iFly!

A few weeks ago, I took my team to iFly Seattle for a little fun. iFly is billed as indoor skydiving. Rather than falling, you're in a powerful updraft. It was super fun (and got great reviews from my team members). When I told Andrew (16) about it, he wanted to go, so I took him for his birthday today along with our friend Maddi, who was also very gung ho to try it. Michael (12) wasn't interested but came along.

After some classroom instruction, an instructor goes into the chamber with you and helps you control your position and body. You're in the chamber for either a minute or two minutes, depending on which package you select, and you typically do two flights (I strongly recommend the two minute option since it takes a bit to get settled). On the second flight you have the option to do a "high flight" with the instructor, where s/he grabs onto you and flies you up into the 2-3 story chamber. It's actually not scary (at least I wasn't scared) since you don't have the falling sensation.

They have cameras in the chamber and will move you into position for a good photo (which you can buy afterwards). They'll also give you a DVD of your flight.

Andrew and Maddi had a great time. I'm sure we'll be going back.

Here's me flying at our team event.
Me flying at our team event

Andrew and Maddi ready for action.
Andrew and Maddi in purple jumpsuits

Andrew flying!
Andrew flying

Video of Andrew's "high flight"

Flight on a B-17

Andrew (15) and I got to fly on a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress from Boeing Field today, going with my friend Brian. This was the Collings Foundation B-17 "Nine-O-Nine", one of only ten flyable B-17s left in the United States. We actually tried to fly on this plane two years ago when they were in town, but the flight was scrapped due to rain.

Head on view of B-17G Nine-O-Nine

This year, we really lucked out. We had a perfect Seattle summer day. When we boarded the flight, we had to sit down and buckle up. There were spots for passengers scattered throughout the plane. Andrew and I sat in the radio room.
Andrew sitting in the radio room ready for takeoff

The crew left the top hatch open, so during the flight, we could even stick our heads (or camera) outside. This is a shot from out the top hatch, looking back at Boeing Field as we climbed after takeoff.
A shot of Boeing Field and the B-17's tail from the top hatch.

After takeoff, we could move throughout the plane. It was pretty tight and a bit tricky to move around with my camera bag; I can't imagine how hard it would be in a bulky flight suit, wearing a parachute.

Here's Andrew in the nose, looking through the bombsight.
Andrew looking through the bombsight.

This is a nice view of the I-90 Bridge and Bellevue, out the starboard waist gun.
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One of my favorite places was in the top turret. You get a 360 degree view, although, I'm just a little short to be a good top turret gunner. Here's the view from the turret looking forward.
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The flight lasted about thirty minutes, covering fifty-four miles. We averaged about 120mph and flew at around 1650'. It was loud and a rattled quite a bit at full power on takeoff, but the flight was smooth. The pilot was a pro and nailed the landing -- smooth as silk. Here's our flight track from my GPS watch.
b-17 flight

In addition to the B-17, they were giving flights on the last flying Consolidated B-24J Liberator as well as a North American TP-51C Mustang. I would really love to go up in a Mustang; this particular plane may be the only way to do it since it's a two-seater training variant.
TP-51C Mustang warms up, with Mount Rainier in the background.

This was really a rare opportunity since there are so few flyable warbirds left (and even fewer that take passengers). I'm really glad I got to do this with Andrew. (Too bad my younger son Michael wasn't interested.)

An Evening with an Astronaut

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As part of our trip to the Museum of Flight today, the boys and I attended a talk by astronaut Barbara Morgan. She's quite a remarkable person. After she graduated from Stanford, Barbara taught in a variety of elementary schools from an Indian reservation to Ecuador. She was selected as the backup to Christa McAuliffe as the Teacher in Space, picked from over 11000 applicants. After the Challenger disaster and McAuliffe's death, Barbara took on the role of Teacher in Space. She later was selected by NASA as a Mission Specialist and became a full-time astronaut, NASA's first "Educator Astronaut". After years of delays due to the Challenger and Columbia accidents, she flew on STS-118 on the Endeavor in 2007, bringing parts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). She's now on the board for the Challenger Center and teaches at Boise State University.

