Finding Adventure...

Depression and the Pinewood Derby

Seems we had a major setback. Unfortunately I'm out of town this weekend, and it's Pinewood Derby weekend. I read the build instructions that came with the car and assumed they were pretty much the "rules" since they list things like sizes, maximum weight, etc. I don't recall it saying that you HAD to have the axles visible through slots in the bottom of the car, though the build instructions have you using those slots for your axles.

I found our slots weren't square, however, and squaring them properly made them too big. Which to me was fine since I didn't like slots anyway. So Kevin and I used the mill to drill holes and used that instead. So now I'm gone and the tech inspector said he couldn't run it that way...apparently last year they had a car that didn't have the slots that won their competition and then got disqualified when he went to the regional competition. So now they require the slots, too.

What sucks about this? Well, it's not easy to do, but if I had been home this weekend (instead I'm on a trip that was planned long before I knew about the Pinewood Derby being this weekend) I could have fixed it. It would have meant removing the axles and wheels and cutting tiny slots so you could see the axles. Then reassemble. But it's not trivial to do and so Ashley can't make it happen without me. Which really bums me out. A lot. If we had just used the non-square slots the car would have been slower, but he would have gotten to compete. I have no idea if they'll let him go ahead and run it at least some, but it sounded like they might. But I'm not there and I could have fixed it if I were. sigh Sorry, Kevin.
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Saving Money

So my friend bean has a great story on how to better budget as a family on her blog. If you're having trouble with you or your spouse (or both!) sticking to a budget, give what she and her hubby are doing a look. Might help. But the natural extension to this, in my mind, is saving money. Budgeting to not over-spend is a nice goal, but hopefully everyone out there is also budgeting so they can save a nice regular amount every month. And then hopefully everyone knows how to do something with that money. Hah!

Yeah, if you're laughing at one or both of those ideas, you need to get a copy of this book and read it. The best thing I can say about this book is that not only is it easy to read, it's motivating! You'll be encouraged in ways you never thought of before to "pay yourself first." I can't stress enough to the working folks I know how important it is to save for retirement. The government will only be there to collect their share when you die. They are not there for you before then. Oh sure, they'll help keep you alive as long as the cheaply can, but that's about it. Everything else is up to you. But with this book you can find out how to build the habits you need (and bean's budgeting idea is a very important building block) to retire wealthy, not just comfortably.

I was turned on to this book by Erik Troan way back in the day. I can honestly say that after building up way too much credit card debt and generally not living very diligently, that this book was a turning point. We were well on our way to a better life on our own before our fortune hit and we didn't have to worry about that any longer.
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You don't need rhythm when you've got a tractor.

If you like tractors and you like music (and seriously now, who doesn't?), then you'll like this video. I should point out that this came via my Dad who got it off the GL1800 forum (where the guys who ride those really big cushy motorcycles hang out), which is the same place I got the political video the other day from.

I mean you gotta respect a band that not only uses a tractor as an instrument, but gives it a solo!

The Pinewood Derby!

So, the Pinewood Derby is one of those "rites of passage" things for most little boys. I think it's different than your typical wait-till-the-last minute school project. Little boys are usually into racing things, and their dads usually are, too. It's no different with my boys and me, so we got started plenty early on Kevin's car. Now, I don't blog about my kids, really, but I did think it would be fun to show off old versus new. See, I still have my original car from when I was a Cub Scout around seven or eight that my Dad and I built. It's pictured here.

One thing to note is that these labels are prototypes for Kevin's car. The 45 on top nor the "Carefree Racing" on the side was there back in the day. You can see two circles on the top where the original number stickers used to be. I have no idea what number I used, but it was the stickers that came with the kit (and the new kits still come with the same basic thing!). But I like them so I'm leaving them. Maybe one day I'll do a full restoration of the old girl, but for now she can sport some new graphics.

Back when my Dad and I built this one, we had the full shop facilities of Brady Distributing in Charlotte at our disposal. Unfortunately they were more of an electronics company than a woodworking company, but they did have a band saw, which was what we used to cut the body. We sort of weighed everything and found we were way under the five ounce limit. But I don't think we had a very accurate small scale, so we were pretty conservative in how much weight we added. Dad got a wood drill bit about the size of a nickel and we put a hole in the bottom. Then we put a stack of nickels in there and used a few flat head wood screws to hold them in. Then for good measure we puttied them smooth. Outside of that we simply sanded some by hand and hit it with some blue spray paint. Then we shoved the axles in, made sure there was some play in them, and put graphite in there to lubricate things.

