Floating to Mars

Did you know that we sent a balloon to Mars, and it sent back some beautiful photos?

IMG_3627 Inverted

IMG_3741 Inverted

IMG_3821 Inverted

Just kidding!  I was messing around with one of our stratoballoon pictures earlier this week, and accidentally reversed the colors.  All of the lovely blues turned to these tans and oranges, making our Terran shots look positively Martian.  Here they are again, side by side with the originals:

IMG_3627 Blended


IMG_3741 Blended

IMG_3821 Blended


Here are some Hexbugs in the wild:


Hexbugs are really just a set of rubber bristles hooked up to a small vibration motor (like what is in a cell phone) and a battery.  Because the bristles are angled backward, the motor’s vibrations cause the bugs to move forward.  And left.  And right.  And occasionally flip over when they run into another Hexbug.  They are great fun.

Lucy and I decided to try to tame them, and harness their power for good.  We present – Hexbug Stagecoach!


We cobbled the harness together with rubber bands and q-tips:


And then attached the Hexbugs using more rubber bands.  A loop of string would serve as the reins.


Lucy quickly pieced together a coach for the bugs to pull:


Next stop, sunset!  Hi-ya!

LEGO – A Lesson in Persistence

Last weekend, Lucy and I indulged in some LEGO awesome-ness.  At the time, the blades on my Rotorcycle (see what I did there?) swung freely, and as a result, they would frequently smack into each other.  I’ve been letting the problem stew all week, and this weekend I decided to try to fix the problem with some gears.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough of the right kind of gears to make it as simply as I wanted.  So I had to try something else.  In fact, I ended up going through at least 8 iterations before I found an arrangement that worked well enough to satisfy.  I thought about giving up – concluding that we just didn’t own enough of the right pieces to make this work – but I’m pleased to say that I stuck with it, and my persistence paid off.

I present you with the Rotorcycle v2:


The gears involved don’t mesh well at all, but when you turn the main gear and apply a little pressure to the smaller ones, the blades will turn.


I needed the blades to be offset from true vertical.  That placed the blades far enough apart to swing without interfering with each other, but kept the small gears close enough together that they could both still make contact with the main gear.  After I had the blades interlinked, I had to redesign how it gets mounted to the cycle itself. 


That gave me the opportunity to move the weapon hardpoints out away from the bike body, making it slightly more realistic.

I do realize, though, that when it comes to the "realism" spectrum, I’m still off the deep end here.

New LEGO creations

Yesterday, Lucy asked if I would play LEGOs with her.  She started building a lava-falls, something very common in the game Minecraft, and I started tinkering with Catwoman’s motorcycle (part of a DC Comics set we got a while back).  Here is the result:


Lucy showed me several iterations as she completed each, and I kept challenging her with "that’s cool, but can you do X?"  Lucy didn’t disappoint.

In this one, Kai, the red ninja of fire*, can be seen relaxing at the top:


The speech bubble was pure-Lucy.  Jay, the blue ninja of lightning, though, isn’t as thrilled at sinking into the lava.


My super-cycle also went through several iterations.  I started by added the twin blades and a jet engine which turned it into something resembling a gyrocopter:


Then I decided a cool motorcycle like this really needed weapons.  Big ones.


For both of us, it was 30 minutes well spent.



* Lucy is a huge fan of the cartoon series “Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu”.  Kai and Jay are two of the good ninjas featured in the show.


What can you do with 11 toy sharks and 11 keychain laser pointers?


The internets know – SHARKLASER!

Allow me to explain.

Several parts of the web application I’ve been working on since last June generates emails to the user.  As a result, testing that application requires lots and lots of email accounts.  To make things simpler, we’ve been using a couple of sites that allow us to create real, but completely public, email addresses – https://Mailinator.com and https://GuerrillaMail.com.  Both are easy to use, but my preferred service is the latter (mostly because I found it first years ago, and have a shortcut to it).

What I love most about GuerrillaMail is the default domain – sharklasers.com.  As we started getting more heavily into testing, the term "sharklaser" started getting thrown around the office as the answer to everything.  "What’s the password?"  Answer: sharklaser.  "What’s the status of that task?" Answer: sharklaser.  "What should we name the production database?"  Answer: sharklaser.

This even spilled over onto a call with the client, who upon hearing this joke remarked "Cue the Austin Powers music!"

This past weekend, CJ and I were joking about this and very quickly came to the conclusion that we could buy toy sharks and small laser pointers, and actually make "sharklasers" for everyone on the team.  The idea was too good to pass up.  CJ did the shopping, and came home with a matching set of 11 sharks and lasers.  Now it was up to me to make them work.

