Rockets!

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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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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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Seattle Maker Faire

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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Michael’s Snowman Army

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Most kids like making and decorating Christmas cookies. Michael (11) decided he would create an army of snowman cookies instead.

As he was stamping them out, he kept calling, “Rise my minions!”

Once they were baked, he decorated them in red sugar and dubbed them his “Red Snow Corps”. He seems innocent enough in the photo below, but it’s like having our own little Calvin.

Michael decorating his snowman cookie army.

WTF Michael

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The kids have recently discovered that Michelle's car audio system will read text messages out loud. As you might guess, this has become a source of some amusement.

Andrew (14) has contented himself to making the car say funny things like "blarg" or having it repeat the prompts, but with errors, so it sounds like the car has a problem.

Michael (11), as usual, is more devious. When he sent "LOL" to the car, it said the expanded version "laughing out loud". Without missing a beat, he sent "WTF".

Fortunately, the engineers at Volkswagen had the foresight to handle this case gracefully...

Halloween 2011

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The boys chose their own Halloween costumes this year. I thought their choices were pretty good illustrations of their differences. Andrew (14) chose to be a Dalton Academy Warbler from the TV show Glee. (This is a singing group from an all-boys' school.) Michael (11) chose to be an elite soldier from some unspecified armed service. Both were very pleased with their costumes.

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Incidentally, Michelle made Andrew's jacket (and one for me...). I thought it turned out really well, better than other jackets I've seen on the net. I found the Dalton Academy patch on Etsy (I've also seen people selling them on eBay). The red piping was seam tape ironed on with heat activated tape (I can't remember what you call it, but you can find it in fabric stores.)

The Intergalactic Nemesis

NemesisPoster5webLast weekend, Andrew (14) and I (much older than 14) bought tickets for The Intergalactic Nemesis, self-described as a "live-action graphic novel". It turned out to be a super-fun performance combining a 1930's-style comic book projected onto a large screen with a old-style radio show performed live in front of the screen by three actors, a Foley (sound effects) artist, and a keyboard player. The evening was even nicer since they performed in the Neptune Theater, an lovely old theater near the University of Washington (Andrew was at least as impressed by the Neptune as the show).

The story was fine and the comic book art OK, but the live performance was really the show for me. The three actors did all of the many voices and were physically into it as well; it was super fun just watching them. The Foley artist was really fun to watch too, just seeing how he created all of the sounds from different things, some purpose-built (like a mini-door and frame for open/close door sounds) and some just ordinary things (like a locomotive engine sound made by shaking a box of macaroni and cheese).

This Austin-based group is touring the country. Unfortunately, they only had one night in Seattle (their first stop), but if you're in Fort Worth, Lawrence, Madison, Chicago, Minneapolis, or one of the other cities they're playing, I really recommend going to see them.

(Interestingly, the "book 2" of the project is a Kickstarter project.)

Video sample of their performance
My bad cameraphone shot of the performance
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Andrew taking the mike after the show
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Ren Faire!

The family and I plus our friends John, Kellie, and Barbi went to the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire in Bonney Lake today. This was the kids' first time to a Ren Faire. I think it was Kellie and Barbi's first faire too.

We all had a great time. Almost all of the costumed attendees were very friendly, despite the fearsome looking weapons. These guys practically dragged Andrew (14) over for a photo.
Andrew surrounded by four faire goers in armor.

I got my obligatory Ren Faire meal of a roasted (and smoked!) turkey leg. It was actually quite nice.
My lovely roasted turkey leg.

The Academia della Spada offered a pretty interesting overview of how fencing evolved in Europe including this sword and buckler fight. I was surprised how slow and calculating the fights were. This is apparently historically accurate. Going fast makes it easy for your opponent to get around your guard. (Who knew there are historical fencing clubs, let alone multiple in Seattle?!)
Two men fighting with sword and buckler.

The boys got in on the action too in a massive Boffer sword fight. There were two teams with maybe fifteen fighter per side, armed with soft swords, spears, and shields. There were some simple rules about how you were wounded and died in action. (They'll come out and stage fights for parties! Can you say "morale event"?) The boys both thought this was the best part of the faire. Here's Michael (11) about to leap into the fray.
Michael (11) ready for action with sword and shield.

We all tried our hand at throwing knives, axes, and throwing stars too. I was pretty terrible at all of them, managing to hit the targets but not getting anything to stick in. Barbi was clearly a ninja in a previous life, scoring the best of all of us on the throwing stars. Here's John releasing his axe.
John throwing an axe.

A Nice Hike Up Little Si

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Since the weather was so nice today and since they spent most of the day playing video games and watching TV yesterday (for Michael's 11th bday), the boys and I got outside today and went for a hike on Little Si. This was the first time I'd been there, although Michelle had taken them there before.

Little Si is a nice hike about 25 minutes from our house. It's around five miles round trip from the trailhead with 1200 feet of elevation gain. Most of the hike is through the woods with some scrambling up rocks in sections. The views at the top are great. It took us about 1:15 up and :50 down. It was a popular hike today, so the parking lot was pretty full. Andrew (14) enjoyed it and wants to do more hiking; Michael (11) was inexplicably grumpy today (as you can see from the photo below).

Here's us at the summit (actually standing at the highest point:
Michael, Tony, and Andrew standing on the top of Little Si

You can see the breathtaking view here behind Andrew (this is looking SE, I think).
Andrew standing in front of a great mountain-and-valley vista.

Congrats, Andrew!

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Andrew (13) graduated from eighth grade today. It's hard to believe he'll be starting high school in the fall. It seems trite to say it, but they really do grow up too fast.

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Let summer vacation begin!