Let’s go exploring – baby bird edition

Let’s go exploring – baby bird edition

I live in an “established” neighborhood – it’s been around for 30+ years, so the homes are are settled in and the trees are nice and mature. We don’t live far from my kids’ school, so we walk every day, and every day we take a path as a short cut.

For a few days, I noticed birds going crazy every time we walked up the path. The same two birds, a cardinal then a robin. Finally, it dawned upon me, they must be nesting. So, the next day, I walked slowly behind my kids as they ran up the path, and took note where the birds were flying from. And sure enough, on top of the City’s chain-link fence that borders the path, I found two nests within six feet of each other. Read more

Kids have the best ideas

Kids have the best ideas

The other day, as my kids were playing together upstairs, my youngest almost accidentally discovered how to slide down the stairs on his old crib mattress. The kids had made a fort of the entire second floor in our house, and used the crib mattress to block the stairs. When they were cleaning up, I discovered my youngest jumping on the crib mattress while it was perilously perched on the top step. For a split second, after I had realized the danger my son was in, I thought “Wow, that looks like it might be fun. Or dangerous. Or both.” Then I quickly shooed him away. Read more

Organizing the Waterloo Mini Maker Faire

Organizing the Waterloo Mini Maker Faire


June 15 at Kitchener City Hall, a large group of folks (including myself) organized and ran the region’s first ever Maker Faire, the Waterloo Mini Maker Faire. For those of you unaware of the Maker Faire phenomena, they are basically large, creative, do-it-yourself festivals, where folks come together to show off their creations, share their passion for their hobbies and interests, and for some, to sell things and make some money. A quick Google image search shows just how crazy and imaginative Maker Faires can be. Read more

Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 2

Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 2

My oldest son, occasionally daughter, and I had continued to work on the soap box racer last week.

We left off last time with just wheels on a flat body. Another week of work and we added a body of sorts, a seat, and some paint.

We used a seat from IKEA for the racer. It was the perfect size to fit inside the 18″ wide body, and it looked neat. We made the frame for the racer with 2×4’s and plywood Jonas and I cut with a handheld jig saw, and screwed it all together.

Isaac gets his first driving lesson. Here you can see the arched shape we were working towards for the old-timey racer feel.

I then bent, glued, and nailed a 1/8″ thick piece of MDF to the body. Both kids helped with a couple of nails at first, but grew weary of wearing the safety glasses, so they had to watch from a short distance away. Nailers are one of those tools I am extremely careful around. Safety glasses are a must if they’re connected to a pressurized source, I am always aware of where I am pointing the working end trying to always point it at my workpiece, and the safety is turned on as soon as I take my finger off the trigger. I was amazed at the number of nails it took to hold it all in place.

Kids are getting excited. At this point the driving lessons down our street began in earnest.

We took off all non-painted surfaces, and I then went to work spraying it a nice enamel red with a N95 mask on. I am still looking for a decent mask that has solvent filters available. Any recommendations would be appreciated. I think it turned out looking pretty sharp, simple and elegant.

Race day was this past Saturday (June 16, 2012). After we arrived, it didn’t take long before I realized that the racer couldn’t compete. Middlebury Drive in Waterloo is a pretty steep street, a lot steeper than the street we practiced on, and my son was barely strong enough to use the brake on our little street where we had practiced. It also didn’t help that every racer there, save ours, had some sort of rack and pinion steering and our rope steering could be barely operated by my son. I opted to keep him out of the race this year and just observe. Tears were shed, but it was for the best.

Almost forgot to mention, we watched two pretty big crashes during the trial runs, by kids much older than my son. One girl lost control of her steering and rolled on the asphalt; the other boy couldn’t stop in time, hit the wall of tires that was being used as a safety stop, flipped his car and flew out. Both kids didn’t end up competing after their respective crashes, and it kind of sealed the deal on my son not racing that day.

Although Jonas did get a tailgate breakfast out of it, so not all was lost.

