Sunday, 20 February 2011

curve ball

Some might see it coming, some might not. Never is it a happy time to confront the fact that a parent is not healthy, that they will not live forever. It is easy to maintain the naive viewpoint that our parents are as strong, willful, capable and vibrant as we remember from our youth.

There are a great many things we control, and a great many things we don't control. As many things happen for which there is a clear rational explanation as that happen which have no explanation, no deeper meaning, and few clear answers.

I haven't found the right answer, but it is someplace between "well, it has been a nice life" and mortgaging my kids future for a chance at an extra day. For now, I will give my kids an extra hug or two or ten each day...

Monday, 25 January 2010

Kids and the Metaphysically Given

Diana Hsieh's recent blog post about cats and how the world is pretty much entirely metaphysically given from an animal's viewpoint. (ok, go here for what she said)

One of the interesting things about being a parent is watching your children as they grow from unable to even move a hand to ... well ... mouthing back at you.

I am definitely not proud to say it, but I've made enough mistakes as a parent to come to realize that children take *a lot* as metaphysically given, "it just is."

For instance, if you hit your children -- there is a stage of their development where that just is what parents do, and the kids will accept it as "the way it is". If you yell at your children, well, that's just what parents do. Could it be any other way?

yup, our kids learn from us, every day, both good and bad.

Fortunately for me, they also learn that it is ok to apologize, to occasionally ask for a do-over, and even to ask for suggestions and help in a tricky situation.

That is just what parents do.


Monday, 18 January 2010

How to slide an R/C car

On our family vacation down in Disneyland, and on the way out we stopped at Ridemakerz -- think of it as "Build-a-bear" for boys -- you build cars instead of bears. lights, bumpers, chassis, wheels, tires, sound, stickers, and assembly stations with power tools dangling from the ceiling. Nice concept, a bit pricey, but exciting for a 5 year old. Given the late time of day, and my budget, we didn't do much with our cars. He got basically a push car with some lights and sound, and I got a little R/C car.

The thing is, the R/C car is the most gutless thing I have seen in a very long time -- it paled in comparison to other R/C toys I have seen that also used 4 AA batteries for power (Disney Mater tow truck that was scary fast for 4AA batteries). Even firm carpet is too much for this car (1/4" knap) you have to pick it off the carpet to get it moving again. The engineer in me thinks that whomever decided what motor and gearing to use for their R/C at Ridemakerz (IIRC, you have only one choice for the car chassis: "R/C, yes or no?") they chose the motor and gearing more for higher top end speed than for torque off the line. Of course, you don't know this till you get home with the car, which for me was 8+ hours of airports and airplanes and taxi.

Of course, the TSA did special inspections and made sure my R/C car and transmitter were not dangerous items before allowing me to take it onto the airplane. :P They didn't swab the radio transmitters in my Toyota car door remotes nor either of my cameras...(don't get me started) ... but they *did* test the mickey mouse balloon my son was carrying. I definitely feel safer knowing that kids balloons won't be dangerous if brought on board.

Anyway, this car has what I will call a binary controller -- either you are applying power to the wheels or you aren't -- there is no half throttle, there is no half-turn. (in my head, I have a Yoda (Miyagi?) voice saying "go or do not go, there is no try").

Mom and baby took a different set of flights home so she could side-trip to see her mom. This left me with a "brand new" R/C car, an excited 5 year old, and a couple of days of time before the holiday break ended. What to do what to do? Aha! Let's clear all the furniture out of the wood-floored dining area and turn it into an R/C car track! Let's just say that my son and I had a *ton* of fun, and it was also educational for me too! Yes, we ate standing up at the kitchen counter -- table? who needs a table for eatin'?

