Monday, March 27, 2017

Friday Field Trips

BIRTHDAY TOUR:  Last Friday afternoon, CJ and I headed to Seattle Center for a birthday party. Not just any party, but the 55th birthday of a Seattle icon: the Monorail.

Imagine CJ's delight upon seeing this when we arrived to the monorail platform. 
How nice of the Monorail to give the public Top Pot doughnuts for its birthday. I felt bad that we didn't bring the elevated train a cake or something.

In addition to free Top Pot donuts and KuKuRuZa Gourmet Popcorn, we also had our choice of free monorail swag! CJ picked up a sweet hat. I chose a pick monorail t-shirt for Annabelle.
The tour met up at Monorail Man, crafted from surplus parts.
After the World's Fair in 1962, there was talk of expanding the monorail system dramatically. Or dismantling it. Ironically, neither happened. Fifty five years later, it runs pretty much as was/now is.
Turns out the monorail actually runs on tires. Steel belted radials, just like your car. But these tires are sideways, running along the track.
This little-ish electric motor makes the train go. They replace the motors about twice a year, per the head tech guy, who was present for our tour. 
 We were told not to touch the rails. We didn't.
The red line was at rest on the day we visited.
I just had to take a photo of the Needle from the 'basement' of the monorail tech bay.  
The private company operating the public transportation system does a great job keeping the 55-year-old cars in pristine condition. 
 The onboard technology has definitely been upgraded since 1962.
CJ can tell you a bit more about our our monorail experience. 
Way back on 24 March 1962, the Seattle Center Monorail (often known to Seattleites as just "the monorail") opened, connecting Seattle Center and Downtown Seattle, two popular locations in the city. Less than a month later, the Seattle World's Fair was held, and the monorail was heavily used by fairgoers as a mean for transportation.
On 24 March 2017 (the 55th anniversary of the monorail's opening), I went to the Seattle Monorail 55th Birthday Tour, an informative tour about the monorail, as well as its history. Here are some of the facts that I remember (unfortunately, the tour isn't fresh in my mind):
To access the bottom section of the North Sector of the monorail, you must enter a gate intended for authorized personnel only (we were able to go in that section on the tour). Going to this part of the station was really cool, because you get to see the engine of the monorail, and what the docking process looks like from below.
The engine of the monorail is repaired biannually (twice a year), give or take. When the monorail was originally built back in the early 60s, there were two visions of the monorail's future:
  1. The monorail would be expanded from 2 to 5 stations across the city after the World's Fair
  1. The monorail would be destroyed after the World's Fair
Instead, as one of the tour guides put it, the people who ran/run the monorail just kept using the same 2 sectors for 55 years.
Apparently, when the monorail was opened, it was able to go at 65MPH. Today, it is only able to go at 30MPH. On most days, one monorail train will be running, while the other is being repaired or touched up. However, on especially busy days, both monorails can be run at the same time.
It's worth noting that we got about eight minutes of sun on Friday. It's not much, not enough, but we'll take it!
MEANWHILE, AT MERIDIAN: While CJ and I were doing our thing on Friday, Annabelle was serving as 'artist in residence' at a makers event at her brother Kennedy's school. 
Annabelle was stationed in a classroom where kids were designing their own board games. She helped them with designing their characters. 

Below are four different dragon types (electricity, earth, fire and water) for one student's game.
 Another student wanted several pairs of mama and baby dragons.
 Below are more of the parent/child dragons.
I'll let Annabelle tell you a bit more about the day. ...
Friday, I went to my older brother Ken’s classroom to assist with art while his students made board games. I brought nearly all of my art supplies in a huge IKEA blue bag, but only used part of it. I set up on the middle table and was immediately met with a request to design some monsters for a game where you play as heroes battling your way back to your kingdom. After drawing those monsters, I was approached by a young boy who wanted me to help him draw numbers on cards. I thought to myself “I wonder why he can’t do this?” so I made him a little cheat sheet of numbers 1-10 and plus and minus signs. I also took some time to draw a cat, a dog, and a horse, for a game appropriately titled “Cat and Dog and Horse”.

