Random Photos, June 2010

Here are three recent photos of life around here:

Lego Bed

pictures of many Legos on a bad

In our house, the phrase “make your bed” usually means “move the Legos off the bed” rather than “straighten the sheets and pillows”. In fact, that has become part of the bedtime ritual – change into pajamas, brush teeth, put away Legos, read a story, and say prayers. Beta probably likes to have his Legos on his bed because his is the top bunk, so no one bothers anything up there.

Driver’s Ed

pictures of two boys in a toy truck

Beta’s cousins have one of them fancy battery-powered toy trucks. And Beta loves to drive that whenever he’s over there. Now Gamma is old enough to ride in it. They shared a ride last weekend, and I just really like this photo.

Blokus Art

pictures of a pattern made with Blokus

My wife and I like playing games. I want the kids to like games too, so I try to play whatever board games we have that might be appropriate. Blokus is fun, and the kids get the concept, but they don’t have the sense of challenge in playing the game yet. Alpha and Beta will play (against each other or against me), but as soon as it is done, they eagerly take apart the board and proceed to make patterns or pictures with the pieces. Alpha liked this masterpiece; I liked that he made sure all 4 colors were symmetric.

See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.

Exodus 25:40

May Break – Day 4 A

Continuation of a previous post

Note: Most pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.


This was our last day in Wisconsin Dells. Check-out was 11:00, so we had to do everything we wanted by 11.

picture of the sign at Paul Bunyan's Cook ShantyWe started by going out to breakfast. Not just any place, but a touristy place: Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Meals. Paul Bunyan seems to be a popular tourist attraction all over the US.

picture of the statue at Paul Bunyan's Cook ShantyAnd anything with the name Paul Bunyan is required by zoning laws to have a giant statue out front. The blue ox is optional. This restaurant has its blue ox inside the building. If I remember correctly, it was just the head mounted on the wall. Apparently some hunters mistook it for game.

I really liked this place. Why?

  • First of all, you pay ahead of time. The cashier takes your money and then you get seated. They can do that because
  • there are no menus. It’s all-you-can-eat breakfast. They bring out doughnuts, eggs, ham, pancakes, potatoes, and sausage. That’s what you get, and that means
  • there is no waiting. The waiter (I should be calling him a server because, like I said, there was no waiting) just started bringing out food once we were seated. No orders to take, no problems with mixed up plates. It must be a nice place to be a server. And because there were no orders,
  • there is no bill. Since you paid up front, once you’re done you just get up and leave. You don’t have to wait for the guy to come around, bring you your bill, take the bill back, and bring you your change (or credit card back). This is especially helpful for families with children. Okaaaay. We’re all done… where is the bill? We are ready to leeeaaaave. None of that here.
  • And for the engineer in me: The price involves a formula. Kids are charged $0.75 per year of age. I appreciated the fact that Beta did not cost as much as Alpha, since Beta is smaller. I think Gamma was free.

picture of the food at Paul Bunyan's Cook Shanty


After breakfast, we had an hour or two to play at the pool. My very organized wife had arranged the packing the night before, so the suitcases were all ready to be loaded in the van. All we had to do this morning was change into swimsuits, go swimming, and then change back into civilians clothes by 11:00.

The slides were fun, then Alpha wanted to ride the Hurricane again before we left.

Okay, I thought, we should have time to do that.

There were a lot more people today than any of the other days. That meant that there were a lot more people who wanted to ride the Hurricane today. We spent a lot of time in line. By the time we got out of the Hurricane the first time, it was 11:05.

Oh boy, we’re late.

Sorry, but we don’t have time to go a second time.” I told Alpha. We hurried over to our table, where I was glad to see that the rest of the family was not still waiting for us. That meant that they went back to the room and handled check-out so that we were not charged another day.

The hotel has a policy of unlocking the room doors and leaving the doors wide open at check-out time. My wife said that she got back to the room right at 11:00 and the door was open and all our stuff was available for the taking.

They don’t mess around there.

Everyone was frustrated for the next 15 minutes as we were trying to get everything out the door but things kept happening like kids’ losing their shoes and forgetting what they were supposed to be doing.

But we eventually made it out to the van and I think we did not leave anything behind. Then we drove to Chicago, but I’ll save that for the next blog post.


We learned a couple of things on this vacation to Wisconsin Dells.

