Saturday, December 09, 2017

Parenting Month 85: Competition

A fun milestone was a recent taekwondo tournament.  This was T's first competitive tournament (i.e. where they actually award places)  He recently moved up a group in the ATA system of classes (the lowest age group was 4-6) so now they award 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in the 7-8 year old category.  And he won first place in forms and first place weapons. (his ring was 9 boys, red belts (the level below black), non-leadership (leadership students are the ones who compete for points over the year))

So, his strengths are keeping focus (he had the option of doing only half the form, and most kids his age do, but he did the whole thing) and his punches, kicks, and blocks actually have some strength to them (often kids will have the right starting and right ending point, while the middle is a bit flabby).

Jaang baang form (staff)
One thing I noticed was that parents are actually getting competitive at this point.  One parent was telling me how her son was really into the tournaments for several years now. (son got 2nd in forms and weapons).  Another had traveled from Ohio and this was also her son's first competitive tournament (same reason as T). Some of the boys did not react well to loosing in the sparring (T did not get all of the medals).  We did note that T does not take the sparring very competitively.  He was doing sparring like his school does testing (where part of the goal is for both participants to show off) as opposed to point sparring where you really do need to hit each other.  I found that quite amusing once I figured out what was going on.

two first place medals

The more competitive environment is definitely showing up in school.  We can tell that in his more diverse school (compared to last year), there are definitely families that are much more academically focused than we are.  We are hearing stories of T's peers doing the after school tutoring programs, the multiple after school enrichment activities, and drilling in school work. I think we are keenly aware that there are tests and evaluations that will have significance in his school experience and opportunities that will occur this year. We won't completely ignore it (we do drill him on the homework he gets), but we want to limit the organized activities if there are enough interests that keep him engaged (so he is stretching, even if it is not directly pointed at school work type things)

A is still quite verbal. And as proper for a 3-year old, without a filter. Sometimes it is very cute and amusing, if semi-horrifying (last night she spoke out during a poor music student's tuba recital, saying quite clearly at one point "what is that noise)).  One minor milestone: she is now willing to sleep with daddy vs. with mommy, so giving mommy a break. (T was always flexible on who was with him.)

Challenges on the horizon: T is more aware now of how other kids compare, and there are more examples of those not as talented than more talented. So he is not as inclined to persist and stay focused on things as he used to be. Similarly, he is more aware of material things and short term rewards; and the carrot of being able to do things and have experiences that other do not do are not as attractive as they used to be.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Book review: Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant

Personal MemoirsPersonal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The memoirs of Ulysses S Grant begin with him attending West Point, being a junior officer in the Mexican-American War, then his more well known role in the U.S. Civil War. What I found notable was his willingness to look at his actions and the actions of those around him and admit of what worked and what did not, and a fairly levelheaded and charitable view of those who commanded, served under, or opposed him.

The first part is a view of what the war looked like to a junior officer, prior to and during the Mexican-American War. It was a learning experience for him to lead men, and also look at the quality of the officers above him, who would be the commanding generals of the first part of the Civil War.

The Civil War section was a lot about managing logistics, and how logistics drove the campaigns. The actual battles do not as much discussion as the discussions of overall strategy and goals, and how logistics drove how he ran the various campaigns, and discussions of leading generals on both sides and his opinions on each.

The book is also notable because he discusses the backgrounds of both wars, and it becomes a touchpoint on what the country thought about as the cause of the Civil War in particular during and shortly after that conflict.

Definite must read into what being at war is like at the junior officer and at the general officer levels. And a 19th century feel of the U.S. Civil War.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Parenting month 84: Now we are 7

It has been an eventful couple of months. T started at a new school, new classmates, new schedule, new bus.

Met new friends at the bus stop. The girl who lives three doors down turns out to be one grade ahead of T.  We were glad that it turned out there was someone else in his taekwondo class in the same rank and the same grade. And also one of the relatively calm kids
Double knife hand block
Double knife hand block

Front kick in Choong Jung 1
Jump kick

His new school is much bigger than the one he came from. So we are worried about him getting lost in the mix. There have been good days and bad days. Days where he comes home and goes on and on about what he did and who he played with, and days he played with noone and did not want to talk about it.  But he is getting more good days as he adapts and gets to know people, and there are some kids where apparently he is the playmate of choice (he still seems to attract kids who like quiet).

