Saturday, January 26, 2008

Snowing at the Beach

Over the MLK holiday weekend — one of the few holidays which the Quaker college observes — we went to the Outer Banks with our friends, B, K + G. K’s sister has a beach house in Kill Devil Hills, just up from Nags Head.

The beach was just across the street, so we braved the cold a few times to go collect shells. I think you can see in the pictures why we didn’t last very long. The wind off the ocean was pretty fierce, and on Saturday, as we were walking back to the house, it started to snow.

In general, we didn’t mind being home-bound. We had books, games, the Wii, plenty to eat and drink, a few movies, nothing to do and some really great views. The only problem was the refrigerator. We got in on Friday night. As we were unloading the car and opening up the house, we noticed some brown sludge on the floor surrounding the refrigerator. When we opened it, we very quickly realized the problem. It was dark and scary in there, and we quickly closed it. Curiosity got the best of us and we opened the freezer, for just a split second. Perhaps you have seen those very odd commercials for a flooring company where the couple smells the milk and falls over. Yeah, that. The smell was explosive, singed the inside of our nostrils and sent us all flying. Apparently, what happened was the last people to leave the house at Thanksgiving hit the wrong breaker by accident.

So, we spent the next hour or so feeling sorry for ourselves and steeling our nerves to attack the cleaning. We made a lot of plans – a lot more than we needed. Strategizing helped to postpone the inevitable. It took us about two hours to get it cleaned out. My job was to carry the trash bags full of rotten food down one flight of stairs to the second floor, then across the balcony to the side of the house where I would drop them into the open trash cans below. There were quite a few bags, and I was very glad I didn’t miss, as it was about 20 degrees.

The refrigerator is not reparable — the seals surrounding the freezer were ruined, and the liquid death had oozed into the elements at the back. We tried to buy a new one and have it delivered that day, but they couldn’t. So, we had coolers, and the natural freezer out on the balcony. We were fine. We just didn’t cook as much as we had planned. I don’t yet have a picture of the freezer, but K said she has one. When I get it, I’ll add it here.

On Sunday, we drove over to the North Carolina Aquarium, then down to Hatteras. It is a fascinating landscape, incredibly tenuous. I'd love to spend some more time there when the weather is a bit more accommodating.

There are more photos at my flickr site.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Scientist

Recently, I got a call from H's teacher. He had entered an essay contest with the local National Science Center Museum about why he wanted to be a scientist and his essay was one of those which were selected. So, I've included the essay + the morning news program from his school in which he was featured.

We are very proud. And excited about the fact that this means a family membership to the museum for one year. Thanks to Steve for the video.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

the morning commute

This week GM touted their “robot car,” or what they call autonomous driving. The idea, of course, is that the car can drive itself, and with the advances in GPS, wireless and on-board cameras, etc., it is quite close to reality. DARPA [the folks who brought us the terrorism futures market a few years back] funded a big research project which GM + Carnegie Mellon won with a Chevrolet Tahoe.

So, when Rick Wagoner claims that, “autonomous driving means that someday you could do your e-mail, eat breakfast, do your makeup, and watch a video while commuting to work," I don’t see this as an improvement, and not just for the sorts of jokes the late-night comics would make, if they had the writers to write them. Working under the rather specious assumption that all technological innovation is good [remember Honda's 4-wheel steering from last decade?] the robot car promotes commuting at a time when we should be making the obvious changes in the way we have organized public and mass transportation. If anything, we should be working to make the individual commute less viable, not working so hard spending so much money and energy to make it easier for people to stay in their cars and drive more often and further.

What is more troubling is the way the news covers this — they play right into carmaker's hands. Even the title of this article is “Automobile's future is electronic and green: GM chief.” I know that cars are more efficient and we are in the middle of an alternative fuel revolution, but conflating the greening of the automobile with the expansion of its use is like the old joke about pasta + antipasto canceling each other out.

Today, our budding scientist [H] said he really wishes there were no cars, because before cars there was no global warming. When L said that life sure would be different without cars, his matter-of-fact reply was, “Yes. There would be no global warming.” [duh!]

Friday, January 4, 2008

Christmas, pt. II

Santa was good to us this year — he brought the whole family a wii. While both boys have really taken to it, there are a couple of highlights: HBA has been teaching me how to play tennis, particularly how to serve. RBA likes to box. For those who have never seen wii boxing, you hold one remote in each hand and throw punches at the screen. In addition to that, he has developed a dance to accompany it, which I will have to video. These pictures hint at it, but look for the video soon enough.

Deer, pt. II

RBA has been going next door with me to our neighbor’s house to feed her cat while she has been out of the country. He is my “flashlight point man.” It is a short walk, maybe 50 yards. But he walks very close to me, holds my hand, and looks with his big eyes into the woods between the houses. The other night he told me he was scared of deer. I told him there was nothing to worry about they are more afraid of us, than we are of them. As we walked out of the house, he said look!” About 15 yards in front of us were two deer — a mother and a fawn. She froze, looked at RBA, then looked back toward our house, then back at us, then back toward our house. I told RBA to be very still. There was another fawn in front of our house. We stood and watched for a few seconds. When I told him, “see, they are more scared of us as we are of them,” he smiled and then quickly walked out toward the mother. About four steps in her direction, her white tail went up and they flew off into the woods to the right. RBA yelled, “Daddy, look!” On the way back to our house, he told me he is no longer afraid of deer.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Christmas, pt. 1

So, a bit of a delay. My apologies for that, but the holidays have kept us busy. This year was a new Christmas experience for us — we spent it as a nuclear family here in NC. In some ways it was difficult for everyone — feeling the absence more acutely at holidays, and all that. But in other ways it was great. We had lots of quality time together and have actually been able to play with some of the gifts the boys received. Packages began arriving here a week or so before Christmas, and it hasn’t stopped yet. Some of the highlights — a bow + mallow [a bow which shoots marshmallows]; Heely’s, and the Wii. Labeling those as “highlights” is not to suggest that other gifts people have sent were not also well-received. But these three lend themselves well to photos. Pictures of the boys watching Mr. Bean’s Holiday aren’t that compelling, although the audio track would be. HBA has a pretty good Mr. Bean impression, which you will have to call to hear as I can't get a sound file to load.

So we now have small marshmallows decomposing across the front lawn, and I am wondering about the diets of local wildlife. The bow is quite satisfying to shoot, very tactile, makes a nice “thunk!” sound, and sends the marshmallow about 30 feet. This picture series does a pretty good job of capturing it. We developed a game where we aim the bow straight up and try to catch the marshmallows as they fall — certainly not good training for a real bow with arrows. The hardest part was discouraging RBA from chasing after the marshmallows he missed, picking them up off the ground and eating them. It was an instinctive reaction for him that was almost impossible to stop. He would grab them, pop them in his mouth, laugh, and immediately say, “sorry!”

More on the Heely's and Wii soon — I've got quite a backlog of posts to work through.