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Scooping cookies

So the other day we were at Jan’s house for a get-together, and she started to make us some chocolate chip cookies. I was surprised when she got out the tub of cookie dough, and then started forming cookie dough balls using an ice cream scoop. How awesome an idea is that?

Scooping cookies with a melon baller

And then our friend Ann told us, “actually, that small scoop isn’t an ice cream scoop – that’s a melon baller”. So that’s two things I learned in one day. That might be a new record!

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17. Jul, 2015
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The Space Race

Kids books about the space race

I’ve been going through all sorts of kids books about the United States space program for a project I’ve been working on. Did you know that the history of the space race is quite fascinating? I hope mankind will continue learning new things about our place in the universe. I am pleased to see companies like SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital Sciences picking up the gauntlet and accepting the challenge of exploring our solar system.

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29. Jun, 2015
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LibCon

Went to LibCon at the central library in Orlando yesterday. It was a good event – well planned, and well attended. I got to meet a variety of readers and writers of various genres – young adult, middle grade, fantasy, mystery – though it seemed to me that the books veered toward YA and MG.

I attended several of the panels: creating characters, young adult novels, and non-fiction writing. It was nice to hear what the panelists had to say. Two of the best tips on writing that I heard, and unfortunately I can’t remember who exactly said them, were “write with confidence” and “believe in your writing”. I find that writing with confidence works – when you’re writing, write like you know what you’re doing, and that confidence will come across on the page. And if you believe in your writing, you won’t change your vision based on negative feedback or those distracting little voices in your head saying “this isn’t good enough, don’t bother”. True, if your agent or editor has suggestions for changes to your manuscript, perhaps you should give them weight – but if you throw your project off track because someone in your critique group has harsh words about it, you may be doing the wrong thing.

One interesting thing I found in the Orlando library was a room full of training simulators! They had one for driving, one for flying, one for operating an excavator, and one for operating a forklift. These were part of the Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center, an amazing and free resource if you have an Orange County library card. They have these simulators, a music production studio, a variety of technical and computer programming classes, and a computer lab. Definitely worth checking out if you live in the area.

Training simulators at the Orlando public library

And if you look careful (or not so carefully), you can see me in the reflection on the window!

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Raspberry Pi

Callum got a Raspberry Pi late last year (just before Christmas – I’m not sure if Santa would have been tech savvy enough to get him one of those). So far it’s been a lot of fun to play with.

Raspberry Pi

Computer programming for kids

The Raspberry Pi was designed for children learning how to computer program, something that Callum himself has been itching to do. It’s been hard to find something to help him learn programming that is neither too easy nor too difficult for him to tackle. It seems that most computer programming lessons come in two varieties. One is for adults, with more difficult concepts tackled relatively early on (such as arrays, stacks, queues, and memory management). The other is for young children, where colorful boxes represent if…then loops, variables, and commands (usually for moving images across the screen a set distance). There are few ways to teach programming to kids that involves actual programming.

Youth Digital

One course that Callum enjoyed was a course offered by Youth Digital called Mod Design 1. This course got students modding the game of Minecraft by actually going into the code and modifying objects in Java. Callum really got into creating his own biomes, mobs, tools, and weapons. He completed the whole course, and is hoping that Youth Digital releases a Mod Design 2 course soon. Meanwhile, Amelia and Callum both have been working on the App Design 1 course, while Amelia has also been learning Inkscape by taking the Fashion Design 1 course.

The Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a $35 computer that originated in Britain and is popular with tech hobbyists. For $35 you get a lot of computer! Though at times it can be relatively slow-processing.

The Raspberry Pi can run six different operating systems, mostly Linux flavored. Callum set his up to run Raspbian, the Raspberry Pi’s version of the Debian Linux distro. As Debian was my favorite flavor of Linux when I worked at the Medical University of South Carolina, I’m glad to see him going in this direction. He’s already been learning a variety of Linux commands to help him navigate his system.

I’m looking forward to seeing what new things Callum will accomplish with his Raspberry Pi.

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17. Dec, 2014
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Back in Riyadh

When I was in high school, my family lived for a while in Saudi Arabia. My father was working for Bell Canada, a Canadian telecommunications company charged with setting up Riyadh’s telecommunications infrastructure. I was too old to go to SAIS-R, (the American International School in Riyadh, now called AIS-R), where my sister spent a few years, so instead I continued at my high school in Toronto. Which was cool, because I got to use the car!

I did, however, spend my summers and Christmases in Riyadh. And it was in Riyadh where I worked my first job – as a lifeguard at the olympic-sized swimming pool on the Bell Canada compound.

