June 25, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
June 18, 2012
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.
June 9, 2012
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.
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.
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.)
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.