Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crèche 2010

Still keeps getting better every year!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Fear of long words?

Here are some others:


Afraid yet?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Captain Olsen of the H.M.S. Wonganella, a.k.a. Citizen Scientist

The H.M.S. Wonganella was a tired merchant ship appropriated by the Royal Navy for the dangerous task of submarine decoying from 1915 - 1917. Imagine being hit by a torpedo, a portion of the "panic crew" manning the lifeboats  while the rest remain on station, hidden behind camouflaged guns, waiting for the unsuspecting sub to surface before taking the fight to them!
OldWeather is a project to extract weather data from old ship logs. Computers have a hard enough time doing optical character recognition from typed text, let alone flowery 19th century handwriting. I was fascinated by the "human computer cluster" aspect of this project and was naturally drawn to a submarine related boat. It was also of interest that the information was going to be used to improve computer modeling of the weather.

I am currently Captain because I've done the most weather extractions for that ship. The ship just left Malta (January 1916) bound for Spiza, Italy. I'm also a Lieutenant on the sloop H.M.S. Bluebell. In addition to weather and location, we annotate people, ships, and events which will make the data useful for historians as well.

I had read a bit about "Q"-boats, as the submarine decoys were known, regarding their operation in WWII, but didn't realize that type of trickery began in WWI. Interested in learning more, I found a couple of books on line, one of which mentions the H.M.S. Wonganella and two unsuccessful tangles she had with German U-boats.

So, not only am I having a fun time learning about history, weather, and geography, I'm helping out a research project! Win-win-win. I just need to recruit a few Runescapers and Farmvillers to help. And don't tell the crew of the Wonganella I'm a submariner or they might turn on me!

Friday, November 26, 2010

What in the World is a Word Cloud?

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide (this blog in this case). The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Merit Badging

 I got invited back to help with the Railroad Merit Badge clinic this year.

 Roy Severn has a nice O-scale setup he lets the boys run. First they have to learn about car types, train types, and how locomotives work. They also have to plan a trip by Amtrak using real time tables.

Here is an example of scales I set up, with my N-scale loco on the left and Roy's O-scale on the left. The center is the more popular HO. There are also smaller scales (Z) and larger (G)!

 After work comes play. Roy teaches wiring and operations while I show them how to switch out the mill.

New this year was my switching puzzle program. It took this crew eleven minutes to solve a Timesaver. Nobody was able to finish a 5-3-3 Inglenook, which is a bit tougher than Dawson Station. You can "gauge" the difficulty for your self at my switching puzzle page.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Make your own font?

I've never been able to find a good handwriting font. So, I made my own. Give it a try at

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dawson Station in the Walthers 2011 N & Z Scale Catalog!

A strange package arrived today. It contained the 2011 Walthers N & Z Scale Catalog, which I didn't remember ordering. I completely forgot I had sent in some pictures for their annual photo contest.

 I was the 2nd Place winner, on page 261. They didn't even pick my favorite shot. These were from my first attempt at extending the focal length by stacking images. In addition to the free catalog, which provides hours and hours of day-dream material, I was awarded $100. The check, signed by Mr. Walthers himself, was for $125. It took reading the small print about the check covering "any additional images" published before I figured it out.

A quick thumb-through found a second photograph on page 83 at the beginning the "Decals" section. That puts a pretty nice feather in my cap. I'm pretty much done promoting Dawson Station. For now it hides high in the garage.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Handwaves and the Libby Bong

There are not too many vehicles where the drivers wave at each other in passing. Bikes are like that. Westfalias too, I'm learning. One of the things that drew me to them was an active online community. The beauty of the web is the shared experience. An example of this is the "Libby Bong".

Vanagons have a cooling system that is notoriously hard to bleed. This has to do with some design choices that put the expansion tank and reservoir in an easily accessible location (the rear engine compartment), but well below the high point in the system (radiator). The official method of bleeding the system requires running the engine at high enough rpm for the water pump to put out enough pressure while you vent the air out of the top of the radiator (in front) and adding coolant to the reservoir (in back). That seems to take more coordination and hands than the average shade tree mechanic has available. Any misstep and you can loose coolant either from the back or the front.

Someone posted an alternate method on line. It requires about $10 worth of hardware and allows a single person to do the job. A PCV pipe allows you to get the level above the radiator. A small tube on the side shows the level, and once filled and bled, siphons the level back down to the correct level without spilling any coolant. The perfect "hack". All you need is an extra set of hands to photograph it in action!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

WetWesties at McBee

We had a warm welcome from our first contact with the WetWestie crew. We joined a small group at a semi-annual gathering at an interesting little campground owned by Hull-Oakes near Alsea.
Fittingly, it was raining. Our makeshift awning made the weather a bit more livable. The campground, Hubert K. McBee Memorial Park, is located within hiking distance of both Alsea Falls and Green Peak Falls.

We hiked over to see Green Peak Falls, which I had never even heard of before. It is as nice as Alsea Falls. There is some amazing old growth along the trail to the falls.

Here is another suitable wet-weather vehicle we spied along the way.

Hard to believe, but another tan 1985 Westy piloted by Linda showed up! Long lost twins reunited? 