  • picture of legs and a stroller as seen at the eye level of a young childAlways go through the camera after a young child has been handling it. Otherwise you end up with a lot of space occupied by odd photos. Mostly just whatever happens to be at his eye level. Of course, we knew this before, but this gives me a chance to actually use one of the photos, as evidence.
  • Do not let your toddler take anything out on the balcony. We were on the third floor, and I had to go rescue some socks that ended up on the ground, thanks to Gamma.
  • picture of a child with his head caught between railingsThe balcony railings are narrow enough to prevent most heads from squeezing between them. Gamma, on a couple of occasions, felt like demonstrating that he could fit his head between the rails. He could not so easily bring his head back out though. No permanent damage, and I think he learned his lesson.

Then the land will yield its produce, so that you can eat your fill and live securely on it.

Leviticus 25:19

At What Cost Izzo

I heard this morning that Michigan State is going to raise its tuition 5% next school year.

Normally I would have dismissed such an announcement, but I thought the timing was interesting.

Very interesting…

For those of you not near Lansing or Cleveland: Tom Izzo has been the coach of the MSU basketball team for a while, and he has attained success. He was considering jumping from college to NBA to take the job as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he finally decided to stay at MSU.

His announcement was earlier this week.

See the connection?

Izzo stays at MSU -> MSU has to raise tuition

Don’t tell me you don’t believe conspiracy theories…

It seems a little too coincidental to me. Do we know what MSU offered Izzo to stay at MSU? Do they maybe need a little extra cash for a “retention bonus”?

No, we don’t know.

But it is fun to speculate.

My take on the whole choice is this: going pro is for college students, not for college coaches.

Izzo’s probably better off staying at MSU.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know that MSU’s budget, set a year ago, had already proposed this increase. Consider this post tongue-in-cheek.

He who pursues righteousness and loyalty Finds life, righteousness and honor.

Proverbs 21:21

Disclaimer Win

Alpha has found a series of books at the library, and he’s gone through a few of them now.

It’s called Heroes A2Z, and I am not really reviewing the books so don’t assume that I’m recommending them here.

But I do really like the disclaimer. All works of fiction are required to have a disclaimer that says they are fictional. It is a fairly standard disclaimer and so it is very familiar. And familiarity breeds apathy, so I’m guessing that most people just skip the disclaimers.

What caught my eye with the first book (Alien Ice Cream) is that it was dedicated to the Captain, Steve Yzerman, and the story is set in Traverse City. Wanting to know more about the book, its author, and its publisher, I read the fine print at the beginning of the book.

I was amused at the disclaimer, which reads somewhat like this: “This book is fiction. The people, places, and events depicted within are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead or to real life places is purely coincidence and, in all honesty, probably a little disturbing.”

I even took pictures of the disclaimers for books 2, 3, and 6. Click on the pictures for larger versions.

picture of the legal notices of the Heroes A2Z book

picture of the legal notices of the Heroes A2Z book

picture of the legal notices of the Heroes A2Z book

After taking the pictures, I noticed that I am forbidden from repeating that disclaimer to you. “No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part …”

Do you like the irony of the previous paragraph?

In theory, that means I couldn’t even post the title of the book. Also in theory, I couldn’t use the number 26. Because there is a page 26 in the Heroes A2Z book, and it has the characters “26″ on that page.

So I must turn off the engineer part of my brain and the blogger part of my brain will assume fair use. There must be some reasonable interpretation of the ban on reproducing the contents of the book. Otherwise, I might be afraid to read the book aloud to my kids.

Are the copyright and other legal notices considered part of the copyrighted work?

Then I took the deeds of purchase, both the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions and the open copy;

Jeremiah 32:11

May Break – Day 3

Continuation of a previous post

Note: Most pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Duck Races

The pools at the hotel didn’t open right away in the morning. But at the middle pool, Klondike Kavern, they had a duck race (the “Ken-Ducky Derby”) for the kids a half hour before the pool opened. Klondike Kavern had the race because it has the lazy river feature, which the other pools do not have.

The duck race works like this:

  • Each child chooses a small rubber ducky and a staff member writes his name on it
  • The starter staff member dumps all the ducks at once in the lazy river
  • The finish-line staff member waits about 30 feet down the lazy river and grabs the first 3 ducks to reach him. Those are the winners.

They ran about four races, and each of our kids had a duck, so we ended up winning twice. The prizes were all the same, I think – plastic duck calls.