A gold souk in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

My mother and I at one of the gold souks in Riyadh – an open stall dripping with gold necklaces, bracelets, and charms. If I’d been a late 80s/early 90s rapper, I would have been set.

I was in Saudi Arabia a few years before “the war and stuff”, and I always felt comfortable there. We of course had to abide by Saudi religious laws, and I’m pretty sure any fooling around would not have been tolerated by the authorities. But the people we encountered in the market were always friendly, and I never felt in any danger while in town. At one point my father and I took a trip to Jeddah to do some snorkeling and fishing on the Red Sea. We stayed with a group of Saudi men on the coast (we were the only non-Saudis), and were invited to participate in one of their feasts, where lamb meat was served on a huge blanket on the sand and eaten by hand. Knowing we were not used to their customs, our Saudi hosts were gracious and helpful, and made sure we felt welcomed.

Jeddah

Me being awesome in Jeddah.

Nowadays I wouldn’t take my family to Saudi Arabia. A lot has changed in that region since we lived in Riyadh, and the Department of State currently warns its citizens to “carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia”. But I’m glad I have the memories I do of my time in Riyadh. Living overseas was what got me interested in different languages and cultures, which eventually led to my living in France and Ireland. And it got me wanting to teach my own children about different people who live in different parts of the world, so that as they grow up, acceptance and understanding of people of all varieties will come naturally to them.

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Nahtazu

Today I took my camera to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

I should mention that I put on the most touristy clothes I could muster – my Hawaiianest shirt (which is admittedly not very Hawaiian looking – I’ll need to find a better one), a straw fedora, button-up cargo shorts with more pockets than I’ll ever need, and of course, dark socks with running shoes. Bam!

As soon as I arrived at Animal Kingdom, I went on the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride and took some pictures (pro tip: do the ride as early as possible in the morning, when the animals are still relatively active and not lethargic from the Florida sun), then went on some of the nature walks (the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and the Maharajah Jungle Trek). I had a Fastpass for Expedition Everest, but I skipped it. I was more in the mood for walking around and taking pictures.

A giraffe at Disney's Animal Kingdom

A young giraffe, taken from my seat on the Kilimanjaro Safaris truck.

An elephant at Disney's Animal Kingdom

An elephant, taken from the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride.

Three zebras at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Three zebras.

Kangaroos boxing at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Boxing kangaroos.

A monkey at Disney's Animal Kingdom

A monkey of some sort. Wish I had paid more attention so the signs…

Simba, the Lion King

I also got this up-close picture of a lion!

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Birds and dragonflies

My father got himself a new DSLR camera just before his cruise along the scenic rivers of Germany and the Netherlands with my mother (they’re over there now). As a result, he gave me his old Nikon DSLR, including a telephoto lens, for which I am very grateful. Let the fun begin!

This afternoon I went for a walk around Lake Rianhard in Celebration, where there are usually plenty of birds and insects native to Central Florida, some turtles, and occasionally a few alligators. I didn’t see any alligators today, but I did see plenty of herons, egrets, and dragonflies. Naturally I brought the camera along and popped on the telephoto lens to try my hand at taking a few pictures. The telephoto doesn’t have an auto-focus, which made it more challenging to use, but also more fun to play around with.

Green dragonfly

A green dragonfly on a plant stem.

Blue dragonfly

A blue dragonfly in the marsh.

Dragonfly on a root

A dragonfly on a tree root. You can see a little ant crawling along the root in front of him.

Little Blue Heron

A Little Blue Heron in the reeds.

I’m certainly no professional, but hey, it’s a start. I’m looking forward to getting out there again with the camera someday soon. Maybe there’ll be some alligators next time…!

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Avocados

An avocado treeAvocados are a terrific addition to shakes and smoothies. They’re very good for you, and they turn a shake frothy like a milkshake even if there isn’t any dairy in there (I make my shakes without). They’re also great in sandwiches, wraps, and of course, tacos.

Callum decided to plant one of the big spherical seeds from one of the avocados I used in one of my shakes, and over time it’s grown into a little avocado tree. It took a few months for it to sprout. First, it took its sweet time forming roots; then, after some consideration, a little stem popped out of the soil. Since then it’s grown to nearly a foot tall.

The only problem I have with avocados is that you have to experience them on their time. Open one too early and it’s firm and bitter-tasting. Too late and it starts to feel squishy like a water balloon. Get the timing right, though, and it’s green goodness.

Happy blending.

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06. Jun, 2014