when US Representative Todd Akin demonstrated his ignorance of basic human physiology when he said that women's bodies can shut prevent pregnancies from "legitimate rape". Fortunately, I think many people were relieved he lost his bid for US Senate, preventing him from setting potentially damaging policies around reproductive rights or women's health.

I think we should be equally intolerant of people similarly ignorant about guns, current gun law, and gun control history who would propose gun control solutions. In the past, this has lead to feel-good but useless measures like banning Teflon-coated "cop killer" bullets. (Teflon doesn't enable bullets to penetrate body armor; in fact it reduces the round's ability to do so.) Learning about guns from Rambo is as insufficient as learning about science from Jurassic Park.

I've even seen my incredibly intelligent and well-educated colleagues ignore their understanding of statistics and logic. For example, they cite comparisons with other countries as evidence that gun control in the US would be effective (e.g. Japan), ineffective (e.g. Jamaica), or unnecessary (e.g. Switzerland), as if the only difference between these societies were in their gun laws. While it may be instructive to learn from other countries, we shouldn't confuse correlation with causation. I believe policy is only as good as the factual and logical foundation upon which it is built.

Most important, we must actually listen to one another. The balance between gun rights and gun control is often a deeply held, almost religious belief for people on both sides. I saw someone on my Facebook feed say, "I've never understood guns and never will." To me this is as reprehensible as a statement like "I've never understood homosexuality and never will." We have to acknowledge there are merits to both sides and thoughtfully address the concerns before we can reach any sustainable outcome.

I strongly believe, as with all complex issues, we must be wary of seemingly simple solutions. There are definitely tradeoffs and costs to any course of action. Mobs in the heat of the moment, confident in their own righteousness, and closed to dissenting views rarely find the right balance.

Posted December 16, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Something for my Christmas list

The last remaining bottle of the world's most expensive whisky is going up for auction tomorrow in LA. Glenfiddich made only fifteen bottles of the "Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve" from a cask that went into the barrel in 1955. (Janet Sheed Roberts was the oldest living person in Scotland and the granddaughter of the distillery's founder.) They apparently went into glass in 2010, so the whisky is considered 55 years old. One of the bottles from this set went for $94,000. According to the Glenfiddich malt master (how do I become a malt master?), the bottling is "incredibly elegant". Here are some other tasting notes.

The bottle itself is special too, "Each of the beautiful hand blown bottles has 24ct Gold adorning its neck and front. The stopper which consists of an aquamarine Cloisonné medallion monogrammed in gold with Mrs Roberts initials was made by Thomas Fattorini's." [From Glasstorm.com]

Yes please!

Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve, 55 year old whisky

[Via "This Is The World's Most Expensive Whisky" from NPR]

Posted December 10, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The future of blogging (at least for me)

Categories: Admin

As you can tell from my monthly archives, I've been blogging a lot less in the past year or two, with only twelve posts this entire year; there used to be some months when I'd post more. Part of it has been some challenges I've had maintaining my blog, but I think I have those worked out now thanks to some help from a Moveable Type expert.

However, I see this same pattern from a lot of my friends' blogging habits. If they're like I am, I share the little things like cool links or short Michael stories via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest these days -- things I used to post here. I feel more pressure for my blog posts to be more thoughtful and richer as a result. You see a lot more photos and longer posts now, but there are a lot fewer of them now.

Truth be told, I miss writing here. I consider my blog to be a diary of my life and thoughts. I really enjoy going back over old posts. I feel like something is missing when I don't write about big things or even small things like new restaurants. Also, my blog is really mine; the stuff I post on other sites is theirs and can disappear in a puff.

So, I'm going to try to write more here going forward and cross post to the other forums instead. I'm not too proud to admit that I like having the comments show up in my blog instead of on Facebook, etc. so feel free to leave notes here...

Posted December 9, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The salmon come home...

Salmon are such an iconic part of life in the Pacific Northwest. I went to the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery this morning to see the mature salmon returning to spawn.

Issaquah Salmon Hatchery and Issaquah Creek

 

Issaquah Creek was packed with salmon going upstream.

Close-up of salmon packed side-by-side in Issaquah Creek

 

The gates to the hatchery were closed, apparently because the dissolved oxygen level in the pools above were too low to admit more fish. That didn't stop the salmon from continuing to try to jump upstream. You can see the other fish waiting below.

Salmon jumping up a waterfall into a closed gate with lots of other salmon waiting below.

 

It was pretty amazing to see the fish continually beating themselves to get upstream despite the gates. Their need to keep moving must be incredibly powerful. The red Coho salmon were especially beautiful and jumped a lot. Apparently, this is just the beginning of their run, so there will be even more coming through the end of November. I learned the best run days are right after it rains; the water is cooler which make the salmon happy. I really love living in the Pacific Northwest with these amazing fish.

Close-up of a red-sided Coho salmon jumping into the gate.

Posted October 7, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Rafting on the Deschutes River

Categories: Kids Travel

Andrew (14) and I spent the last three days rafting on the Deschutes River in northern Oregon, about two hours east of Portland. We went with our friend Selva and plus two of his friends; they had taken this trip a few years ago and decided it would be fun to bring their kids along. We were joined by another father/son pair (although the son was bit older than the other kids, entering his senior year of college).