A sad little boy in his racer. In some ways I feel I let him down, in others, well, we built a soap box racer together, he’s a lucky kid.

Next year he will compete. I am going to lower the racer to the ground and build two new braking systems, both of which were inspired by other cars in the race. We are also going to make a rack and pinion steering system so that he can steer with a wheel much easier than fighting to pull on the rope. The parents I met on race day were awesome and all had great advice for improving the racer. We has so many parents come up to us and mention that they were following the progress of our racer. We built it in our front yard, so the whole neighborhood developed an attachment to our progress. There will be racing next year.

Ignite Waterloo 9 – Zen of Gardening – Preparing for my talk and thoughts about Ignite/Tedx

I gave a talk at Tuesday Night’s (June 12, 2012) Ignite Waterloo event (#IW9 on Twitter).

I had watched the Ignite Talks online, but never attended in person. Many familiar faces had given talks in the past, so it kind of compelled me to try as well. I also enjoy public speaking, so I decided I would give it a shot, submit a topic, and see what happens. I was lucky enough to be accepted.

I started off preparing by basically writing a speech, took me a couple days (I must note, when I do creative writing it happens in fits and bursts, it was probably all of two hour’s effort, but spread out over two days), and once I got it to ‘good enough’, I read it through. With any talk I have given in the past, preparation has been key, but at the same time, a speech always sounds better on paper/in your head than it does when you read it aloud, so at some point you need to stop and try reading it to yourself [Word file]. First time through reading it I spoke for 15 minutes. Apparently I can talk a lot about things I am passionate about. I remember thinking/tweeting that hour-long talks with props seemed easier to prepare for at this point. It was then it dawned upon me how the 20-slide, five-minute format was going to be difficult.

I then switched gears and tried to find 20 slides that lined up with the key points I was going to make. This proved equally difficult, trying to find a visual format that worked with the rest of the presentation and still conveyed/carried the narrative. As well, I had to ensure I was using slides that were also timed to the points I was trying to make.

I also had to throw some humor in there. I felt it was a necessity for an Ignite event. I actually felt that there were several key components to a successful Ignite talk (in order of what I perceive to be most to least important):

  • Passion/knowledge of your topic
  • Humor
  • Personal component with some humility
  • Emotion (just a little)

In the end, the talk development process was a very back-and-forth process. Work on my points, find slides, evolve the talk some more. Repeat. I ended up with two lines of scripted material maximum for each slide with some room for ad-libbing (more on that in a moment).

I rehearsed it about 3 dozen times total. Most of the practice came from the day before the slides were due to the Ignite folks. By that point I knew my material well from all the effort I put into preparation, it was just the timing that needed to be rehearsed. I set up my slides to do the 15-second auto-forward thing and just read it through repeatedly. During this process there were points where I kept stumbling over, and about 3 of the 20 slides and their corresponding points ended up being changed completely.

The final talk looked like nothing I had written initially. This turned out to be extremely beneficial, by this point I more or less had my talk memorized and timed well, and the extra unused content would make it easy for me to ad-lib things so once I got a feel for the room and the flow of the talk during the presentation I was able to adapt and change it up quite easily.

The talk itself flew by. I actually have very little recollection of what I said. I was hoping the live stream would be available to review immediately after the event, but alas, it was not, I shall have to wait for the final, edited content to be posted online. My favorite part was talking with all the presenters after the fact, it was an amazing array of people and I was genuinely enthusiastic about trying to meet each one.

My favorite presentation was the My Little Ponies one. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. Although I do feel an opportunity for some big laughs was missed by not mentioning the Clop Clop subreddit. (Google it, but not while at work)

Now, about Ignite and TedxWaterloo.

I tweeted that I thought Ignite Waterloo is what TedxWaterloo should aspire to be. Don’t get me wrong, both are fantastic events, and I love my experiences with both dearly, and I definitely do not think one event is better than the other.

