Monday, January 5, 2015

A fine holiday season

I crossed paths with a coyote on my way home from work tonight.  I was riding along the dirt road just south of St Mary's Dr near the horse pasture, and he was in the harvested corn field.  Thankfully he didn't think I was dinner and ran off through the snowstorm.  

Have I mentioned that I enjoy living in this small town?  What fun to ride a bike without any cars nearby on a commute!  We had a great time in the Nashville burbs for Christmas but it's nice to be home.  

Lupita and the kids were back from Mexico, and the Beth and Brents came down from MI for the festivities.  So we had a full house(s).  Lots of 5 Crowns and Deer in the Headlights happened.

A highlight was the indoor jumpy house place that allows grownups to jump as well.  Janny climbed up to the biggest slide and came down all by herself!  

The kids put on the 2nd annual Christmas play.  Janny wouldn't say any lines as Gabriel.  Clara played Mary brilliantly.
We paid another visit to Cold Springs water fall near Manchester.  More water was coming down this time.  I decided to not carry Janny on the sketchy walk to the falls, so we threw rocks in the stream.
The kids continue to work on projects for hours at a time.  Other than the gigantic mess that this process leaves all over the floor, it's quite relaxing for us to watch them work.  During the visit to Nashville, Jill and I recalled with shudders how much work it was to care for a 1 year old.  Linda never stopped looking for new things to touch/break.
Queen Clara and Princess Janny hold fort in front of their castle.
In my last post, I mentioned that we were using a bit more gas than last year.  Well, a little more poking around on Ameren's site led to finding MORE DATA!  Also, I realized that my plot was labeled incorrectly last time (oops, I'm quite used to Mathematica now, not google spreadsheets), and my conclusion was wrong.

In fact, we've used less gas than last year.  In fact, the plot below shows that we've been progressively using less gas each year.  Notice the two very large data points from  2011, when we first moved in.  Yikes!  Adding insulation in the ceiling (happened late that winter) and paying attention made quite a difference.
Finally, church league basketball starts this Thursday.  I haven't played at all since, um, hmmm.... I don't remember.  So the first game might be a bit rough.  However, we have some new players this year, including large humans, so maybe it won't be so rough after all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

close to Christmas

I'm 1 work day away from Christmas break.  That means I've held my current job for just about 2 years.  And I still will have the job when Christmas is over. That's something to cheer about!  Over the last couple of months I've decided that I should learn some java.  Not only will this make me seem really cool, but I will hopefully have a better understanding of what I'm testing (tomcat, apache, and more!!!).

Since the students are now gone for the holiday break, our church only has a single service that starts at 10:45.  As we struggled to minimize the extent of our tardiness, I asked Clara if she ever felt bad about being late.  She said no.  So I wondered if she ever felt bad about anything she's done.  She hasn't.  Jill suggested that she get some counseling (Uncle Matt is certified).  She refused to entertain the idea.

Size charts are available all over the web for children, but I've never heard anyone mention a conscience development chart.

Did I mention that we went to Nashville for Thanksgiving?  It was a bit unusual since Lupita and the kids were away, but Clara and Janny had fun anyway with Grandpa and Grandma.

I helped Matt a bit with installing a wood floor in their guest bathroom.  My job was to figure out how to mark the boards around the toilet.  Not easy!  I wish that I had gotten about a cm closer all around, but not bad an amateur.
Our adopt a student group helped set up the Christmas tree.  This was the year of engagements for our group.  3 weddings are planned for the upcoming summer!
 Christmas is also the time for kids' performances.  We forgot our camera for the church one, so you'll have to image the super cute group of kids with Clara and Janny as angels.  Clara impressed us all by singing loud enough to hear in the 2nd service.  Janny mostly looked at the crowd.

For the school performance, Janny was a (black) sheep, and Clara was again an angel.  Good work by Mrs. Strom to get the kids to sing a number of songs!  We practiced at home a little bit.  Clara knew many of the songs and did great.  Janny knew bits and pieces, and did sing a bit.

 After the show by the Christmas tree.  Janny was a sick with a bad cough this week, so we left the party without eating any cookies.  Plus we hadn't eaten dinner yet.  Clara became very sad.
I continue to be obsessed with limiting our gas usage during winter.  This year, we have another person in the house, so I was curious to see how we compared to last year.

Since I'm still an engineer at heart, I made a chart.  The x-axis is the average degree-days for any given month (I've tried calculating a few different ways, but they all give about the same result.  SoI take the difference between our thermostat setting and the average temperature for the month from Ameren).  The y-axis is the gas used for that month (this includes heating water, but not cooking (electric stove and oven)).
The 3rd point from the left is November of this year.  It's a tiny bit more than our usage last year, but is quite close the the linearized fit.  Stay tuned for more exciting data!

Lastly, I wish a happy birthday to my big sister Lisa.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

brrrrrring on winter

Yeah, it's cold again. But it wasn't for most of the fall.  Let's reminisce a bit on this frigid "fall" day.