Looking at the solar eclipse at the Northland library
Looking at the near solar eclipse

We still try to encourage a making attitude.  At the solar eclipse we made our solar eclipse viewers, and at the library viewing party we were the ones teaching everyone else how to use them.  (it helps to know the physics of how pinhole cameras work)  His favorite birthday present was a Foldscope, which is a paper based microscope that we had to assemble.

Made a Foldscope
I made a Foldscope

And we had our now annual Makerfaire visit.  One highlight of the end of summer is we have a visiting colleague with a 5 year old boy, who enjoys having a playmate.  We went to Alcosan together, then the Science Center and their ropes course.

Things inside the body
Visiting the Science Center

And also MakerFaire at the Children's Museum

Playing in the web at the Children's Museum maker space
Playing in the web at the Children's Museum makerspace

Some issues, not as much as attention span as he used to have, although that may be regression to the mean, or it may be that with more kids at school, he is realizing how unusual he was and he does not have desire to do much more than blend in.

The little one is still in day care.  She still talks our ears off, and now she can do that with words. Lots of words.  Funny note: we got our annual evaluation from daycare. It indicates how she is quiet and shy, and encourages us to talk with her more.  We wonder if we are talking about the same kid, as this girl talks to use alot.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Making a Foldscope

We received our Foldscope yesterday, and this evening we made it after dinner.  The Foldscope project is a microscope with a paper base.  The concept was that using heavy paper, it is possible to mount a lens and a slide stage and that allows for fairly high magnification, and a fully adjustable slide stage while being durable for field use. While it may not be to the same specifications as a western research university, it is good enough for identifying cells, and especially cellular organisms that carry disease. (See TED talk)  So it is being sent around to field research groups in areas where the environment would quickly deteriorate conventional instruments, and areas where samples need to be visually inspected cheaply.  And also classrooms where you could cheaply give every student a microscope and not be worried about children damaging delicate equipment. Of course, we do not fall under any of these categories, but it is a cheap microscope that does not take mush space. So we are going to try it.

What we get in the box

The foldscope parts are in a bag. Take them out of the bag, and match them to the instructions.

Foldscope parts

Following the instructions, as well as the YouTube demonstration of its assembly, we started putting together the lens mount and stage.

Lens stage and sample stage assembly

Then put the whole thing together

Assembled Foldscope
And happy new owner

The Foldscope kit we got came with a couple of premade samples.  

dragonfly foot
dragonfly leg

Monday, September 04, 2017

Parenting Month 82: Hosting visitors

The last month of summer was spent being a host for others.  We had an author of a book that we have a signed copy of visit (he is a US Army Col (ret), his wife is an elementary school teacher who enjoyed the company of a rising 2nd grader).  The prior visitors from China. And more recently being host to people coming to Pittsburgh to work for a year.

Phipps Conservatory
Lagoon at Phipps Conservatory
Frog at Phipps Conservatory lagoon.
Frog in the lagoon. We were trying to decide it was real when suddenly it jumped

Part of maturity at the early elementary level is learning to take care of people other than yourself. So it one thing to teach them how to do specific tasks when called upon, or even on a regular basis (and this is hard enough!), but another to do mission type tasking, asking them to act on principles rather
than direct commands.  So the significance of having guests, is that we told T (6yrs old) that he could do whatever he wanted, but he needed to tell his guests what that was. So that is a bit open ended (I get trouble giving those instructions to my much older students) and he sometimes gets fixated on something and forgets about his new friends, or goes off like 6 year old boys do leaving his new friends behind.  But all in all, he does pretty good. (as long as he is fed and rested, but that goes without saying)

Getting harnesses for the ropes course
Getting ready to go on the little ones ropes course
Things inside the body
How long are intestines? What noises does the body make?

Another major event was that this was the month of the total solar eclipse moving across the U.S.  While libraries all advertised that they had hundreds of eclipse glasses available, all outlets (Lowes and Walmart) ran out weeks before the main event.  We modified instructions found on to make an eclipse viewer and tested it the weekend before and made a few modifications.

