Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bikes in the Cloud

Lots of happenings recently at my place of employment, Wolfram Research Inc.  A new version of Mathematica is now out, and we have released the Wolfram Programming Cloud (WPC).  Why the WPC, you ask?

I'm glad you asked.  Well, it's a very nice way to share fun Mathematica projects with friends, like you guys, like this one:

If the link is broken, I'm doing a bad job as QA.  The page should be something like this, but interactive.

Fun, right?  There are real numbers and equations behind the pretty picture.  Some things that may happen in the future include telling you the values that you selected, or other relevant measurements (saddle height, set back, reach, drop, etc.).  Eventually, I'll set up an API function which will allow users to specify bike size and body dimensions.  Then, I will be rich and famous and powerful.

That's basically what I spend most of my days doing:  writing fun stuff to make sure that our products work just fine.  It's not a bad job.

Update:  Joel reminded me that I can directly embed here.  Voila!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Happy 4th!

Clara and Janny are learning to share.  As expected, there are some regular conflicts (whose turn it is to choose the tv show, or to wear the sparkly shoes, or to drink from the fizzy-whizzy-cup).  The fizzy-whizzy-cup solution is somewhat reasonable.  When one has finished drinking at a meal, the other gets to drink from it.  The sharing that gets to me a bit is the toothbrush.  I had hoped that once we got rid of the red toothbrush, they would be happy to have their own again.  Not so.  Apparently, Scoobydoo is better than sponge bob, even though brushes are both blue.
 We have one less giant tree in our neighborhood.  Two quick days or working in rain or shine got rid of it.
 I got a couple of sweet ties for Father's day this year.
 Clara finally let us cut her bangs this weekend.  What finally convinced her was that she could spread her hair in the garden to keep the bunnies away.  Janny needed more hair cut as well after learning this fact.
Knutson estate farming continues to ramp up, by which I mean that within about 10 years, we'll really have something in our yard!  Because this summer has been plenty wet and rather mild (thanks, El Nino!), we can only blame ourselves for a small harvest.  Lessons learned so far:
1.  Our cherry tree did not care for last winter.  Not a single cherry to be had (same story with our neighbor's pair of trees).  The trees blossomed, but no fruit.
2.  Raspberry season has just ended.  I think more fertilizer is needed for the black ones.  Our cane diameter pales in comparison to the idea garden and to Eric and Amy's.  Red ones were pretty successful.
3.  Garden bed in general needs more soil enrichment.  Salad greens and herbs grow very slowly.  We're still thinking about how to do this.

Finally, I think softball season is nearing the end.  We had rainouts for the last two weeks, so it feels a bit removed.  We've won all of our games, though most have been quite close.  Runs continue to be a challenge to come by this year.  Our defense is stellar, and all other teams either have pretty good defense as well, or our hitting was terrible against them.  With the playoffs around the corner, I must believe that we'll get it going.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Farms and family

Life is coming at us about as fast as we can take right now.  Since my last general update, both sets of grandparents visited us, and we took a weekend trip to Michigan.  "Why is this vacation so short?" was Clara's question of the weekend.  We assured her that at longer trip is forthcoming during which we'll travel even further north.

On recent bikes rides through the farmland surrounding our fair town, I've wondered about the economics of corn farming.  Thanks to a quick internet search, I'm an agricultural economics expert.  Farm roads around here are generally on a mile grid, so that's what I'm using for the numbers here.  Granted this is far from 40 acres and a mule, but I have no idea when that was a typical size, and I don't know the typical size "family" farm around here.  The bottom line:  a square mile has about $500,000 worth of corn.  About $100,000 of that was spent on fertilizer, $200,000 on all other stuff (seeds, pesticides, tractor, etc).  If all goes well, the farmer takes in about $200,000, IF they own their land outright.  Not too bad, if you inherited the land.  If you want to buy that square mile of land in our county, consider paying about $6 million.  Which you will pay off in somewhere around 30 years (I've made a zillion wrong assumptions here, but it's probably close).  Or you can rent land to farm, but you'd be pretty lucky to make about $30,000 each year.  As a non-owner of land, I'm sticking with my desk job.

Since grandma K was in town, we have some great photos to share.

Our adopt-student family has a big overhaul forthcoming.  4(?) of our students graduated this year, leaving us with only Tariq the senior and Sean the grad student as actual students in the group.  We're planning to recruit Kim's younger brother and hopefully some of his friends.