We felt warmly welcomed, and enjoyed visiting with everyone. It is nice to know there are others surviving with similar afflictions.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On Patrol at Crater Lake, a.k.a. Westy Outing #4

If our previous outings in the Westfalia were "shake down" cruises, we had our first fully crewed, multi-overnight "patrol" to Southern Oregon. It was a late-season trip that only homeschoolers and retirees can manage, and we had a lucky streak of glorious weather to make it all the more special.

We drove down to Crater Lake on the first day, with June and Smitty as escort. It had been a number of years since I had been there, and it was as beautiful as ever. The park was shutting down for the season, which seemed a bit strange in the unseasonable weather, but it was also very uncrowded, which we like.

After cutting our escort loose to do their own exploring, we headed south of the park to find a camp spot. We stumbled upon a gem of a Forest Service camp called Huckleberry Mountain. It was free, and we had it to ourselves, probably due to the fact that it was four miles off the paved road. We did take a wrong turn, and punctured a tire on the rough road, but it was well worth it.

We went back to Crater Lake for a second helping, getting Ann Marie "Junior Rangerized", and staying to watch the moon rise above the lake. We headed back for another night at Huckleberry Mountain, arriving near midnight.

After two nights of primitive camping, we tried the other end of the spectrum and spent $45 for a small patch of grass and warm showers at a KOA in Kalamath Falls. "For just one night?", I asked. "Yes," was the reply. "Hot show = happy campers", I thought. The following day we visited the Kalamath County Museum, and found an even crazier camp site at a hot springs in Ashland. That might need a blog post of its own.

The following morning we drove down to visit the Oregon Caves. The highlight of the tour was when the lights went out, and the tour guide had to hand out extra flashlights to everyone. The guide was quite apologetic, but everyone seemed to enjoy it

For our final night out, we stayed at the closest Forest Service camp to the Oregon Caves called Cave Creek. It was not free, nor did we have it completely to ourselves, but it was peaceful and a welcome reprieve after the last two "commercial" campgrounds.
The fridge gave us fits, despite all the work I've put in on it. The flat tire was irreparable, and cost $90 to replace. The severely under-powered van was also severely under-cooled and required a sense of humor, great patience, and a defroster on full blast to make the long climbs without a complete melt down. Other than that, it was a pretty successful cruise. We were all glad to be home. Running hot water and flushing toilets are quite a miracle!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Crashing the Company Picnic

Well not so much crashing, but I did invite myself to this years Hull-Oakes company picnic at Belfoutain Park.
Fittingly, they eat at one of the six massive table tops they cut.

Dawson Station spent most of the summer up in my garage. There is no other group I would rather get it out for. I set it up in my newest hobby, a 1985 Westfalia. The layout, including the overhead lighting, draws only 44 watts. I was going to run it off a converter, but was able to plug in to AC and save my battery.

I got a lot of positive comments and it was kept busy running back and forth. I also got to hear some good stories. Not only were we well fed, but I was given a Hull-Oakes jacket and hat just like all the other employees!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Westy Outing #3

For our third outing, we ventured a bit farther afield, having gained a bit of trust in our steed. After touring the Tillamook Cheese Factory, we set out to explore the northern Oregon Coast.

We had heard it might be possible to camp on the beach at Pacific City. We found a couple of other Westies there, as well as "No Camping" signs.

We decided to play it save and drove north to camp at Cape Lookout State Park. It is a nice camp, very close to the beach. We survived a rainy, windy evening, qualifying us as members of "WetWesties", a group billed as a "Pacific Northwest Camping Society".

We found another cool beach called Terria del Marr. We did get stuck, as reported here, but had a great time anyway.

Only a full-blooded Oregonian could enjoy cold surf like this!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stuck in a Rut

We had a great outing to the coast last week. One incident deserves a blog post of its own. We got stuck on the beach.
South of Cape Lookout, where we camped, there is a beach called Tierra de Mar. It is one of the few places you can actually drive on an Oregon beach, and we spent several hours there building sand castles and having lunch. When it was time to go, I decided to drive down the beach a bit just to see how far it went. Unfortunately, we hit some soft sand and the van got stuck.
It wasn't the first time my crew has endured a stranding. Nor will it be the last. Here are my pearls of wisdom regarding getting a vehicle stuck and unstuck, which may or may not be applicable to life in general:

  • Keep your momentum up. You are not actually stuck until you stop moving. Once you stop, it is significantly harder to get started again.
  • Don't panic! Once you are stuck, spinning your wheels will only dig you in deeper. Stop and assess the situation.
  • Relax a little. It is not the end of the world. Let some air out of your tires. It will help you gain traction.
  • Accept help. Even if you are not sure you need it. People like to help. You may need it more than you realize.
  • Be prepared. While a lot of people may be willing to help, they might not have the tools to do so. Four-wheel-drives seem to be plentiful. Tow ropes are not. I carry a tow rope.

A couple from Canada in a four-wheel-drive saved the day. Two other groups stopped to help (or watch the spectacle). The girls stayed calm. Another "Daddy Adventure" for the books. It was almost worth it just to get this picture here: