Friday, July 25, 2014

A Rule of Thumb for Success

Seth Godin gives lots of insights in this interview, but one quick nugget to take away is this:

If I fail more than you, I win.

(The presumption of course, is that the failures we're talking about aren't the catastrophic kind. The may hurt, but they'll allow you to get back in the game and try again.)

Think about the above statement, and you'll see it has powerful implications.

Give the whole interview a watch, it's more than worth your time:

Thanks to Wisdom and Wonder for pointing me to the video.

Name that Tree: Wispy Pink Flower Edition

For months now, I've been coming across this tree with unusual pink flowers, but for one reason or another, I haven't been able to grab a photo of it. That changed last night while running along the Custis Trail. I finally got a few basic photos:

Don't those blossoms look like they belong in a tropical paradise, or at the very least, in a botanical garden? What the heck is this tree doing randomly along Custis Trail, and more importantly, what's it called?

Not quite sure the technical term to describe the flowers, I just took my best guess and entered the following into Google Images: Tree Wispy Pink Flowers. The first hit was a perfect match:

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Google Images is an amazing tool for plant identification.

According to that first hit I was looking at a Memosa Tree (aka Silk Tree, aka Albizia julibrissin). Apparently the trees are both exotic looking and tough as nails, as they will grow pretty much anywhere (including along a random bike trail). It's not all good news, though, as they are considered an invasive species in Virginia, and all those blossoms leave quite a mess, which make them less than ideal for urban design.

There's various back and forth as to what parts of the tree are edible. There doesn't appear to be a common part of the tree people consume, yet in the comments here, people claim that eat just about all of it. It has a tradition of being used for medical purposes, including making tea from the leaves and using the bark as a "mood enhancer". Though, the exact details are all a little sketchy.

Bottom line: looks like this is one of those trees to marvel at, but avoid planting or nibbling on.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Large Format Photography On The (Very) Cheap

Merging my love of photography, building stuff and clever hacks, this Shoebox Large Format camera is officially awesome:

All you need to build one are a shoebox, some black cardboard paper, a punch tool and a lens. The creator of the project had an old camera lying around they could tear apart for the lens. It looks like this $4.00 (for two!) option from SciPlus would suffice (both are positive meniscus lenses, right?).

The trickier issue is the "film" side of things. The author used photo paper, which isn't too terribly expensive, but then you've got to craft some sort of photo developing lab, to actually bring the prints to life.

I wonder if you could build the camera, but replace the back with tissue paper thereby creating a camera obscura. Then, you could go old school and drape a black cloth over the whole thing. You'd then climb underneath and snap a photo of the back of the camera with your cell phone.

Or is that cheating?

Either way, it's a fun project to try. I may have to pick up the lenses just to have them on hand to experiment with.

Check out the instructions for a sample of the images produced by the camera. Impressive stuff.

Via: brainwagon

Entertained and Informed, No Electricity Needed

Two days ago I caught this piece from the NPR archive: Cigar Stories: El Lector - He Who Reads (also found here) and I was really impressed. Apparently, back in the heyday of hand rolled cigars, the workers would make their task a lot less tedious by hiring a professional reader. He'd sit at a central lectern and regale them with various tales.

Apparently, the content they read was all over the board: from local and international news, to novels and poetry, to political manifestos, to anything else the workers wanted.

The result: the workers were not only entertained, but well educated and informed. No electricity or Internet required; just some reading material and an individual with a gift for projecting his voice to potentially hundreds of people.

That's a mighty brilliant hack. Low tech, and highly effective.

Here, give the piece a listen:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Picking The Right Stove for a Destination Camping Trip

We've got a camping trip coming up in a few weeks, but there's a wrinkle: we're flying to the location. Most of our gear can be taken on the plane without a problem; the big exception being the stove fuel. What's a traveling camper to do?

