Tag Archive for rugrats

War Rocket Rugrat

My family inadvertently reenacted the worst portions of the Soviet space program yesterday.

That’s the problem with science kits: they promise so much, but give so little. The Rugrats received a simple rocket kit for Christmas last year. Little more than a plastic soda bottle and some tchotchkes, it’s supposed to shoot “up to 100 feet” into the sky.

Here is our sad little rocket:

Launch One: FAIL

Made by Acme, apparently

Now, to be fair, we weren’t all that concerned about looks. The fins are cheap balsa wood,  and the rest is flimsy, light plastic lashed together with strips cut from a sheet of silver foil tape. The Rugrats are still too young to cut and tape straight. End result? Something that could explode and we wouldn’t be too concerned about it.

The fuel for this simple rocket is vinegar and baking soda. When the two mix you get carbon dioxide, which is supposed to punch out a stopper at the bottom and propel this thing skyward. A simple chemical reaction. So we loaded the vinegar into the body, dropped the baking soda into the engine tube, and took them out to the field across the street.

Launch One: I mix the materials and the engine immediately blows off in my hands. The rubber stopper misses my face by inches.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

The Wife and Little Bird run home for more fuel, we clean up the rocket and reload, and we take it back to the center of the field. I put in the stopper (engine) and tighten it up more this time. The eldest Rugrat wisely flees the launch area.

Launch Two: Mix the fuel, set the rocket down, boosh! It all explodes out of the bottom before I let go.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

I know the chemistry is sound because we’re getting the reaction, and the stopper does pop loose. However, the paperwork says it’s supposed to take 8-30 seconds for pressure to build up. Maybe the designers of this thing should have read up on the Nedelin catastrophe. We load up again, this time using less baking soda, and I try to get the stopper/engine on good and tight.

Launch Three: Mix the fuel and it blows up all over my shoe before I can set it down.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

This thing writes its own premature ejaculation jokes at this point. Maybe the kit designers are trying to build empathy for their personal problems.

Though I suppose it could have been worse. The kids want to try a Mentos and Diet Coke launch sometime.

We had enough vinegar for one last launch. I examine the stopper and make sure it tightens as it’s supposed to (it has a screw and a handle that are supposed to compress it lengthwise to make it wider). I dry the stopper and the mouth of the bottle to make sure it will get a good grip. Prep the engine, return to the launchpad. Again, my assistant Rugrat flees the scene.

Launch Four: Mix the fuel, set the rocket on the ground. It immediately falls over on one of its flimsy balsa wood fins. I reach down to pick it up . . . Boosh! The stopper pops and the rocket shoots fifteen feet or so through the grass.

The Wife and two Rugrats laugh and laugh.

The Squirt hangs his head with a sad pout because the rocket “sucks” and we’re out of fuel, so he didn’t get to see it fly up into the air. Thanks, Science! You like making little kids cry?

Man. Science is a jerk sometimes.

And that’s why I didn’t get any real writing work done yesterday.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Halfway Halloween

The Oliveris had a good Halloween this year. The Rugrats loved the costumes they picked out, and they got to wear them to two Halloween parties and for trick-or-treating. We logged a little over two miles knocking on doors tonight, and this year Little Bird stayed in the lead most of the time. Twice we ran into little kids who got scared of the Rugrats’ costumes, and there were several comments from candy giver outers (it’s a technical term) about their scary costumes.

Ghost-Faced Killer

The Ghost-Faced Killer stalks his prey

However, our community fell short for Halloween this year.

This town has set hours for trick-or-treating, and even then kids are only supposed to knock at houses with the porch light on. This year, those houses were fewer and farther between than any year we’ve gone trick-or-treating. Even houses we knew usually participated had their lights off.

We also saw fewer trick-or-treaters out and about. The far side of one street is usually choked with traffic, and there are often cars driving all up and down the streets as parents watch their children or ferry them from block to block. This year? Hardly any traffic at all. We ran into a few small groups of kids, but never did we have to wait in line at some houses for other kids to move on.

In the end, while we did have a good haul of candy, it was around half the size of what we usually get, even in the years we walked shorter routes.

I wish I had an explanation for it. I can’t imagine it’s a religious objection, as it’s never been a problem in the past (at least, not a big one). The economy? Candy’s not that expensive. I suppose it could be an activity at the school, but we generally work around holidays (and even then, it would only affect the high school students). Even the cooler temps and chill breeze haven’t deterred trick-or-treaters in the past.

