September 2007

September 25, 2007

Herbie the Mousebot

herbieLast weekend, I took the boys to Robothon, a robot festival at the Seattle Center run by the Seattle Robotics Society. In addition to battle bots (you could pay $5 to pilot a battle bot!) and other cool exhibits, you could buy a robot kit for $40 and someone would help you build it.

The kit was a "Herbie the Mousebot" from Solarbotics. Herbie has two light sensitive eyes and will chase the brightest light around. His whiskers and tail are touch sensitive; if they hit anything, he'll turn around. The two little motors drive Herbie along pretty damn fast. Herbie also has a taillight, so multiple Herbies can chase each other around. I have another kit (and a newly purchased soldering iron) to build before I can test this out. (I guess technically we have a Horatio, the black mouse, and Harriet, the white mouse.)

I took about two hours to build the thing. I've somehow managed to avoid learning to solder until this point, but I've always wanted to learn, so I figured this was the time. The boys were pretty interested at first; Andrew helped me solder and assemble the kit, but they quickly moved to watch the robot sumo battles that a school group was having the corner (I wanted to see it too.) The moment of truth arrived when I put the nine volt battery it. It worked! The motors ran and the speeds varied with the light. Actually, one of the motors was stuck at first, but it was because the tires were on a little tight. Fortunately, I didn't have to do any real debugging. I noticed some of the other builders had to reflow some solder joints - non-trivial once the kit is together.

We tested Herbie in our dark living room. The robot scurried around the room, bumping into stuff, backing up and jetting off in other directions. We could get it to follow a flashlight beam pretty easily. When we weren't paying attention with the flashlight, Herbie ran into the kitchen since the light was on. Scared the hell out of Michelle. Michael (7) thought that was really great...

More important, I passed the "dad test". These are terrifying moments where you have to prove you're a competent dad to your kids. I know they'll soon realize I'm just another loser, but I'd like to delay that as long as possible.

Anyway, Herbie is really very cool. There are a lot of other cool robot things going on for kids in Seattle including First Lego League and Junior First Lego League that I may need to check out for the boys.

Posted September 25, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (1)

Congrats to Aimee and Ives!

Categories: Kids Random cool stuff

Ives and Aimee at the rehearsal dinner

Well, I finally got rid of my little brother Ives two weeks ago. After 35 (almost 36) years, he finally found someone who can put up with him long enough to marry him. All jokes aside, Aimee is a wonderful woman with great family and friends. My brother seems very content now and is lucky to have her. I just hope Aimee knows what she's getting...

Aimee and Ives had the wedding in Evanston, a suburb just north of Chicago and the home of Northwestern University. This was the first time I'd been to Evanston. It's a cute town, right on Lake Michigan. I see now why my Northwestern alumni friends really like it there. We stayed at the Hotel Orrington, which was centrally located, so we could walk everywhere.

The rehearsal and the wedding were very nice. My brother has a habit of getting teary on days ending in y and was a mess at my wedding so long ago. Of course, his wedding was no exception. At the rehearsal dinner, he choked up while handing out gifts, but I do give him and Aimee credit for holding it together during the ceremony itself (although it looked like they came close to losing it.)

As the best man, I gave a short toast (4 min, 30 seconds as timed by my friends - I had a reputation for overly-long toasts. Under five minutes is OK...) I was doing fine through the toast, working without notes and was almost done when out of nowhere, my throat constricted and I couldn't speak. I had a a terrified thought that I might dissolve into a teary mess and wouldn't be able to finish, but I pulled it together and got through it. I honestly hadn't seen or felt the surge of emotion coming. Wild.

The Bro and Wives

After my toast, our fraternity brothers (Ives and I were both Kappa Alpha at Stanford) sang Kappa Alpha Rose to Aimee, a tradition at KA weddings. Aimee was a good sport about it, even though she doesn't have the "wealth of golden hair" described in the song (we did change the "eyes of blue" to "eyes of brown" in the song though.) Despite the fact most of us haven't sung the song for 10+ years, it didn't sound terrible (I sent the words to everyone ahead of time as a refresher.)

The boys looked really good in their black suits. Andrew (10) was the ring bearer, and Michael (7) was an "honor guard" along with another little boy. Michael wanted to carry ninja swords to help protect the ring, but Ives wisely demurred.

The weekend was especially fun for me because I got a chance to see tons of family and friends. We had almost all of our cousins, aunts, and uncles from both sides. It's been a long time since I'd seen most of them, and this was the first time I'd met my cousin Alice's husband and daughter. I also went out with my cousin Gary for beers, which was a new experience since the last time I saw him he was still way underage.

Ives and I have a lot of friends in common since we were both in the same fraternity at Stanford (Kappa Alpha) and both worked at Microsoft, plus one of Ives' friends from high school came out. As a result, I knew almost all of his out-of-town guests and had a great time catching up with them all.

Anyway, I wish Aimee and Ives well. I'm looking forward to having nephews and/or nieces soon...

Wedding fortune cookie

Posted September 25, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 2, 2007

The Moral of the Story

Categories: Kids

Last night the boys and I watched The Sandlot: Heading Home, the third of the Sandlot movies about different generations of neighborhood kids learning about baseball and life on their sand lot ball field (this description makes the movies sound like they have way more merit than they really do.)

The basic (and not very subtle) message of the story is to do what you love and to value friendship above all else and things will work out fine. After the movie, I asked the guys what the moral of the story is.