1. Go Stoveless. I'd be all over this option, except this violates Rule #3, which isn't acceptable.

2. Rely on a campfire. Again, this would be my preference, but I'm not quite sure what the destination will have in terms of wood availability (I do know the fires are allowed in designated areas). Better to bring a stove, then chance it.

3. Bring our MSR Pocket Rocket stove. This bad boy is remarkably effective, but I'm not sure how easy it's going to be to get fuel. Again, I don't want to leave our meals to chance. Shipping the IsoPro fuel appears to be a no-no.

4. Bring an alcohol stove. Finding HEET, the readily available fuel alcohol stoves typically use, shouldn't be too tricky. Between gas stations, Auto Parts stores and Walmart someone has to have it. On the other hand, HEET is an anti-freeze product, so it's not exactly in season. While probably available, it's still not a sure thing.

5. Hit WalMart and buy a cheap Coleman stove and propane canister. I seriously considered this option, especially because this camping trip isn't exactly backpacking (though, it's not exactly car camping either). But, what would I do with the supplies when I was done? Seems like a waste / hassle for one weekend.

6. Use an Esbit Stove. I experimented with one a couple of trips ago, and was pleased at how effective it was. Most importantly, they use the one fuel that we can ship ahead of time. There are other advantages to Esbit: they don't spill like alcohol, they're easy to take inventory of, and they are naturally lightweight. The cons, is that they are a crude method of cooking, and there's some variation in burn time and efficiency. You can definitely cook on these guys, so I know that they aren't purely a gimmick.

The winner: the Esbit Stove. I love that I can ship the fuel ahead of time and know exactly where I stand with it. The 12 tablets I ordered should be more than enough for 2 dinners, and 2 breakfasts. This setup should also work because I planning to use the stove as more of a backup, than a primary cooking option (at least for dinners).

While I'm at it, I'll also keep an eye open for a bottle of HEET when we land at our destination. If I can find such a bottle, creating a field expedient alcohol stove should be easy enough. (Just pick up a couple of cans of soda at the same time and there are your raw materials.)

Do. Or Do Not. There is No Try. At least when it comes to drawing Yoda.

Makes and Takes recently featured an excellent set of Learn To Draw Resources for kids. I'm a big fan of Ed Emberley's books, which use similar techniques, but have the benefit of being always available (well, available anywhere you've got the web. Which is always.).

Consider this How to Draw Yoda example from Art for Kids:

It's really well done, and definitely something that would work well for an older kid to follow along with.

I also love the mix and match robot drawing ideas. Definitely a keeper.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Snaking Through The Grass

I'll Never Look At Unmatched Socks The Same Way Again

I wanted a way to carry a heap of batteries with me on our latest trip, and it turned out this little black ditty bag did the job perfectly:

It's soft and padded, so the batteries didn't scratch up any of the camera gear they were packed next to.

Of course, that's not a real stuff sack, but a quickly improvised one by snipping off the toe of a lonely black dress sock. It's one of the 5 uses for old socks that Intense Angler suggested in a recent video. Very handy (or footy?) stuff. I'll definitely never look at unmatched socks again in the same way.

Oh, and here's a 6th use for unmatched socks: as inspiration for short stories (seriously, the tale of Left and Right sock are pretty dang intense).

Here's Intense Angler's video. Give it a watch, and start putting that pile of unmatched socks to use:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Castles on a Hill, Secret Ponds and Bamboo Paths -- Gotta Love Boston!

What a whirlwind weekend it's been! We arrived in Boston on Friday, and we're headed back to DC now, Sunday afternoon. We promised the kids lots of adventures while we were here, and I think we managed to deliver.

On Friday, I wanted to do some hiking in the Blue Hills Reservation. We arrived at the reservation and I finally inspected the trail map. There was a kid friendly loop around a pond, but that's not what I had in mind. Instead, I wanted to truck up hill a half mile to see the Blue Hill Observatory, a weather station which has been in operation since 1885 (It's "the oldest, continuously operating weather Observatory in the United States"!!) I've seen pictures of the weather station, and it looks like a castle tower, so I promised the kids that if they made it up the hill, they'd see a castle.