Duck Tour 1

We decided the night before that we should go on the duck tour. Otherwise, our trip to Wisconsin Dells would not be complete. The Tommy Bartlett show would have been fun to watch, but they hadn’t opened for the season yet. There were some other things, but we were planning on stopping at the museum and aquarium in Chicago on our way back home, so we didn’t look at anything museumish or aquariumish (or zooish).

That left waterparks (been there) or hiking (done that) or the duck tours. The first one we saw, brochure-wise, was the Original WWII Dells Army Ducks. So we decided to go there. I pulled into the parking lot. It looked rather sparse, but it was the off-peak season. My wife got out and asked the ticket booth about times and availability.

She came back shaking her head. “They are running only at noon and 3:00“. If I were running a place with the word “Army” in it, then all times would be in military format: 1200 and 1500, not noon and 3. It was only 10:10. We didn’t have any other plans to fill almost two hours of waiting, so we drove to the other duck tour place.

Duck Tour 2

picture of the sign at the original Wisconsin ducksIt turns out that they are also original – the Original Wisconsin Ducks. It was my turn to get out and walk to the ticket booth and ask about times and availabilities. So that’s what I did.

The lady there said they ran every half hour. Every half hour? No waiting? By the time we got the kids out of the van and loaded into the duck, that would use most of that half hour. “I’ll be right back, with the family” I told her.

Now they said they ran every half hour. The key part of that is “said”. They didn’t start for about 45 minutes. I think they meant that the tours are scheduled for every half hour, or they would like to run every half hour, or they’ll run every half hour that there are enough people. But it was a little misleading to say they ran every half hour. Because I’m sure if no one was on board, they would not take out the duck.

picture of a child sleeping while on the original Wisconsin ducks tourThe duck tour itself was 1 hour long. It was a nice warm day, the breeze was blowing gently in our faces and the engine was humming along. It was a good way to spend an hour. Gamma napped for about 50 of the 60 minutes. It’s okay because his ticket was free.

Here is my view during the land part of the tour:
picture of the view during original Wisconsin ducks on land

And here is my view during the water part of the tour:
picture of the view during original Wisconsin ducks on land

Of course, that was the straight-ahead view. Most of the time I was looking out one side or the other.

Note: take a few dollars cash because the drivers do take (and ask for in a roundabout way) tips. I did not bring any cash on the duck tour, otherwise I probably would have given him a tip. So, Pat, the duck tour driver who attends University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and plays football there, don’t take it personally that I didn’t leave you a tip. You did a fine job, but all I had was my credit card and you were not getting that.

picture of the Trojan horse at Mt. Olympus theme park in Wisconsin DellsSide Note: the duck tour place is across the street from Mt. Olympus. That is a water park/theme park/resort thingy. It is noteworthy because of the Trojan horse. It is about 5 or 6 stories high and is a fairly accurate replica, at least if all the drawings I’ve seen are close. It is, I think, the one item that represents how touristy the area is.

The website’s description of the horse is amusing: “the horse, where brave men once lay in wait to attack the Trojans“. Makes it sound like they have the original.


The afternoon and evening were spent in the pools and playland. I already posted some pictures of the pools, so this post will contain pictures of the playland.

The playland was next to the arcade and was in the section close to our room. The playland was a large version of the play areas that are not uncommon in certain restaurants or as stand-alone businesses – kids climb up stairs and cushioned passageways and everything has netting around it to prevent escapes.

picture of children playing with foam balls at the Wilderness ResortBut this one had a large open area in the middle. And that area contained hundreds of foam balls. And it contained hoses and blowers and compressed air and switches.

picture of children playing with foam balls at the Wilderness ResortThe kids could load the balls into a cannon and shoot them across the room. The second story of this place had several air cannons, spaced around a circle. And you could aim them. Put a ball in the side, aim the cannon, press the red button on the end, and the ball would fly fairly accurately across the structure. Some of the cannons were larger and could handle multiple balls at once, if you wanted to get all MIRV-y on people.

picture of children playing with foam balls at the Wilderness ResortMost of the foam balls were on the ground floor. The kids started by picking up as many as they could and taking them up to the second story (there were no “shooters” on the ground floor – only fixed cannons that aimed up) Eventually they discovered that there were a few “stoves” that just blew the foam balls up to the second story. But it kept them busy and they were usually upset only when we had to leave.

The playland was nice because the kids didn’t require constant attention, like they did at the pool. We could sit and watch them. We could relax (and not worry about swimming skills) and they could have fun.

