Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Better Rocket Materials

 Nimue and I experimented with some different rocket materials this afternoon.

[Insert maniacal laughter here.]

New rocket on the left: craft foam and clear packing tape, 12 gram total weight, no appreciable destruction after repeated launch and crash cycles.

Old rocket on right: paper and masking tape, 17 gram total weight, crumples on repeated impact...

Hmmm. Still cheap, more colorful, less likely to be destroyed -- the new one wins! The lower weight of the new rocket means it flies higher at a given input pressure too :)

The "Cope Face"

 Nimue has had a hard time dealing with frustration lately (as usual, she howls when anything goes wrong...), so we've instituted a new policy: when she starts to feel upset, she can make the "cope face" by inflating her cheeks with all the screeching that wants to come out. One hopes this will lead to fewer complaints from her teacher about yelling in class.

You just shot my rocket into the neighbors' yard!


For Christmas, Chad gave Nimue a box of parts with which to build a bike pump powered rocket launcher which he saw written up in MAKE magazine, along with the promise to help her build it. The beauty of this system is that the rockets are cheap and easy to build (paper and tape), and don't require that you have rocket engines on hand, so you can shoot them off as often as you want. They've been working on building it on Tuesday nights when I'm off at rehearsal, and finished it off last Sunday.

The first test rocket was barely constructed and had not yet been decorated (fortunately, in retrospect), when Chad decided to test the whole apparatus out at low pressure in the back yard. He pumped it up to a mere 20 psi, and aimed it horizontally toward the shrubbery at the edge of the yard, thinking that it'd probably fizzle out across the grass, and if it didn't the camellia hedge would stop it.

20 psi. Recall that the rocket is made of paper reinforced with a little tape, and is therefore pretty lightweight.

PssshhhwhwhwhthhthhshhT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! [Insert maniacal laughter here]

Immediately after Chad hit the release valve, that little rocket tore off across the yard and straight through the bushes without even visibly slowing down. I peered over the fence into our elderly neighbors' yard, and didn't see any sign of it. It's entirely likely that it bypassed their yard entirely and ended up in the next yard down. Or the one after. At any rate, someone's day will be filled with some extra curiosity when they discover a little paper rocket stuck in their plants.

We obviously deemed the initial test a success, and after constructing a replacement rocket, headed over to the school field to do some vertical launches.


Also quite successful. A pressure of 40 psi will send the little rocket zinging up a couple hundred feet, and Nim had great fun chasing after it after it came back to earth.


After Chad wires in the remote trigger, we can try launching at higher pressure. I'll probably also experiment with making the rocket -- or at least the nosecone -- out of some squishy foam, as it clearly suffers a bit on landing...


Silly Bike Fun

After the walkathon, Chad rode Nim's bike back to the car (she had come to school that morning by bike, I walked over for the walkathon, and he brought the car since he had to rush over from work. Her current bike is now big enough that he can sort of ride it without too much danger of bruising his chin with his knees :) There's some talk of him borrowing it for some ride around Moffet Field that is brewing (the race component of said ride doesn't seem interesting, but the "ride a goofy bike in goofy clothes component" does...

In other bike fun news, the weather continues to treat us kindly, so Chad recently had an excellent mountain bike ride out at Henry Coe State Park, and I've been replacing memories of cold misery along Skyline Blvd. with warm ecstatic ones. This morning, I rode out toward Shoreline to exorcise the memory of the horrible headwind I encountered there a couple of weeks ago when riding Nimue on the tandem, and while it was warm and mostly windless today, there were many clouds of little gnats. Blecch. I tried really hard to keep my mouth closed. When I got home and looked in the mirror, I just had to laugh because there were several bug splats on my forehead. Didn't think I was going that fast...

Cherry Chase Walkathon

Last Friday afternoon, Nimue's school held their big fundraiser for the year -- a walkathon and silent auction. One could immediately tell that there was a lot more money and donations involved here than at her previous school, just from the sheer level of organization, scale of the silent auction, and volunteer effort. It turned out to be a rather entertaining afternoon (and it was so warm and pleasant out that it was automatically enjoyable to be outside!)

All the kids were wearing their matching green walkathon shirts (donated!), and began marching around the quarter-mile lap at 1:00 sharp. The older kids began to run as soon as they were allowed (after the first lap, so no one would get mowed right at the outset...), and I was impressed at how many of them went pretty much straight through until the course closed at 5:00. Nimue walked the first few laps with a group of girls from her class, but by about lap 4 had shifted to walking with her friend Jeffrey. They spent the entire rest of the afternoon together -- each taking breaks when the other needed water, bathroom, food, etc. Very sweet. When I asked Nimue what they talked about, she said "Stuff. And we were counting butterflies. There were 147!"

I heard from a couple of other people in the area that they too had seen a lot of painted lady butterflies pass through on Friday afternoon, so it must be migration time. Interesting. At any rate, it kept Nimue and Jeffrey interested enough that they completed 23 laps -- almost 6 miles! Without an adult pushing them along. Good kids, all.