Upon more reflection I think I may have been a little wrong in some aspects of that statement, but I do see a need for some cross-pollination of ideas and themes, and possibly for a new event to form.

From my perspective, Tedx is supposed to bring in great speakers with great ideas that you may not have exposure to locally, while Ignite is local speakers passionate about specific topics, with some irreverence thrown in. Now, I feel as though many of the speakers at Ignite were treating it like a Tedx audition, basically drying up some of the humor. Not that that is a bad thing, but there does seem to be a bit of a cultural shift in the presentation styles when you look at the individual Ignite events chronologically. This is a huge compliment to the Tedx phenomenon, but I feel there is still room for different styles of talks and presentations outside of Tedx. Tedx does have a monopoly on big ideas right now, but it doesn’t have a monopoly on fun.

The one area I do still feel Ignite does better than Tedx is in its overall event format. Tedx does seem to drag on over the course of the day, and I think it’s noticeable when you see the theatre packed at the start of the day and by the third session it is obviously starting to empty. With Ignite, I felt it’s machine-gun approach definitely got my creative juices flowing and inspired me to do more.

Overall, there seems to be a void developing for humorous talks. That is my way of observing that Ignite used to be funnier and Tedx is a little dry. During coffee one day with Ramy Nassar he threw out the idea (and I’ve helped to spread it since) of Ignite Roulette. Preselected speakers are paired with slide decks they’ve never seen before and try to make up a talk of it on the spot. This may be the type of event we need.

June 19, 2012 Edit:

Talks from #IW9 are now online!

I am also including a link to my original draft that took me 15 minutes to read through [Word file]. Compared to the video of my presentation embedded below, it’s a pretty different talk from what I ended up giving.

Some photos of the event courtesy of James Bastow (@jamesbastow on Twitter)

Oh, and here I am:

Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 1

Our neighborhood has a Soap Box Derby on Father’s Day weekend. I’ve always wanted to make a racer, and this provided a convenient excuse to make one. I did all sorts of research on Soap Box Racers, and emailed the neighborhood association for details, and it turns out, it is an unregulated race. Most Soap Box Derby’s are strictly regulated; certain size tires, maximum weight for the vehicle, etc. For this race, there are no limits. After taking a couple trips to gather the parts necessary, my oldest and I decided to assemble it in the shade of our maple tree on a nice day.

I had some spare rope for steering, spare copper pipe nail-downs to hold the axles in place, scrap plywood and 2 x 4’s for the frame, and some spare wood screws to hold it together. Axles, pins, lag bolt, nut, and 4 washers from Home Depot to hold the wheels in place and for steering. Wheels came from KW Surplus. Finding wheels was the most difficult part. You can find all sorts of small, bulky ones for wheel barrows and mowers, but large-diameter, thin ones are hard to come by, fortunately I found some with some searching. All told, took about an hour to assemble with my son’s help.

The lag bolt is for the front axle so it has a pivot point on the frame to steer. The axle is fixed to the 2 x 4 on top of it with copper pipe nail-downs (the kind you use for plumbing copper pipe), and the wheels are held onto the axle with pins (the wheels have bearings in them, making attaching them a lot easier). On top of the steering 2 x 4 I attached two more scrap pieces of 2 x 4 to limit how far you can turn left or right.

Unfortunately, the race is open to Junior Kindergarten kids at the youngest, so my daughter can’t participate for another two years. Doesn’t mean I can’t give her a driving lesson.

We decided to race to test it out. My son wanted to ride his kick-bike, and Grace stuck with me.

I have never ridden a Soap Box Racer before, so here I am discovering how slow they are to get going. My son won the race easily, all he had to do was kick away.

One thing I did forget to install on the initial version was the brake, so I had to quickly figure out how to safely stop the racer without breaking my ankles. I was actually far more worried than I look here.

The race is in a week and a half. We still have to add a brake and make a body for the racer. That is the most fun part. I’m thinking of making the racer look something like this:

I’ll share the results soon.