Off to the races! I remember showing up and feeling a bit dejected when I saw the other cars. Many kids had put a LOT of effort into hand carving and painting their cars. I felt bad I hadn't done the same, but didn't know any better beforehand. Then came the weigh-in. Everyone else was weighing in at things like 4.8, 4.9, 5.0 ounces. I was REALLY worried I'd be over. Then we got our turn at the scale. Three-point-eight! Oh no! I was the lightest car in the bunch. For those that don't know, this is bad for the Pinewood Derby. You see, the cars are powered by gravity. They just coast down a hill. First to the bottom wins! Being at max weight is where you want to be and we weren't even close. Oh well, time to take my beating. We put some more graphite on the axles and put her on the course.

First time down, blam, winner by several lenghts. What? How can this be? I was stunned and amazed. And I remained that way, as my little girl rocketed down the course in first place in every race, eventually winning the entire thing. I'm sure I got a medal or something that's now long gone, but I will never forget the day I won. Apparently our sleak body design and special lubricant and leaving some play in those axles was a great recipe, even if we were under-weight a little.

Fast forward nearly thirty years and I'm helping my son build his car. I've tried to make him do as much of the work as he SAFELY can. That doesn't include running the band saw just yet, but he got a clear understanding of the importance of getting the table on the saw square to the blade. He decided he wanted a basic copy of my winning car since it apparently had pretty good aerodynamics. We also did some work to the axles and wheels on his car to polish them MUCH smoother than they come out of the box for less friction. He got a clear lesson in friction, believe me. As for the body design, we also talked a lot about aerodymanics. I'm not sure much of that stuck, but hopefully some of it did. I let him help use my mini milling machine to drill the axle holes. The slots that come cut in your chunk of "pinewood" aren't square to the wood, really (they're close, but off by a little), and that means your car is going to try to turn ever so slightly on the track, which will result in extra friction and thus lower speeds. So we used the mill to try to get ours perfectly straight. We talked about leaving play between the head of the axle (which is really just a fancy nail!) and wheel and the body of the car, again to help reduce friction. I even helped him wax the side of the car where the wheel will no doubt rub the side a little.

We also did some work with the Dremel tool to "true" the wheels as well as polish their inside edge where they'll rub the track a little. Again, lower friction. We had the advantage of a wood shop with big sanding machines, so we used that to help get the wood smooth. Then Kevin did some hand sanding to get the corners nice and smooth. Oh, and we also used the milling machine to cut the slots for the ballast in the bottom of the car. I bought some lead rod to put in there to get to maximum weight. All the way through we kept weighing our pile of parts on the cooking scale we stole from Mom (and dutifully returned with only minor wear and tear!).

We primed her and then sanded a little more. Then we painted her red, which was Kevin's choice (seems he likes his Dad's red race car better than the blue one...which is fine, red is a better "car color" anyway). We called in a favor from the graphics department at our race shop to cut some silver vinyl to make a racing stripe with. I suggested to Kevin that vinyl would be a lot easier to manage than a two tone paint job and he agreed. Seems I'm not expert painter and neither is he, so we decided not to push our limits in this arena. Besides, we were only a couple days away at this point and a botched paint job might end up having to stay if we messed up. Oh, our graphics department went above and beyond by also providing us with a chrome piece of vinyl for the stripe along with the silver. I thought Kevin would love it, but instead he said he liked the silver better. I suppose he thought it was too much bling. sigh That's my boy, conservative to the last.

Last thing was to get the ballast tweaked to the right amounts and assemble. I did the grinding on the lead since it's kind of toxic and grinders are also a bit dangerous for small fingers, but Kevin helped with the screws to hold it in place. We put the wheels on and used a metal spacer to make sure that not only did we have enough play in the wheels and axle, but we had exactly the same amount all the way around. Then we hit the wheels with the magic graphite, and things got really good from there. She rolls instantly on even the slightest of inclines. Seems even our kitchen bar has a minor tilt to it that isn't supposed to be there and isn't noticeable to the naked eye! But the Pinewood Derby car tells all.

Last trick was the lettering. I had discovered how cool it could be to customize Playmobil toys at Christmas using my Brother P-Touch label printer, so we stole that same idea for his car. We used some white on clear label tape for the "Carefree Racing" on the side and some black on clear for the 45 on top and his name on the back (and Kevin did the typing!). Stands out pretty well, and doesn't weigh much. Anyway, without further ado, here's Kevin's masterpiece. May she race well this weekend.

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And so it begins.

Are my fears being realized so soon? Seriously?

