Max's Robo-Gator

Maxie-boy built and programmed this Lego Mindstorms Robo-Gator all by himself from the instructions. All I did was install the programming software on our PC, and help him connect the robot's CPU via USB to download the behavior program. I am very proud that he could handle such a complex project on his own at age 6.

Mindstorms uses simple icon-based "if-then" type programs to tell the the motors what to do when certain feedback is received from various sensors. In Robo-Gator's Case, when the eye-sensors "see" something within 60cm, the legs move and make the gator lunge forward. When something is within 30cm of the eye sensors, the jaw motor makes him bite repeatedly. After attacking, Robo-Gator retreats and waits for his next victim.

Christmas Questions

Last week Maxie asked: "If Jesus came to make the world a better place, then why do people still litter?"

Keep asking, Max...keep asking.

The Winning Project

It's a sustainable, transit-oriented development with lots of green space, integrated bicycle access to campus, high-end residential & retail, and a 23.4% return on equity. Good job students, I am proud.

Transit Oriented Development.


(This project was my jury's choice for 'best concept, best feasibility, best fit' for my 2009 Real Estate Development class at Kent Architecture.)

Don't Turn It Off--Kill It

All of our homes are full of electronic devices that use power when off. Estimates of so-called 'standby' or 'vampire' power use range from 10-15% of a household's total annual consumption. These devices sit there, waiting to be used, waiting for the remote control to activate them, telling us the time (do we need that many clocks?), their little red/orange standby lights glowing, waiting to jump into action.

StandbyI decided that I didn't like all those lights and clocks staring at me anymore, so I installed a 'kill-switch' on our family's living room entertainment center. Actually, what initially prompted me to do this was the surprising amount of heat I noticed when opening the doors of the armoire that contained all of our (supposedly 'off') devices: LCD TV, PS3, PS2, Wii, A/V Receiver, DVR. To accomplish the task, I simply mounted a surge protector on the back of the armoire, hidden from view but in an easily-adult/kid-accessible location, and plugged all the devices into it. Switching the surge protector off puts the devices into a true zero power consumption state--no glowing lights. (Detail: I did not connect the DVR to the kill-switch--otherwise it wouldn't be able to grab the shows it was programmed to auto-record.)

I've tracked our power consumption since installing the kill-switch in mid-September. Compared to the same 3-month (Oct-Dec) period last year, we're using 27% less electricity. That's amazing. Certainly a large portion (but not all) of this savings is attributable to the kill-switch. The remainder of the savings, I believe, simply comes from the fact that we're all paying more attention to our power use in general--turning off lights more quickly, etc. This behavior of course is a direct result of the installation of the kill-switch. It reinforces something I've learned over the years: The mere act of paying attention to something often leads to improvement of that thing.

Relative electricity use, 2008-2009.

Previously: Generating less trash.

Strange Hybrid Creatures

Esmé's strange creature.

I love Esmé's cute (but slightly disturbing) Bunny-Bug.

Thankful for my beautiful wife and children, thankful for health, thankful to want for nothing, thankful to be alive in 2009--best year for the human race so far...

Esmé Writing

Esmé writes her name.
The way Esmé writes the 'S' in her name makes me happy to be alive...

Esmé writes the word apple.Esmé writes the word mommy.

Above-left: Esmé draws her interpretation of an apple, and writes the word "apple", but spells it "ALIME". Above-right: Esmé draws mommy and does her best to spell it. Ask her how to spell "mommy" and she'll tell you: "OMOMOMOMOMOMOM ... and a Y!"

One Year Ago

Japan & KoreaFor the past couple of weeks our family has been quietly celebrating the one-year anniversary of our trip to Japan & South Korea--going out to a Japanese restaurant with friends, making sushi/kimbap at home, looking at all the pictures.

It was such a volatile year--with so many things going on--and this trip in some ways became the pin around which everything revolved. But amidst all the activity, and all the craziness preparing for this novel experience--once we finally arrived we found peace, relaxation, the kindness of strangers, and the generosity of friends. In the middle of some of the busiest cities in the world, we were chilling, on vacation.