Our neighborhood park got a playground makeover this year.  We only went a couple of times, but we're excited for next year.
 Clara has been practicing taking photos.  Maybe 1 in 10 is okay, which is not too bad.  Thanks to her skills, I can show a picture that has both me and Jill.  I'd say we've still got it.  Feel free to agree.
 Another photo taken by Clara.  Yes, Jill is often happy now that the babies are growing up.
 Clara and Janny are learning violin from Nikki for about 15 minutes per week.  Clara enjoys the lessons, and maybe is making some progress.  Janny's ability to focus is, um, limited.
 Leaf pile 2014!   That's somewhere around 2000 gallons of leaves.  Last year, my last batch of leaves remained uncomposted until about Sept.  I'll try to be a bit more proactive this year with turning them over and crushing them.

Thanks to Jarrod's photo on facebook, I learned a better method for transporting leaves.  Sadly, I didn't learn it until I was about 70% done.  The trick is to rake the leaves onto a tarp.  I had been cramming them into leaf bags.  Productivity is up about 50%.
 Jill is doing some end of the year prep for next year's garden.  Janny is cold!
 Last night, we watched Mulan together. Janny used one of my favorite Janny-isms when talking about it afterward.  She said something like, "Remember that one guy? [Pause]  Could you tell me what he looked like?"  Well, Janny, that's not much to go on.

She used to ask us to tell her about her dreams and get really upset when we didn't know what happened.  I can relate to Pharoah's magicians, and there doesn't seem to be a Joseph around.  We're pleased that she hasn't thrown us in the dungeon yet.
Finally, I participated in the 2nd annual Joker's Jaunt.  I hung with the lead pack through the roughest stretch of road (where I got dropped last year).  But I got dropped by Jeff (and Larry) when he ramped up the pace into the wind with about 3 miles to go.  I feel silly writing that (how can you get dropped in a headwind???).  So here are some excuses:  (1) I rarely ride more than 30 miles in a day (2)  Jeff and Larry are both pretty small on a bike, so there isn't much draft to catch.  Plus they ride fast, (3) I really worked hard on the bad stretch of road and every other time Larry and Jeff rode hard, and (4) I should have eaten more.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A case for family tandems

Did you enjoy my previous embedded WolframCloud project?  Yes?  Great!  Let's do it again, this time with a tandem bicycle.

One of the nice things about tandems for kids is that they are (theoretically) never outgrown.  To show how this works, I put together another wolframcloud project.

I made a rough model for a kid growing over time.  Mathematica has data for childrens' sizes (== girls growth chart, or just go to wolframalpha.com and type the same).  I scaled all body parts linearly for the graphic.  Our kids' thighs are relatively a bit short compared to Jill's, but this is pretty minor.  All other bike-related body dimensions scale quite linearly.

I'm drawing the frame using an extension of the code I wrote last time.  Somehow, Mathematica doesn't have bike frame geometries built in.  I'm sure we'll address this oversight soon.  Perhaps we could use image processing methods (accounting for image distortion away from the center of the image) to grab the numbers.

In the tandem embedded graphic, the kid's age can be adjusted, from tiny 4 year old to 14, or basically fully grown.  Note that Clara's face doesn't age along with her digital age.  We don't have a function for that built in (yet!), and anyway it would freak me out to see the results. Also, my apologies for not giving her a helmet.  As digital kid gets older, you can adjust the saddle height and position of cranks to find a nice fit.

You may find some combinations that cause the kid's knees to bend the wrong way.  I didn't specify which solution for the quadratic equation (someday I might fix this), so Mathematica sometimes grabs the nonphysical one.

The handlebars can be either a swept back bar (current) or drop bars.  As the kid gets bigger, drop bars enable the kid to stretch out more comfortably, especially if you use the drop position (3).  If you do that when the kid is very young, she can't reach all positions on the bars.  That would be really dangerous in the real world!

 

One other fun thing about tandems is that daddy and kid have to pedal at the same cadence ( technically not true, but changing this requires using different sized chainrings on the timing cranks.  This is a bad idea because either (a) the kid pedals slower, but needs to push harder or (b) the kid pedals faster.  Neither is a good idea in my opinion.).

Despite having the same cadence, our foot speeds are different.  Right now, the kid's cranks are 120 mm long, while daddy's are 170.  This means my feet are moving about 1.4 times faster than the kid's.  When the kidback cranks are no longer needed, both sets of cranks will be the same length (not modeled).

Check out more information about the Wolfram Cloud.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

return of the bunny

Clara turned 5 years old last month.  We continued the tradition of having birthday parties late morning (before mom and dad start to feel worn out).  She wanted cake and cupcakes, both with pink frosting, and a pinata.  
 Pinatas are way overbuilt these days.  Thankfully, a 6th grader came to the party and put some hurt into it [at the Wolfram Research summer party, we needed the biggest guy in the company to break it open after the kids failed to make a dent].  Clara was able to finish hers off.
 Not to be outdone in the growing up department, Janny asked to ride the tandem with me.  I lowered the saddle about an inch, and off we went up and down the street.  We're still a bit hesitant to take her far on the thing, since she's our "fall out of a chair for no reason" kid.  But watch out next spring!
 I guess that I forgot to write about the loss of Bunny during our Michigan vacation this summer.  Somehow bunny jumped out of the car between Aunt Jan's house and Boyne Mountain.  Clara was really hurt by the loss.  Jill bought a different version (I think it was an owl?  I haven't seen it in weeks) but it didn't take.

