Learning from Big Brother

July 13, 2011

Long Day

What a day. We went to the farmers’ market, played outside with Stephen in his pool, dropped Jaime’s rings off to be re-sized (thank goodness for lifetime warranties that include re-sizings), got Stephen a hair cut, and ate dinner at Chili’s. Great day. Now I’m going to lay down for bed at 9pm. I’m old. Goodnight.

Stephen Learning his Letters

July 29, 2011

Another Mid-Air Attempt

This one was taken by Jaime.
July 10, 2011

Pretending to Sleep

July 10, 2011

Kids Stuff

The differences in our children are quite striking already. First of all you have the size difference. At four months old, Henry (a.k.a. Hank the Tank) is wearing the clothes that Stephen was wearing when he was about a year old, walking around in them. For instance, Henry was just wearing this romper and it was pretty tight on him.

The second thing is that Henry is way more vocal than Stephen ever was. The range of sounds he makes is comparable to Stephen at 18months. Henry is generally more interested in people–emulating sounds, laughing, touching faces. Stephen just wanted to destroy destroy DESTROY.

Without any assistance from me, Stephen started naming 5-6 letters the other day. Since then, we have taught him several more. Now he just brings me all kinds of stuff and we take turns reading the letters. I credit the show Super Why! for getting him interested in letters and teaching him a few. It’s the best show around for 1-3 year olds, and it’s on PBS so virtually everyone gets it. It teaches the basics of reading and some very basic principles to help toddlers cope with everyday life. There is an episode where the moral is that throwing a tantrum is not helpful and you have to “use your words” to communicate what is bothering you…. that sort of thing. We are transitioning him to sitting at the table with us for dinner. It’s too exciting for him at the moment, but he’ll settle down and it will be nice for all of us. It won’t be long before Henry can sit in the highchair, so we need to free it up at dinner time. For breakfast, Stephen eats a regular bowl of cheerios with milk and a spoon these days; it sure does make things easier!

We’ve starting putting rice flakes (“cereal”) in with with Henry’s milk and he’s been sleeping 8 or 10 hours at night. Last night he slept a full ten hours, from 8pm-6am. That’s ideal as it matches Stephen’s schedule and gives us time to do stuff at night. The little guy is rolling over and scooting across the floor like a champ now, too. He held his own bottle the other day while he ate, so that skill is soon to be developed. He is interested in every little thing nowadays, which makes it harder for my wife to nurse him. My two milestones with babies are six weeks and six months. The first six weeks are really tough and things got noticeably easier once we got past that point. We’re coming up on the six month mark which gives you another big break because the baby can do things like sit up and hold his own bottle by then.

Useless Facts [Part 16]

  • Seinfeld debuted as The Seinfeld Chronicles and was not expected to do well. After that first episode aired, the first order from NBC was a whopping four episodes.
  • Kramer originally wore clothes from the 1960s to give the impression that he couldn’t afford new ones, not to make him look retro. Then, in the mid-90’s, retro clothing from the 60s and 70s became popular.
  • George’s clothes were intentionally tailored one size too small to make him look geeky.
  • Danny DeVito was considered for the role of George.
  • The real life Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame–Al Yeganeh–was so mad at Jerry Seinfeld that he refused to accept Jerry’s apology when he went to the International Soup Kitchen to personally make amends.
  • The M*A*S*H theme song is called “Suicide Is Painless.” The lyrics were written by Mike Altman, the fourteen-year-old son of Robert Altman, the movie’s director.
  • Actor Gary Burghoff has a deformed hand, so his character Radar O’Reilly’s left hand was always either in his pocket or behind something. Occasionally a glimpse of his misshapen fingers could be seen.
  • The outdoor set of M*A*S*H, near Malibu, California, was destroyed by a brush fire at the end of the 1982 production season, so the show writers wrote the fire into the script.
  • Anson Williams, who played teenager Potsie on Happy Days, was twenty-five in 1974, his first year on the show. When the show went off the air nine years later, the youthful Potsie was still played by the thirty-four-year-old actor.
  • Jumping the shark” refers to the moment when a TV show has run out of new ideas and resorts to absurd storylines. The expression comes from a crazy 1977 episode of Happy Days, where Fonzi dons swim trunks with his leather jacket and does a water ski jump over a penned-in shark.
  • During the first season and a half of Happy Days, Richie had an older brother Chuck. He was dropped from the show with no explanation. “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome” is now the expression for a character that mysteriously disappears from a TV show.
  • The characters on The Simpsons are named for members of creator Matt Groening’s family. His parents are Homer and Marge, his sister’s names are Lisa and Maggie. The name Bart is an anagram for “brat.”
  • The actors who do the voices on The Simpsons are paid $400,000 per episode.

Hefty Henry

July 10, 2011

Robot Soccer 2011

I’ve been interested in robotics since I was a child. There were several times when I was young that I was going to spend a large chunk of my savings on a toy robot (before they were widespread and commercially available, I used to look through Edmund’s Scientific catalogs at the primitive robots). Now I follow several robotics blogs. The best one right now is http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics

The most interesting developments in recent years all have to do with autonomous robotics. The Roomba (or robotic floorvacs in general) is a common example of this. The Roomba Robotic Floorvac is autonomous in that it makes its own decisions about where to go, where to avoid, and when it is finished. You do not need to program it or provide it with the floor plan of your house in order for it to do its job vacuuming. It also knows how to avoid stairs on its own.

RoboCup is an annual international robotics competition and the star events in this competition are the soccer events. These are not remote-controlled robots; they actually know how to play soccer. Each side’s goalposts are a different color so the robots know how to orient themselves based on the goal posts and the lines in the soccer “field.” There are two main divisions, humanoid robots and “other.” The humanoid robots are bipedal. Within the humanoid category, there are several sizes, the largest being adult sized robots. The larger sizes are not interesting yet; they spend most of their energy just trying to balance and not fall over and they basically behave like zombies. If they fall over, they cannot correct themselves. The next size down are teen robots and then KidSize robots. The KidSize humanoid robots are actually quite interesting. They can make passes to teammates, the goalies can dive (more like a controlled fall) to make a save, and they can stand back up if/when they fall over. They know to go back to the center of the field after a goal is scored.

For the past several years, a team from Germany has cleaned up in the KidSize humanoid category, but this year the USA took the cup thanks to a team of graduate students from Virginia Tech. The soccer games themselves are not particularly interesting, but the implications for robotics are quite interesting. It should be stated that the end goal of these roboticists is to have a team of AdultSize humanoid robots that can beat the best team of human players in the year 2050. For now it seems like a lofty goal, but given the advances made in the past five years alone, it may be possible before the year 2050.

The finals match of the KidSize humanoid robots can be seen here. And for a whole lot more videos in all of the (often strange) categories, you can go here.

Stephen Helps Give Henry a Bath

July 10, 2011