Florida Wedding

The girls and I traveled to sunny Florida this past week for my sister-in-law’s wedding.  The week before, we were a little concerned about tropical storm Alberto’s impact to this outdoor wedding, but thankfully he moved on well before the big day.

We flew down, and had a layover in Atlanta.  While there, the fire alarm went off in the terminal.  My experience has been that a fire alarm means “exit the building now”, but in this case, an automated voice announced that there was an emergency situation, and to wait for further details.  After several minutes of flashing lights and loud sirens, the system announced that the fire alarm had been cleared, and everything was normal.  In retrospect, it would have been a nightmare to shuffle everyone out of the building and then try to get them all back through security if there wasn’t a true emergency, so having everyone sit tight for a few additional minutes made sense.  Still, it was a first for all four of us.

On a lighter note, there was a service dog at our gate, playing catch with her owner.  The dog was friendly enough that she would catch the frisbee, and then walk up and down the rows of people looking for someone new to play with her.  She found several willing playmates, including Lucy.  When they started boarding people on the plane, the dog took off down the gate, to the amusement of several of the waiting passengers, and to the consternation of the agent.  She came back fairly quickly when her owner called her, though.

When we arrived at the hotel, the girls walked in and started giggling and exclaiming “What the?!”  When I caught up, I found that CJ had been selected as the Guest of the Day.

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With the honor came a free drink and snack from the hotel store.  Mmm – Oreos.

My niece mentioned a while back that Florida has a lot of small lizards running around – most no bigger than your hand – and they tend to turn up everywhere.  The fencing around the hotel pool was apparently a favorite gathering point, because most of the times we passed it there were one or two of them hanging on the bars.  They were very shy, though.  If you got too close – and especially if you pointed at them – they’d dart into the bushes nearby.

The wedding was very nice:

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And blessedly short given how hot it was.  In fact, I think it was the mother of the groom announced “Let’s go have a wedding, and then run back inside!”

The groom’s family raise all kinds of birds, from racing pigeons and ducks, to more exotic ones like these peacocks:

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The groom’s father led a tour, showing off the many different species, with a stop, of course, to see the newly-hatched babies:

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They also raise bees.  The girls got a kick out of a sign posted by the “bee area”:

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“Caution.  Honey Bee Yard.  No Trespassing – bees sting!  Hives contain up to 40,000 bees.  Bees can fly 40 MPH.  How fast can you run!  Don’t make the bees chase you.”

Other than a delayed flight out of Florida, the travel home was relatively uneventful.  None of us had been sleeping well while we were down there, so coming home and getting to sleep in our own beds that first night back was luxurious.

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I can has "sum" more?

CJ went to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference in Chicago this week.  She returned last night, so a good portion of this morning’s conversation revolved around the various sessions, cool things she saw and heard, and in general, math.

Somehow we got on the topic of adding up every number between 1 and 10.  You can brute-force it, but if you recognize that summing up 1-10 is the same as the following, it gets easier:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10
= 10 + (1 + 9) + (2 + 8) + (3 + 7) + (4 + 6) + 5
= 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 5
= 55

The conversation moved on for a few minutes, and then Lucy announced that she could add up all of the numbers between 1 and 20.  “It’s 210.”

CJ and I thought she was just making up a number – until she explained her reasoning:

“Adding up 1 through 10 gives you 55.  Adding up all of the ones between 11 and 20 gives you another 55.  And then there are ten 10s between 11 and 20.  That’s 100.  55 + 55 is 110.  110 + 100 = 210.”

She had broken up 11 into 10 + 1, then 12 into 10 + 2, 13 into 10 + 3, etc..  That was where she got the “ones” and the “ten 10s”.  CJ and I were stunned at the mental math our 3rd-grader just pulled out.  Slack-jawed, mind-blown, stunned – and we made sure to tell her so.

That got me thinking about adding up all of the numbers between 1 and 100 – and Lucy and I were off again.  After several more minutes working by ourselves we both came up with the same answer.  Granted, it was the same WRONG answer.  After we worked through some silly mistakes, though, we got to the correct answer of 5050.

