Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Well, I have a few questions for Annie, but I'll do the problem first.

Annie walked her dog 2 1/4 miles from her house to the dog park and then 3 7/8 miles around the park and back home.  How many miles did she walk?

Nimue's response:  "Well, I have a few questions for Annie, but I'll do the problem first."

This is a vast improvement over her responses the earlier questions, which involved

1) Inventing a whole backstory for why Jim might have been measuring crickets and adding their lengths together (something to do with how much his pet iguana needed to eat), and then ridiculing poor Jim for even bothering, since the iguana was going to devour them anyway.  "No, mom, really -- Isn't Jim just stupid?  Mom?   Mom?  Mom!!!  He's dumb."

2) Ranting about how the question about how far Bruce swam  going to two rafts was stupid and meaningless if you don't know what directions he swam in.  (I guess she thinks in vectors?)

3)  Commenting that the question about making hot chocolate  -- i.e. How much hot chocolate do you get when you add 1/4 cup hot chocolate mix to 7/8 cup of milk, with the textbook-expected answer of 1 and 1/8 cup -- showed a lack of knowledge of basic chemistry. (She's right; volumes of stuff you dissolve are generally not strictly additive, though of course she knows this from empirical experience rather than any deep thinking about partial molar volumes.)

Some kids who are bored by their homework just get it done quickly; mine finds ways to stretch out the agony...

And no, I didn't bother to ask what Annie needed to be interrogated about.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Local Bike Camping Weekend

We had a weird three-day weekend that most people didn't get last weekend, thanks to a teacher in-service day on Monday.  Naturally, this was an excuse to get out of the house.

Given that the travel budget was (deliberately) blown earlier this year on the France trip, we decided to go camping.  This isn't as easy at the last minute as it should be, since in the era of web-reservable campsites, everything nice is often booked up months in advance.   We could have headed inland, but it was going to be hot, and this time of year is generally really gorgeous on the coast, so it was finally time to check out some of the local bike-in campsites.

In theory, you ride up, pay your $5 or $6 a person, and they squeeze everyone in.  There are campgrounds offering this at Big Basin State Park and at New Brighton State Beach near Capitola, leading to a nice 30-to-40-mile-a-day loop from home. 

I'm happy to say that this actually works :)  The first day we rode up and over Route 9 to Big Basin, where we had the bike area in the redwoods completely to ourselves.  The second day we headed over to the beach, where we were one of more than a dozen tents squeezed into the bike area.  The rangers here were pretty picky about check-in and out times here, and it rained caterpillars out of the oak trees, but other than that, it was a lovely campground up on a bluff above the ocean.

Chad took most of the camping gear on his bike: a load of about 50 lb.  Nimue and I had it fairly easy with about 10 lb of snacks and extra clothes in the rack trunk.  Somehow, strong Chad still climbs faster, especially if Nimue is feeling tired and isn't putting out much power (as was the case going up Route 9 the first day).  When she is feeling strong, we can take off on the flat sections, especially when there is a headwind, given the amount of extra drag on Chad's relatively bulky load.

I still think he had the harder physical job (the extra weight on my bike sometimes put out quite a bit of power!), but of course, my load involved psychological games and cheerleading.  And much patience with nonsensical jokes about bunnies with chainsaws.

Why did the bunny cross the road?
To get to his chainsaw.

Why did the other bunny cross the road?  
To get away from the bunny with the chainsaw.

And so on, up to the top of this hill...

Final total: Three days, 107 miles, 8000 feet of climbing
One ice cream stop, two bakeries, one dinner in camp, and one dinner out.
Six stowaway caterpillars (and counting)
Three happy people.

Monday, September 10, 2012


More in the series of procrastinated vacation pictures.

As we biked around the Dordogne region, one of the things we commonly stopped to explore were fortresses.  Many and varied fortresses, some of which were quite old.  Here are just a few for you to enjoy:

Maison Forte de Reignac        
A fortified manor house, largely built in the 14th century into a cliff containing caves that have been inhabited for 20,000 years.  Quite a defensible position.  The caves go quite a way back into the cliff, and there are water sources back there.

We were amused and gratified to see how interested Nimue was in poring over the informational materials available in English, and how many little details of architecture, history, and art seemed to stick in her head.  She decided she especially liked the pise floors we saw in this room and many other sites along the trip.  (Look at how the floor is made up of a design of many small stones packed into the ground.)

This site had many little defensive platforms and other buildings built up into the cliff, like the one shown below.  I quite liked the concept of the upper-level alchemist's chamber, where one could practice one's chemistry experiments away from the prying eyes of the Inquisition (and away from anything you might not want to explode).

There was also a very interesting, but quite disturbing exhibit on instruments of medieval torture in one of the side rooms (too scary for Nim, but Chad and I took turns going in).  

Another most excellent fortified cliff dwelling was La Roque Saint-Christophe, a multi-level village built into caves in a cliff that has been inhabited since Paleolithic times.  Most of the buildings are gone, but you can see where holes have been hollowed out for beams to be attached to the edges of the caves, old markings where walls used to be, and many vertigo-inducing sets of stairs carved into the rock.  This main seam in the cliff was hundreds of feet long and several stories above the river.

