Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Building ROVs

Ronan and Grandma sharing a giggle

A month ago Grandma read the post on our trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and noted Ronan's specific interest in machines that do underwater work. Both Grandma and Grandpa are active stewards of our planet's most precious resource - our oceans - they spend their time volunteering for The Marine Mamal Center, The Monterey Bay National Sanctuary, and The Friends of the Elephant Seals (amongst others). Being active means being in the know, so Grandma suggested we bring Ronan to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI - pronounced by those in the know as 'em-bar-ie') open house.

Nieve roaring on the MBARI dock

Ronan buttering Grandpa up... he's becoming even more aware of the undeniable power children wield over their grandparents.

Grandma was right... Ronan loved it. In addition to he the wealth of information for curious adults there were hands-on exhibits designed specifically for kids. Ronan first toured the fabrication shop where most of the MBARI machines are created. He was impressed by the water jet cutter, the 5-axis CNC mill and the CNC lathes. He even noticed arc welding equipment but sadly there were no welding demos... too much of a hazard.

"Hey, that buoy matches my vest!"

Next we explored some of the large remote operated vehicles (ROVs) on display. I was a little surprised Ronan did not spend more time inspecting the impressive submersibles, but perhaps the crane on display overwhelmed his attention. Ronan did stop long enough to watch an operator control an ROV's mechanical arm to stack blocks with apparent ease.

A crane - a well placed distraction

Ronan and Grandpa witnessing block stacking

But the highlight of the day for Ronan came when he was able to design, build, and operate his own little ROV. MBARI provided a basic motor set (three single-speed, bi-directional motors with propellers on them and their control unit), a battery, a large portable pool (about three meters in diameter), and a bucket of PVC pipes/joints.

The build phase - putting the final touches on the ROV

Testing out the controls

Our design was very simple - a shoe-box shaped frame with motors configured to make forward, back, up, down and yaw control easy. The flair of our ROV was entirely of Ronan's making - he designed & built "smokestack" off of the left side of our frame that also included a "periscope". Those were his words.

Keeping the smokestack above the surface

The designer and his ROV

Amazingly, when we put our machine into the water, that periscope/smokestack extended up out of the water, even when the ROV was on the bottom of the pool. When we handed in our ROV at the end of our time slot (time is limited else no-one would leave) the docents laughed at the design and asked while pointing to Ronan's smokestack, "what's this thing for?" When I explained what it was for they thought it was even funnier, but this time a clever way. They didn't believe it was Ronan's idea... they accused me of trying to make a coal powered submarine.

The unique design drew a crowd

The inspiration for Ronan's ROV design element?

Nieve was a little too young to partake in ROV building but she did enjoy exploring the exhibits, walking along the beach boardwalk, and of course visiting with Grandma and Grandpa. I imagine in a couple of years she'll be back at the open house, working along side her brother, designing and building something even more audacious than an ROV with a smokestack & periscope.

What Nieve loved most - the freedom to explore on her terms

A happy Daddy with his independent little girl

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Happened to Ronan?

Ronan on his bean bag, just before supper

Ronan and I arrived home this evening to the cozy, waning summer sunlight filtering in through the back windows. We decided to take a moment and hang out before fixing dinner; Ronan flopped on a bean bag while I turned on some music.

Enjoying the dancing leaves

What made this evening unusual was how quiet and still Ronan was. He had no restless energy, no thrashing, no need to look for toys. He just watched the wind play with the leaves and branches of the trees in the backyard. The movement outside threw dancing patterns of sunlight on his face while the two of us listened to Dire Straits.

Happy to be cozy

It lasted an astounding ten minutes. He wasn't sleeping or trying to nap, and he didn't say that that he was tired or exhausted. It was the first time I have seen Ronan just take the time to be still, to relax. It was an amazing 10 minutes. Sadly, it was Dire Straits that broke the spell.

"Dad, are we done with this yet? I want to listen to Jack Johnson."