CJ then pointed out that we might have saved ourselves some trouble had we viewed the problem as the sum of pairs of numbers:

0 + 100
1 + 99
2 + 98

There are 50 such pairs between 0 and 100, and each one adds up to 100, so 50 * 100 = 5000.  Then, we are left with the 50 in the middle.  Adding that to 5000 gives you 5050.

Geeking out about math.  It was a good Saturday morning.

Hook, line, and sinker

This morning’s breakfast conversation somehow stumbled upon the topic of lures.  Lucy asked what a “lure” was, so CJ explained that when you go fishing, you put a worm on a hook as the lure, and it attracts the fish so you can catch one.

I couldn’t resist adding that for 3rd graders, we use Oreo cookies.  Lucy threw her patent-pending incredulous look at me, and then followed up with – “But only if they are double – no, TRIPLE-stuffed mint Oreos.”

The girls went out for a bit, so I had time to set up a surprise for Lucy in the living room. 

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Complete with the ideal lure, of course.

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And then me in a corner, to complete the gag:

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“Come on, just a little closer….”

Eclipse / Hamilton Week

The Gilberts were on vacation this week, and what a week it was!

We first drove to St. Louis to see the “Great American Eclipse”.  Michigan got roughly 80% of a full eclipse, but we wanted to be in the path of totality.  The actual eclipse would happen early afternoon on Monday the 21st, but we wanted to try to miss the massive crowds they were predicting would drive into the St. Louis area, so we left early the morning of Saturday the 19th.

We were all in good spirits on the trip down, and had more than one amusing moment.  A couple of our favorites:

  • A sign that measured your speed and played it back to you, for example, “Your Speed: 54”.  If you were going between 1 and 5 MPH over the limit, it would still show you your speed, but would blink to get your attention.  If you were going faster than that, the sign changed to “Your Speed: Slow Down”.
  • Mark: “Pinch and zoom is great except when you’re in a car on a bumpy road.”

As usual, CJ planned the drive down to have a couple of stops – the first was a late breakfast at Sophia’s House of Pancakes (which was fantastic).  The second one was a mystery – CJ refused to tell us (not even me) where we were going or what we were doing.  We drove a little ways off of Route 66 to “Arcadia: America’s Playable Arcade Museum” in McLean, IL – an arcade with a good number of classic video games and pinball machines.  We had a couple of rolls of quarters to burn, and the four of us went to town.  We spent a lot longer than than we had budgeted (not really a surprise), and CJ and I got to introduce the girls to a lot of the classic games we grew up playing.  Lucy ended up getting on the high score board for one of the jet-fighter games, and I even captured the top slot on Galaga!

Once we got into St. Louis, we parked the van, and went to dinner.  After that, we walked to the Arch.  Besides being in the path of totality, this was the other reason we chose St. Louis – Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” series (which all four of us has read and love) has a very memorable scene at the top of the Arch involving a fire-breathing Chihuahua.  To celebrate visiting the scene of said incident, Lucy made sure to wear her Camp Halfblood t-shirt.

The ride up in the “pod” was a little nerve-wracking, but the girls loved the views from the top.  We visited in early evening, and Katherine noticed that the arch cast a very long shadow in the setting sun.

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The park ranger helping to guide the tourists through saw Lucy’s t-shirt, and asked her to keep an eye out for any Chihuahuas.  Lucy smiled, clearly happy that someone got the reference.  I told him we figured the “no pets” signs around the arch were put in place precisely for that incident, and he agreed.  He then admitted that he was the designed “adult” to a Rick Riordan book signing.  When we got back down to ground level, Lucy found two other girls in Camp Halfblood t-shirts, so she got a chance to geek out for a bit.  After a visit to the Arch store, we walked back to the van, drove to our hotel, and collapsed.

The next day, Sunday, was mostly spent at the St. Louis Zoo.  They have a number of animals that we can’t see at our local zoo, like stingrays:

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We actually got to pet the stingrays.  They tell you to put your hard flat in the pool, and the rays that want to be petted will swim up to you where you can stroke the tops of their bodies (the zookeepers warn you to not touch their “wings” or their bellies).  Lucy didn’t have a very good first impression, unfortunately.  One of the first rays that swam up to Lucy bumped into another ray, and a massive splash ensued as the two of them tried to get away.  Unfortunately, Lucy was right over them when they tussled, so she got a mouth full of sea water.  By the end, though, she got the hang of it, and managed to pet several of the rays, including one of the two “baby” rays that are about the size of a dinner plate, and one of the two “granddaddy” rays that were the size of a coffee table.  Katherine and CJ also managed to pet the small shark that was swimming with the rays.

