Sunday, April 5, 2015

return to B-town

Since we live in the paradise that is central IL, we really don't need to travel often.  But sometimes, you really should see the troubles people in another part of the world must face.  Since our jet is in the shop, we decided to visit a location within driving distance, and that turned out to be Bloomington.  The one in Indiana, not to be confused with our neighbor town in IL.

Back in the kid-free era, Jill and I took a few trips out to B-town to ride the hills.  This time, we thought we could convince the girls hike a bit in the state parks.
Saturday morning started a bit badly at Brown County state park.  It was still cold (around freezing), and I had left Janny's boots in the trunk.  Both her second layer of pants and the boots were soooooooo cold.  We got out of the car to visit the west gate fire tower (above).  Then Clara wiped out while trying to balance on log.  In both cases, many tears.

Undeterred, we drove out to the 'rugged' 2 mile trailhead on the east side of the park.  Armed with good humor (as always) and a bag of Swedish fish, we headed down the partially frozen trail.  At the bottom of the canyon, we threw rocks at the confluence of the small streams.
As the day warmed up, the frozen trail became the muddy trail.  But we made it all the way back!  And all were up for climbing the 'real' fire tower.  Clara got a bit frightened about 3 stories up, so she and I walked back down.  That thing shakes!  Janny and Jill climbed to just below the deck (it was locked).  Can you see them?
 For day 2, we visited McCormick state park.  This was a much easier day for the girls, as the canyon/ river/waterfall was a rather short walk from the parking lot.
 There were also a lot more sticks and rocks to throw in the much bigger stream.
The trail continues over there?  Sure, Clara and mommy are game!  I tried to take this route, but balancing is quite hard when trying to not dip one's unnecessarily-long legs into the stream.  I dipped my foot, and decided to hop across on some the stones.
My coworker (IU class of 2012!) suggested a bunch of restaurants and parks to visit.  We ended up at only one of the restaurants on her list, but it was a memorable one:  The Runcible Spoon (extra credit for sophisticated readers that know the reference).  It's a converted house about a block from campus.  You really should be more into goth than we 4 are, but they served us anyway.  For some reason all the servers smelled VERY strongly of incense (aside: while a student way back when at a school in Berkeley there was a correlation between incense use and inhaling the smoke of certain plant.  Since that was so long ago, I can't imagine that there remains such a correlation).  Anyway, the food was really nice, and it was fun to eat at a place that looks different than Chilapplecharlie's.
In conclusion, I quite enjoy Bloomington.  I think our town(s) would have been better off following that pattern of development.  Their civic buildings and campustown area coincide.  Whereas, here we have two 'downtowns' on either side of campus town that created a pull to move things away from campus itself.  There aren't nearly enough people here to support 3 main business/civic centers.

Or maybe the town is nicer because engineering students are banished to Lafayette.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

life in fast forward

Winter was no big deal this year.  Then two big snow storms hit, and the wind came, and it was cold.  Well, at least we had some snow to play with.  I built a sledding hill on our patio, and the girls cruised down it on baking sheets.
I built the hill after the first storm and added to it after the second.  That storm started late Saturday night and continued until about noon on Sunday.  At 6:30 in the morning, Jill work me up to tell me that we could sleep in, since we wouldn't be able to get to church.  I was confused (um, why did you wake me up to tell me this?).  

Our church didn't cancel services, but we declared a family snow day.
One of the families in our small group is from northern Minnesota.  The wife's mother was staying with them for the winter.  At our small group, she said that it's colder in Urbana than in Duluth.  Despite the -25 degree temperatures in Duluth, it still feels warmer than 5ish degrees in Urbana, thanks to the steady [cold!] winds here.  

I can't tell you how proud I am of this comment.  Our hometown has just about the worst weather in the country!   We may not have interesting topography or varied flora, but the weather is really something.  Come visit anytime! 
Hey look below, here is our patio on March 14, Janny's birthday.  It's still a bit wet.  I was able to scrape the remainder of the sledding hill off earlier in the morning, but it wasn't quite warm enough to dry the melt water yet.