I remember... the long flight, extra-special treatment at Japanese customs, the room (and the high-tech toilet), turning a corner and discovering Shibuya at night, the JR Yamanote Line, Asakusa, Akihabara, Ginza, Kamakura, Rose at Hase-dera, morning in Harajuku, Omotesando, Shinjuku, Mitaka, Ghibli, Maxie and the shinkansen, Yasaka-jinja, the ryokan, Hiromi, Higashkiyama, Kiyomizu-dera, Nara, soaking in the bath, the graveyards, Gion, Esmé and the Geisha, eating a village (kaiseki), Narita, Seoul, long drive, kids romping, dinner with friends, Gyeongju, mountain sunset, Sokkuram grotto, burial mounds, wandering around Seoul without kids, Insadong, Nanta, good-byes...

These experiences cast a long shadow.

All I Have to Do Is Show Up

Earlier today, Rose (my wife, that is) and I spoke for no less than 35 minutes on the phone, doing nothing but coordinating our calendars. Apparently my life is pretty well laid out now, and all I have to do is work, sleep, and show up at these various occurrences. Adds a bit of simplicity to things, I suppose.
Max lost his first tooth today!

My Little Big Girl

Esmé started preschool today! In the Carroll-Merendino tradition, she had no trouble saying goodbye to us and getting on with her business. Mom & Dad, on the other hand, were having a hard time leaving the building...

Fastest 12 Months of My Life So Far

This past weekend I was catching up on organizing our digital photos. I'm typically quite good at archiving, labeling, organizing our family's media, but since our trip overseas last year I've been a bit behind (9-12 months behind to be exact).

So the most recent photos downloaded from our camera include Maxie's first day of school as a first-grader. As I'm sorting the images, I find myself looking at last August, when he was starting Kindergarten--and a wave hits me. It feels, literally, like he was starting Kindergarten yesterday. Even as we were walking him to school last week it didn't hit me, but looking at the photos brought it home like a bomb. I can remember everything we did in the past 12 months (it was a busy time), but for the life of me I feel like I blinked and now we're here.

I know I'm just wending myself through a cliché here (and my parents are probably laughing), but I've never felt time pass this quickly before, and it's never hit me so hard.

Advice on Picking Blackberries

Advice from my Dad last night, to Max and me as we started to pick blackberries (applicable to life in general):
The big, juicy ones tend to hide from you.

Almost Free

I just stopped using Microsoft Outlook in favor of an all-Google solution to email, calendar, contacts and tasks (since now Google calendar and contacts sync with my mobile phone). Outlook is such a bulky program, I'm thrilled to drop it.

This leaves only two non-free software components in my computer network: Windows Vista and Quicken. I've got my eye on Mint.com as a replacement for Quicken, but I'm not quite ready to make the jump to keeping all my financial data in the Cloud. Plus, Mint seems a little to 'automatic' for me. Here's the basic software run-down:
  • Browser: Chrome
  • Email/PIM: Gmail
  • Office: OpenOffice
  • Security: AVG Free, Spybot S&D, Ad-Aware, CCleaner
  • Imaging: GIMP and Paint.NET
  • Media: iTunes, WMP, VLC Media Player
Almost there. Previously.

I Love the Future

I am thankful to be living in a time when we have the privilege to debate over health care. I love the future; so much better than the past.

Recently, I heard a fool say...

Adults aren't any smarter than children, and what's really sad is to see someone who thinks they have it all figured out.

I think the fool is right.

Rural Economies

Driving through rural Ohio last night, passing horse-and-buggies on their way to a local produce auction, Rose and I were wondering if these areas are hit harder by economic recessions than urbanized areas. Probably. If your town was less-than-booming to begin with, what must it be like in a global recession? Or perhaps these economies operate semi-autonomously.