The seal/sea lion aquarium allowed you to walk under the water, and see them swimming by around you and overhead.  One of the seals (at least I think it was a seal) got VERY interested in a sippy bottle that one of the other visitors brought.

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We don’t know what the animal thought it was seeing from the other side of the glass, but he kept pressing his nose up to the glass trying to get at this very colorful thing, and even let out what looked like a yell underwater, probably voicing its displeasure at not being able to get it.

We also paid a visit to the penguin exhibit. 

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Because most (but interestingly, not all) of the penguins at the St. Louis Zoo were from much colder climates, they had to keep this building chilly – in the 40s.  When we were inside, two of the penguins decided to get into a bit of a snit, and ended up splashing Lucy and CJ.  That convinced us to move along.

The next day was eclipse day.  Since our hotel was in the path of totality, we decided to hang out in the morning, swim in the indoor/outdoor pool, and generally avoided driving anywhere.

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We were SO glad we did because it meant a very relaxing day, and avoiding the congested highways that went on all afternoon and evening.  The eclipse was slated to start a little before noon local time, and then reach totality a few seconds before 1:17pm.  They were predicting partly cloudy skies, but for the most part we had a beautifully unobstructed view of the sun.  We walked to lunch at the Denny’s across the parking lot, and when we got out a little after noon, we took our first peek at the eclipse (using our official eclipse glasses, of course!):

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I tried to take a picture through the glasses, and managed to snag this beauty:

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We ended up spending the next hour in and out of the pool, and watching the eclipse progress.  We could see a definite change to the quality of the light during the 15 minutes or so leading up to totality.  Then, a couple of minutes before, the cicadas in the surrounding trees started up.  Then totality set in for most of two minutes, and we just admired the eclipse with our naked eyes.  I did manage to see the “diamond ring” effect towards the end, but sadly wasn’t able to capture it.  I did, however, get a very nice progression:

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(click to eclipsify}

The rest of the day was spent in the pool and in our room watching a movie.

The next day, Tuesday, we got up early and left for Chicago.  We thanked God again for the awesome weather we had the day before because it was pouring in St. Louis when we left, and rained most of the drive north.  We arrived and went to the Field Museum for the afternoon, where the girls proceeded to try to feed me to “Sue” the T-Rex.

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The circle of life is complete.  When we were last in Chicago 5 years ago, I fed Lucy to Sue.

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That evening, we went to our favorite dive in Chicago for dinner – the Weber Grill Restaurant.  I introduced Katherine to filet mignon.  She admits she isn’t normally a steak person, but after her first bite she smiled and could only manage to say “wow”.  3 minutes later she announced, “and now my steak is gone”.  After that fabulous meal, we went back to our hotel, and collapsed.

The next day we spent taking in some of the sights in downtown Chicago.  First, the Chicago Cultural Center, former home of the first public library in Chicago:

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Then to “bean”, formally known as “Cloud Gate”:

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The girls had a lot of fund warping reality:

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We then visited a pool where the girls cooled their heels – literally.

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And where Lucy nearly got a shower:

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None of us realized this initially, but the two giant video-walls that bookend this pool would actually shoot water out periodically.

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Apparently, you just wait for the people in the video to smile, and then pucker up.  Lucy had been standing right in the blast zone, and just happened to move a few seconds before it went off.  If she had gotten doused, we would have had to immediately gone back to the hotel room to change because at 1 o’clock it was time for…

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Hamilton!  The girls have been listening to the songs for the last year, almost on a permanent repeat, so seeing it on stage was very exciting.

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The show was awesome.  During the intermission, I found that the family directly behind us also saw the eclipse earlier in the week, so we spent the time between acts geeking out about both that and the show.

After the show, we went to one of Katherine’s favorite places in Chicago (she had come to the Windy City three years in a row for middle school orchestra class trips) – Foodlife, in Water Tower Place. 

