Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Valleyfair 2015

While visiting Minnesota, Jacob and Lucy had their first visit to an amusement park. We went to Valleyfair just outside the Twin Cities. The children were excited to go. Our first sight of the place promised the heaps of fun to come.

View from our parking space

A closer view

The park has a T-Rex breaking out (shades of Jurassic World) and a more extensive dinosaur exhibit inside that we strangely never went to see. We did see some other dinos in the main park.

T-Rex makes a run for it


Our first ride was the drencher The Wave, a short flume ride with a large boat that makes a huge splash. Naturally, I was unable to take a picture on the ride and forgot to take one of the ride.

Our next ride was the more sedate Antique Autos, where the kids drove the parents around the course.

Lucy gets her first driving instructions

On their way

Everyone but Mommy tried the Scrambler, a fun "toss you around in a round car" ride.

Getting into the Scrambler

Lucy getting tossed around

Jacob then announced that he wanted to ride Steel Venom, a terrifying ride that sends passengers twisting up one four-story tall post and then backwards up another straight post. Mommy and Lucy were unwilling to try (Lucy lucked out by being too short) but I went along and had a great time.

On line

Discussing our strategy--"Don't throw up!"

Ready to go

Lucy in the photo op seat outside the ride

More of the same

When we disembarked, Jacob said he enjoyed it but also he might pass out. Happily he didn't. We went off in search of lunch, which was naturally overpriced in the park. Lucy did her bit for recycling while there.

Post-Venom Jacob

Lucy asked for this picture

After lunch we went on one of the original rides in the park, Supercat. The cars chase each other around a round track with music playing.

Mommy and Lucy ready to go

Supercool supercat

Jacob and I went on another heart-pounding rollercoaster, Corkscrew (three upside-down moments packed into a minute and a half of high speed horror), while Mommy and Lucy rode the ferris wheel.

The Corkscrew, as seen from the Ferris Wheel

Riding the ferris wheel

Jacob and I took on another scrambling, whirling dervish of a ride called the Monster. The spider-like arms held four cars that spun round as the arms flung them in a large circle. We had a lot of fun on this one too.

Monster fun

Jacob and I continued our roller-coaster odyssey while Mommy and Lucy went to Planet Snoopy to relax in the massive indoor ball pit. In addition to the Monster, we rode the High Roller and the ferris wheel (which provided good opportunities to take pictures of other rides).

Planet Snoopy with a bit of the High Roller on the right top

Lucy does ball pit experiments

Lucy also met the star of Planet Snoopy--the beloved pooch himself!!

Hugging Snoopy

Fun photo op

From there we regrouped and headed to the back of the park to get soaked on Thunder Canyon. This ride has big round boats that head through tumbling rapids with lots of splashes for the unlucky passengers. Our unluckiest passenger was Lucy. The boat always spun around so that she would get the maximum blast from any spray or waterfall. She was quite drippy afterwards.

Post-Thunder Canyon

Jacob really wanted to ride two more rides--the water slides and the Wild Thing. The water slides were in a separate part of the park where patrons could go barefoot and enjoy a lazy river ride or the various pools. We changed into our bathing suits (which we obviously should have done earlier). Jacob chose the four-story tall water slides. He and I climbed up while Mommy and Lucy enjoyed a pool. At the top, we had to get in these large glass cases with water running down the back wall. When all was clear at the bottom, a trap door opened and the rider drops down the tube at high speed. It was a lot of fun.

Our final ride was Wild Thing, a steel rollercoaster that runs through half of the park. It was the tallest ride in the park and the most thrilling. We enjoyed the ride, especially at the end when we went through a dark building with a bunch of hills. Whew, what a great ending to a fun day.

Part of Wild Thing in the background of this park shot from the Ferris Wheel

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Book Review: Unpopular Essays by Bertrand Russell

Unpopular Essays by Bertrand Russell

Betrand Russell is a philosopher and author who has the strange combination of a strict logical background (he wrote the seminal text on symbolic logic Principia Mathematica with A. N. Whitehead) and a breezy and familiar (i.e. not academic) writing style. He is both a strict thinker and an entertaining writer. So why would these essays be "unpopular?" According to Russell, he argues against errors on both sides of the political landscape, debunking both the left and the right. He thinks his writing is unpalatable to many, possibly the majority, of people. At least that's his contention in the preface.

He is quite excellent at analyzing the biases of various groups from all periods of history, including today. Two main arguments come up several times in different essays. First, he argues that men should seek an honest understanding of each other. They should recognize the fundamental equality of each nationality, race, religion, and sex. A lot of suffering and injustice could end immediately. Charity towards and tolerance of others would go a long way in establishing a more peaceful and harmonious society.