The usual cast of kids from church and the neighborhood came to Janny's party for some cupcakes and pinata breaking.  I felt smart that I pre-distressed the pinata a bit this year.  We only had to go through the line once before it was about to break open (the bigger kids at the end of the line did the work before Janny finished it off).
Jill pushed back barbie acquisition at least until Christmas.  Instead, Janny got some very fun hotwheels cars and track (see behind her in the picture).  These are much more fun for me and Jill.

Some common Janny sayings lately:
Mommy I can't [do something]... WAIT!  I can!
Mommy [or Daddy], I'm hungry. [This is said either when she's laying in bed for bedtime, or about 30 minutes after we've finished eating a meal]
Mommy, will you play with me?
Our basketball season was cut one week short when a last second put-back by Luke bounced around on the rim and ultimately rolled out as the buzzer sounded.  Had it gone in, we win.  Instead, the game went to overtime, and we ultimately lost.  The next tournament game would have been against the undefeated Stone Creek, who beat us by about 30 a few weeks before.  So I didn't feel that we missed out.

The season as a whole was a struggle.  We won only one game, beating the winless team in the league.  A few games were close, but many were not.  We had trouble scoring, and our defense was poor.

But a couple of ideas brightened my feelings about the season.  First, there were only 6 teams in the league.  In softball, there are about 30 teams over the 4 different levels.  So instead of thinking that we were 2nd to last, instead I think of it as 5th place.  Quite respectable!

Second, Tom Z from church shared some encouragement before church one Sunday.  We had played together in church league during my grad school days [he seems to have retired some years ago].  A friend of his on the 4th place team told him something like 'TCBC is decent.  They have some older guys that are pretty good.'  Thanks?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

views from 2 1/2 feet

This post's photos were all taken by Clara recently.  She requested they be used for the blog, so here we go.

The girls continue spend most of their days making crafts of all sorts.  Coffee filters were converted to fish ponds.
 Bunny (Clara's version. Janny's bunny arrived a couple of weeks ago.  She is fond of it, but Clara's attachment to her Bunny is quite a bit greater) is often the subject of the project or the recipient of it.  Clara cut this cereal box to make a swan, which apparently Bunny can fly in.

The next day, Jill asked Clara why she was sobbing.  Clara couldn't remember how she made the bird from the cereal box.  With a little help from mommy, Clara was back at it.
 I just realized this week that Janny's life will be radically different next year.  With Clara away at kindergarten all day, Janny will have lots of alone and mommy-only time.  We're planning to have her in the 3 days per week preschool, but that still leaves a whole lot of time.  What will she do by herself?
 I try to dump the lower half of the project bins every other week.  It's time to do it.
 We've had a couple of small snow storms last month.  Janny comes outside and demands that snowmen are made.  She won't help because she doesn't know how.  She assures me that 5 year-olds can build snowmen.  I wouldn't know because Clara tends to stay warm inside.
Jill is turning our sunny windows-areas into greenhouses.  Our big plan for this year is to have the evergreen on the northwest side of our house (next to the driveway) chopped down.  That area should be the sunniest on our whole estate, so we have high hopes for a garden there.

The girls' Sunday school class passed out Valentine's cards at the county nursing home today.  Neither Jill or I joined the group because (a) our class had a fantastic potluck and (b) other parents graciously went with the kids.  The parents' reports:  our kids are quiet.  Sounds like me and Jill!

Finally, TCBC basketball remains winless.  There is one more team that we haven't played yet before we replay a couple of other teams.  So there's a decent chance that we'll win a game or two (we switched our primary defense from zone to man, so it's not quite so easy for our opponents to score.  We struggle to score).  Possibly because I'm getting older (not that old, I'm still in the upper 30s), or possibly because I'm zen'd out, I really don't mind the losing.  It's dark and cold at night, and I'm getting some exercise.  I'm not sure anyone else on the team feels this way, but my hope is that we still enjoy playing and hanging out together.

And if not, well, softball starts up again soon.

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 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!

If iframe isn't working try our cloud directly.

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.