Thursday, June 30, 2016

Daughter's Birthday 2016

My daughter turned seven years old in June. We had a small, day-of celebration at home. We made some cupcakes and managed to squeeze seven candles on it.

Worried whether the cupcake will survive

She blew it!

She opened a bunch of cool presents but only some got pictures. Favorites included the new roller skates and a Pokemon deck.

New skates at the roller rink

Practicing for the limbo


To celebrate with her friends, she had a party at the local roller rink. All the kids had fun, especially my children.

The birthday girl

The older brother

The younger brother (no skates on him)

Older brother in action

Birthday girl doing the hokey pokey (it's not just for weddings)

We made cupcakes again, though with thematic decorations.
Skating cup cakes

Close up

Back at home, we opened the gifts from her friends. The most creative was a lab jacket, mask, hairnet, set of teeth, and dentist tools. My daughter's class had written little essays about which job they'd like as grow ups. She wrote she wanted to be a dentist. One of her friends from school remembered and made a very creative gift!

My daughter, my dentist

This birthday was a great one. We're looking forward to next year!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Going to the Big Leagues

My son wanted to go with a school trip to see a Baltimore Orioles baseball game. The game was rained out. The team let fans trade their tickets. We chose a late June game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Since parking was sold out (except for way too expensive lots) we took the light rail to Baltimore. We got off just outside the stadium. An old warehouse was left in place between the rails and the stadium itself.

View from the rail station

The warehouse was easy to walk around. On the other side is a wide variety of merchants selling food, drink, and stuff with Orioles logos on them.

Orioles Park

We had to go through metal detectors, which I didn't realize before I got there. I was worried I'd lose my pocket knife. Happily, we were supposed to put our keys and cell phones in a tray before going through the detector. I was able to place my keys (to which the knife was attached) under my phone and made it into the park with everything.

On the other side of the security

We checked out the field from the main level before heading up to our third-tier seats.

My son on the main level

At our assigned seats, we were happy to see a great view of the field.

View from our seats

The outfield and the warehouse

The game started with a bang. When the Orioles came to bat, the first player was walked. The next two hit singles. Then Chris Davis came to bat and hit a home run! The grand slam meant that the Orioles scored four runs with only three hits!

The game in action

The Rays were able to come back later, but never enough to surpass the Orioles. By the end of the eighth inning, the Orioles were up 12 to 5. The Rays were unable to score in the top of the ninth inning, so the game ended with a satisfying victory for the home team.

Post-game hand shakes

An announcement said that patrons 14 years old and under would be allowed to run the bases and they should line up by Gate C. My son said he wasn't interested, for which I was glad since the line at Gate C was backed up past Gate D and almost to E. We took the light rail home, happy for a great day at Camden Yards.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Making Pizza with the Fanciest Crust Ever

One day we decided to make a really fancy pizza crust for our pizza. The recipe is fairly pretentious, calling for "1/3 cup Durum Flour Biga" and "5 tablespoons cold-pressed first-pressing extra-virgin olive oil." The book has a separate recipe for the Biga, a pre-fermented starter used in baking Italian-style bread. They are generous enough to allow "1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried." If you are very ambitious, you can find the crust recipe on pages 205-207 in Rustic European Breads from Your Bread Machine.

My wife prepared the Biga beforehand and let my daughter take charge the day of baking. She went from dough to oven with a jolly attitude.

Measuring the dough

Mixing some more

Working over the dough

Flattening out

Stretching out

Dough ball

With the dough complete, pizza construction was the next job.

Greasing the pan

Doughing the pan



Putting toppings on the adults' pizza

The final results were deliciously satisfying!

The kids' pizza

Enjoying the kids' pizza

The adults' pizza

Awesome looking crust

Monday, June 27, 2016

Book Review: Morning Glories Vol. 5: Tests by N. Spencer et al.

Morning Glories Volume 5: Tests written by Nick Spencer and art by Joe Eisma

Morning Glories Academy is in chaos. The students got lost in another reality during the Woodrun, an outdoor scavenger hunt. Some of the students were hoping to escape the school (because things are very odd and very dangerous there) but another group of students were able to return everyone (students and teachers) to the same reality. Confrontations ensue. Meanwhile, more backstory is given for key characters.

Unfortunately, having taken a two-month break in between reading volumes, I've lost enough details that the story and the implications of events are hard to follow. Some big revelations are made but they don't make a lot of sense to me. At this point, I'm not sure there's a bigger picture that the story is working towards. The writer is just throwing in more mysteries and complications to string the readers along. So I am bailing out on this series.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Movie Review: Independence Day (1996)

Independence Day (1996) co-written and directed by Roland Emmerich

This summer has lots of sequels and remakes coming out, so I'm reviewing the earlier works and seeing if they will inspire me to see the new films!