Even if he never enjoys Dire Straits, at least I have the memory of those ten minutes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

HeliFest for the Father's Day Weekend

Ronan hanging out of the window of a monstrous CH47-D Chinook

Mom, Ronan and Nieve treated me to a fun Father's Day weekend filled with a little bit of everything I love - adventure, rest, and celebration. In addition to a couple of delicious dinners (masterfully prepared by friends) we took Saturday morning to check out an event happening at one of the kids favorite places to explore - The Hiller Air Museum.

Nieve was a little annoyed by the bright sunlight but she loved the helicopters.

This weekend was HeliFest where dozens of helicopters are on display for visitors to enjoy. In addition to the rotorcraft there were kids rides, a bouncy house, some food stands, and apparently a microbrew and wine festival (we left before they started to serve alcohol).

Classic Ronan. Always checking out the wheels... even at Helifest

The main attraction for Ronan and Nieve were the military helicopters that the servicemen made explorable for children. Several families (all at once) could pack into the enormous Chinook and Ronan was particularly fond of hanging out the window and running up and down the ramps. The National Guardsmen that brought the helicopter thought Ronan was a hoot and recommended he consider a career in the military, if only because he could play with such awesome machines.

Yep, this bird was big - really big

The rotors on the Chinook were so wide people took refuge from the sun underneath them (Mom and Nieve included)

There was also a not-quite-as-large medivac helicopter (a Seahawk) on display that was great for the kids to climb in. Ronan noted the ample space for "sick people" but was more interested in pulling levers and tugging at cables.

Ronan was excited by the MH-60S Seahawk medivac... it was impressive both inside and out

Ronan feeling a bit sad for the, 'sick people' who ride in the back

Nieve and Ronan spent the most time in a Huey, especially the one that was set up with jump seats facing outside of the side doors. We learned from the Marines that flew this bird that the Huey's are designed to accommodate a variety of configurations - Ronan and Nieve liked the 'slick' configuration where there were two large machine gun mounts on either side (sans guns) , most likely because the large mounts made for fun climbing.

Nieve and Ronan strapping into the jump seats in the UH 1Y Huey

The muchkins ready to man the machine guns... except there were no guns

My favorite was the HH-65 Dolphin (sadly Airwolf did not make it to the show)- it might be the sweet orange paint job or the fact that it excels at missions in bad weather, but it made me think that being a search and rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard might be the best 'adrenaline job" out there.

"This baby's sweet!"

A very pretty bird

It was a great start to a wonderful weekend - next time we need to have Uncle Danny with us to give us a more thorough tour of the rotorcraft. And a very happy father's day to all of you Dads!

Happy Father's Day Grandpa!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ronan's First Giants Game

Mom and her sleepy little boy making their way to AT&T Park

Yesterday was Ronan's first professional sporting event, and Mom was eager to get him indoctrinated as part of the SF Giants faithful. I'm not much of a baseball fan but the whole spectacle of going to a ball game at AT&T park - the picturesque venue, surprisingly nice weather, almost all of the 40,000 fans pulling for one team to prevail, fat-loaded food, the world champions playing, and excellent company - made for a fun early summer evening.

"We're number one!" Last year, yes. This year? Too early to tell.

The game was a treat for the three of us from Bhavesh Kaka and Mom's colleague Harvey - and their gift was a huge success. Ronan had fallen asleep in the car ride up so Mom had to wake Ronan in the parking lot. He was groggy as we made our way into the ballpark but he perked up when he received the giveaway at the gate - a SF Giants skateboard!

Out happy little guy showing off his new deck

Once inside Ronan was in heaven. He kept demanding "I want to go to the outfield!" and did not agree that the grass area should only be accessible to the ball players. Beyond left-center field there is a kid zone - slides and a play area - that surprisingly kept Ronan entertained for only a short while.

Game time! Ronan watched at least a few pitches before he wanted to go back to exploring the stadium.

What did keep his attention was the old cable car parked next to the jumbotron - in fact this was one of the most memorable highlights for Ronan's first game. Although our seats (both sets!) were on the thrid-base side Ronan made no less than four trips out to play on that cable car. He loved it.