The first session seemed to go by in a flash, and after lunch the second group came in. The kids immediately flocked to me and I started drawing dragons left and right. I drew fire, water, forest, electricity, and space dragons. It was fun, but it took a while. Once the board game making was done, I helped some of the “Kind Koalas” play some of the board games Ken brought and helped control the kids in line for his virtual reality headset.
It was super fun to help and I love working with the Koalas!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Criss Cross

SPREADING HER WINGS: This morning, we pointed the Honda southbound at 7:30, a bit earlier than usual. However, our destination made it worth navigating through rush hour traffic: The Museum of Flight. Annabelle had a special workshop to attend. I'll let her tell you a bit about it.  
Today I had the honor of going to an event at the Museum of Flight called “Women Fly”. Because I had a reservation, I could go early and watch a presentation from Jessica Cox, the first registered armless pilot. She was born without arms and had to learn all the other things other children in her school were learning on her own, because the teacher didn’t know how she would teach an armless student how to do things like tie their shoes. But Jessica eventually learned to make her laces very loose and then tie them with her toes. She couldn’t put them on and then tie them because that would mean her toes couldn’t be used. She told us to “think outside the shoe” and remember that nothing is impossible. 
She also answered some questions, like if she’s ever had trouble doing things due to an injury. She said yes, one time she sprained her ankle and hyper-extended her knee, leading to her being in a wheelchair for about a month. She got through it with determination, and now she’s done many amazing things without arms, from being a black belt in Tae Kwon Do to being a surfer to being a pilot.
I also went to a few small workshops. The first was about Cassini, a satellite which has been able to orbit Saturn for 12 years. It’s been able to study Saturn this long because instead of using fuel on the trip to Saturn, it used other planets as slingshots to propel Cassini further without using nearly as much fuel. We had a board on the table with magnets in the middle representing Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. My friend and I used metal balls and rolled them towards titan to slingshot towards Saturn’s other moons. It was actually much harder than we imagined, but it was fun nonetheless.
The second workshop I went to was about lightning and static electricity. My group used combs to make static electricity from our hair and pick up small paper bits like confetti.
There were also generators that we had fun “shocking” toy planes with. The event was fun and if you can get reservations next year, you really should!
ADDED BONUS: We weren't quite sure what time Annabelle's workshop would be over, so right after CJ got out of a class at noon, we headed back south to The Museum of Flight to hang out and wait for Annabelle to be done.

I asked CJ what he wanted to see there and he said something he's never seen or done at the museum before. That led to him taking a spin in a flight simulator.

Below, he's doing a little 'pre -flight' training.
He reports the experience was fun, and a little nauseating.

After the 'flight,' I asked him where he wanted to go. He said the World War I and II wing, so there we headed. On the way in to that part of the museum, I noticed a sign.
I looked at my phone, saw it was 1:03 and told CJ to hustle, so we could check out the presentation. I had no idea what we were in for. I'm *so* glad we went!  

I'll have CJ tell you a little bit more about it. ...

Today, my sister spent the morning at the Museum of Flight, a frequent haunt for my family, located down South in Tukwila. She was going for the Women Fly event, which is The Museum of Flight's annual event for youth interested in aviation, aerospace, and STEM futures.
Meanwhile, my mom and I were visiting other parts of the museum. We were visiting the World War branch of the museum, which contains several planes and other relics from both World Wars I and II. On the way in, we noticed a sign, promoting a speech being given by a World War II veteran.
We went to a little "hut" structure in the back of the exhibit to hear the speech. At the hut was Jim Marich, a B-29 flight engineer. was giving a very interesting talk about an experience over and in the Pacific Ocean, that he had back during November 1944's 3rd week (11/12 to 11/18):
In 1944, when Marich was 19 years old, he was the flight engineer on a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, flying over the Pacific Ocean. 
     PHOTO: U.S. Air Force 
The B-29 was flying for a bombing (and, by the sound of it, suicide) mission, and was close to Iwo Jima, a Japanese island. If I remember correctly, Marich was one of 11 crew members on the B-29. The plane's pilot was 25 years old (much older than the rest of the crew), and thus he earned the nickname "Old Man."
At some point during the third week of November 1944, the plane encountered a 200 MPH headwind, blowing against them. Since the B-29 was only going at 230 MPH, this meant that the plane was essentially going at just 30 MPH, and consuming very large amounts of fuel. 
The B-29 and its crew completed their mission (a bombing run), but knew they would not make it back to base. They made preparations for a water landing, throwing things overboard and expending all of the fuel. 
The Pacific water below the plane was mostly going up in swells, primarily around 60 feet tall. The pilot of the plane actually had to try and crash land the plane on one of the swells, an especially risky and abnormal bet. It was assumed that the plane's tail would break as a result of the "landing". After landing the plane in the water using the 60-foot swell, there was a desperate rush to get outside of the plane.
The B-29's crew was told that any plane that hit the water would sink within 90 seconds. The people in the back (6 of them, if I remember correctly) had to quickly crawl through an awkward tube, just to get to the front section of the B-29. Those in the front section of the B-29 (which included Marich) had to crawl through a tiny window on the pilot's side of the plane, just to get out.
After getting out of the plane, life rafts were inflated, and the crew started eyeing which ones they were going to climb into, figuring that's where they would eventually die.
Miraculously, out of seemingly nowhere, a PT Boat appeared, and pulled up next to the plane. Instead of getting in the raft, the crew of the B-29 ended up getting in the PT boat, which included getting wet up to their knees.
Despite thinking that the plane would sink within 90 seconds, according to Marich, the plane didn't sink for more than 48 hours after "landing" on the water.
Shortly before his 20th birthday, Marich would be back at home, in his bed, and the war was over.
Overall, the speech given by Jim Marich was very interesting. Marich also mentioned that there are probably many, many B-29s in Mariana's Trench. I wonder how-well preserved and B-29s in Mariana's Trench would be.
This photo is of *the* very plane Marich was on that was ditched in the Pacific in 1944. He found it by chance, while flipping through a book about B-29s in the gift shop at The Museum of Flight.