What I learned is that even a "cheap" R/C may be able to do some interesting stunts. Probably the easiest is the slide-turn or slide-turn-stop. Here's how:
  1. You need a slick flat floor with a bit of space -- I had a hardwood floor, probably about 10x15 (10x12?) with an adjoining room, also hardwood that had some extra space
  2. Get the car up to speed. (I needed about 8-12 feet of acceleration room for a good slide, 4-6 feet for a fractional turn)
  3. Turn the car to the side while maintaining forward throttle
  4. Immediately after (a quarter of a second after?) cranking the steering to the side, change forward throttle to backward throttle.
  5. tada! your car should have spun around enough for you to see 90-180 degree rotation of the car and a sliding stop.
  6. If you have good timing, you can switch back to forward throttle to keep going out of the turn, or hold the backward throttle to make use of your momentum in that direction.

I bet someone with some time (and batteries) to practice could probably control it well enough to do a sliding parallel parking job, but I wasn't quite skilled enough. For me I mostly was trying to get enough speed to do a clean 180 to a stop just before hitting the wall.

Tonite, I had the idea to see if I could drift it -- I got about a third of a circle drift turn before I ran out of room. (my wife is home, so the dining area has furniture again) Drifting requires a bit more control to initiate:

  1. Start with a big enough space for your car (smooth slick surface) size depends on the car's turning radius.
  2. Rather than speeding up in a straight line, keep the front wheels cranked to one side the whole time.
  3. Accelerate to get some speed in the turn
  4. Tap from forward to reverse just enough to initiate a slide, then *immediately* get back on the forward throttle.
  5. With luck, this will get your car drifting around the corner. Whether or not it can maintain the drift will depend entirely on the car and the surface you're driving.

Plan to allow 10 feet clear floor space if you want to try to drift -- I was using about 6-8 feet square area, and had to be very careful to avoid smashing walls, chairs, etc.

If I get enough control of either of these to be able to demonstrate for a video camera, I'll try to get videos online.

On a side note, my 5 year old son has an R/C car (Nikko brand?) that is actually a larger body with a 9.6v motor with two forward speeds -- the faster speed is actually "dangerous" to use indoors as you run out of room before it is done accelerating and almost before you can react to stop it! You can just see me excitedly yelling "wall!! wall!! watch out for the wall!" just before the car smashes into the wall, both when he is driving *and* when I am driving. Anyway that car has enough power that it can pretty much pivot turn on the front wheel with no special control manipulation other than "crank the wheel and hit the throttle!" -- I keep wishing there was a good large slick area we could take cars like that to play and see what they might be capable of doing.

To my wife's chagrin, probably every time the chairs are out of the dining room for a thorough sweeping and mopping, it may draw kids, big :) and little, with R/C cars...

Happy driving!


ps. Disclosure? I paid way too much for a wimpy car, and have received nothing in compensation from anyone mentioned in this post. If you feel like sending me something for free in the hope that I might review it, please do so, but I can't promise a post, nor a positive review as a result.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Kids and science experiments

Two stories for kid science lovers:

At lunch today, it was fun to watch as my wife and 10 month old daughter conducted a science experiment. Amelia would hold her milk cup out over the edge of the high chair, where she usually drops it on the floor. her mom would somewhat playfully say "no, no no, don't do that!" or something similar. Amelia got this great big grin on her face and pulled the cup back over the tray, at which time mom would say "good girl!" in a nice excited happy way. Then the cycle would repeat, with Amelia very clearly, deliberately holding the cup out over the floor, watching her mom and hearing her mom react, then clearly deliberately pulling the cup back over the high chair tray. Whether or not there was language comprehension on Amelia's part (I think she is getting some of it), she *was* very clearly experimenting to see what would happen, and by her smile, enjoying the accuracy of her predictions.

At the end of bath, after I dry Nicolas (5 yr old) off, he wants to curl up in a little ball and be covered with the towel, for a game of "what's in that egg?" (towel == eggshell) after a little cracking and wiggling, *something* comes out of the egg, and I have no idea what it is. I started presenting it with options "hmmm, if it is a plant it might light some sunshine, but if it is a lion, it might like a meaty steak", pretending to hold these options out in each hand and letting the whatever it is choose the hand that has something appropriate. Occasionally, I may feign stupidity (or genuinely not have figured it out yet), and ask something like "hmmm, what could I do to tell the difference?" to give Nicolas a chance to design an experiment of his own to be presented with. This has lots of educational opportunities... what do different animals (or machines) eat? "if it is a car, it might like some gasoline (my left hand), but if it is a big truck, it would prefer diesel (my right hand)". What do different animals (or machines) do? "would it rather pounce on a mouse (left hand) or dig a great big hole (right hand)?" "would it rather drive on a nice smooth street, or drive on a really bumpy rocky road?"