I had volunteered to punch lap cards for the kids as they finished each lap for the first shift. This turned out to be a busy, but fun job, as the kids seemed so very gratified by the small words of encouragment, teasing (for the kids I knew), jokes, and the like that they got if they came through my lane. By the end of it, my lap was covered with hundreds and hundreds of little multi-colored hearts that had been punched out.

Chad was one of the "Cool Dads" that manned the VIP tent (a resting zone with snacks and drinks served to the kids by said Cool Dads that was a reward for completing 15 laps). This was also apparently fun, though he did mention that next year he would prefer a volunteer spot that did not involve vasty quantities of popcorn smothered in a scary-smelling artificial butter substance.

By the end of it, sunshine and exercise had been enjoyed by all, I scored a silent auction basket with a nice baking dish, two generous chunks of imported raw-milk parmesan (smelling the cheese was what led me to bid on that particular item), a chunk of good dark chocolate (ok, that was part of it too), and a nice bottle of wine. The last was convenient, as we had need of something to make the leftover dinner more appetizing!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Continuous Bounty from the Fava Bean Forest


I had thought the fava beans would be done by now so I could plant tomatoes, but as you can see, they're still producing! There are clearly many more to come. Nimue thinks it's great that we can eat things we grow ourselves in the backyard market :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Powder Day at Donner Ski Ranch

Early last week, I realized I had enough use-it-or-lose-it points at Sugarbowl to get us a free lift ticket if we went before they closed for the season (Nimue's lessons really rack up the credit!) Plus, we've only gotten one ski trip in this year (albeit a good long one with both backcountry and resort components. Clearly the solution was to head up to the mountains.

The storm timing was just about perfect.

We headed up on Friday night under clear skies, and got Nimue into her usual lesson at Sugarbowl on Saturday while we amused ourselves on the friendly spring slush bumps at the top of the mountain. About mid-day, the snow started to come down, transforming those delightful slush-bumps into powdery-feeling bumps (though Chad, being a telemarker with a higher standard for powder and a lower appreciation of moguls would disagree with my classification of them as powder bumps). Most fun, especially as it became clear by the end of the day that the storm was a true late-season Sierra dump.

Snow snow snow snow snow. By the next morning, the car was covered. We had decided the previous day that Sunday would be a family ski day since Nim had done so well in her lesson (she even skiied off the lift that went to the very tippy-top of the mountain at Sugarbowl), and instead of going to Sugarbowl, where I might have felt frustrated by not being able to spend the day ripping through the trees in the powder, we went across the street to Donner Ski Ranch.

This ski area is a lower-cost, not-as-steep, small, friendly, old-timey resort. Think lots of good blue and green trails, slow calm lifts, and no crowds.

And two feet of fresh powder. Woo hoo! Nim showed herself to be quite competent, and after the first couple of chilly runs (and a miscalculation on my part that led to us coming down part of a run labelled as a black), we found a run off the top of the mountain that led Nimue to whoop in exhilaration at every turn. "Mommy, this is fun!" What a good kid. She doesn't seem to be bothered by ungroomed snow at all.

By the end of the day, the sun came out, and we had an uneventful drive back down the hill. 80 was clear of snow, but occasional snow flurries slowed the traffic somewhat. Lots of neat clouds to look at, and the air through the Central Valley was the clearest I've ever seen it, having been just washed clean by the storm. We got quite an interesting view of the tall buildings in Sacramento under dramatic cloud-filled sunny skies in the distance as we came down off the hill.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Last Day of Winter

In honor of the last day of winter, Nimue wanted to run through the sprinklers! Actually, it was because it is warm and sunny out -- about 70 degrees -- and we only thought about winter after the fact. Ha. I love California.




The cat watched her intently through the living room window.


My Lunch is Better than Yours


I took a delightful long ride earlier this week, and as it exceeded the 50 mile range beyond which I get dreadfully hungry, I put the front bag on the bike. It may look a little goofy, but while other cyclists have to gnaw on dried-out quasi-food in bar form, I had a delightful sandwich, banana, and container of edamame. Mmmmm.

Star of the Week

  Nimue got to be "Star of the Week" in her class this week, which meant she was the special kid who got to bring in something interesting for show-and-tell every day, as well as to make a book about herself. I went in for the Monday morning presentation of the book and photos. So far, she's taken in her blankie, Pengie (a crocheted penguin I gave her for Valentine's Day), some rocks out of her rock collection (including one of Joe's crystals), and her pet rocks. I'm curious as to what's on deck for tomorrow.

Last Weekend's Activities

Now that the weekend is almost upon us, I owe you all an update on last weekend before I forget it all...
Friday night, we all trooped over to Stanford for the Early Music Singers concert -- I got to sing, Chad listened, and Nimue fell asleep. Given that there was going to be birthday cake for the director, Nim rallied enough for us to go to the party afterward. The program this time was sort of jolly -- we did a set of Monteverdi Vespers, in combination with The Whole Noyse, a Renaissance band.