We feel fortunate to hear Mr. Marich's story that unfolded 72 years ago. 

I found a couple of interviews with Marich. I'm so glad his experiences are recorded for posterity.

And here is a video of Marich's presentation very similar to what we saw today, in that same little hut in the back of the World War wing of The Museum of Flight.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Super Tuesday

   Photo: NASA - JPL
TIRED:  Some not-so-good news from Mars this morning. 

I'll let NASA tell you what's up, per their press release.  
A routine check of the aluminum wheels on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has found two small breaks on the rover’s left middle wheel—the latest sign of wear and tear as the rover continues its journey, now approaching the 10-mile (16 kilometer) mark.
The mission's first and second breaks in raised treads, called grousers, appeared in a March 19 image check of the wheels, documenting that these breaks occurred after the last check, on Jan. 27. 
"All six wheels have more than enough working lifespan remaining to get the vehicle to all destinations planned for the mission," said Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "While not unexpected, this damage is the first sign that the left middle wheel is nearing a wheel-wear milestone,"
The monitoring of wheel damage on Curiosity, plus a program of wheel-longevity testing on Earth, was initiated after dents and holes in the wheels were seen to be accumulating faster than anticipated in 2013. Testing showed that at the point when three grousers on a wheel have broken, that wheel has reached about 60 percent of its useful life. Curiosity already has driven well over that fraction of the total distance needed for reaching the key regions of scientific interest on Mars' Mount Sharp.
So, clearly not great news about the wheels' status, and the photos tell the story. In case you're wondering, each of Curiosity's six wheels is about 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter and 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide, milled out of solid aluminum. (I can't help but think aluminium is super light for the trip to Mars, but maybe too lightweight for the surface of Mars.)

Curiosity's wheels' treads that hit the surface of Mars are about half as thick as a U.S. dimes. 

As alarming as these photos look to me, NASA scientists seem to be taking it in stride, or tread, as the case may be. ... 
Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, also at JPL, said, "This is an expected part of the life cycle of the wheels and at this point does not change our current science plans or diminish our chances of studying key transitions in mineralogy higher on Mount Sharp."
Overall, through March 20, 2017, Curiosity has driven 9.9 miles (16.0 kilometers) since the mission's August 2012 landing on Mars. I remember reading about tire worries yeaers ago, and for the past four years, rover drive planners have used enhanced methods of mapping potentially hazardous terrains to reduce the pace of damage from sharp, embedded rocks along the rover's route.

Below is a photo I took of a copy of Curiosity's wheel when I was fortunate enough to attend a Tweetup during Mars Science Laboratory's launch.
As you can see, it's so much bigger and different that the wheels that went before it. (MSL's wheel is far left. It's previous rovers' wheels are left to right.)
TECH TALES: So, a couple of nights ago, along about midnight, we received an email about an opportunity to participate in a group at Pacific Science Center. Honestly, that was all I needed to read before I started furiously typing to sign up, as it was a super small study group, it's a big city and we wanted in!

Fortunately, we were accepted into the study, and tonight was our first get together. For five evenings in upcoming weeks, we'll be working on a pilot program that involves robotics, storytelling and art. What's not to love?!

The program is funded by the National Science Foundation, and it's a collaboration that involves PacSci and the University of Washington. Not a bad pedigree.

Tonight was our first session.
 We got to play around with Scratch programming and a Hummingbird motherboard.
The goal of this project is for us to tell a family story in a diorama using technology/robotics. After our first meeting, we hit upon a theme we all were immediately excited about. 
Stay tuned for further developments. 

SOMETHING FISHY: Today, Annabelle and I headed north and east toward the University of Washington surplus store. There was only one problem: We got there about two hours before it opened. Oops. 

So, we headed back. On our way home, we noticed a bunch of balloons outside the Ivar's restaurant under the Ship Canal Bridge. Annabelle said she saw something about it being Ivar's birthday, and that made me recall I'd read something about that being a big/good deal. I pulled over, Googled it, and we turned around.