I really can't believe the "white male construction worker" has been singled out to remain out of work so blatantly. This is troubling. Someone please disprove this video is somehow out of context or something, please. I may not sleep otherwise. sigh

Good-bye, Coach Yow.

Today NC State lost a tremendous leader in Coach Kay Yow to her battle with cancer. She will be dearly missed by everyone who knew her and even those who didn't. I had the opportunity to meet Coach Yow back in the early 1990's while a student at NC State. A couple of friends of mine, led by fellow student Scott Vogler, successfully helped petition the NCAA to let non-varsity-athlete students practice with women's athletic teams. Why did they need boys? Because at least at the time, it was very difficult to recruit enough girls of enough size to have a big enough second string. If your second string was small it was very hard to simulate playing against some of the teams you would face in the regular season.

The petition was successful and I and my friends got to help in practice. Coach Yow had simple instructions for us. We were for defense only. Straight man to man, no help defense, block out as hard as we physically could. No offense. At the mention of "no offense" she would see we were all a bit dejected and quickly added "unless you get a steal. You get one fast break opportunity at the other end and then hustle it back on defense." With that we had all the reward we could have asked for. I think we only got use of it a couple times, but those couple times were more than enough. It was like we were on her team, and for that we were grateful. So in a sense I can say I played for Coach Yow in Reynolds Coliseum on what would be come Kay Yow Court (later). I don't care if she was a women's coach and I'm a guy. I'm proud to have known her at least for a little bit.

Movie Review

Righteous Kill is a pretty good NY city cop thriller with a few twists you won't see coming. I'm a little surprised they cast De Niro and Pacino in it, unless those two were just looking for a movie to do together or something. They're good, don't get me wrong, but overall the movie just isn't the quality that you'd expect from something with both of these guys. It's probably not fair, but you sort of expect amazing, not just pretty good.

At any rate, definitely a worthy rental if you like fairly dark cop thriller type movies.

It figures.

Thanks to Jane we planned a great vacation in Tahoe to take the kids skiing over this MLK holiday weekend (now that we're beholden to school schedules for all our breaks...ugh!). The one thing you can't plan is weather, and it just figures that while we're in Tahoe the weather is in the low 50's each day and at home there's SNOW! Oh man, snow! Now we might have trouble getting home tomorrow night from the airport, too.

And to top it all off, while I had two great days of skiing, I couldn't ski on our last day here thanks to what appears to be some minor altitude sickness. I thought I was just getting really tired at the end of the day yesterday during our last long run to the parking lot, but I was totally exhausted once I sat down in the car and got home. Stayed that way all evening. Slept fine but have been exhausted and fairly short of breath all day today, too. This is what I'd think exertive asthma must feel like.

Thanks to Murch for the early morning photo at our place!
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So, iPhone and iPod Touch users can download (for a small fee) an application that will show you how to tie just about any knot around. Pretty cool. I stumbled across that application surfing for apps for my Touch and it reminded me of my rock climbing class final exam when I was at NC State. It was all true/false and the final question was this:

A not neat knot need not be tied.
The point is obviously that you shouldn't tie a knot unless you can tie it neatly. But you figure out the answer to the question. It's a fun one.

The physics of dishes.

I like breakfast cereal, but I have this thing about milk. It must be whole milk and it must be cold. I don't enjoy it nearly as much if it's just in the fridge from the store or something (but we're talking breakfast here, so that's rarely an issue). One thing I've noticed is that thick porcelain dishes have a pretty large ability to transfer heat. It only makes sense that thinner ones or non-porcelain dishes (like plastic) transfer less heat.

I found this out because we only have thinner bowls in the mountain house, but only thicker at home. When I have cereal, I typically have two bowls. What I noticed was when I added milk and cereal for the SECOND bowl, I noticed my milk was much colder on that first bite than it was in the last bite of the first bowl. And thus it "tasted" much better to me. That's with the thick bowl at home. With the thinner bowl at the mountains, the difference wasn't NEARLY as pronounced. So I definitely prefer thinner bowls for cereal now.

I've noticed this same phenomenon with salad. I don't like my salad as much when it's right-out-of-the-fridge cold. I like it closer to room temperature. Put it in our thicker porcelain bowls and it gets warmer faster since it wicks heat out of the bowl. I often actually save my salad for the last part of the meal for this reason (when it's not the entire meal, anyway).

Why do I mention this? Well, because if you're temperature sensitive with some items like me, you might choose your dishes differently. Surely a few of you are as weird as me. Okay, maybe not. Humor me, then.

On a related note, if you like your cereal crispy, check out this contraption. Seems kind of neat. Not sure I'll try one, but let me know if you do! It's pictured above, too.
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