Saturday brought Chad's turn to get out on a long bike ride; he sped through my loop from the previous week while Nimue and I took a bike excursion to Mountain View. Nim rode 10 miles on her own bike!

Sunday was family outing day. We headed out to Joseph D. Grant county park on the slopes of Mt. Hamilton, and hiked until all of our legs were sore. (It took about 7 miles and 1700 feet of climbing.)

Highlights included panoramic views of the Santa Clara Valley, wildflowers, warm weather, and cows at play. That last was oddly entertaining, as we kept wondering what the bellowing ruckus was around the corner at one point, until we came within view of a herd of mixed-age bovines of both sexes. There were a couple of bulls busy pawing the ground and bellowing at each other, while the calves on the other side of the lake practiced butting heads and the females continued to graze unperturbed by it all. Nimue, like her Grampa, likes cows.





Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fun with Zoom

I've been playing around with the largely indestructable camera Chad got me for Christmas, and in addition to being waterproof, freezeproof, shockproof, and Annaproof, it also has a sort of fun super-macro mode. Just as an example, here are pictures of an iris from the front yard, the cat, and inevitably, yet another of Nimue.




The Sun Came Out

After a week of wet muck, the sun finally came out this weekend, leading us to goof off...

Chad went on an insano 3-hill ride over to Santa Cruz on Saturday with some buddies from work, while Nimue and I rode the tandem up to Rancho San Antonio to go on a hike. After we all got home, I took off on another bike ride so as to equalize the amount of tired legs we were all feeling. (Of course, Nimue bounced right back after dinner and zinged around the house like a mad thing while the parents lay splatto on the couch)

Today, after a leisurely morning spent eating waffles, we all headed out on a ride up Stevens Canyon, with Nim and Chad on the tandem while I got to frisk around them on my good bike (which incidently no longer squeaks since Chad replaced the front wheel bearings -- yay!). There is a lot of water still pouring off the hill from last week, which made riding along the creek pretty entertaining. After riding about 20 miles, we ended up at Stephan's house for Sabi's birthday party. Cake at that point was very very good.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Leakings of the Roof

Fun and adventure in Eichler-land: We've had a couple of battles with leaks lately -- nothing too serious, but annoyances that required analysis and fixing before they led to worse things. The first to make itself known was an occasional drip from the master bath's vent fan. This was difficult to diagnose, as there is an identical dripping that results simply from condensation on the fan housing when one takes a steamy shower... but copious rain produced a clue. Complete disassembly and removal of the fan revealed some very wet wood, a real surprise considering that the entire roof is coated with a thick layer of (supposedly) waterproof foam! Well, the water was getting in there somehow, and with more rain on the way Chad quickly engineered an impervious multi-layer barrier, complete with articulating fan door. It has now withstood several intense rains and fierce winds, with no water penetration.

Leak number two appeared as a water stain on Nimue's bedroom wall -- apparently, the roof drain adjacent to her wall clogged up enough to let water pool up (normally not an issue on our sealed roof) and it somehow wicked back around the drainpipe into a joint between the outer sheathing and the roof. This spot is normally sealed with caulk, but this particular drain was placed a little closer to the wall than ideal, and was never caulked behind the drain pipe. Chad filled it in, and so far so good, the leak has not re-appeared despite some real downpours.

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Nimue's Field Trip

I find it somewhat amusing, for obvious reasons, that Nimue really enjoyed her class field trip to Stanford to learn about rocks as part of their GeoKids program. She's now inspired to take in some of her rocks and minerals to show when she is star of the week later in the year. An upgrade to the previous plan to take in stuffed animals, in my book -- especially since she has so many good ones!

The mineral collection outside the geology library looks much the same as it always did (above) and Nimue was very surprised to discover that pumice floats (below).

(No, I didn't get to go, but got the pictures from the teacher.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Knocking off the unfinished projects



So now that it started raining, we've finished off a few of the projects started in recent weeks:

1. Nimue's makeover of Fluffy the Pet Rock and her sidekick Fuzz was successful. As pictured above, the pet rocks had their faces painted, and Nimue also glued felt and tiger-striped pompoms onto Fluffy.
2. Chad kegged his beer, and in his words "It tastes like beer." There was some grumbling that it needed more hops (not that I would be able to judge, as I don't drink it), so now there's motivation for the next batch.
3. We had a lovely salad composed of lettuce, peas, and fava beans out of the garden -- the first dish concocted from this particular patch of the yard.

and of course, there is the project created/exacerbated by the rain -- Chad is now industriously searching out the best bearing and tools he needs to fix the horrible squeak that appeared in the front wheel on my good bike after the chilly rain ride a couple of weeks ago. Given the age and mileage on this bike, it probably just wore out due to natural causes, but I can't help but feel at least a little bit guilty about abusing the poor thing in the rain. But hey, a bike is meant to be ridden, right? Plus the family bike mechanic gets to buy a new tool.