We got to see the Smith/Whites twice in the last month.  Our trip to Michigan included Jill's cousin's son's high school graduation party, where we also got to say a belated happy birthday to great-grandma (we decided to not drive the icy roads to attend her actual party in winter).
We're in the middle of softball season now.  The squad is undefeated so far, with a couple of nail-biters and a couple of 10 run rule wins.  The wind was blowing in from left/left-center at about 20-30 mph for the middle two game, which made it very difficult to get hits.  We won those games 3-1 and 5-0 (pitcher Jim filled in for the co-rec team on of those weeks and pitched a shutout for them.  3 games, 1 run scored.  He's just unhittable!).  In last week's game, the wind wasn't blowing as hard and was blowing out to right.  To make up for lost time, we scored 15 runs in the first inning (also thanks to some poor defense by the CFC gang).  Then we didn't score again until the 5th inning.  Consistency is overrated.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Jack to go with Jill

Last year at about this time, Jarrod told me that there were some tandems at our community's used bike sale.  My mind started to think a little bit.  The girls are getting bigger, which means two things:  (1)  it takes more work to pull them in the trailer and (2) they could potentially contribute to our motion.

Fast forward to last week when I saw a nice tandem for sale on the internets, but it was in Knoxville, TN.  I inquired, and it turned out the seller has a sister in Savoy and was willing to drive it up here and pay a visit to her.  Done and done.

Here it is:
 A 1980 Jack Taylor touring tandem.  Jill rode with me up and down our street.  She didn't hate it.

That's a huge improvement from our last tandem ride.  We borrowed Kirk's tandem just before dusk and rode up the hill from White Rock to Los Alamos (1000` up).  We were about 2/3 of the way home when it started to snow, hard.  So we had snow, dark, and a bike that didn't fit all that well.  Jill hated not being in control.  Does that say something about her, or just the tandem?  [Ouch].  Probably just the tandem.
The tires are 32 mm, but eventually I'll put on some much fatter tires since there's room.  I ordered a seat post because the captain's post is too short for me.
The other big change will be adding some kid stoker cranks.  Hopefully, they'll be in the mail soon.  And Clara and I will be off on adventures!  Hopefully for years to come.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bump bump bump

Clara and Janny have a chant for bumpy roads while riding in the trailer.  The chant can be repeated a number of times before the conversation turns.  It goes like so:
    Bump bump bump
    we we we
    mushroom me!***

*** an alternate translation:  mushroomy.  Scholars continue to debate both the phrasing and the possible meaning(s).  In fact, the first line may also be interpreted as bum bum bum.  However, external evidence (previously mentioned bumpy roads) strongly points to the first interpretation.

Recently, Clara suggested another chant, but it was far too complex for Janny to memorize it.  I enjoy it because it is reminiscent of the classic Oski yell first cheered at UC Berkeley (Cal, California, etc.) in the 1940s.
      Oski Wow-Wow!

Whiskey Wee-Wee!
Olee! Muckie-eye!
Olee! Berkeley-eye!
      California! Wow!
The University of Illinois (UIUC, U of I, etc) also claims a version of the chant, but I'm too lazy to look up the lyrics.  Also, there is no possible better final line than Cal's.  Wow!

Recently, Janny has resisted going to bed at night.  She says, "I need to go potty," and then sits on the potty for longer than I can stand.  So I carry her back to bed.  Before I leave their room, she has to go potty again.  On Sunday, I had enough.  So I moved the tiny toilet to their bathroom and told her she was on her own.  After watching our favorite show (White Collar), we decided to check on her.  Janny was silently sitting on the potty.  I think she is stubborn.

I'm trying very hard to get Clara riding her bike without training wheels this spring.  And by hard, I mean trying to be very patient and a little persistent.  She's doing great with her balance bike, but her pink bike is pretty intimidating still.  I took off the training wheels last weekend for a couple of laps around our patio.  Most of the time I was holding on to her seat, but she rode a short stretch on her own.
Jill continues to wake up unenviably early most weekdays.  Wake up is around 5am, but I couldn't say for sure for obvious reasons.

Spring is happening this year!  Jill planted some seeds.  Some green leaves are poking up.  We harvested our first set of chives to put in tonights peanut pasta dish.  I changed my big chainring from 44 to 48 teeth.  I bought new chains for our commuter bikes (interesting to me note:  the total cost for the 2 chains was around $40, which is quite reasonable I say.  I was quite surprised to find that my chain was $12 and Jill's was $26 (7/8 speed vs 9 speed).  Long live 7 speeds!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Janny is 3

Janny turned 3 a couple weeks ago!  To celebrate her birthday, we invited a few friends (plus Grandpa and Grandma S) over to eat snacks and have cake.  Janny blew out all 3 candles on her first try!  I can't remember who initially came up with the idea, but we are starting birthday parties at 10am and go to about noon.  That way, no one (read mom and dad) is tired yet.