After that we spent an hour or so shopping, mostly in the LEGO store.  After we had been there a while, of the attendants asked me if I was thinking about one of the big sets.  “Oh, I’ve been doing a lot of THINKING…”  He just smiled and said, “Ah, I know how that goes.”

One of the best parts of the LEGO store (if you haven’t experienced one) is being able to sort through thousands of mini-fig parts (heads, bodies, legs, hats, etc.) to build your own.  Normally the component parts are in separate bins, and there is a tray that runs around the kiosk to let you work on your custom creations.  I happened to be passing one of the mini-fig stations when one of the attendants was going through the pile of pieces in the tray, sorting them back into their bins.  I asked him if this was a daily thing, or if he had to do it more frequently.  He just smiled and said they all try to keep up on it, but it’s especially nice during the slow periods.  It keeps them active.  If Kalamazoo ever opens a LEGO store, I may have just found my retirement job.

Then it was time to head back to hotel for sleep.  Given where we were, and where we had to go.  Walk 12 blocks – or walk 3 blocks, travel by subway, and then walk another 3.  I said we could just walk it.  However, on the way out of the mall, the girls noticed that there were horse-drawn carriages lined up like taxis.  After a bit of back and forth, we decided to take one.  Our driver was Whitney, and our horse was Mr. Festus.

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It was a tremendously cool experience.  Not only did we not have to walk the 12 blocks, but we got a view of Chicago that I don’t think you can get any other way – slow moving so you can enjoy the sights and architecture, in the middle of the street so you can see both sides well, but you don’t have to be the one paying attention to where you’re going.  We asked a lot of questions of Whitney, and she entertained us with stories of horses and her job.

At the end, Whitney explained that while she works for tips, Mr. Festus works for carrots, and she let the girls feed him at the end.  The picture above was taken after the girls fed him a couple, and Mr. Festus nuzzled Lucy looking for more.

The next day, we checked out of the hotel, ate at a two-story McDonald’s (a first for all of us; I never imagined McDonald’s needing an escalator!), and then went to the Museum of Science and Industry.  The girls are far enough apart in age that they aren’t into the same things, so CJ and I to each take one, which turned out to be a massive stress reliever.

Lucy hit the Idea Factory, and had a blast building towers with an electromagnetic crane:

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And playing with the locks (i.e., what you’d find in the Panama Canal or Sault Ste. Marie):

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In fact, she tried to corral ALL of the balls into one lock, and according to CJ, nearly overflowed the thing when the water filled in.  Lucy also took a turn “driving” the John Deere tractor they have:

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The same one, in fact, that she drove 5 years ago when we last visited Chicago ( https://markofquality.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/chicago-vacation-2012/ ):

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The chick hatchery is a recurring favorite of ours, and all of us paid a visit at least once.

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Lucy and CJ actually managed to see one hatch:

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While Katherine and I saw one get flipped over on its back.

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Its wings were so short though, it was having a real hard time righting itself. 

We had lunch at the museum, spent another 90 minutes or so visiting the exhibits, and then left for home.  And it felt SO good to be home.

And so ends a fabulous week of science, art, culture, and fun.

Mummifying an Apple

As part of the spring book fair, Lucy got a book called “Monster Science”, and we’ve started working our way through it beginning with mummifying an apple.

“Today – produce.  Tomorrow, THE WORLD!  Muhahahahahaha!!”

Ahem.

We started by cutting the apply into two groups:

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One that would be mummified over the period of a week:

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And one that would be our control, and just sit out:

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Next, Lucy prepared a mixture of salt, baking powder, and the “mummifying powder”* from our kit:

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Which she then poured over the chunks of apple in the beaker:

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Next, we boxed up both containers of apples, taped it shut, and found the darkest part of our basement to keep them in for the week:

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That was last week Sunday.  Today, we unboxed them:

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As you can see in this shot, the control apples are quite recognizable.  The peel is still red, and the meat is still crunchy.  The mummified apples, though, turned a dark brown, and the meat felt more like a sponge than an apple:

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CJ commented that we should have cut both sets of apples up into the same size pieces, and then we could have compared the relative sizes.  That was a great idea, and we could have answered the question of “did the mummified apples shrink, get bigger, or stay the same?”  Oh well.  Next time, Igor.

Muhahaha.

