Saturday, November 30, 2013

Princess Leia

I had mentioned my dislike of the inescapable Disney Juggernaut, and our desire to introduce her to The Canon of nerd fiction. Part of the motivation for that, now six weeks past, was to steer her towards what, in our minds, was an acceptable Halloween costume. To hell with a pretty pink princess fairy fluff - we've done that. No, this year she would be a badass princess: Princess Leia!

In hindsight - heck, even in the moment - the easiest and cheapest way to achieve this would be to purchase a costume. There are ways of doing this. We were this close to ordering one, and actually stood in a Target and were this close to buying one. But we just couldn't bring ourselves to purchasing another mass-produced, cheap labor-made, and never-given-a-second-thought costume. Nope, I decided we'd make one.

Thanks to my dear mother, I'm savvy with a sewing machine. I could perhaps have cobbled something together on my own, but was aided enormously by the efforts of these folks, who are better with sewing than I, and produced step-by-step instructions on how she produced her own Leia costume. (Episode IV only - I'm not dressing my daughter up for Jabba's Palace.) A trip to Jo-Ann and we're off to the races:

I laid out a 1:1 pattern on taped-together pieces of newsprint. Cleared off, our kitchen table provides enough space for the job.

The dress pattern is roughly in the shape of a number 7. This gets applied to a piece of fabric that has been folded once (along what will be the top of the shoulder and arms), then twice (down the vertical centerline). This results in a tunic-like piece of fabric that gets sewn along the underside of the arms and down the sides. This then gets done a second time, and the two sewn one inside the other.

The second cutout was fit into a cutout from the first.

The seams get ironed as we go along.

Fun times down in the basement with the sewing machine.

Partly done after a marathon session one night. Missing are the bottom hems and collar.

Meanwhile, Hilary used half a skein of dark brown yard to create the cinnamon buns

The mostly-finished costume received a trial run about a week before Halloween. So far, so good.

On the night of, Hilary whipped together a blaster from some cardboard tubing and black gaff tape.

Somebody has to save our skins!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Canon

No, not cannon, and not Canon, but canon: That abstruse name we give to the ill-defined body of cultural milestones that seem important to us through the ages.

The Disney juggernaut is inescapable. Plus, after years of reading books to B, we've gotten really tired of some of the insipid stuff that's out there.

However, B is right on the cusp of being able to tackle some really cool stuff. There's plenty, of course, that she isn't ready for. But as a counterweight to more conventional stories, we have decided to slowly introduce B to some of the works that were so formative in our own younger years: the Nerd Canon.

We started with The Hobbit. Poorly executed movies aside, the book itself stands up just fine as a fun and well-structured story. Page by page, chapter by chapter, B and I worked our way through the large, illustrated, hard-bound copy I leafed through decades ago. It took a few months, and like a good radio serial, required some time reviewing the previous night's events before moving on. Sometimes B could manage a few pages, other nights she'd barely last a paragraph. It wasn't the prose - it's just tough for her to stay away while just listening, even if there are occasional pictures.

Not to be outdone, Hilary got a start on The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. We didn't see it through to the end - the death and resurrection of Aslan seemed a bit much for B right now. Plus, although Hilary and I are learned enough to understand the Christian allegory, neither of us are terribly interested in delving into it with our five-year old.

But that's OK, because now we've moved on the Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. What's that? You say it's The Sourcerer's Stone. Codswallop! (B's new favorite word). We can't get much past the second book until B gets much older. By that point we hope she'll be hooked enough to continue reading on her own.

Halloween came and went. B had some vague notion of being a princess (damn you, Disney!). Hilary suggested a much more badass role model: Princess Leia. "Who's that?" asked Brynna. So then we introduced B to the Star Wars movies. We started with Episode IV, which is historically correct and introduces us to Leia. We continued on, following this suggested ordering: IV, V, II, III, VI. There is no Episode I.

We could go on, but here's where it seems appropriate to poll the audience: what do you think should be next?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Oh TI-83! You graphing calculator of yore. So expensive, so limited compared to today's options. Yet you still hold a special place in my heart! I actually still use my calculator for stuff almost on a daily basis, though rarely taking advantage of its full capabilities. For simple stuff I usually already have some sort of computer program open that can do it. I could also solve it using Google. For more complicated stuff I'll use Excel or Matlab. And yet...there is something about whipping out that hunky chunky plastic and punching the keys that still satisfies.

So when my TI-83, which I bough entering freshman year of college, starting showing weird artifacts on the screen, a little part of me died. I could not in any way justify spending $80-90 to replace it new. Trolling Craigslist and eBay is a pain in the butt. Could it be repaired? Yes, as it turns out, and the Internet provides.

I found this video in a few minutes. This fellow had similar flaky issues with the screen. He was able to trace it back to flex-cable that bridges between the logic board and the display board. This thin ribbon of metal-on-plastic, adhered on either end with z-conductive tape, had one trace that had become open-circuit. The solution? Bridge it with fine wire:

I covered it over with Kapton tape to keep the wire from rattling around. Put the case back together, pop in the batteries, and we are back in business!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Clean Teeth

Here's B at a recent visit to the dentist. They give them the shades so that the lights don't blast them so much.

Cool Cat.

But of course B has alway been stylin' in sunglasses.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Trip Report: Mount Willard, October 26

Mount Willard is one of the best "bang for the buck" mountains in New Hampshire—pretty easy hike, big view from the top—so it's been on our list to do with Brynna for awhile. In fact, we tried to do it with her in the backpack when she was about six months old (revisit the adorable pictures here) but stopped partway because she got too chilly.

We were in North Conway for a half marathon a couple of weeks ago but went up early so we could spend Saturday hiking. After a fortifying breakfast at the Nereledge Inn (our favorite B&B), we hopped into the car and headed for the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch. As we wound our way there, it started to snow and Brynna started to get skeptical. At the trailhead, we talked up the delight of walking in the snow and convinced B to give it a try. Then we bundled up and headed out. 

Here's B with my dad at the trailhead:

A stop at Centennial Pool on the way up. Dad tried to convince B to take a dip, but she wasn't having any of it.

This is B showing Alex her "secret snow land," a little trail offshoot looking into the snow-dusted woods. She was very excited about this and told everyone we encountered on the trail how to find it.

Heading up and up with Dada:

Running with M toward the summit:

Checking out the (mostly cloud-obscured) view from the ledges, while M makes sure she doesn't fall off:

Re-bundled at the summit. This hike was a great opportunity to discuss layering!

We have a picture of Dad and me on Mount Willard from 1999. Here's the cloudier 2013 version:

I think we should have a caption contest for this one:

Primal scream at the summit!

And a regular smile:

One of the problems with big bulky mittens is that you can't pick up trail mix with them on. Good thing Alex is willing to feed her like a little bird.

Once we returned to the Highland Center, we showed B where we'd been.

And then she got to check out the awesome new playground at the Highland Center, complete with swing bridge:

So, another successful experience in the mountains for B. It's so exciting to watch a little hiker emerge!