Scene:  a toy is in mommy and daddy's room.  Dusk.  
Clara:  Mommy, could you turn on the light?
Mommy:  It's not dark.  Plus you can turn on the light yourself.
Janny:  Clara, I will help you.
Clara and Janny walk into the room together and get the toy.

 Today was glorious.  60 degrees and sunny.  We ate popsicles outside.  I think we earned it.
Janny can ride Clara's pink bike (today with an umbrella).  Clara is zooming around on the pedal-free bike.  I might have to start perusing craigslist for another kid bike.  Hopefully, Clara can get up to speed on a real kid bike without training wheels while Janny cruises around on a different bike with them.  Clara tried to crush my spirits recently by stating that she doesn't like riding bikes (I don't believe her, but words hurt).

TCBC basketball ended unceremoniously last week.  In the first round of the playoffs we rematched the team that beat us in the finals last year (CCC).  The teams had a couple of key changes from last year:  our superstar moved away, and they picked up a 6'6" skilled guy to go along with their 2 other huge guys.  We played well, giving them a bit of a scare with about 10 minutes left.  Then we stopped making shots, and they pulled away.  Overall, the season was a success.  We won every game that we should have and were mostly competitive is other games.  Upcoming.... softball.

In other church news, our small group now has 18 adults and 17 children (and sometimes a grandchild), 11 of them under 6.  Though we rarely we have everyone at a meeting, we are planning to split into 2 groups.  

It's interesting to see the number of young families continuing to increase at church.  Ideally, we want to maintain age diversity in our group but family's with older/grown children are scarce.  In fact, more young families want to join a group like ours because they want to know people who aren't drowning in child rearing (I can't say if the reverse is true.  I hope it is!).  This can lead to a Yogi Berra-ism; nobody goes there anymore because it's too crowded.  We need to step up our recruiting!

Finally, we'll conclude with Janny's prayer.  Repeating this may not grant you untold wealth and fame, or even nice sweaters.  But it might.
    Pray for everything
    Pray for goats
    Pray for everything
    Pray for God
    In Jesus name, amen!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Personal CO2 emissions .... but why

Our church recently hosted a climate change talk by ol' friend and fellow U of Ill alum Katharine Hayhoe Farley.  Her talk was referenced in the sermon on Sunday, which surely was the first time ever in our pulpit.  You could say that our church is a little late taking an interest in the topic, but our church never mentions political issues (save abortion about once per year).

Moving on, these mentions have led to some discussions in our small group and, I'm sure, other groups of people in the church.

First, I was interested to check on my family's CO2 emissions (the standard method of determining our impact on the climate).  So here are the major contributors (from, but other calculators seemed to give the same results):

Chad, Jill and kids rough estimation of CO2 annual emissions (lb CO2/year)
Driving (one car, ~29 mpg, 6000 miles per year)                                 4000
Flying (one trip per year, 4 people to the West)                                   5500
home electricity ( around 500 kWh/month, assuming coal-generated)  12000
home natural gas (around 880 therms/year)                                         12000

So where could we cut back?  We might be able to drive less per year, but that would require visiting family in Tennessee and Michigan less often.  We don't drive much in town, but I suppose I could always ride my bike to basketball and softball games.  We could avoid driving to local state parks.  That's a bummer list.

As for flying, we could tell my family that we refuse to visit them because the impact on the climate is too great.  I suspect that they would be upset, but they would be willing to visit us more often. However, if they did, the net effect of our choice would be nullified.  [We could take the train or drive out there (would it take 4 days each way?)]  

At home, we could switch to LED lights and solar water heating.  I have hopes to do these, but not soon.  We could get PV, but I'm not rich.

Let's see, what did I leave out?  Water (must be pumped, treated, and treated after use).  Food growing, transporting, and cooking (minus our contribution already counted).

What about work?  I work in the same cubicle every day.  For this to happen, my company needs to send salespeople to customers, lead developers to technical conferences, the CEO to CEO-things (most recently SXSW).  Someone needs to make and power our servers, heat/cool/power our office, etc, etc.

What is my share of our military CO2 emissions?  Police emissions?  Hospitals?  Infrastructure construction?

Probably someone has calculated all of these things, but by this point I'm losing interest.  I really don't care how we're doing compared to other families of 4 in our income bracket, age group, location, etc. etc.  I've gotten reasonably close to my minimum for the near term.  

My creativity for becoming part of a solution is admittedly tiny.  I'll list a few ideas, but if you have more please share.  

1.  Join a movement.  Any suggestions?
2.  Raise awareness among friends and family (does this blog count?).  Help when possible
3.  Become very poor.

4.  Buy carbon offsets a la Al Gore (note:  never.  This is a joke.  Really.)
5.  Develop the CO2-to-oil-anator (note:  thermodynamics matter)
6.  Develop fusion reactor (note:  cost matters)