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 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.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The rest of vacation

Because our last adventure with Jill's cousins went so well, we decided to bring even more family along for this year's Northern Michigan vacation.  Beth arranged a gigantic vrbo cabin near the top of the Boyne Mountain ski resort (the hill fascinated me.  It's a giant sand dune.  As in, you cannot find a rock bigger than your hand anywhere on the hill.  Sand, sand, and more sand.).  We filled all 8 rooms of the place, including the master bedroom with the taxidermed wolf.

By the way, I'm still struggling to take enough pictures.  Below is a shot of the flower girls from Calvin and Kim's wedding in July.  We had a great time, and the kids just loved being flower girls.

 There is a small lake at the bottom of the hill with a nice beach.  The lake floor is very flat near the beach, so all the kids could walk into it as far as they dared and splash around.  We spent a lot less time here than I thought we would because there were a couple of rather chilly days during the week.  On perhaps the nicest day, we visited Petoskey State Park on Lake Michigan.  The water was frightfully cold.  I could only take short, force breaths for the first minute and a half after wading in.  Eventually, I felt fine enough to stay in the water for about 15 minutes.  Then back to the towel.  We looked for Petoskey stones in the sand, but didnt' find any stellar examples.
 We thank Uncle David for encouraging Janny to eat some food at nearly every meal.  Perhaps as a result of this, her hair is growing faster now.  She might have even gained an ounce or two.  Playing with Ricky and Enoch wore the kids out every day.  Below, Beth was supposed to rear the whole Wizard of Oz story to Janny.  Janny stayed awake for the first 70 pages.

Thanks to the presence of grandparents and other givers, our generation got to have some fun adventures without the kids on the vacation.  On several mornings, coach Brent led us through some tennis drills, and then we played a set or so.  Jill and I really enjoyed this, so the tennis rackets might get dusted off a few times before winter sets in.  

The biking around Boyne was just great.  The Boyne ski hill is about 500 feet tall, and the road to our cabin wound around and up and down it.  I also rode back from Harbor Spings to our cabin along some nice dirt roads.  And I rode a good bit more than I could handle of the single track mtb trails at the resort.  There are lots of jarring roots and some very steep short climbs that weren't suitable for either my bike or skills.

Finally, the TCBC softball came to an abrupt end.  Because of numerous rainouts early in the season, the semifinal game happened while I was in Michigan (as was Matt, our left fielder).  Apparently, the team staged a comeback from an 8-0 deficit, only to lose at the end.  I was a bit sad to miss the game, but had too much fun on vacation to regret it.  We'll try again next year, and plan the vacation during the regular season.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What we (okay, I) did for summer vacation, part 1

We're back from the big family summer vacation.

Because of a minor scheduling conflict, my vacation started a day earlier than the rest of the family's. Hmmm, what to do on a day off without any obligations? If you said ride my bike a long distance, you're right.

 I chose to do my big ride of the year toward the confluence of the Vermillion and Wabash Rivers, or Cayuga, Indiana. I rode towards Homer Lake and veered south towards Fairmount and Georgetown.

After leaving home around 7:15, I got to Georgetown at 10am with two choices for a second breakfast: McDownalds or Casey's. I chose McD. I meant to get a sausage and egg biscuit, but the meal # I actually ordered was a truly disgusting "steak mushroom muffin". As a hungry person, I ate it anyway and headed out.

 The bluff just west of the Vermillion River was the best riding of the day. The gravel road went up and down steep (for this region) hills with a view of the valley about 100 or so feet below. I crossed the Vermillion on the covered bridge (blocked to car traffic). The only way I knew to get across the Wabash River was to ride the shoulder of Highway 63 to recross the Vermillion and then take 234. Somehow 63 has a decent amount of traffic on Thursday mornings.

I followed the flat, sandy road along the east side of the Wabash up towards Perrysville. I didn't want to ride on Highway 32 out of Perrysville, so I took a gravel road detour and ended up back on it near Danville. At this point I didn't know the roads, so I stayed on it all the way to downtown Danville. I had studied maps for several days prior to the trip but decided to not print any out (and I don't use a gps). My general approach was to head in the right direction (my compass came in handy a few times on the way back) toward the towns that I had memorized while avoiding the "major" highways. In every county outside of Champaign, this means riding on numerous gravel roads. They add to the adventure, but slow progress (despite my stupendous Boulder Bicycle with 35 mm Panaracer Pasela tires).

 I got stuck behind a long train on the main road in downtown Danville (what other big towns have a rail line that blocks the main street?????), which gave me time to realize that it was lunch time. I settled on Penn Station east coast subs!, which I had never frequented. My 8" philly cheese was fine, but not good enough for a return visit.

 After lunch I headed towards Kickapoo state park, initially thinking I would ride parallel to i-74 back home. But that road is straight and flat, so I turned south towards the hilly, gravel roads south of Danville.

 While on the way, I found the path to the Great Vermillion Rail Bridge. I hesitated before deciding to follow the path since I was still about 30 miles from home, but when adventure calls, sometimes you have to answer. Because of the remaining rocks of the rail bed, no plants grow in the middle but branches from trees and bushes on either side of the bed form a hobbit tunnel about 3 feet tall. I pushed my bike about 200 yards through the branch tunnel before deciding to stash it and continue on without it. Many cobwebs in the face later, I walked out onto the Bridge. It was glorious, just like the pictures I had seen (except that now I could see the drop to the ground far below. Since I hate to make Jill angry (she told me to never walk on it, which I took to mean that I shouldn't walk all the way across it), I only walked out a few tens of feet before heading back to my bike and the open road.

 I ran out of water at Homer Lake, but decided to not detour the whole 1 mile out of the way to refill my bottles in the park. This was a poor choice, and I struggled for the last 5 miles home and felt wiped out when I arrived.

 I rode somewhere around 130 miles in around 9 total hours. I'm pretty happy with that pace. If I bring more food with me (and water.  I brought only 2 bottles, next time I'll take 3) and avoid exciting detours like rail-less bridge walking, I can reduce the time a bit.

I felt fine until the end of the ride. I should have eaten a bit more food and refilled my water bottles. In my mind, I've been thinking that 40 years old is the age when I should switch from racing short distances to endurance riding. I'm on schedule.

I didn't bring a camera.  Which is a bit sad for the blog, but now you can use your imagination (or click the link to see photos of the Bridge).