Solar eclipse viewing boxes ready
Eclipse viewer. Opening on side
We ended up going to our local library for the viewing. They had advertised a viewing party, and they were on top of a nice hill with grassy areas to stand around and look into boxes. We saw a few people with the glasses. A few people with super expensive solar telescopes or industrial equipment. And many people with the pin hole boxes.  We had the advantage of actually knowing how these things worked, so early in the afternoon we taught everyone else how to find the image in their boxes, and we got to get some good views.
Looking at the solar eclipse at the Northland library
Using his solar eclipse box

A (3 years old) is very sociable (at least with us). We get a range of concerts at the drop of the hat. Every morning she wakes up around 6 ~ 6:30 and is very happy to greet us with a good morning. (and she also wakes up at 3AM , but goes back to sleep).  Among her favorite activities are singing, dancing, taekwondo (using big brother's equipment) and taking walks. Oh, and getting big brother in trouble (whenever we yell at T (even if it is only through tone of voice), she feels compelled to provide commentary that T is a bad boy, A is a good girl).


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Parenting Month 81: Travels

The notable thing about the mid-summer months has been trips. Either they have visited others or others visit us. We have: One trip to perform at Carnegie Hall Guests from the Carnegie Hall recital staying with us Visit to Cleveland and Cuyahoga National Park to visit all the uncles and aunties and cousins who met us halfway. Red Crossers visiting Pittsburgh from headquarters.

Cranberry park
Front page of the Post Gazette.  Memorial Day 2017 at the USS Requin
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
Guest on the Ropes course
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
On the Carnegie Science Center Ropes Course
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
On the USS Requin
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
Looking at the submarine music selection
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
Bodyworks at the Carnegie Science Center
Friends visiting Carnegie Science Center
Controlling a robot at the Carnegie Science Center

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Setting up the Raspberry PI with the 7 inch touch screen and SmartiPi Touch display mount.

I recently got the Official Raspberry Pi touch screen and the SmartiPi Touch display mount. The main reason I got it was that I was getting a couple things that are intended to work with a computer, and I wanted said computer to be portable.  And the Raspberry Pi with Touch screen could be run off of a USB battery.  And this also means I (or my kids) won't be tying up a computer (or a desk) that I would rather be using for work while they do their explorations.

The standard references for assembling the SmartiPi Touch are the videos by the creator, Thomas Murray, and and a more complete video by Francesco Vannini (both videos embedded at end for reference)
However, many commentators have noted that there is not a good set of written directions, and I think the big disadvantage of an expert commentator is that they don't always remember to say things that a non-expert may have a hard time figuring out. I mostly followed Francesco Vannini's video, so here are a few additional notes.

Here are the boxes, with a Raspberry Pi. Not pictured is the Sense HAT that I will also put on.
Raspberry pi in a Smartipi Touch case with touchscreen display in boxes

Raspberry pi in a Smartipi Touch case with touchscreen display unboxed
All the components from both boxes. Note that not everything will be used.

Raspberry pi mounted in a Smartipi Touch case
At this point I have:

  1. Added rubber feet to the corners of the stand (back side of the part that is mounted on the hinges). 
  2. Attached stand to case body using included nut and bolt.
  3. Connected the display connector ribbon to both the display driver and the Raspberry Pi. I used the one that came with the touch display. I should have used the one that came with the SmartiPi case because it was longer and would have been easier. 
  4. Mounted the Raspberry Pi to the display case. the instructions state I could either use the screws to mount the Raspberry Pi or I could use the hinge cover (bottom of picture). The cover has plastic that is sized to touch the Raspberry Pi when closed so I choose that option. 
  5. Screwed the case back to the display. Note that one of the screws will be covered by the cover and any HAT so I tightened this now instead of waiting until the end to tighten everything.

Raspberry Pi camera module with mounted Raspberry Pi and SmartiPi Touch case.  Note that the ribbon that comes with the camera will be just long enough to mount to the top or side LEGO studs. A longer camera cable will be useful since the Raspberry Pi with display and case is going to be placed on a table top, which is not necessarily where you want the camera.

Raspberry Pi camera module with mounted Raspberry Pi and SmartiPi Touch case

Here is the camera attached to the Raspberry Pi. Note that it goes through the slots in the door and the Sense HAT.

Raspberry Pi camera ribbon connected through door and Sense HAT

Now, attach the door, then mount the Sense HAT and tighten the screws on the Sense HAT.  Note that the screws come with rubber spaces that put the HAT the right distance above the door.