She took the Stanford Alumni Association audience through her flight, from launch to docking with ISS to landing. It was fun to hear her stories about what it was like, especially the little things like how they put strips of duct tape in convenient positions ahead of time so they could use them quickly to keep things from drifting around the zero-g cabin.

It was especially neat to have her give the talk in front of the real Full Fuselage Trainer - a full sized mockup of the Space Shuttle that the astronauts like Barbara trained on. She kept gesturing at different parts of the FFT as she talked. We're fortunate to have gotten it in Seattle (although a real shuttle would have been nice too...)

It was a real treat to meet a true American hero. I hope America returns to manned space exploration again soon -- on American launch vehicles.

 

Goofy boys in front of the new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Museum of Flight
Charles Simonyi Space Gallery

The Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer
The Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer

Another view of the FFT
The rear view of the Full Fuselage Trainer

The cargo bay in the FFT. It's reasonably long but surprisingly narrow.
The cargo bay in the FFT

Astronaut Barbara Morgan presenting in front of the FFT
Astronaut Barbara Morgan presenting in front of the FFT

Barbara answering a little girl's question about the hardest thing she had to learn to be an astronaut.
Barbara answering a little girl's question about the hardest thing she had to learn to be an astronaut.

The salmon come home...

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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.

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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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.

Bing on Xbox!

Last week at the gaming industry's E3 Expo, Microsoft announced a bunch of cool stuff coming up for the Xbox including one of the projects I've been working on -- Bing on Xbox!

You'll be able to simply say a movie or TV show you want to watch, a song you want to hear, or a game you want to play, and Bing for Xbox will find it for you across different content providers like Hulu, Netflix, and Zune, bringing you all the results in one place; today you'd have to search each of the apps separately. (Of course, if you don't have a Kinect, you can type it out.) So, you just say "Xbox, Bing Batman" to find games, movies, TV shows, and music related to Batman.

Here's a sample of what the search results page might look like if you said, "Xbox, Bing X-Men".

bingbox

Here's the video of Xbox Live VP Marc Whitten describing the functionality. I love all of the Bing logos everywhere!

If you have an Xbox at home today and log into Xbox Live, you may see an ad describing this upcoming service too. I was pleasantly surprised to see this.

Bingbox ad1

If you select the panel, you get a little more info:

bingbox ad2

You can then click to see a video of the the feature in action. (I'll see if I can find and post a copy of that video).

I'm proud of the work we've done to get this far and looking forward to getting it out. It was exciting to do the announcement and finally be able to talk about our work a little more publicly!

Fly a Warbird!

TP-51C Mustang

Like I mentioned recently, I've always been a big fan of World War II aircraft. Over the next few weekends in the Seattle area, warbird fans will have an amazing opportunity to fly in a B-17 Flying Fortress or B-24 Liberator bomber. The Collings Foundation is conducting their Wings of Freedom Tour and is selling seats on these iconic bombers.

Even cooler, you can go up in a P-51 Mustang fighter!! The latter is amazing since most fighters from that era were single seat, so rides are impossible; however, the Collings Foundation has a trainer version of a P-51C that has two seats.

Perhaps even cooler still is the WWII Crew Fantasy Camp that the Foundation runs. This is a two day training program where you train for and fly a simulated bomber mission on a real B-24. You get to suit up, help load ordinance, shoot live and blank .50 cal rounds from the aircraft's guns, and drop 250lb dummy bombs! They also planned to have a P-51 Mustang and German Me-262 jet fighter in the air too! (You can sign up to fly in the P-51 or Me-262 instead). Crazy awesome. They ran the camp in May. Hopefully they do it again sometime because I'd love to try it.

Anyway, despite the fact another classic B-17 burned this week after an emergency landing, I hope to be able to go up this weekend, maybe with Andrew (13).