We drove down from Seattle the day before and stayed at the Best Western in Madras (the Mexican restaurant next door has the biggest margaritas I've ever seen.) The next morning we started our adventure in Warm Springs and drifted almost fifty miles over the three days, getting out a little past Maupin. I didn't know whether the trip would be strenuous since I haven't really done much rafting before and have never done a multi-day trip. It turned out to be quite easy. The Deschutes is a "pool-and-drop" river. This meant we had long stretches of pretty calm water where we drifted along, paddling only to help correct our position in the river. Occasionally, we'd hit a short stretch of rapids which required a few seconds of hard paddling then more drifting. The guides steered the boat from the back and gave us instructions of when and how to paddle. Our group filled two boats plus we had two gear boats, packed with dry bags containing our camping gear and effects, the kitchen, food, camp chairs, etc. Raft camping is a lot like car camping in the sense you can live pretty comfortably since weight and space are less of an issue than in backpacking.

We generally left shore around 9:30-10:00am and rafted until 11:30-ish when we'd stop for lunch. We'd push off again around 1:00pm and raft until 3:00pm where we'd set up camp for the night. This left us a lot of time to chat, admire the high desert scenery, look for wildlife (including wild horses, bald eagles, turkey vultures, and dozens of ospreys), and engage in boat-to-boat water fights. There were a few exciting Class III rapids including "Buckskin Mary", which Andrew and I swam twice -- very fun. There were many camp sites along the river with pit or composting toilets so there wasn't too much trouble getting good sites with enough space for our group, both for lunch and overnight. We stayed at the Wingdam camp site the first night and Buckskin Mary the second. We ended our trip at Sandy Beach, which is the last pullout before Sherars Falls. We had good weather with only a few rain drops and alternating sunshine and slightly overcast skies. Our clothes dried very quickly each day. The evenings were warm so sleeping in the tents was not a problem. It was pretty different from camping in Western Washington where the nights are colder and more damp. The only downer of the camp sites were the trains that ran along the river; they came through a few times per night and were quite noisy.

We did our trip through the very excellent Oregon Whitewater Adventures; they did an excellent job making the trip comfortable, fun, and safe. I recommend them highly and would go again with them. They took care of pretty much everything -- loading and unloading, cooking, and cleanup. The food was pretty basic but good -- French toast/pancakes or eggs for breakfast, cold cut sandwiches or Costco oriental chicken salad for lunch, poached salmon or Spanish chicken and rice for dinner (although they forgot the rice so we had Spanish chicken and toast instead). The other rafters brought beer, wine, liquor, and soft drinks so we had plenty to drink in addition to what the company provided. Our guides Lauren, Colby, Jack, and Jeff were fantastic -- very friendly and great with the kids, safe and expert on the river, and full of stories and jokes.

Andrew and I had a really great time. I could easily have kept going on a few more days, and we're both eager to do more rafting trips.

 

The beautiful high desert landscape
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Andrew and I scouting Whitehorse Rapids.
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Camp life
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Our camp site at Buckskin Mary.
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Andrew playing "Paddle of Trust" where you stand up, hook paddles with another person, and lean back. Invariably, one or both players gets wet.
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Not that Andrew minded getting wet. He jumped into the cold water as often as possible
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All-in-all, it was a great mini-vacation.
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Posted July 1, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Camping at Spencer Spit State Park

Categories: Kids Travel

Andrew (14) and I spent the last three days camping at Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island, which is in the San Juan Islands north of Seattle). We had never been the Lopez Island before; we found this park through recommendations from friends on Facebook (search really is better with your friends...) Aside from a huge downpour that started right after we set our tent up, the weather was perfect -- sunny and warm.

Spencer Spit State Park entrance sign (name on a wooden boat)

 

The park has an odd very pointy beach, the result of alternating tides that have build sand up to form this point, aimed at the heart of the little nearby Frost Island.
Aerial photograph of Spencer Spit State Park showing the triangular beach.

 

We tried our hand at sea kayaking for the first time. We launched from the south side of the beach and circumnavigated Frost Island. We managed to successfully stay dry until a fell on my ass getting out of the boat, soaking myself in the process.
Andrew looking back from the front seat of our two-man kayak, islands in the distance.

 

We spent a lot of time on the beach. Andrew loves driftwood beaches; he's always making stuff. Knowing this, I brought along some paracord (always useful and good to have around). Andrew used the paracord to fashion a hoe, chiseling holes through a shell and tying it onto a driftwood stick.
Andrew proudly displaying his shell-and-stick hoe.

 

The shells made nice targets for our new slingshot, which we tried out for the first time. They exploded in a very satisfying way when hit, although we didn't manage to hit them directly too often since we were still learning how to aim the shots.
Andrew aiming his slingshot at shells lined up on a log on the beach.

 

We also used some shells to boil seawater, in an experiment to harvest salt. After boiling off the water, we did manage to get a little salt in the bottom of the shells. I think we'd have to keep adding seawater to get enough salt to scrape out. Note: the shells can pop and explode, I'm guessing due to pockets of moisture in the shells. Andrew got hit by a "shell fragment".
Three white shells on a grill over our fire ring.