Whatever the cause, I hope it doesn’t become the norm. Halloween is the one holiday that hasn’t had the fun sucked out of it for one reason or another. The kids and I look forward to visiting the Halloween store for months in advance, and we know we’ll be home to go trick-or-treating.

If I find out in the paper tomorrow that some whackjob is trying to kill Halloween in our community, it’s going to be war.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: The Transit of Venus

Equipment failures prevented me from getting decent photos of the Transit of Venus on Tuesday, but the family and I still had fun spotting the shadow of Venus against the orange disc of the sun with the solar shades I picked up.

Watching the Transit

The Squirt watches Venus transiting the sun

Given it would be over a hundred years before the next transit, and the kids were too young to catch it the first time around, I thought it might be a good experience for them. I took a long lunch break from work and rode out to Peoria’s Lakeview Museum and planetarium to pick up solar viewing shades, and borrowed a telescope from the science class at the school I work for.

The telescope was meant to project an image of the sun on some poster board, but I could not get a good image. It turned out the telescope was missing a lens or an eyepiece and had no focus. I improvised with my 55-250mm camera lens, but its results were sketchy at best.

Projection FAIL

That tiny, pale gray spot is Venus. I promise, kids.

At least the solar shades worked out. We expected Venus’s silhouette to be a bit bigger given the illustrations I had seen, but we spotted it. The Squirt noticed it first, in fact, and then the rest of us knew what to look for.

I didn’t know the Lakeview Museum existed until Monday night, and had no idea Peoria had a planetarium. My oldest son found the schedule I picked up, and he wants to go check it out. So, as a bonus, we now have another family event planned for some day in the near future.

Sun Watchers

"That's it?"

All in all it was a fun night, and the kids got to learn something. Given even their own children may not be around for the next Transit, I hope it’s a memory that will stick with them as they get older.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday on Tuesday: Catching Up

I shot the photos for the last two weeks of Photo Friday entries, but unfortunately it took a while to find the time to sit down and go through them and edit them, and then I had no time to sit down and punch up the blog entry.

The first photo was shot from the front row behind home plate at Wrigley Field. A friend’s wife won tickets in an auction, and when she and one of his daughters couldn’t go, he invited the Squirt and I to tag along. The Cubs hosted the Cincinnati Reds that day.


Heads up!

We had a great time. I shot with my 55-250mm all day, with the ISO locked in at 100 because it was bright and sunny. I had to drop it a couple of times when clouds cast a shadow, but otherwise it was a set it and forget it kind of day. I got a few good ones in the full set.

Bonus paparazzo shot:

Let's Do Some Good

Don't worry, prohibition is still over.

Kevin Costner sat opposite us in a box just past the netting. I saw a lot of cameras pointed his way when he stood up to order a beer. In fact, there’s one in the background.

For the second Photo Friday entry, I snapped a few photos of the kids before walking them to school on the first day, which also happened to be the first day of Kindergarten for the Little Bird.

Back to School

Summer's officially over, kids!

I had to move them around a bit to get the harsh morning sunlight out their eyes. Squinty pics are no fun. I would have liked to have a diffuser panel off to the side for this one, too, but the Wife and the rest of the family were thrilled with this pic, so I’m happy, too. 18-55mm kit lens, nothing fancy.

This coming Friday: either portrait work from a herf with my super-distant cousin by marriage Mark tomorrow night, or more karate pics. Probably the herf.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

A Day Early, a Dollar Short

I took the kids out trick-or-treating tonight.

That’s right, on a Saturday. Our community catered to a few whiners who didn’t want kids to dress up as monsters on a Sunday, so we’re one of two towns in the area going out a night early. These are the same people who didn’t want kids to dress up as monsters at the elementary school, thus killing the Halloween parade there. The ordinance was only passed a couple of years ago, so I believe this may be the first time the town switched days.

In addition to it being just plain stupid, it put a damper on Halloween. The kids all knew about the switch, because of course the trick-or-treaters are paying attention. The problem is the word didn’t get out to the rest of the town, so several houses who have welcomed the kids every year were dark. While the kids did get plenty of loot, we were home a half hour earlier than usual, despite walking the same route we use every year.