Hot Birthday

The hot weather today--Maximilian's 6th birthday--reminds me of how hot, clear and bright it was the day he was born. Happy birthday Maxie!

Solstice Girl

On summer solstice 2003, my beautiful girl Esmé came into the world. She brings long, warm days and happiness. Happy 3rd birthday Esmé!

Max's First Piano Recital

Last weekend Maxie-boy (soon to be 6) had his first piano recital..and he NAILED IT! We are pretty casual with his lessons--once every two weeks with semi-random practicing. We simply want to give our kids an artistic and technical appreciation of music. The intent is, along with other activities and interests, to raise well-rounded children. So he had been practicing his pieces pretty regularly, but could only play them 'perfectly' about 60% of the time.

Look at that face!

There must have been something about the atmosphere of the recital--the other kids (all older than him), the parents, the venue--he was *just* a little bit nervous, and this edge seemed to bring out his best. He carried himself like such a young gentleman! It was really a special moment for him, for Rose and me, and even for little sis Esmé who was--surprisingly--very well-behaved the whole time (though we did fear for a moment that she was going to break out in song during the performance).

Last night I had a dream about over-abundant search engine results.

The Case Against Kindergarten Red-Shirting

Almost every state has increased the age at which children are allowed to start primary school. This is remarkable, given the strong evidence that, in the United States, starting school later decreases educational attainment.

Redshirting is referred to as “the gift of time” in education circles, reflecting a perception that children who have been allowed to mature for another year will benefit more from their schooling. As we will discuss, little evidence supports this perception.

Link to the full study (PDF); via The Atlantic.
Esmé has entered the terrible twos. This one is beautiful, but beware, she has a will of steel.
Last night, we were getting in the car to go home after a little get-together. It was a beautiful, cool night, and the stars were out. As Max was getting into his seat, he looked up at the sky and said,
Daddy, outside is like a big room, and the sky is the ceiling, and all of the things in the world are just like things in the room.

Brothers K. Cuts Deep

To wit,
He tried not to think of it, but that did not help either. The most irritating thing about it was that the anxiety seemed completely accidental, external, as if it had nothing to do with him. Something was disturbing his conscience, just as some object may irritate a person, when he is absorbed in work or a heated argument, without his being aware of it. The irritation grows and grows and becomes really painful before he manages to remove the offending object, which often turns out to be some insignificant thing like a handkerchief that has fallen on the floor or a book that has not been replaced in the bookcase.
To a parent, a child is a mirror, revealing everything.

Earth Day - Ancillary Benefits of a Recession

Aside from the gaping holes that appeared in our retirement accounts around October 2008, our family has (thus far) been fortunate to avoid much of the mayhem of the current economic crisis. That said, the pressure to “live leaner” and to carefully consider how we spend our time, money and other resources remains strong.

One ancillary positive effect of this pressure, which I’ve noticed over the past month or so, is that our family is producing about 40% less trash and recyclables per week than we did, say, six months ago. This is a reduction from about 13.4 cubic feet/week to about 8 cubic feet/week.

We’re certainly not eating less--in fact the kids keep growing and, if anything, appetites are increasing. I think it simply amounts to buying less crap that comes in packaging. Feels good. And you know what? I cannot, for the life of me, remember what that other 40% of stuff might have been--we don’t miss it.

Still seems like a lot of trash, though.

A Wise Boy

A few weeks ago, Max (now 5-1/2) was telling me and Rose about a classmate who was pushing him around on the playground. This is the first time we’d heard of it, and I think they were playing innocently enough--just one of those situations where Maxie was done playing and the other kid wasn’t yet.

So I said to Max, half joking, “Just push him back!”

Max promptly replied, as he raised his hands questioningly, “Well that won’t work, because I’ll push him, he’ll push me, I’ll push him again, and what will it solve?”

Brilliant.

A few nights ago, driving home after a long, fun day with the grandparents, Max, out of the blue says, “Daddy, I don’t care about goals.”

I asked him what he meant, exactly.