I'm convinced that kids are naturally scientists (stimulus response experimentalists, at the minimum), they just don't have any scientific theory to guide them.

Such fun!


Thursday, 3 September 2009

Danger at the driver-through...

I was spacing out at the drive though this morning while waiting for my food. The guy in the car behind me sticks his head out his window and starts yelling. It didn't take long to figure out that he was yelling at me.

What was my offense? It would seem that I was looking at him.

Yes, this man was ready to take it over to the adjacent parking lot because some space cadet at the McDonald's drive-thru was absentmindedly staring at the wall beyond his rear view mirror.

I am quite certain that he wasn't at all happy that I *did* keep my eye on him every second after that until I was able to leave with my breakfast.

I continue to long for a rational society where valid rights are recognized and no person has to live in fear of another.


Thursday, 6 August 2009

Facebook quizzes, not just entertaining, but dangerous

Have you ever seen one of those quizzes that isn't just pointless, but entirely incorrect in its questions? For example: "Toppling enemy regimes to spread democracy will make the world a safer place. agree/disagree" Without a thorough understanding of the basis of individual rights, and a commitment to maintain them, democracy can easily become the tyranny of the many.

I am not against democracy, instead I *am* for a better understanding of individual rights.

You do not have a right to health care.
You do not have a right to an education.
You do not have a right to get $4500 dollars to trade in your old SUV for a new one.

You have a right to everything you would have on a deserted island. Who will provide your health care? Who will provide your education? Who will provide your retirement benefits? These are not rights, these are demands on the skills and productivity of others.

You do have a right to any shelter you can find or create on this island. You do have a right to any food you can catch, collect, grow, pick and store. You do have a right to any knowledge of flora or fauna, science, medicine or engineering you can determine from the world around you. You have a right to make your way in the world by the power of your intellect and application of your body to your own ends.

If there is only one other person on this deserted island with you, your rights do not change. You do not suddenly get to make any unearned claim on that other person's skills, on their productivity nor on their property and call it "a right". Indeed it is ludicrous to claim that it is ok to simply steal from that other person.

Just as it is inappropriate to make demands against only one person on a deserted island, it is equally inappropriate to make those demands on 10 or 100 or 1,000 people, or 300 million people on a deserted continent.

To demand that the world owes you something and mistakenly call it "a right" does not make it right. To claim that democracy is the solution and thereby to make that same demand with 6 billion of your closest friends still does not make it "a right" nor does it make it right.


Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The value of a lighter bike

I got a great deal on a used mountain bike, and in the process dropped about 11 pounds of weight from my previous mountain bike. I've had it long enough to go on exactly 1 ride.


What's the big deal? What sort of difference can that much weight make?

  • Mountain biking is about going uphill. 11 extra pounds up 500 feet is roughly equivalent in energy output to riding an additional 25 feet uphill. (assuming 200 lbs of bike and rider) (approximately 5% advantage)
  • The weight of the bicycle can act as a keel, stabilizing both bike and rider. This works both ways -- a lighter bike is substantially more maneuverable, but at the cost that the rider must be slightly more careful -- it is very easy to end up crosswise on the trail if your balance isn't quite right and you over-correct.
  • A much lighter bicycle can be moved forward and backward under the rider much easier under load, including to change the center of balance before bumps or ruts, or take minor advantage of undulations in the trail surface.
  • Last but not least, when you have the fitness level of a jelly belly with a desk job (who? surely not me...well ok occasionally), if you find a hill too steep to ride, it is much easier to push up the hill.

I can't say that it makes me a better rider, but it puts a little more fun in my fun.