 

 

* UPDATE 5/23/2017: I looked on the box, and they listed the contents of the “mummifying powder” – crosslinked acrylic acid and sodium acrylite copoloymer.

A fresh start for Spring 2017

Over the last year, my thoughts have been increasingly limited to one of two subjects – my work, or my headache research.  Things have been getting more stressful at work, and my research has all but ground to a halt.  CJ made the comment a couple of weeks ago that I needed to pick up a hobby again, just so I would have SOMETHING else to think about.  The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced she was right.

These last few days, I’ve published a few blog posts I had planned, and am putting Project Nesso in cold storage until further notice.  In its place will be a project that CJ and I have been planning for a while – a math game that helps you learn and practice solving algebraic equations.  I’ll be building it on the Unity 3D framework, which means I’ll be playing with a very familiar programming language again – C#.  It also means I’ll be able to dust off my technical blog, and post some fresh content there.

And of course, starting a new project in spring just makes sense, doesn’t it?

Project Nesso, Chapter 3: Troubleshooting

“The loftier the building, the deeper must the foundation be laid.”   Thomas à Kempis (http://www.brainyquote.com)

Some of what my doctors prescribed in 2014 made a lot of sense.  You’re having pain in your head – let’s take an MRI and see what’s going on in there.

But the approach to medication seemed very rudimentary.  Let’s try drug A and see if it helps.  No?  Let’s take you off of A and try drug B.  No?  On to drug C.  Trying every possible drug that has been shown to help a headache one by one seemed terribly inefficient.  It began to dawn on me that there is a parallel practice in software development, specifically in the area of troubleshooting.  I began to wonder if the lessons I’ve learned there could apply to medicine.

Troubleshooting bugs in software typically involves a few different tools in a developer’s toolkit:

Tool in the Toolkit What does it look like in practice?
Gathering Facts Step through the problem with the client.  Determine if I can reproduce it.
Analysis Can I find a pattern in when the issue occurs, and what the rest of the system was doing when it occurs?
Research Look online for other people who have had this issue, and what they did to solve it.
Experimentation The client did X, Y, then Z to get the issue.  What if I changed the order, or skipped Y – do I get the same error?
Collaboration Talk through the issue, my tests, and my theories with another developer.

When all of those techniques fail, I’m reduced to what I’ve termed “code roulette” where I just try changing things almost at random, and see what the outcome is.  It’s like Experimentation, but without a theory to guide it, which makes it the least scientific and least efficient way to fix a bug.  Historically, this approach is far less likely to lead to a solution to (or even insight into) the problem.  As a result I only pull it out of my toolbox when I’ve exhausted all of my other options.

How does the approach to troubleshooting recurring headaches stack up against troubleshooting a software bug?

Tool in the Toolkit Software Development In Practice Headache Treatment In Practice
Gathering Facts Step through the problem with the client.  Determine if I can reproduce it. Do the headaches occur every day?  Do you notice the headaches getting stronger as the day goes on?  Does your family have any history of headaches?  Let’s get you in for an MRI to see what’s going on in your head.
Analysis Can I find a pattern in when the issue occurs, and what the rest of the system was doing when it occurs? Can you keep a headache journal, to track when you get headaches, and how bad they are?  Is there a pattern to when they become more severe?
Research Look online for other people who have had this issue, and what they did to solve it. Read the medical literature to see what the research has to say about them.
Experimentation The client did X, Y, then Z to get the issue.  What if I changed the order, or skipped Y – do I get the same error? If you get more sleep, is your headache the next day better, worse, or unchanged?  Would cutting processed meats out of your diet affect them?
Collaboration Talk through the issue, my tests, and my theories with another developer. Let me refer to you to a specialist.
Roulette Let me change each setting, one by one, until we find one that fixes the problem. Let me prescribe each drug for you, one by one, until we find one that is effective.

Not only is the roulette approach inefficient, the feedback look with medication is a couple of orders of magnitude longer.  With code roulette, the time between trying something and seeing the effect is usually measured in seconds or minutes; with “drug roulette” it’s measured in weeks.

This analogy had been brewing two years, but it really solidified in February 2017.  It drove me to ask what I believe is a foundational question: is this really the state of the art for prescribing drugs, or was this just one patient’s experience?