Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Boy and His Boat

   As described in previous posts, our housing development is built around a very large pond. One afternoon, while sitting on a bench at the edge of the pond watching the ducks and geese fly in and out, it dawned on me that the pond would be an ideal body of water on which to sail a model sailboat. 
   I hurried home, fired up my MacBook Pro, Googled ‘model sailboat that sails’ and clicked on the second entry, Tippecanoe Boats.  
   Once I was on their web site
   I selected three sailboats that appeared to be suitable for myself and grandsons John, Andrew, and Trent. 
   The T12 Cruiser has a 12-inch long hull with a main and jib sail. The T15 Racing Sloop has a 15-inch hull and also has a main and a jib sail.  The T-Class (T18) Racing Sloop—you guessed it—has an 18-inch hull, a main and a jib sail but also incorporates an adjustable rudder. Each hull is shaped from a solid block of red cedar.
   I called the 1-800-206-0006 number to order a T15 but the very nice lady taking my order suggested a T18 might be better suited for 12 year-old John. I purchased the T18 kit looking to give both John and myself a new and exciting experience. 
   I also purchased from Tippicanoe a varnishing kit that contains a natural bristle brush, sandpaper, and a glass vial of marine varnish. I also purchased a wire wall mount and a reel (more about the reel later). 
   John and I had no difficulty understanding the instruction sheet packed with the boat even though we were not that familiar with nautical terms. We worked slowly, carefully and enjoyed the construction process.
   John was fascinated with the varnishing process and was excited that he could give the hull such a deep, translucent shine.  He applied four coats of varnish to the hull and had plenty of varnish left over to repair any scratches or dings caused by colliding with the rocky bank of the pond. 
   I was unsure whether or not to glue the mast into the hull so I called the 1-800 number and the friendly and helpful man that answered told me that the mast was typically not glued into the hull. The reason being that an unglued mast makes it easy to take down the main sail and jib for easy transport.
   I did however make one mistake in the construction process. Despite the caution given in the construction instructions, I broke the brass shaft of the rudder. I immediately called the 1-800 number to order a replacement and the nice lady told me she would have a replacement in the mail that day. I offered to pay for it but she said there was no charge as Tippecanoe wanted to support novice sailors like myself. 
   Once the new rudder was installed, John and I were eager to sail the boat. Here is a picture of John and the completed sailboat.
   We arrived at the pond early the next morning but the wind was too light and inconsistent to get the boat under sail. Here, in central Oklahoma, the wind usually whistles continually at 15 plus knots. As the sun warmed the air, the wind arose and we soon had the boat in the middle of the pond. 
   Swimming in not allowed in the pond and I didn’t have enough confidence in my sailing skills to just release the boat on the upwind side of the pond. This is where the reel comes into the picture. 
   The reel is a wooden rod with a nylon reel wound with light fishing line. The reel revolves on a nylon bearing and is very smooth in its operation. The end of the fishing line is run through an eye hook on the bow of the boat and tied to the mainmast. This creates a long lever arm. When the boat sails as far as you want it to go you give a tug on the line, the lever arm turns the bow of the boat back towards you, the sails tack, and the boat sails right back to its starting position.
   John sailed the boat across the pond and back twice. The reel worked great and we are excited to have successfully built and sailed the T18. 
   The boat hangs on the wall (using the purchased wall mount) in John’s room and we both look forward to many hours of sailing fun. 
   Our success with the T18 has led me to order a T 15 for grandson Asher and a T 12 for 4 year-old grandson Trent. John is excited to have been given the task of helping the younger boys build and sail their boats.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hot Wheels Cars and Counting

   Grandson Trent just had his fourth birthday. Trent is not enrolled in preschool and he spends most of the day learning through active play. He loves to play with his Hot Wheels cars and has built quite a collection of almost 50 miniature cars and trucks. He also has a Hot Wheels storage case that doubles as a rubber band powered launcher. Sections of orange Hot Wheels track are connected to the launcher to form a double-lane race track about 8 feet in length.  The launcher is $10 at the major retail stores.
   Pressing the center button on the launcher shoots the two cars down the track. It should come as no surprise to learn that Trent insists on pressing the launch button.
   Trent loves to race the cars two at a time.
   First, he dumps the box of cars out onto the rug. Then, we each pick a car from the pile to race. The winner takes both cars and places them in what Trent calls a “parking lot.” In the following picture Trent has just launched two cars. The 8 cars I’ve won are shown in my parking lot.
   The cars Trent has won are shown in his parking lot. As you can see, he has won a lot more cars than I have.
   Because we have raced the set of cars a number of times, Trent has a good idea as to which are the faster running cars. For this reason I always let him pick first.
   It turns out that his typically larger parking lot provides a wonderful set of objects for him to count. He will count the cars in his parking lot and then count the cars in my parking lot to establish who is winning.
   I have a wrapped Hot Wheels car ready for Trent every time he comes to the house. If I don’t give it to him when he first arrives he will ask me if I have a car for him. As soon as he unwraps his new cars and proclaims it to be the “fastest” car ever, we drop down on the rug, dump the box of cars, and get to racing.
  Trent is very competitive and wants to always win. I enforce the rule that the first car off the end of the track is the winner. I let him have the close calls but if the winner is obvious, I enforce the rule.
   This simple and cheap activity helps Trent learn that rules are meant to be followed and that counting a set of objects (Hot Wheels cars) can determine the overall winner.
   When Trent is ready, probably four or five years from now, I will revisit this activity by asking, " Trent, could you determine the fastest car in your set of cars?"
   The answer is to divide the set of cars into pairs forming brackets, and then race the winners of each bracket until the overall winner is determined. Perhaps at an even later time I could ask him to look at the problem mathematically by asking, "Trent, given n cars, how many races will it take to determine an overall winner?"