His second argument is that one world government is needed to create the sort of unity the human race needs. Governments naturally conflict with one another. When he wrote these essays (the late 1940s), the looming conflict was between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Russell feared another world war would be far too devastating to the world population. He favored the Americans for their more liberal and less repressive form of government.

I found his style in the book both entertaining and caustic, much the way I feel about Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore. Russell is willing to argue from oversimplifications to bolster his arguments (e.g. did no one treat women fairly before the twentieth century?). He says there's no scientific evidence for the human soul and therefore dismisses it. But what theologian (other than a crackpot) would say there is scientific evidence? Plenty of arguments can be made in favor of the human soul, but not mathematical proofs. I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with him at various points throughout the book.

His predictions are interesting in their inaccuracy. America did win the Cold War but did not establish a world government, an objective that seems as intangible as the human soul. The book is a fascinating bit of intellectual history but not as relevant as it surely seemed seventy-five years ago.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Nicholas Learns Simple Machines

Nicholas has developed an interest in simple machines. He hasn't discovered the classic machines, e.g. the inclined plane, the wheel, the lever and fulcrum, etc. He is more interested in the basics of modern machinery which means two simple tools.

The first tool is the button. He likes to push them on toys that will light up and react. He has a cube that plays Mozart tunes. Each face has a different instrument, so Nicholas can turn them on and off in the middle of the tune. He enjoys that a lot, though not as much as the buttons on the dish washer. They also light up and make noises. I think he's so obsessed with it because he sees me using it so much.

Pushing buttons

Pushing buttons is definitely a skill that will come in handy in the future. Just look at Jean-Luc Picard's Enterprise. All the control panels are touch screens. And don't get me started on how much Nicholas tries to play with our iPad...

Image of Star Trek Next Gen keyboard taken from here

The second tool is the switch. It certainly seems like a magical device. Wall switches create or extinguish light! They also have a nice tactile response when used. He often makes me stand in the bathroom while he practices switching the light up and down (down is much easier).

Did I get it right?

Flipping switches is also a skill that will come in handy in the future. Just look at Kirk's Enterprise. Most every control panel has switches. Uhura and Spock spent a lot of their time flipping them and reporting valuable and/or dramatic information (or lack of information). Either job would be an excellent future for young Nicholas. He just needs to live to the ripe old age of two hundred.

Image of Star Trek Original Series taken from here

We dread the next simple machine he will probably want to master--the door knob. Of course, that skill won't be necessary in the future because both Enterprises have automatic doors.

For now, Nicholas is content to look cute and work on his current skills.

Looking cute is also an important skill in the future

In case you need proof about looking cute is important in the future, check this John C. Wright Memorial image.

"SevenofNine" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review: Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon

Pride of Baghdad written by Brian K. Vaughan and art by Niko Henrichon

In 2003, during the Second Iraq War an American bombing raid hit the Baghdad zoo. Several animals escaped including four lions. This graphic novel is an imaginative telling of the tale from the lions' point of view. One lion grumbles about their conditions at the zoo while another reminisces about life outside while a third is happy with their captivity (which means safety) when the bombs hit. They flee to the streets where they have to make difficult decisions with their new-found freedom. Life is a lot harder when you have to find your own food and your own way in the world.

The book is surprisingly graphic in telling the life of the lions. It's not just the gore of them eating or the bombs blowing apart animals, but also terrible betrayals and an implied gang-rape. The abruptness of events is bracing, leaving the reader with a sense of urgency and sympathizing with the lions, even when they are not the most admirable characters. This book is no Disney version of events and is not for kids. But it does give adults a lot of interesting meat to chew on.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Victorian Dreams Living History Camp 2015

Lucy had a half-day camp in August called "Victorian Dreams Living History Camp." It was held in Ellicott City Colored School Restored, built in 1880 as the first public school for black children in Howard County. It was restored in 2003 and has some historical exhibits (we may visit it again on a weekend tour).

Ellicott City Colored School Restored

Lucy loved the camp though she wasn't forthcoming about what she did at camp. I had to piece together events from what little she told me, the items she brought home, and the presentation on the last day of camp.

The one highlight she mentioned every day was having tea. They served a variety of herbal teas in proper china (I saw it on the last day but didn't get to take a picture). Lucy's favorites were red vanilla and chamomile. She was especially happy that she got to put a packet of sugar in her cup! Rest assured, herbal teas have been added to the home shopping list.