I started by unpackaging everything, and putting the batteries into the lasers.  Out of the 11 we purchased, I found 1 where the laser pointer didn’t work, but the LED flashlight still did.  I decided that would be mine, and I would hand out the good ones to the rest of the team.   I then removed the keychains from the lasers with my pliers:


Now we could get down to business.  How DO you mount a laser on a shark?

I first tried a black rubber band, thinking it might look like a harness:


It looked all right, but it flopped around a bit, and generally looked a little cheap, so I moved on to superglue.


That looked a lot better, and after letting it dry for a few minutes seemed to be holding fairly well.  I glued the other 10 together, and propped them up to dry overnight.


The next evening I checked on them, and all of the lasers were solid. 


And they looked awesome.


CJ loved how they turned out, but then remarked, "They still need something."

"What do you want me to do, wrap them in bacon?!"

Though glib, I did recognize that just dropping these magnificent pieces of functional art off on everyone’s desk actually may not be enough.  Some people would probably get the joke, but it might just confuse others.  I decided to add a label to the side which read "Official Mascot of _____" (filling in the name of our project), just to give them some context of why they were getting these.  I even had one left over, so we decided that we’ll present it to the client at the end of the project.

They went over very well; smiles all around.

‘Cause who doesn’t want their very own sharklaser, honestly?

Bunny Summer Camp

Lucy recently had a sleepover at Grandpa’s and Grandma’s house – the very first one where she was the only grandchild sleeping over – so this was a big deal.  She had a great time, and came home about as tired as we expected her to be following the overnight.

Shortly before bedtime that night, we got a call from the grandparents.  Among the many toys that joined her for the sleepover was her beloved Bunny.


Bunny, Grandma informed us, didn’t make the return trip.  She was still at their house.


In a valiant effort to avoid a meltdown, CJ pulled out one of Lucy’s other favorite stuffed animals – Mouse, from the “If you give a mouse a cookie” book.  Lucy hadn’t played with Mouse for a while, so we were hoping the novelty would avoid her asking the difficult question – “Where is Bunny?”

It worked for about 5 minutes.

Lucy: “Where is Bunny?”

CJ: “Sweetheart, Bunny is unfortunately at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  If the weather is good, we can get Bunny back in a few days.”

Lucy did not take that well.  She spent the next 45 minutes sobbing, and wasn’t able to calm down, let alone go to sleep.  At the 45 minute mark, I relieved CJ.

“Lucy, Let’s imagine Bunny is a scientist, and she’s in the field studying the unusual traits of Specius Grandma-icus.”

Lucy stopped sobbing.  “That didn’t cheer me up, but at least I stopped crying.”

Well, it was progress.  “Or we imagine Bunny is a spy…”

Lucy replied, “That didn’t cheer me up either.”

“Ok, what if we imagine Bunny was at Bunny Summer Camp?  What kinds of activities would she be doing?”

“Canoeing?”  Lucy asked.

Trying to be funny, I replied, “Would she use her ears to paddle?”  Now, please understand that I pictured Bunny leaning over the side of the canoe, with her ears in the water.  My intentions were pure.  Lucy’s mind, however, went somewhere else entirely.

“Yeah, she would rip her ears off, and use them as paddles.”


Lucy breaks into mad giggles.

“Um, ok, what else would Bunny do?”

Lucy responded, “To roast marshmallows, she would rip her arm off, and hold it in the other arm, put the marshmallow in it, and stick it over the fire.”


Even more mad giggles.  This summer camp had suddenly turned nightmarish, but at least Lucy was laughing about it.

“Lucy, I don’t think I EVER want to go to that summer camp.”

Lucy responded, “You have to, ’cause I signed you up for it!”


More giggles.

Sigh.  It was morbid, but it got the job done.  Lucy was able to calm down enough after that to go to sleep.  The weather didn’t cooperate for several days, however, so Bunny ended up hitching a ride with the postman to get home.

Moving All® the Things

Lucy had a problem.

She needed the stepstool, but at the moment it was supporting a box containing nearly 40 pounds of All® laundry detergent. 


There was only one thing to do: move the box.  So she did.


How did she move a box that weighed nearly 40 points – approximately 70% of her own body weight – without spilling a drop?  Let’s let Lucy explain:

She said she intended to move the box back to the stepstool once she was done with it, but CJ found her before she had a chance, and asked her – rather incredulously – how she managed to move such a heavy box. 

"Mom, it was easy…"

Laser Mazes

Lucy turned 5 this past week, and for her birthday, she asked to go to Airway Lanes.  Lucy loves the bowling, the bumper cars, and the video games, but this year we introduced her to the laser maze.

She was initially apprehensive – and that might be putting it mildly – about going in.  We tried to tell her it was just a darkened room with lasers.  It took us a few tries to figure out that what she was really concerned about was that the lasers were strong enough to cut off limbs.