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Pond Post II

   The first things you notice when you go to our pond are the geese and ducks that are floating on the water or resting or feeding along the banks. 
   There are Mallards that are easily recognized by the lustrous green head of the male and the grey or brown plumage of the female. The Mallard on the left in the following picture is a male, the center is a photo of a female, and the picture on the right shows a male Mallard in flight.
  There are two Brown African geese. The male is brown and the female is pure white. They are larger than the ducks and about the same size as the Canadian geese. 
  There are sometimes as many as 100 Canadian geese on the pond or feeding on the banks. These are the largest geese on the pond. They all have the same black neck with a white chin so I don’t know how to tell the males from the females. The Canadian geese flock together and don’t mix with the other ducks or the African Brown goose and its mate.
    Canadian geese can be aggressive towards other Canadian geese.  While feeding the ducks and geese, one of the Canadian geese will lower its head, elongate its neck, and lunge towards another goose. This action appears to be one of protecting its feeding area. The Canadian geese do not bully the other ducks and geese.
   There are six ducks that are what I call ‘barnyard ducks’. Three are pure white and there are three dark purple ducks. A brown female Mallard is part of this group too. It must have been imprinted by one of the barnyard ducks when it hatched. This group of barnyard ducks is featured in the following picture as they eat the seeds scattered by my grand son. Note that the temperature is cold enough to require a warm coat. The temperature can (and often does) vary 30º from one day to the next.
   For example, a few days after the preceding picture was taken, it was a warm, sunny afternoon at the pond so Andrew, the middle grandson, and Trent are shown letting the ducks feed out of their hands. The white duck has a lame leg so the boys always make sure it gets it fair share of the seeds. When feeding, the barnyard ducks can be petted but no one has been able to even hand feed the Canadian geese. Mallards will sometimes eat from you hand but will not let you touch them.
  Just after Christmas, 2016, the pond froze over except for a section of clear water near the center of the pond. In this picture, the ducks and geese near the bank are walking (sliding) on ice as other ducks and geese float in the water at the top of the picture. On very cold days, we feed the ducks and geese kernels of corn.
   There are two species of ducks that I can’t identify. One pair (in the foreground of the following picture) are black with no other color markings. This pair, probably a mated pair, normally stay away from the pond’s bank but they will swim closer when we feed the ducks and geese. They will eat the seeds we throw out into the water but we have never seen them leave the pond to feed on the bank like the other ducks and geese. These two ducks will dive completely under water and remain underwater for several seconds. I assume they are feeding but I don’t know what they are feeding on. The other ducks and geese will dip their heads under water with their bodies tilted at a 90º angle but they do not dive under the pond’s surface.
   There’s another pair of ducks (upper right in the following photo) that have black heads and white and gray body markings. This pair is also probably a mated pair. There is a bluish tint to the bills of these ducks that should help in identification. 
  For a short time, a pair of beavers lived in the two ponds. I noticed several trees gnawed in half. The homeowners association hired a professional trapper to place traps in both ponds. Two beavers were caught and relocated by the game and fish department.
   The association also hired someone to wrap the lower portions of each tree near the ponds with wire netting. Unfortunately, the wire wrap was too late for this tree.
  We know that there are fish, turtles, and snails living in the pond but I will report on these when the weather warms with the coming of Spring.
   In a future post, I will report on the single-celled and larger organisms living in the pond.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Pond

   In July of 2016 my wife and I moved back to the great state of Oklahoma, the state of our births. After almost 50 years of living in California we were both thrilled to make the move.
   We live in a development that is about 15 years old and by necessity are members of the Homeowners Association. We pay monthly dues to keep the grass cut in the areas of the development open to all association members, maintain the swimming pool, pay a lifeguard, and to provide the other services needed to keep a large development looking good.
   The dues also help pay for the upkeep of two ponds that association members have access to.
    Both ponds are rimmed with cement sidewalks. The swimming pool is in the northwest corner. The pond on the east side is almost as large as the west side pond but the banks leading to the water are steep and only serious anglers (or nature observers) visit the east pond.
   There are benches placed around the ponds that invite you to just sit and enjoy the beauty and peace a natural scene and environment can provide.

   Our youngest grandson is 4 years old.  His name is Trent. Soon after we moved in, Trent and I began to take a daily walk from our house to the pond. One morning we met a lady that was feeding the ducks and geese that live on the pond. She advised us as to what seed to purchase that was healthy for the ducks and geese to eat. That day we drove to the feed store and bought a large sack of feed and we are now in the habit of feeding the ducks and geese, almost everyday, soon after breakfast.
   As we sat on a bench and I watched Trent feed the ducks I decided to start making a survey of the plants and animals living in and on the pond. As Trent continued to feed the ducks I began to point out to him the variety of living things that made the pond their home.
   In the next post in this series I will describe the pond's bird life that Trent is able to recognize and name.
   If you live near a pond, lake, stream, or any other body of water that supports life, I encourage you to start your own survey to find out what is living on and in the body of water near you.  You may be as amazed as I am as to the variety of living things, both big and small, that thrive on or in a body of water.
   Our robotic exploration of the surface of Mars is looking for signs of water because the presence of water means the possible presence of life.