“I mean, I don’t care if I’m trying to do something and somebody else does it first--like, before me--that’s OK with me. I just want to do it, then I’m happy.”

Quite a balanced perspective for a young one, if I may say.
Only the closed mind is certain.
Add to list of things Jason likes: A good shoe repair shop. Thank you, shoe repairman, for making my favorite Oxford shoes last 8 years and counting.

I love using things for a long time.

That's Max's shadow on the Space Shuttle.Max and his MX-81.

My special guy Maxie--it's like this Lego ad was made for him. He assembled this 795-piece MX-81 spacecraft all by himself in about 4 hours! Dad is so proud...

Now that we’re in a global recession, perhaps at the end of it the citizens of the world (particularly the first-world variety) will come to a new balanced perspective of how economic growth should fit into the total framework of human existence.

In the United States, as capitalists in general, we tend to focus on economic growth for its own sake. We see it as the bellwether of the nation’s health. However, economic growth should simply be one of many positive by-products of humanity’s striving to better itself and improve the quality of life for all.

The creators of the Genuine Progress Indicator metric have embraced this way of thinking for over a decade now. If, after all the current chaos subsides, we see a groundswell of support for this “new-old” way of thinking, I for one will consider the revised world-view worth the price.
There’s an old cliché: when you travel, you leave a piece of yourself wherever you go. But what I feel is the profound effect certain places--a very few--continue to have on me long after I’ve departed. What lingers is permanent mark on the soul, an echo, a feeling that these places are, or could be, home.
...for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself--so like a brother, really--I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again.
Juan Enriquez thinks that the conflux of DNA manipulation and therapy, tissue generation, and robotics is leading humans to the next stage of their evolution.

Happy New Playstation 3 Owner

Over 2 years after the initial PS3 launch, I finally saw my buying opportunity: a $150 rebate from Sony. So I took the plunge, and got an 80GB PS3 for $250 + tax. That kind of purchase feels good to me.

In the second half of 2008, once I finally decided that a next-gen console purchase was imminent, I did a fair amount of research on the Xbox360 vs. PS3 question. I came to the following conclusion:

The only real option is the PS3. Xbox360, which many love, is waning technology and weaker hardware. Wii is a toy, a novelty (incidentally, I bought a Wii in addition to my PS3). Blu-Ray is the highest quality video delivery system available right now, I have a largish HDTV, and I want that. Most importantly, as of year-end 2008, there are numerous critically acclaimed, high quality games for the PS3 that I really, really want, which are either exclusive to or available on the PS3 (this was not necessarily the case at the end of 2007). If I had purchased a 360, I'd feel like I was buying inferior technology.

After one week of ownership, I can add the following ‘surprise’ observations that only became apparent once I started fiddling with things:
  • The look and feel--the build quality--of the PS3 is very high. It runs silently, as a high-end A-V component should. You get what you pay for. The XMB interface is sleek, intuitive, and a joy to use.
  • The PS3 is an *amazing* networked media server. I installed TVersity on my PC and my PS3 immediately found all my shared videos, music, photos with *zero configuration*. This feature alone is almost worth the price of the PS3.
  • I love the PS Network Store. I’ve already downloaded Super Stardust HD, Echochrome, Pixeljunk Eden, and plan to continue this behavior. The downloadable demos are a great feature.
  • Playstation Home -- I like it, or…I want to like it…it’s cool, very well executed, but there’s not a lot to do there yet. We need expansion!
  • Curious about: Installing Linux and MAME on the PS3.
Sony has created a fun, powerful, flexible, high-end platform here. I think with the inevitable upcoming price cuts the PS3 will become with next-gen console of choice.
If you like Douglas Adams and The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but want something that bites a little deeper, try the book that inspired Hitch Hiker’s: The Sirens of Titan.

And why does Kurt Vonnegut like fire engines so much?

Tea party!Beautiful Esmé--thanks to Angelo Merendino for the photograph.

My New Year's girl.