“Oh!  No, Lucy, just think of them like flashlights.  Look.”  I put my hand in one and broke the beam.  A brief buzzer went off letting me know I hit the light, and that light extinguished.  After that, she took took it.

And she was really good at it.  Of course, being able to walk or hunch under most of the lasers helped, but hey, use what you got.


Lucy had been talking about the laser maze all week, and this evening she had been making her LEGO mini-figs pretend that they were going through one.  That gave me an idea.  What if we built a small enclosure out of LEGOs, and crisscrossed thread between the walls, simulating the lasers?  Then the mini-figs would have a much more realistic laser maze!

CJ got into the act, and contributed the hand panels that you had to hit on the walls inside the maze, and that led to our construction project for the evening:


And it was awesome:


If only I had a few gazillion hours to devote to doing some stop action, we could totally film our own “Mission: Impossible” sequence.

Family Vacation 2013, Traverse City

My parents celebrated their 40th Anniversary last year, and at the time my brother and I, and our respective families, promised to do something special this year to mark it.  After a bit of back and forth, everyone settled on a trip to Traverse City.  We made it clear that Mom and Dad just had to bring themselves and some of Mom’s homemade spaghetti sauce.  The kids would take care of everything else.

Here are some of the highlights.

For some reason this year, the four of us really got hit by the "Mad Libs" bug (one of the books had a Star Wars theme, which you’ll see repeated here).  We ended up doing a lot of them on the drive up and back.  Here are some of the more memorable lines:

* …the Empire’s hot pink weapon, the Death Squirrel…
* …fire the twin blasters or the hidden laser toddler…
* …is able to predict the way a cunning opponent might prance…
* He even passed Anakin’s former light-gopher on to Luke.
* The gleaming neon hamsters can be seen from space…
* He knew how to use the Force in matters of bell bottoms…
* He wanted to know what corsets the dark side would bring him.
* …he might have given up and never even made it to Mos Eisley, where he met his first flying turtle, and witnessed Old Ben use his light-burrito…


We rented a house on East Bay, one that was was large enough to comfortably sleep ten and featured a private beach.  Three out of the four kids present are actually fish (ahem), so having such easy and immediate access to the lake was an incredible perk.

At one point Katherine walked back up from the beach in a grumpy mood.  I tried to console her, and as a joke threatened to toss her back in the lake if I couldn’t get a smile from her.  She called me on it, thinking I was bluffing.  I wasn’t in my swimsuit, but I decided a little improv was called for.  I picked her up, threw her over my shoulder, and walked back down to the lake, much to the cheers of the other family members.

By the time Katherine hit the water, she was laughing hysterically.  That bit of improv led to a 20 minute water fight between Katherine, Lucy, CJ, and my oldest nephew.  It was a great time.


The beach itself didn’t go to waste either.  My eldest spent a good amount of her time over a couple of days dredging "Katherine’s Lagoon":



Unfortunately, it met its end Wednesday night when it rained.

CJ was able to build a very nice sandcastle:




Unfortunately, the castle because the focus of an action scene later in the week.  We hired a professional photographer to come out to the house and take some nice pictures of us, and several of them ended up being "hey, let’s have the kids level the sandcastle so we can get some authentic smiles out of them" (all with CJ’s blessing, of course).  We don’t have the pictures yet, but I think it served its purpose.


We brought lots of activities for the kids to keep them occupied and happy when they weren’t in the water.  One of those was some new Play-Doh.  Katherine decided to go a little off the deep end with her creations:


That is actually, in Katherine’s words, a "turkey chicken".  It started out as a turkey, but was genetically altered to become a chicken.

That lost an eye.

And gained spikes.

And this is her fortune-telling chicken. 


See the "crystal" ball?

We also brought our stash of Thomas trains and track up.  Those were set up on Tuesday, and pretty much stayed up for the rest of the week.  They were a big hit with everyone:



We brought several large boxes with us to use as houses and forts, and those also proved to be another big hit.  The kids spent a couple of hours decorating them, and cutting out doors and windows, and then spent a good long time playing in them. 


CJ had planned for those to be a last-full-day activity – something that would occupy the kids while the adults packed up the house.


It worked like a charm.


On the drive back, we stopped by Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City and bought both girls a new game of MagiQuest.  Katherine played last year with her cousin, but this was Lucy’s first time doing it, so we had to get her outfitted with a wand.


Both girls ended up playing for over two hours, and both of them made it onto at least two of the game’s high score boards.


The fun didn’t end there.  The day after we made it home, CJ helped the girls set up the "at-home" version of the game, stashing various animals and items around the living room.



And then spent most of the morning making up quests for them to go on.



We planned a few specific events throughout the week, but by and large the agenda for a given day was "wake up; what am I in the mood for now?"  We also could not have asked for better weather – sunny and 70s almost the entire week.

Overall, I think was the most relaxing vacation we’ve taken as a family.