Andrew (10): "I dunno."

Michael (7): "Always wear a cup when playing baseball."

Well, I guess that was an important lesson from the movie too.

Posted September 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Battle Sail!

Categories: Kids Random cool stuff

The boys and I went to the Olympia Harbor Days today and went out on the Lady Washington for a battle sail. The Lady Washington is a tall ship sailing vessel, a replica of the original Lady Washington that traded for furs in the Northwest in the late 18th century; she was recently named the official Tall Ship Ambassador for the State of Washington (nice to see the state legislature really working hard...) She's was also the Interceptor in Pirates of the Caribbean and in Star Trek: Generations. She often sails with her companion, the Hawaiian Chieftain, another replica tall ship, as she did today. During a battle sail, the two ships maneuver for position and shoot blanks at each other with their cannons.

Lady's crew aloft shaking out the sails. Hawaiian Chieftain headed down for us with a fleet of spectator boats in.

The Chieftain appeared to hold all the cards. They are a little bigger, a little faster, and better armed. (Chieftain carries four three pound deck guns to Lady's two three pound deck guns and two one pound swivel guns aft.) What's more, today, she had the weather gage (she was upwind of  us), which is normally a huge advantage in sail combat. Once we motored out into Budd Inlet and raised sail, Chieftain fired a shot to signal the start of hostilities and then bore down on us. As she drew near (slowly in the light winds), we unleashed a salvo from our deck gun and swivel gun. Chieftain was unable to respond since she doesn't carry any guns that face forward. We tried to tack repeatedly, but in the shifty, light winds we had difficulty (never really tacking). As we flopped around, we blasted Chieftain several more times. Chieftain never got a clean shot at us and resorted to firing at the pleasure boats that were watching the battle. (It's OK by me to sink a few Bayliners.) According to the captain, they typically try to keep the fights pretty even otherwise the passengers on one ship get bummed, but today, I declare us to be the clear winner.

Firing the swivel gun (note the flecks of alumninum foil shooting out. The charge is wrapped in foil and then blasted out. Note the jet of flame coming out of the touchhole.

The ship itself was cool. I've been on tons of tall ships before, but I've never sailed on one. It was neat to see how all the stuff works and how much harder it is to do everything than on a modern sailboat. They definitely have a hard time pointing (sailing upwind) and tacking. The crew was nice and seemed to know what they were doing; they have a mix of volunteers and paid crew. I'm seriously considering doing their two week volunteer training where you live onboard for two weeks and learn the ropes (literally). They do an evaluation, and if you pass, you can be a long term volunteer with them. It would be very fun.

Unfortunately, the boys didn't love it. Michael (7) for all his swagger, doesn't really like loud noises, so the cannon fire wasn't a hit with him. Andrew (10) had a better time but somehow got it in his mind that he was going to help with the cannons and be allowed to go aloft, so he was a little disappointed. However, he is game to go on their week-long family expeditions they do in the San Juan Islands every year. I'd love to do that with him next summer.

One a side note, this is the first time I've really done anything in Olympia (which is the state capitol.) It's pretty small and a bit worn out, but the area by the water front looks very fun.

Posted September 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 1, 2007

Disambiguating Cousins

Categories: Random junk

We're getting ready to go to Chicago this week for my brother's wedding (finally!). This will be a big family get together with my cousins and aunts/uncles from both sides of our family coming with spouses and kids in many cases. Even though the family isn't huge, I don't recall ever having had both sides together before, and I've certainly never met many of my cousins' spouses/kids.

So, one of the longstanding questions I needed to work out was the proper terms for each relation so I can describe it to the kids. I didn't grow up around my cousins or extended family, so I never really had to learn this. In particular, I never understood the ideas of removed and degrees (e.g. first/second/nth cousin).

For the English terms, I turned to the cousins article in Wikipedia, naturally. Briefly:

  • Degrees indicates the minimum number of generations separating two cousins from a common ancestor. My uncles/aunts' kids are my first cousins since we share common grandparents (one generation - parents - separate us from our common ancestor). My kids and my first cousins' kids are second cousins because they share common great-grandparents.
  • Removed indicates the number of generations separating the cousins.

Therefore, my cousins and my sons are first cousins, once removed. First because the minimum number of generations separating them from their common ancestor is one (my cousins to my grandparents), and once removed because there is one generation separating my cousins from my kids. Whew.

The Chinese terms seem hopelessly complex, so I asked my mom for a table. Although there does appear to be a grammar of sorts for these terms, even among Chinese it's confusing. In Chinese the birth order and side of family of the various parties changes the terms, so the terms for my father's side are completely different from those on my mom's side and the order of each generation's birth changes the words (fortunately, at some point, the strict numbering appears less important than the older/younger bit. I remember struggling with some of these growing up because Chinese refer to family relations using these terms, and it's important to get them right, lest you insult someone. However, even my mom suggests that we stop the practice among the cousins because it's just too hard (and we don't see each other often and the kids don't really speak Chinese, etc.) I'll spare everyone the gory details here, but let me know if you're interested. I may try to build tree/generating function for these terms if I get bored (maybe this would be a good Wikipedia article to write...)

Anyway, I feel somewhat relieved to finally understand this stuff a bit and be able to explain it better. The boys were dying to know. (Well, not really.)

Posted September 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)