Only July 2, a mysterious object shows up near the moon. It broadcasts a signal that's picked up on Earth. No one can understand it--not scientists at S.E.T.I. (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) or the Pentagon. Soon enough, the object releases over a dozen 15-mile wide saucers that fly over various capitals (London, Paris, Moscow, Washington D.C., etc) and important cities (like Hollywood, I mean, Los Angeles). One down-on-his-ambition scientist (Jeff Goldblum) figures out the signal is really a countdown, so he rushes to the White House where his ex-wife is serving as Press Secretary. He just barely convinces the president (Bill Pullman) to flee before the attack happens. All the alien ships attack at once, wiping out cities across the world in spectacular displays of fire and destruction. Fighter pilot Steve Hiller (Will Smith) leads his squadron against the Los Angeles ship where they utterly fail. He is able to knock down one alien fighter ship and takes the alien pilot captive. The Americans regroup at Area 51 (the US Government has been hiding an alien space ship there for decades) where they plot to defeat the alien menace.

The movie is a pastiche of other science fiction films, borrowing from War of the Worlds, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, and the television mini-series V. I had the problem (which I had twenty years ago when I saw it in the theater) of being reminded of all these other better films. The eventual solution is almost completely implausible and an awkward blending of War of the Worlds and Star Wars. Even so, the movie is enjoyable as an action romp if you set your brain in neutral and enjoy the ride.

The sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, looks like more of the same from the trailer:

Unless I hear some stellar reviews or friends invite me to see it, I'll probably wait for the DVD release.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book Review: Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson

Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson

Isaac Newton is most famous as a scientist, a key figure in the scientific revolution who developed laws of motion and gravitation as well as calculus (whether Leibniz developed it first is a controversy for another book). He is less well known for his interest in alchemy (transmuting base metals into gold) and esoteric biblical studies. Perhaps least known is his tenure at the Royal Mint, where he oversaw a major recoining project and prosecuted counterfeiters.

While focused on Newton's years with the Mint, this book does sketch out Newton's early years and scientific contributions. During his Cambridge professorship, Newton wrote the Principia and secretly worked on alchemical experiments. He became quite famous in Europe, though he was not very personable. As described in the book, he is the paradigm of the cold, calculating scientist. He did well for himself but did have a teacher's salary.

Friends encouraged him to move to London where he'd have more contacts and better prospects. Newton didn't go until he was offered the job of Warden of the Royal Mint. The main project that faced him was recoining the English money in circulation. At the time, all money was in coins made of precious metals. Unfortunately, silver was more valuable on the Continent than in England, which lead to various schemes where criminals would clip off bits of coins (if not just melting them down) and take the silver to Belgium and France. There, the silver bought more gold than it would in England. The process of exporting English silver, converting it to gold, and returning to England to buy more silver was highly profitable. The Mint redesigned the coins to prevent fraudulent activity.

The other task Newton faced was prosecuting the "clippers" and the "coyners," people who made false coins by mixing in other metals with the silver (if they even used silver). One of the most skillful men at this was William Chaloner. He had the skills to make dies from which to cast coins. In the last two decades, he counterfeited both English and French money. To solve their economic woes (i.e. financing a war with France), the government began issuing the first bonds, described as a lottery investment. Chaloner also forged lottery sheets. These many crimes were hard to prosecute thanks to the corruption in the legal system and the craftiness of the criminals.

The book explains the economic state of England quite well, making it easy to understand the issues involved and the urgency of the situation. The grittiness of criminal life in late 1600s London is especially interesting and compelling. Networks of criminals acquired needed materials, produced forgeries, and distributed the fake money. But if someone was caught they often would be willing to testify against others in order to save their own skins. The cat-and-mouse game Newton and Chaloner played is vividly described and makes for an exciting legal thriller.

Well researched and written, this book is a great, quick read that gives readers a glimpse of a fascinating, if forgotten, bit of history.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Raingutter Regata 2016

As the scout year came to a close, our pack had the raingutter regata. The boys put together and decorate boats which they race in raingutters (see last year's race). We left it to the last minute so we had some last minute painting and assembling to do.

The finished product

The evening was pleasant--warm but not too warm, threatening rain but never delivering. Getting things ready was easy.

Getting the boys fired up!

Getting the raingutters ready

My son's den had a handful of boys, so they raced in multiple heats.

Getting ready for the first heat, which my son lost

Blowing the boats

We discovered an error--an upside down sail!

The next heat went better with the topside top.

Moving fast!

The fastest racers (which did not include my son) got trophies.


First and second place winners

The pack also gave out a trophy for the boat decorated with the best Scout spirit.

Some nominees

The winner

A good time was had by all!