Given that the cliff hangs right out over the river in spots, it is quite defensible -- all you have to do is drop rocks on invading Neanderthal, Viking, or English invaders (pick your period, as the site was inhabited for a loooong time!)  Of course, you also have to winch everything you need up the cliff. (See reconstructed winch in the background on the right side of the photo below.)

A reconstruction of what the site was like in medieval times:  The whole town is up there, including houses, workshops, a church, etc.

Other fortresses we saw were more distinctly castle-like.   The most castle-y of all castles must be Chateau de Beynac, located on a steep hill on the north bank of the Dordogne.  

This whole region saw a lot of activity during the Hundred Years' War, as the Dordogne was frequently the border between the English and the French.  Fortresses in this region were built, destroyed, shored up, taken over, improved, and rebuilt many times over, making them very fun to look at and explore.  This particular one was captured by Richard the Lionheart at one point.

Interestingly, this chateau was abandoned for all of the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, gradually falling to ruin as people pillaged the stone for other projects.  The current owners are purportedly in the middle of a hundred-year restoration project, letting tourists wander about half the castle while they live in the other half!  No interior photos allowed, but we did get to wander all over the maze-like interior and climb out on an outer wall.  One sort of wonders what it is like for the family who lives in it -- as Nim pointed out, you could play the best game of hide-and-seek ever!

The view from Chateau de Beynac.  Note Chateau de Castelnaud in the distance against the hill to the right of the photo.  We could just imagine the warring factions standing up on the walls and making faces at each other across the river.  You can actually see five major chateaux in different directions, so there were clearly lots of enemies about to spit at.

And finally, the massive Chateau de Castelnaud.  

This one has been taken over by the town it dominates, restored, and turned into a most excellent museum of medieval warfare.  We figured we would spend a bit of time here, but it ended up being most of the day, between climbing around and exploring all the nooks and crannies in the castle, studying all the armor and weapons, and watching the one set of wet weather on the trip roll in.

Like any good fortress, it was at the top of a steep hill -- everything had to be hauled up on roads like this: (photo doesn't do the grade justice, of course -- this section is probably about 25% grade -- and yes, my internal grade estimator is pretty well calibrated at this point.)

Like Beynac, this chateau is tucked into a medieval village.

What do we find up these skinny winding stairs?

Ooooh -- the crossbow room!

And chain mail.  The interesting thing about this piece is that each loop is individually riveted shut.  Lots of work went into its construction, clearly.

Will it fit?  We noticed that knights must have come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes; this was one of the few sets that looked like it would fit someone with the build of a pro cyclist.

What's in the interior courtyard?

Ah, the all-important water source.


What do we do with these fun things?  Clearly not a safe place for Mythbusters!  The museum had a jolly video inside showing one of these trebuchets hurling large stones at a big old stone wall -- definitely not something you want to be in the way of, though also not exactly easy to hit your target on the first shot.


Hmmm. Where to aim, where to aim?


The enemies across the river, perhaps.

And just so we don't end on a wildly aggressive note, here's a gratuitous wildflower shot, as they looked so nice next to the defensive rock wall.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Weekend fun

It is that busy time of year when school has started, but our weekend are still full of the last gasp of summer.  Here is a bit of catch-up for you all:

1.  Nim's birthday party.  We scheduled this for the first weekend after school started, so that her friends would be in town and able to come (but not yet busy with fall sports, as so many are).   Kids came over, ran around the yard solving puzzles and shooting velcro rockets at targets, learned to solder while making beetlebots with Chad, and stuffed themselves silly on cupcakes. After all of that, Nim somehow conned us into letting one of her friends spend the night.

 The birthday hut.
 Kids solving puzzles in the hut
 Robot construction
Beetlebots.  When you turn them on, they move forward until one of the antennae bumps into something, which then leads the little guy to change direction.

2.  Nimue and Ma's adventures close to home while Chad is in WA for a wedding (late notice for dates and horrible airfares meant only Chad went out of town).  We started by heading over to the coast right after dropping Chad off at SFO bright and early at 6am (or should we say dark and early?)
and then worked our way south, stopping whenever we felt like it was time to run around again.

We stayed up too late watching a movie that night, then slept in to be ready for phase two of the weekend:  a micro-backpacking trip up to Black Mountain.   The fact that there was even a spot available at the last minute on a holiday weekend, given the proximity to a major metropolitan area, just goes to show how lazy people are.  A mere 1.5 mile hike to camp is clearly too much...but it was our gain.  One has good views of both the Bay and the ocean from the top as the sun sets.

Now it's time to retrieve Chad, who hopefully also enjoyed his weekend.  Maybe things will settle down for a bit?  Not likely (camping later this month, mountain bike adventure in Downieville in October, some sort of anniversary getaway in November, likely desert camping for Thanksgiving, trip to WA around the holidays, and who knows what else crammed in between...)