We started up the hill, and it quickly became apparent that this was most certainly not a kid friendly trail, and would have probably been out of reach of many adults. Not only was the trail steep, but there were sections that required traversing various boulders and cracks. The whole trip up, Shira and I kept looking at each other: how the heck are we going to make it down?.

We only had the two older kids with us, so against all reasonable judgment we pushed forward. The kids ended up doing amazingly, and they summitted the hill with relative ease. At the top was a weather station, and sure enough, it looked like a castle. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to go up into the building, so we had to make do with playing 'Troll' on the grounds outside the station. (And how does one play troll? An unsuspecting victim sits quietly while, the Trolls jump up from behind them and scare them. It's non-stop fun for 5 year olds.)

After the crazy hike up the mountain, Shira and I really wanted a more gentle path down, so we started down a road that stopped at the weather station. The kids were disappointed; they wanted to go back and play on the rocks that we had just scurried up.

Luckily, as we walked a little ways down the road I saw a sign for an observation tower and I hoped that would distract them. The tower was relatively close to the road, and a trivial walk to get to. The kids were thrilled, they'd found another castle. For the rest of the trip, everyone we passed would get informed by the kid that they had just seen two different castles (and that one was closed).

We took a red dotted trail down the mountain and while it was steep, it was easy compared to the way up. The kids were pleased to get some rock time, and quickly figured out how to slide down the large boulders on their butts.

At the bottom of the hill was the Trailside Museum, which turned out to be a sort of itty bitty zoo. They had enclosures for turtles, a bald eagle, a few turkey vultures, a lone white tailed deer and the kids' favorite: a hyper-active river otter. It was nature on a very small scale, but one they could appreciate.

The way back to the car required a half mile walk along the sidewalk of a fairly major road. I had Dovid's hand while Shira held Chana's. Dovid and I were a ways back, and as we approached the parking lot he decided we needed to sprint to catch up. Chana would have none of it, and she took off with Shira. To my amazement, the kids finished our mountain climbing adventure not too exhausted to move, but running their little hearts out. It was an awesome hike, and the kids far exceeded what I could ever expect a 5 year old to do.

On Saturday, Shabbat, we headed off to another adventure: this one to a "secret pond." Our destination was Chandler's Pond, a small spot of blue on the map, relatively close to the kids' house. This time we had all 4 children. To our surprise, little Tzipora lead the way, often running in front. I remember a couple visits ago when her walking range was measured in yards (if not feet!) before she was too tired to move.

We made it to the pond, and it was absolutely delightful. There were a number of different bird species (including a Blue Heron) that I got excited about, but I don't think impressed the kids. They, however, loved collecting up feathers, exploring all the snails they discovered and their favorite activity: chucking sticks into the water. With my new outlook on feathers and this commercial playing in the back of my head, I encouraged the kids to just explore and take it all in. After fun times at the pond, and before we had one of them fall in, we went across to a massive field and played ball.

I had some fun 1 on 1 time with Gavriella while the other kids played ball. She's such a cutie, and slowly, but surely warming up to her very big, and very active Uncle Ben. We'll get there.

Nap time was easy on Saturday, as everybody was completely exhausted from the walk and play time.

And then there was today, Sunday. I just had to squeeze in one more outdoor activity. We hit Back Bay Fens. The kids loved running around the rose garden, climbing on the war memorial, getting up close to the ducks and walking through a bamboo trail. The collection of gardens that folks can rent also made for a fun maze to walk through,

All in all, we had a fantastic time. And I learned that when the trail is out of control steep and rocky, just put a pair of 5 year olds on point. They'll figure out a path for you.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Leap of Faith



(Yes, we're in Boston, and yes, many, many more photos are on the way. Stay tuned.)

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