Pi Camera connector ribbon attached through Sense HAT and door

Picamera added to Raspberry Pi in SmartiPi Touch Case on the top LEGO pieces. I used a 4X6 plate because it is long enough to reach the back LEGO mount for the top. (mounting to the side could be done with camera mount as is)

Picamera added to Raspberry Pi in SmartiPi Touch Case

Pi camera mounted to LEGO from back

Pi camera mounted to LEGO from back

The working camera.  Note that I have the whole thing running off a USB battery.  I usually have this connected to a keyboard, and use a touch screen to serve as a mouse.  It really needs a longer camera connector ribbon. I tried to mount it on a LEGO stand, but the SmartiPi case had to be right next to the stand.

Working Pi Camera

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Parenting Month 79: A voice and a will

Our little threenager is definitely willing to let her views be known.  Every day is punctuated by cries of 'Mine!' 'I want!  and the occasional 'please' and 'thank you.'  So not nearly as agreeable as big brother was at that age.  On the other hand, she is more daring, willing to try things for a moment.  More active in her play and coloring, less able to keep a long term focus on anything.  Also is as possessive as a three year old usually is (big brother was not)

Favorite song:  How far I'll Go (Moana)
Favorite toy: Duplos
Favorite food: Strawberries
What is mommy good for:  food and sleeping
What is daddy good for: reading and exercising
What is gege good for: hitting and pushing
What is laulau good for:  food
What is yehyeh good for:  playing

First media appearance - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Parenting Month 78: he is still a bean

Every now and then we get a startling reminder that our 6 1/2 yr old is still quite young, and not so big. In this case it has been in Taekwondo, which for him has been an arena where his sense of focus for his age has shined. Now, he has moved up to the 7-12 year old group (at our school, kids move up in age group from the 4-6 yr old group after they turn 7 or when they reach 3rd grade decided (i.e. the next testing is for brown belt ). T was the only one in his group to promote out of the 4-6 yr groupings (as opposed to aging out).  So he is the youngest one in his class, and the second smallest.

Doing the laundry
T is the bean in the second row, and smallest in the room

Being one of the two smallest in this age group class leads to a few oddities.  The mother of the smallest kid asking if T was going to be in the in-school tournament, because she wants to know if there will someone else of approximately the same size.  An earlier conversation with the same mom where we agreed to present a united plan about a class that we are pretty sure the kids will be asking about at some point.  Practicing self-defense techniques (arm bar) with someone about twice his size.

Our other highlight this month was being a host to his cousin. Said cousin is two years older, and that still makes a big difference as T is still the happy bouncing bean that you expect in early elementary.   But they still are close enough that they can play and explore together.

Section of Mysteries
What is in the Section of Mystery?

Doing the laundry
Time to unload the washer
Doing the laundry
Starting the dryer (and get the next load for the washer ready)

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Parenting month 77: Moves and changes

This month was marked by a move.  We did not move far, close enough that all of our commute patterns are essentially unchanged. But it was a move. And for our kids, we told them what would happen, they would leave home to go to school, then when they came back, it would be to a new house.  And so it was.

One thing I appreciate about my kids is how adaptable they are. Especially my son (who is older), it seems that anyplace we take him, no matter what the situation, he will enjoy himself with us. Of, course, the key is that we are with him (he is slow to open up to strangers), but with that in mind, he pretty much adapts to anything, any place. This makes traveling very easy, and the move was a non-issue as far as the kids were concerned.

My son is pretty good about following me around doing small tasks. Anything that involves a screwdriver, he is good for.  And little assemblies of things are fair game as well.

In other news, his academic rank in his school is now in competition. In the online math exercises his school does, there is someone else in First grade who suddenly discovered the website in earnest. So while T and a few others at the school were in the lead getting 100-200 points a week all year, this boy suddenly did 1000 points in a week, followed by 500 points in a week.  So, now T is not the first in first grade anymore.  If anyone has been paying attention, the 8th and 7th graders should have noticed that there is a 1st grader in the school lead, and that there is a first grade class is in the lead by classes as well. But not being first is something that T notices, and he is not way ahead of everyone anymore. And that is good to know at this age.