 

Beyond our beach adventures, we played with a night-vision scope, which was much more fun in the woods than at home. We even watched a doe for a while through the scope. She didn't notice us (or didn't care) so we got to watch her feeding on the trail for a while. (No photos of this, unfortunately.)

Our campsite (#2) was pretty good. It got sun for a good part of the day and was conveniently located to the water, garbage, and restrooms. It was OK private, but a little noisy from the nearby group camping sites (although I'm not sure any sites would have been quieter). The park has a few walk-in camp sites on the beach, which would have been fun to try, although they're not very private and use a composting toilet instead of the nice clean flush bathrooms servicing the other parts of the campground. (They do have a cart at the parking lot to help you bring your gear down to the site, however.) It's also worth remembering that you can buy firewood at the campground for $5/bundle. (The "camp hosts" will even deliver it to your camp site); bringing enough firewood is always a hassle, so this is a nice perq, although I don't know if they have this service year-round.

We both really enjoyed the campout (and the visit to Lopez Village). Andrew kept saying "this is the life" and thanking me for taking him along. It was definitely a trip I'll always remember.

Andrew and Tony in our campsite.

Posted June 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Rockets!

Categories: Kids

For quite some time I've been wanting to launch rockets with the boys. Finally, yesterday (Fathers' Day), I picked up an Estes Rascal & HiJinks Launch Set and took Andrew (14) and Michael (11) off for their first real rocket adventure. This kit was really pretty perfect for us. It came with two ready-to-fly rockets and the launch pad. I bought a few motors of different sizes and some wadding to complete the set up.

Even though I haven't shot rockets since probably junior high, it was really easy to set everything up. The only real hitch was that it was pretty windy. We aimed the rockets into the wind a bit and stayed with the lower powered A8-3 engines so the rockets wouldn't blow too far away.

Obviously, the guys (and I) thought this was great fun; we even got a round of applause from a family playing nearby. The wind carried our last shot onto a nearby roof, but fortunately the wind picked up the parachute and lifted the rocket back to the ground. Everything survived the three shots we made (it was too windy for more powerful engines, and I only brought three A engines.) We're definitely all excited to do this again.

Andrew installing the igniter.
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Prepping the rocket for launch.
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3-2-1...
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Blast off! (This was actually kind of a lucky shot from my camera phone since the rocket lifts off really fast.)
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Posted June 18, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Soldering a Simon

At last week's Seattle Maker Faire, Michael (11) became enamored with a Simon game, so we bought a kit to make one at home. (Those of you too young to remember, Simon was one of the first electronic games, introduced back in 1982. It had four buttons and would light one up. The player would tap it, then Simon would add another light to the sequence, which the player would then repeat, and so on.)

Today, Michael and I put the kit together. It was pretty straight-forward but it required some soldering. The last time I soldered was about five years ago when we built Herbie the Mousebot. Michael was really too young back then to solder, but today he did all the work. He seemed to really enjoy doing it and was very proud of his new game.

The Sparkfun Electronics "Simon Says" kit was very well put together -- good documentation and good quality parts. It cost about $30 at the show (although it's $24.95 on the website) and took us about 40 minutes to put together. We'll definitely get more kits. Hopefully, we can work up to Arduino stuff next.

 

Michael inserting a resistor.
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Michael soldering the chip in place.
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The proud Maker and his new Simon Says game.
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Posted June 9, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Seattle Maker Faire

Categories: Kids Random cool stuff

Last weekend I took Michael (11) to the Seattle Mini Maker Faire. This is a smaller version the larger Maker Faire that Make Magazine puts on in the Bay Area. This is get together meant to inspire and connect "Makers" of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) technology projects.

The event was held at Seattle Center in a two rooms plus some outdoor space. The exhibitions were pretty wide-ranging from robotics to craft-stick bending to welding. There were lots of hands-on activities so Michael was pretty engaged throughout.

I was happy to see Microsoft had a big presence with our Robotics Developer Studio and the cool Mayhem project. Michael was pretty excited about Mayhem since he could potentially control his room lights with his phone or build a motion detector to keep Andrew (14) out, all with no programming. We'll be picking up some controllers and sensors for Mayhem so he can mess around with this.

I was also amazed by how many Maker workshops there are in the Seattle area from tool libraries to a "create space" (complete with 3D printer, laser cutter and other cool stuff) and even a robotics space. The show definitely inspired me to start building more with the boys.

 

Autonomous squirt gun robot. It would see people and shoot them. Michael kept hiding behind me, so I got a bit wet.
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Michael experimenting with solar panels. He discovered (with the multimeter) that running two panels in parallel increased the amperage but running them in series increased the voltage (even the guy tending the exhibit didn't know.)
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Michael playing a Lego robotics contest. He won handily.
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An ambitious maker with a human powered cart.
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A blacksmith demonstrated his craft outside the fair. Michael thought this was extra cool and wants to become a blacksmith now. I'm not sure how I feel about him with a hammer in one hand and a hot metal rod in the other.
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Posted June 9, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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