They also learned about fans. In addition to making fans, they received a nice wooden fan and a sheet describing the various things a women could communicate with her fan. For example, if a woman held a fan in her left hand, she desires acquaintance; if in her right hand across her face, she's saying, "Follow me." Twirling her fan is a bad sign: if in the left hand, she wants to get rid of her conversant; if in the right hand, she loves another.

Lucy's take home fan

A fan she made

They learned about Victorian Parlour Games (another hand out that came home), including Charades and Pass the Slipper. A favorite thing to learn was the Virginia Reel, which the students demonstrated on the last day for their parents.

They wore pinafores and learned about various typical dresses form the Victorian era--the House Dress for everyday living, the Walking/Visiting/Afternoon Dress for casual social interactions, and the Dinner Dress for evenings and more formal occasions.

The girls in pinafores

On the last day, they also received a certificate of completion which made Lucy very proud.

The final presentation

Her certificate

If they offer this program next year, I am sure Lucy will want to go.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Movie Review: Superman (1978)

Superman (1978) directed by Richard Donner

The first blockbuster superhero movie came out in 1978, almost 40 years ago! It is the origin tale of Superman as told by director Richard Donner from a screen play that includes Mario Puzo (of Godfather fame) among its writers.

The story is interesting in how it delves more into Krypton's last days. Jor-El (Marlon Brando) argues with other Kryptonian elders that the planet has less than a month to live. They don't want to hear it so they silence him. He and his wife send their only son, Kal-El, to Earth. Krypton is destroyed almost immediately after the departure. The boy travels through space, learning a bit of science and history on the way. He crashes on Earth as a toddler and is adopted by Ma and Pa Kent, who raise him to be a good man. Clark Kent grows up hiding his amazing powers. He eventually leaves, heading to the Arctic where he uses a crystal left by his father to build the Fortress of Solitude. He learns more about his powers and history and purpose from recordings made by his Kryptonian father. That's basically the first hour (i.e. first half) of the movie. The pace is pretty slow but the story telling is well-done. Jacob and Lucy watched and never said they were bored (except during the opening credits, which do go on for a while).

The pace picks up when Clark moves to Metropolis. He takes a job as a reporter with the Daily Planet and begins his life as a super-heroic do-gooder by foiling crimes and saving cats from trees. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) is planning the crime of the century. Lex can't resist taunting Superman into a rivalry with some predictable if not unenjoyable results.

As I said, the movie's pace is very slow by modern standards but the special effects hold up (mostly) even 40 years later. Christopher Reeve is great as bumbling Clark Kent. As Superman, Reeve is a little flat mostly because Superman's character is a little flat as the heroic do-gooder. The other actors are all good though the script is hammy in some parts. The kids enjoyed it and are interested in seeing the next movie, which will definitely do. Thank goodness for some PG-rated superhero films that I can show them!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

WGTS Ice Cream Social 2015

We'd heard about the ice cream social week from our local Christian radio station, WGTS. Their Friday social was at the Laurel Boys and Girls Center, just around the corner from where we usually go to church (when we are home). Jacob was in chess camp, so Lucy and Nicholas came with me for a free treat.

WGTS Ice Cream Social, Laurel

We went to the main booth and got the main attraction--an ice cream sandwich!

A line for ice cream!

Lucy enjoys her ice cream

But that wasn't the end of the giveaways! We spun a wheel to get a random prize. Well, the wheel was actually on an iPad, but that didn't bother us. Lucy spun the wheel and won a book.

Lucy spins...

The wheel and prizes

The book is one by Billy Graham, which isn't much of a treat for a six-year old. The guy quickly said Lucy could pick from any of the other prizes on the table. She chose bubble mix.

Lucy gets her prize

My turn to spin the wheel was next. I'd like to say I spun "bubble mix," but I really spun "candy." That meant I received a box of Cracker Jacks. Lucy didn't know what they were, so I had the joy of introducing her. The most fascinating part was the toy surprise inside. Lucy was very curious to see what was hidden in the box. We found a baseball sticker, which was a bit of a let down. The caramel-coated popcorn was a big hit, though.

Eating Cracker Jacks and checking out the toy surprise

Nicholas says, "Where's my turn at the wheel?"

A jump rope challenge was also offered but Lucy was not interested.

Jump rope

We went back to the house and Lucy used her bubble mix right away. At first, Nicholas was scared of the bubbles. Soon enough he tried to touch them and was smiling as they popped.

Lucy blows bubbles up

The one that got away

Lucy blows a bubble down

We had a grand time and wished Jacob could have joined us. He wouldn't have liked the ice cream but I'm sure he'd have loved the Cracker Jacks.