Other notes:  with a new house means we have rooms for things we did not do before. We turned out basement into a workout area where we have covered a large section with exercise mats, which is big enough to do taekwondo forms. So we practice taekwondo. We also practice stretches and bodyweight exercises. I have a set of cards from that we use. T can pick from the basic exercise cards, and this leads to a reasonable workout that he can lead that covers many of the exercises we do at taekwondo (and a few new ones) He very much enjoys it, and he also wants to use the equipment we have (but I think he is too young for weight equipment, bodyweight strength exercises is good for now.

Both of them have a bit of combativeness and resistance in them.  We probably are still in the realm of not noticeable for most families with young children, but it is a noticeable deterioration in behavior that we see.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Parenting Month 76: No longer one of the little kids

The major milestone of the kids is the 6 year old has had his last American Taekwondo Association (ATA) Tigers belt testing.  In the ATA, the Tigers is the group for 4-6 year olds where they allow for follow the leader in testing and advance at half speed (in each testing, they cover half of the form that the older groups do. Developmentally, this makes a lot of sense, somewhere around 7-8 kids begin to reliably tell left from right and there sense of time and sequencing develops.  However, at this school, they join the older kids (7-12) after the first half of blue belt (i.e. they will test for brown belt with the older kids).  At this testing cycle, he is the only one to advance due to belt promotion (there are two others doing the same, but because they turned 7)

ATA color belt testing
Blue belt testing.

One thing we have appreciated about his taekwondo classes and tournaments is that he has been one of the smallest ones, but has generally been one of the more focused kids, which results in him being noticeably more in line with the class than the others his age. And the way that manifests itself is that the teachers use him to flex pairings during sparring or self-defense testing, he will match his partner. While generally they try to match kids on size and temperament, they can pair him with smaller or shyer kids because he won't bully people over.  And with the bigger kids, he has enough skill that he will not get knocked over or hurt.

But now that he is with the older kids, as the youngest and one of the smallest in the room (there is one smaller). And we actually like it that way. We have always felt that we wanted him to be comparing himself to kids who were older, bigger, and smarter than him, so that there would always be someone ahead of him and he would always know what better looks like.  We have appreciated this in Taekwondo, where the teaching philosophy is that at whatever level a student was, the aim of the day's lesson was to always get better.
ATA color belt testing
High block

We think that T has shined in this setting, and anyplace like that where we have been able to create that. We get worried when he gets too many accolades this young, because we want him to be ready for the challenges in the future. And at this age, it is best if he is always learning and competing with people who have natural advantages over him, so when that changes, he will do well.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Parenting Month 75: A is for Attitude

Our two year old is speaking more and more. As foreshadowed by many events, she talks, pretty much non-stop.  And if she was able to proclaim her will when she was 18 months and not actually knowing words, she show guile now that she actually has english and chinese vocabulary.  While big brother is getting pretty good to, it is even money on whether he is learning from his classmates, or if he is learning guile from his little sister.

On the other side of the equation, we are seeing that there is tradeoff.  While little sister clearly is well beyond what big brother was like verbally and socially, we remember how generally agreeable and happy he was in simple ways. And especially the fact that big brother could concentrate on something for extended periods of time.  And the effect is that while there are things that little sister does that big brother did not at the same age, there were many opportunities we could provide big brother at that age because he was so well controlled and he could focus and be satisfied with one thing for extended periods of time.  If you asked us who is smarter, we both would say little sister, but big brother could maintain his attention and stick to things longer that she can now.  And that is starting to show the difference.

T has been learning how to lie. And we suspect he is picking this up at school, because when he does, he has this habit of looking to see if it was successful. So whenever we notice that pause, we start to think about what has he just said. At this point, it is experimentation.  He is also still very bad at hiding things. One little habit he has is when he makes a mess on something. He will come along and ask for things that happen to be cleaning supplies, and inform us that there is no need for us to go look at ___.  At this point, while we immediately go look, we are being good at merely helping him clean up after himself. And hoping he does not get better at hiding.

Last, we have a couple more events. His first college basketball game:

Pitt women's basketball friends and family day
Getting a tiger named T, because then if there is trouble, he can say that T did it without lying.

Pitt women's basketball friends and family day
Presenting the colors for the national anthem

Pitt women's basketball friends and family day
Pitt colors at the Pitt game