Trick or Treat

The witch, the punk zombie, and Jason

On the plus side, the kids chose scary costumes this year! As a horror-writin’ dad, I get tired of seeing kids walking around as Power Rangers, Stormtroopers, Transformers, princesses, and ballerinas. This year we even saw someone dressed as a Twister game. When the Rugrats told me they wanted to be a vampire, a punk zombie, and Jason, respectively, I was thrilled. Little Bird decided she liked the witch costume better, so she went that route instead. We intended to search Goodwill for punk clothes to slather with blood and makeup, but happened to find a full punk zombie costume and saved time. Jason, of course, was a piece of cake.

The night change didn’t stop the kids from having a good time. They did a lot more walking between participating houses, but they ran into some of their friends along the way. They also got a kick out of it when one woman saw Squirt in the dark and thought his costume had something to do with the Statue of Liberty, and another dude at one house thought he was a chicken.

There's Always One

There's always at least one.

And of course we found that house. You know, the one giving out healthy treats. In this case it was raisins and granola bars, and all three kids walked away from the house grousing about it. They sounded like Charlie Brown getting his rock every year: “Aww, man, I got raisins.” I made a mental note to skip that house next year.

Looks like next year Halloween falls on a Monday, so we should be back to normal. For now the question is, do we hit another community tomorrow?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Rugrats in the Morning

Any of you non-parents ever wonder what it’s like to get rugrats up and going in the morning? It’s a lot like this:

They’re conscious and awake, but they have zero sense of urgency.

“I have to be at school in five minutes? That’s cool. I have plenty of time to put my shoes on, brush my teeth, find my lunchbox, find my jacket, and chase the cat around. And oh, check out this sweet level on Lego Star Wars! I’m fighting the Emperor! Did you know it’s raining out? Whoa, lightning! Hey, where’d you put my shoes, Mom? Hey, Power Rangers is on! Why’d you turn the TV off? I was watching that! My shoes are on… oh, wait. Hey, that’s my jacket! Dad, you can’t leave yet, I can’t find my lunch!”

Every. Single. Morning.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

He Comes By It Honestly

Today the Midget’s teacher sent an email to the Wife. It went like this:

“I’m sending a paper that Tim did this A.M. It will be stapled to his Agenda page. Would you please take a look at it and let me know what you think?”

Being both a parent, a student at some point in time, and now a staff member for a school district, I know that notes like this are a Bad Thing. I assumed it had something to do with zombies, blood and death, but one never knows with the son of a horror writer.

Naturally, I couldn’t wait to read it.

Turns out, I wasn’t terribly far off. This is his paper on “What I’m going to do for Spring Break” complete with the teacher note:

What can I say? It's in the genes.

What can I say? It's in the genes.

I couldn’t help but laugh. This is the kind of thing I did to my teachers. Couldn’t figure out an Algebra equation? Draw a little head with the top of his head blowing off, complete with mushroom cloud.

No zombies. He did, however, choose to get through the assignment as fast as possible so he could turn over the paper and draw a rocket ship with a gun and a guy running away from what’s supposed to be an alien:

Of course there has to be death, or at least the promise thereof.

Of course there has to be death, or at least the promise thereof.

The only thing that pisses me off about this one is he appears to like drawing aliens and rocket ships, but can’t be bothered to read the copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way I bought him. Grr.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Riding Responsibly

The Rugrats Ride
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

This right here is exactly why I always where a helmet.

I know people who feel helmets interfere with their vision and hearing, so they feel they’re safer without a helmet because they’ll have a better chance to avoid an accident. I also know people who think a helmet will save their life but leave them a vegetable, and they’d rather die than have that happen.

That’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t feel helmets should be legislated, but I’ll always wear one.

First of all, I feel it’s my responsibility to do so for my family. I think there are more cases of helmets saving lives and preventing (or at least limiting) head injuries than there are instances of riders left in comas. It’s like the seatbelt argument: sure, there are instances where seatbelts have done more harm than good, but they’re in the minority.

If I’m going to take up something like riding, I need to be as safe as possible for the sake of my family.

The second reason is a name: Ben Roethlisberger. Remember his motorcycle accident? It was a low-speed crash and probably not life-threatening. However, he wasn’t wearing a helmet, and his head went through a windshield. Welcome to the world of reconstructive surgery. I’m not a rich starting quarterback, so I doubt I’d have been able to afford all the surgery and to be arguing with insurance companies over what gets paid for and what doesn’t.

Given I’m more likely to get hit in town at low speed, I’ll stick with the helmet and protect my ugly mug as best I can.

See you on the road.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

"Click! Take a pic!"