Then, Ebay!  And Clara has New Bunny.  She loves it, but not with the same affection as the original Bunny.  Sometimes, she forgets to bring it to bed.  I guess you never get over your first love, no matter how young you lose it.
 We let Clara use the camera for a morning.  Have you ever wondered what the view from inside the trailer is like?  Here you go!
There are 2 boys interested in marrying Clara [I say, we'll see].  Janny recently told me that she doesn't want to marry anyone when she grows up.  However, in a rather sporting gesture, Clara offered one of the boys, and apparently Janny accepted.  So that's all settled.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Really vacationing, this time in Shawnee

It doesn't seem all that long ago that we were vacationing with the family in Michigan.  But were Jill and I up for a short trip without the kids?  In a word, yes.

Jill's parents paid us a visit, and then really paid us by (a) paying for our hotel for 2 nights and (b) watching the kids while we were away.

We decided to visit Shawnee National Forest because it's not too far away (3 hours) and though we had been to the area before (WildCard spring cycling camps), we haven't done any exploring off road.

The photos below are not in the order of our visits (frustrated with blogger).  The common theme is rock, a rare site in our town.

Below is the view from just inside Cave-in-Rock, located just off the end of Highway 1 (one could take the ferry across the Ohio River in a car, but the road ends here).  We had lunch at one of the 2 restaurants in town, chatting up some of the old-timers from town.  We didn't get a chance to meet the 102 year old guy, who was at the restaurant the previous evening.  Anyway, pirates, counterfeiters, and all-around bad guys used the cave as a hideout.  Now that's it's a state park, it's a bit harder to use it as such.
Cave-in-Rock has a painted bike decorating theme.  Here's the pink one, with the lovely Jill in the foreground.
On the way back from the Cave, we were deciding between Iron Furnace, an 80 foot tall rock structure that was used to make iron during the civil war, and Rim Rock State Park.  We chose the latter, and were rewarded with natural 80 foot tall rock cliffs.  Highly recommended.
Our first day, we visited Giant City.  Look how surprised Jill is to see a large rock.
That is a natural rock wall canyon (er, gap?)  right here in Illinois.
The visual highlight of the trip was Garden of the Gods.  I don't know how this ended up in Illinois.
A Mennonite group was there at the same time.  The young men climbed the rocks, while the young women sat together singing.  It was really lovely.
At no point during our trip did anyone cry about eating food, ask to stay up late, not share, or make a giant mess and refuse to clean it up.  In fact, there was no complaining at all.  

Now we're home, and we're glad to see the kids.  Somehow, we did miss them.

We're nuts, like all parents.

Monday, September 1, 2014

ready... go ... set

Real life took off like a shot after we got back from vacation.  We got home during our temporary resident's stay (Katy needed a place for a week between leases and had moved in during our vacation) and a few hours before our long term boarder arrived.  Nikki is a Parkland freshman staying with us for the school year.  Very soon, she will be an expert at the local busing system.  She is also using Clara's race bike to do some multi-modal commuting.

Clara and Janny started preschool already.  This is Janny's first year and Clara's last.  They are in the same class at Wee Disciples, just down the road.  Jill say's the couple hours without the kids goes by VERY fast. This photo was from the first day of school, 2014.
Clara now has a career path picked out:  she wants to be an artist.  For now, I'm doing my best to teach her to keep costs down.  Janny is not quite clear on the concept:  she wants to be Sleeping Beauty when she grows up.  At first she also wanted to have white eyes, but just today she accepted that her eyes will remain brown.  I've yet to figure out if she wants to the sleeping phase or the post-waking up phase.
Below is my favorite Clara project to date.  She found a double-kinked stick (which she then lost amongst hundreds of similar sticks, but daddy found it again after a few minutes), and came up with the idea to make a Pteranodon.  In the photo, the leaf wings have dried out compared to when new.
Having a boarder and growing kids inspired us to reconfigure the bedrooms.  We had a local guy build a loft over a queen bed.  Clara sleeps up top, and tiny Janny gets the queen bed.  When guests come, we'll move the kids to our room so that guests can use the queen (or the loft, if they want).
Jill continues to be excited about gardening. Check out her latest project:
Just kidding!  That's the arboretum!  We paid a visit to be inspired and grab some ideas.  I'm hoping for some Lantana and a blueberry bush.  I'm still scheming about the best place in our yard for the blueberries.
Fun fact:  both Clara and Nikki were born on Labor day!  Soon we're off to celebrate with some canoeing on Crystal Lake.