Only the trees which you know are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down, that you may construct siegeworks against the city that is making war with you until it falls.

Deuteronomy 20:20

Tank You Very Much

I saved $500 yesterday!

At least by congressional accounting standards…

In reality, I spent $500 less than I could have spent, than I expected to spend. Although, in theory, since I could spend an infinite amount of money (theory, remember), I am saving an infinite amount of money every day.

You may be wondering what this is all about. Or you may have lost interest and stopped reading already, in which case you are not seeing this sentence and it is pointless for me to keep typ

We had no hot water yesterday morning, which was not a good thing. Showering with unheated well water is a good way to get frostbite annoyed hypothermia. I checked the circuit breaker (electric water heater) and checked the valves and everything was fine. I opened the panel on the heater to check the thermostat.

I was already in my work clothes (shirt and tie) and getting ready to head out the door. When I opened the panel on the water heater and saw just a bunch of insulation, I knew I had two choices:

1. Try to dig deeper, which would mean missing the morning of work and I would probably have to call a plumber anyway or
2. Just go to work like normal and call the plumber right away.

A little background here to set the context a little bit:
I moved into this house about 10 years ago. The average lifespan of an electric water heater is 7-10 years. The water heater was old when I moved into the house.

All that, combined with the fact that hard water (we have a softener, but it can do only so much) reduces the life of a water heater, meant that I figured it was the water heater’s time to go. (In case you’re wondering, it’s the fridge’s turn to quit next. Since I’ve been at the house I got a new stove, dishwasher, washer and dryer, water softener, and had to have the furnace repaired. The only major appliances left are the fridge and water heater. And the well pump, but I don’t want to think about that).

So I informed my wife that I would call the plumber and get it fixed that day.

I called our normal plumber. He called back a couple hours later and said he was swamped. “Do you have a meter?” he asked. “You could check the thermostat to make sure it hasn’t tripped.

I could do that, but I’m not home.

He agreed that maybe I should call our other plumber then.

Our other plumber said he’d be able to get there that afternoon. That sounded to me like it would be done before the day was over, so we arranged for that.

He called my cell phone in the mid-afternoon. He told me that he was on his way over and wanted the exact address and nearest intersection. I told him, then quickly hung up and called my wife so she would know he would be there in a few minutes.

Of course, the one time that day she could find to nap was right around that time. I think my call awakened her. She scrambled downstairs, only to find the plumber pulling into our driveway already.

My wife called a bit later – “Okay, it’s fixed and he’s gone. I gave him a check for $120.

Our furnace guy charged about $75 for house calls. For plumbers, it turns out, it’s $60 to make the house call and $60 per hour of labor (minimum of 1 hour labor charge no matter what’s done).

I figured that $120 to fix a broken water heater was not too bad of a deal. My wife helped when she told me that the plumber said we were lucky, because a new water heater would run about $600.

That’s where the $500 savings comes into play.

Then came the revelation that ruined my happy thoughts of avoiding house maintenance: “Yeah, all he needed to do was push the reset button on the water heater.


A $120 bill for that?

If only there hadn’t been that insulation in the way and I had seen a reset button on the water heater. Why couldn’t it have been a big, red, prominent reset button like on our furnace? But nooooo…

The plumber said that the water heater is 22 years old. The newer heaters are smaller and lighter, we were informed. I’m sure they are smaller and lighter. I’m also sure that they won’t last 22 years. Ours is built like a tank (yes, a water heater tank).

I’m considering the $120 as like an insurance policy. Because if I hadn’t paid it, I would have spent all morning in the basement trying to replace heating elements.

That would have been much worse for everyone involved.

And probably some people who weren’t involved.

I just had to remind myself a few times yesterday to think of the big picture – you wanted to pay a plumber to fix the water heater, and now it’s fixed. Mission accomplished.

If I should wash myself with snow And cleanse my hands with lye,

Job 9:30

World Cube Puzzle

I subscribe to World Magazine. The cover a few issues ago had an advertisement that tried to get my attention.

cover of an April 2010 issue of World magazine

I ignored the ad until I had finished the issue. Then I looked at the Rubik’s-like puzzle that they used as the centerpiece of the ad. And, being the good engineer that I am, I tried to solve it

puzzle cube advertisement on cover of an April 2010 issue of World magazine

But I couldn’t solve it because it was wrong. I found 8 and a half things wrong with it.

Read the rest of this entry »