Um, yeah, good deal - and worth doubling back for! 

So the kids had an awesome lunch - complete with special mango cheesecake desserts, cause we stumbled upon it so early. 
So, happy birthday to a Northwest icon, and what a nice surprise for us!

Monday, March 20, 2017


FAIR MINDED: Saturday afternoon, we made our first ever trip to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Visitors Center. We've walked and driven by it dozens of times. It's just east of the Seattle Center campus. 

Ironically, we didn't really spend but a couple of minutes checking out the many, intriguing permanent displays there. Rather, we were there to check out a special event, the Teen Action Fair.

CJ and Annabelle are both civic-minded and action oriented, and it seemed like a good place for us to go to learn about programs other area teens and pre-teens are involved in.
I'll let CJ take over narration for a bit ...  
Since 2014, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been host to the Teen Action Fair, which, according to the South Lake Union Chamber, is an annual youth-led event showcasing young leaders (primarily in their teens) who are inspiring positive change. This year's Teen Action Fair included over 30 diverse youth-based organizations as part of their program, with several of them setting up info stands to learn about the organizations.
One example of a group I learned about at the Teen Action Fair was Junior Asha. According to a handout at the TAF, Junior Asha is the youth chapter of Asha Seattle (a nonprofit organization that helps the underprivileged in India, mainly through education). Junior Asha "encourages youth participation in the community", and everybody aged from 12-18 can join Junior Asha.
Another group I learned about at the TAF was Birthday Dreams. According to their official website, Birthday Dreams is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing joy to homeless children with the gift of a birthday party. Birthday Dreams serves the Puget Sound area, and we were actually able to do a little service for Birthday Dreams at the TAF, by filling gift bags for the homeless kids with toys and candy.

The Teen Action Fair was a very informative and interesting event, and I would like to go again.
There was a lot of diversity among the groups, and so many really wonderful projects and programs, it made us want to volunteer for all of them!

At the booth below, the kids decorated book bags that were bound school kids in Kenya.
We each filled out cards listing causes we support locally.

We only took a quick look at the regular exhibits at the center. We definitely need to go back in the near future!

POPPIN': Monday afternoon, we took a field trip to the South Park neighborhood in South Seattle for the opportunity to tour a successful local popcorn company that is getting notice far and wide.

Before we could go in the production facility, we had to don hairnets.

I'll let Annabelle tell you a little bit more about the visit.
Today I took a field trip to Seattle Popcorn Company, the producers of Uncle Woody’s caramel corn. The production facility was very small and there were only about 5 employees working at the time (our tour guide, the CEO of the company, said that a few employees were out sick).

CEO Jesse Greene showed us how they pop their popcorn with only the essentials- corn, salt, and soy. He said they use soy instead of butter because it’s better for you and it’s organic, something they pride themselves on. Right next to where the popcorn was popping, an employee was dumping popcorn into their real butterscotch mixture, which is made with organic cane sugar. 
He then led us over to a bagging machine, which had one error as we looked at it (one bag didn’t get sealed), but our tour guide used this bag to show us how their metal detector works. The metal detector isn’t legally required, but if a nut or a bolt fell off the machinery and into the popcorn mix, the detector would sense the metal and push the bag off the conveyor belt.
He then took us to the cool room, which has the ingredients for making heat-sensitive flavors like cheddar and truffle salt. We bought a bag of truffle salt, and it was very good! He explained that the truffle salt flavor is more expensive because they use real truffles instead of flavoring like other companies. Other companies use flavoring because European white truffles can cost as much as $3,600 a pound! However, it does taste better with real truffles. At the end of the tour, everyone got a complimentary bag of caramel corn on our way out. The tour was really interesting and I learned a lot about their process of making popcorn!
One of the most interesting things I learned is that 'mushroom' or globule-shaped popcorn is used for making caramel corn, while 'butterfly' popcorn (more spread out) is used for the flavors that aren't so heavily coated.
The CEO of the company was super enthusiastic. The company is small, just 10 employees, but they ship their product worldwide. Greene recently took a trip to South Korea with Washington Governor Jay Inslee as part of a small business junket. 

GREEN SEEN: I didn't manage to get a post up on Friday night, but suffice it to say, we celebrated St. Paddy's day with a little fun, including green oatmeal for breakfast. 
The kids were amused, and found it more appetizing than the green eggs we had on Dr. Seuss' birthday on March 2.

And before we sign off for the night, we have to give a nod to spring, which has arrived on the scene. It was a long, cold winter in Seattle. Here's hoping spring is sunny and mild!