The Canon EOS 450D (aka Digital Rebel XSi) has been formally announced, and it shall be mine. (Provided it doesn’t come with Rosie Perez’s voice.*)

I’ve been wanting a digital SLR for a long time. I’ve used an old 35mm camera in the past, and I really enjoyed it compared to using a point-and-shoot digital. Looking through the lens gives you better control of the shot, including the framing and focus. My 6-year-old Canon PowerShot G2 was top of the line in its day, but now with its stuck pixels and its focusing frustrations, it’s time for an upgrade. The nice thing is with the changing technology I can buy a much beefier DSLR for the same price I paid for the G2.

I’ve been watching Digital Photography Review for more information, and they didn’t disappoint: they’ve got a brief hands-on with the 450D and a summary of differences between it and its predecessor, the 400D/Digital Rebel XTi. It looks like Canon’s packing in some solid features, and that’s got me drooling all the more. I read somewhere that it doesn’t ship until April, but if I’ve been waiting over two years to get my hands on a DSLR, I guess I can wait two more months.


The question, then, is will the investment result in better pictures? I sure as hell hope so. If nothing else I’ll have a lot more fun taking pics. Of course, judging by what I saw out of my friend Richard’s Rebel and Speedlite, the softened flash alone is worth the price of admission. I’m sick to death of blown-out faces and subjects’ uncontrollable blinking in my pics.**

The first step to improvement will probably be jumping into the Digital Photography School forums. It looks like there’s a lot of great advice flying around in there, and it’s a lot faster (and cheaper) than trying to take a photography class at a local community college.*** DPS also has a great blog with some cool tips.

With photography more on my brain than ever, I’ve started thinking more about digital workflow. I’ll need some processing capability for RAW no doubt, which means some extra software for the GIMP on my Linux box. Of course, if I do make the Mac switch, that will change things significantly. It’s a little premature to be worried about the Lightroom vs. Aperture debate, so instead I turned my attentions to iPhoto on my MacBook and compared it to digiKam on Linux.

If there’s one app that I think I’d truly miss in Linux, it’s digiKam. Both it and iPhoto perform the same function: importing and organizing your pictures. They both allow easy sorting and importing, and they both support tagging. iPhoto’s presentation is a little bit cleaner, but feature-wise they’re more or less the same.

The key difference is in the back ends, and maybe some of the Mac folks can speak up here.

What I like about digiKam is it drops pics right into the filesystem. If I need to find my pictures in any other application or through a file browser, I know right where to find them because the albums are a mirror of the folder hierarchy. If I change the names of the picture files on import, that name is applied to the file name, replacing vague camera filenames like IMG98939.JPG. The added benefit here is if for any reason I lost the digiKam database with my tags and such in it, my files are untouched. If I have to access the drive remotely (via SSH/SCP, which I do often) or have to recover files with a drive enclosure or similar method, I have a good idea of what I’m looking at.

iPhoto, on the other hand, drops everything into a package of some kind. The files appear to be copied to the filesystem, but it looks like the titles are only part of the iPhoto Library package and database. I did figure out there are both Original and Modified folders inside the iPhoto Library package, and there are folders for year and then Event, but the image filenames are still IMG884737.JPG. Having an automatic backup if I edit a pic (an untouched original and the new, modified file) is not a bad idea, but does this not take up extra space?

How will this affect remote access? If I use SSH to access a Mac, or if I connect via SCP to copy a handful of pictures to a remote computer, am I going to be able to browse — via the shell or a SCP GUI like WinSCP — to my pictures and copy them? Am I going to have to upload pics to Flickr and fetch them from there? Or is there some other Apple sharing method that I may not be aware of?

And most importantly, if my darling rugrats shove my Mac off a table and shatter it, am I going to be able to access my pictures — and recover tags, titles, and other data — if I yank the hard drive and drop it into an enclosure?

Why does iPhoto do it this way? Inquiring minds want to know.

*For those of you who don’t have rugrats, Rosie Perez is the voice of Click the Camera on Go, Diego, Go! And she sings. It’s truly the work of the Devil.

**I have about a tenth as many pics of my wife as I should because she can’t keep her frickin’ eyes open. If I show you a good shot of my wife, chances are it was taken outside in broad daylight in the middle of summer. As a result she’s probably wearing sunglasses, too.

***I tried to take the photography class when I was in college, but the single section offered was always filled within about 6 nanoseconds of the start of registration.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.