Cable car fun. All aboard!

Quintessential Ronan: almost no attention paid to the game, acute attention paid to ensuring the cable car prop was legit

Another highlight for Ronan was the food. He wolfed down an entire ($8) polish sausage in a matter of minutes, much to the amazement of Bhavesh Kaka, Mom and I. He followed that up by eating a good 2/3rds of Mom's impressively large Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae (it was a full pint of ice cream & chocolate sauce).

Breathing was optional - Ronan devoured his polish sausage

An obviously happy Ronan and his hot fudge sundae. His pint of hot fudge sundae.

Sitting, not exactly Ronan's forte, is usually a big part of a baseball game (both as a player and a spectator!). To burn some energy we ran Ronan up and down the wide concrete ramps that go from ground level to the upper deck, and he loved the freedom of it. He also enjoyed standing at some impressive heights - in fact he wanted to jump off the balcony because he said it would be, "fun!"

Ronan liked climbing up to enjoy the view from the nosebleed seats

Per the request of Ronan's fellow Giants fan and school teacher Ziara, we were on the lookout for Lou the Seal (the mascot) and Tim Lincecum (a pitcher of note) to say, "hello". We didn't see Tim L but we found Lou the Seal on a paddle board out in McCovey Cove, goofing around with the kayakers that gather to wait for the possible home run that clears the right field wall. Ronan yelled and waved (and got a wave back) and protested when I wouldn't allow him to jump down the 30 ft wall to the walking path below.

Bhavesh Kaka and Ronan exchanging high-fives when the Giants scored

It was a great evening - a very big thank you to Bhavesh Kaka and Harvey for making it so. And to top it off the Giants won - 4 -2!

Heading home after a great evening at the park

Friday, June 10, 2011

Nieve on a Swing

A great swing in our neighbor's beautiful yard - Nieve loved it!

Just a short cute vid to welcome the weekend.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Happy Birthday Richard Scarry!

The kids reading Richard Scarry stories on Richard Scarry's birthday

Ronan's current favorite author, hands down, is Richard Scarry. He penned the irreplacible "Cars & Trucks and Things that Go", "The best Counting Book Ever", and Ronan's book-obsession-of-the-month "What do People do All Day?". Apparently I was the same way when I was Ronan's age... I wore over three copies of Cars & Trucks as I'd read them over and over and over again.

The Google Doodle for Richard Scarry on the Google homepage, in case you missed it

Google did a doodle today to celebrate Richard Scarry's birthday, incorporating some of the key characters and buildings from his body of work (yet another reason why I love Google). Ronan was delighted when he found Sargent Murphy, Huckle Cat, and the firefighting pigs on the homepage of his favorite search engine. He also loved identifying key places like the barber shop, town hall clock tower, the shoe house, and Huckle's home (which is on fire, thanks to Mother Cat burning a shirt w/an iron).

Richard Scarry stories make for the perfect morning reading while in footie jammies...

... as well as afternoon reading near a sunny window!

Huckle Cat's outfit and the style of many of the building in the stories are easy to distinguish as Swiss -- it's not surprising given Richard Scarry did much of his work out of a room in a chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland.

Ronan enjoying reading about putting up drywall and selecting the right home appliances

The stories are typically about activities that most adults would think of as mundane - mailing letters, visiting the doctor, making roads, or doing laundry. But to children these stories are both fascinating and educational; thanks to the stories Ronan knows the major steps (in order) to build a new house, from laying a foundation to finishing out the interior.

Always the stickler for good oral hygiene, Nieve likes to point out the toothpast car

Nieve is taking a liking to Richard Scarry stories as well - she get excited about the anthropomorphic characters (cats, dogs, pigs, wolfs, rabbits, etc... there are no humans) that live out the common but somehow captivating story lines. These great books that keep our children busy for minutes (quarter hours?) are worth checking out- a fine choice by Google to celebrate Mr. Scarry today.

Finally at the end of the book