Michael Albert's Pi collage

Happy Pi Day (3.14, March 14)

We’ve been celebrating Pi (π) Day for half a decade or so now, but some of you may be new to the idea.  At the very least, it is an excuse to eat pie, and on the other end of the spectrum it is  a great day to celebrate math and the beauty of nature in numbers.

For those looking to eat pie, why not try to bake your own?  It could be sweet or savory.  Wikipedia has a list of pies to get you started, and AllRecipes has a lot of recipes on making pies available.  Perhaps you want to aim for a Steak & Kidney pie and combine two pseudo-holidays into one?

If you’re musical, there are many pi songs and raps out there you can try to learn.  My favourite is Dr. Arthur Benjamin‘s version of “American Pi”, captured here during a presentation he did at The Archimedeans (Cambridge University Mathematical Society).  We were lucky enough to participate in Dr. Benjamin’s show last year (thanks Ontario Science Centre) and the kids still sing his song (and we have a signed copy of his pi to 60 digits that he wrote out).   We will probably also watch at least one of his lectures from his Great Courses where he focuses on pi too.

There are many crafts and activities to do for those with kids.  Drawing and cutting out and measure circles with paper and string is all it takes to get started.   Don’t be shy about working in some physical activity too — maybe do a 3.14km hike?

A new discovery for me this year is the Pi Search Page which instantaneously finds a series of digits in the first 200 million digits of pi.  My 8 digit birthday occurs three times in those first 200 digits, while my wife’s only occurs once.  Try it out with any other ‘special’ numbers to you and see what you find.  Irrational.

In your pi studies, don’t forget what many mathies consider the epitome of numbers, Euler's Identity (e^π*i = -1) aka Euler’s Identity.

Numberphile has a great playlist for all their pi related videos (1h25m worth of content).  Last year the kids enjoyed watching Calculating Pi with Real Pies.  And let’s not forget ViHart’s pi playlist either.

And for the whimsical here is FlippyCat’s contribution to pi day in dominoes.

Please share how you ended up celebrating this special day, and get ready for next year when in 2015 3/14/15 will be the Longest Pi Day of our lives when it goes to 10 digits at 9:26:53am/pm.

Here are a few additional links to drive your research and insatiable curiosity.

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Pajama Scientists’ Cobra Weave Stick Bomb

Thanks to a post by our friend Lisa, she  introduced us to the world of ‘stick bombs‘.  Think dominoes but with Popsicle, ahem, craft sticks.  Weaving them together to store up the energy under tension, you drop them, or in this case unleash them and away they go.  We did up a video showing it off and you probably just want to watch that, and only read on if you are ready to build your own.

Cobra Snake Spraying VenomWe had to acquire some wide, or jumbo, sticks as the smaller ones we had were just too stiff of a spring to do the ‘cobra weave’ style of stick bomb run.  Why is it called a cobra weave?  I’m guessing because it looks like a massive cobra snake is raising up out of the floor and spitting venom at you in the form of sticks.  It really is a sight to see.

If you’re going to try it yourself, get about 200 of the sticks (we had 225, but imagined using a box of 500, alas the local shop just had packs of 75) and give yourself an hour or two to get setup.  The hardest part is getting it started as all it wants to do it jump up at that point, and you need a bit of distance to get it settled.  We started with this instructable we found, but with the challenge of getting it started, and I was a little unsure it was loaded the right way (their video didn’t have a great cobra shape) I checked around and found a how to make a mini-cobra weave (who knew there is a more complex cobra weave too) by the domino dude which had you build some of the weave first, and then lock it off, instead of starting with the lock like the instructable did.  The kids were also anxious to see if it worked so after 50 sticks or so we set it off, and started again.  Warning, you might want to wear gloves of some sort as I found the wood really dehydrated the skin of my finger tips and if you’re really geeky protective eye wear.  There are smaller handheld weaves the kids can do too, this is what happened here as the repetition of building the long chain didn’t hold their interest the whole time.

Here are some photos of our progress as we went.  In the video he gives some special way to make a turn… I just grabbed it and twisted it a bit as needed, didn’t feel I needed to do anything special with the laying of the pattern.  Also, see how we added a bit of weight to the start of it, the lock was a tad slippy at first so I just stuck that on to keep it all in place until we were ready.

Oh, and some people will think it makes an incredible mess to clean up — it doesn’t.  The kids had the sticks put away in all of 3 minutes.  Have fun making your own.

I also tried a clip of just the ‘wow’ part of the video, but youtube’s slowmo logic seems pretty sloppy?  You can just jump to 45s into the main video instead of you’d like.

Check out some other Pajama Scientists videos too.

Vulnerable Toronto Public Library Computers

After 7 years of not letting the children touch the Toronto Public Library‘s computers with a 10 foot pole, yesterday we had made arrangements with another family to introduce them to Scratch and since we were already both going to be at the library later that afternoon I gave it a try.

Here, I’ll document the issues I had with the experience.

  1. One of the machines is in its semi-regular state (I’ve observed over 2/3rds of the machines in the Children’s Department being in this state at once before) of needing to do a forced restart because the timer software has crashed, other is reporting some sort of corruption and requires a reboot.
  2. The temporary code slip to get 30 minutes of time included a capital letter in the card #.  The terminal would not allow one to enter a capital letter.  We finally tried it with the lower case version of the letter and got in.
  3. Upon starting Firefox (at least they are no longer calling it Fire Fox), we see a screen where it is checking the addons, but it just hangs at that screen and didn’t seem to make any progress so we cancelled itDSC07132
  4. We were presented with an error-ish screen in firefox warning that McAfee is trying to install an addon but maybe we shouldn’t trust it.  DSC07133
  5. Presented with another addon install screen for Java Console.  Again, continue without any action taken.DSC07134
  6. One of the three machines we were using wouldn’t open one of the sites saying that the plugin required was vulnerable.  Checking the Plugin Status reported many issues.  For example the Flash player v 11.3.r300 was released June of 2012, and 18 newer versions have been released since (here are some of the dangers with that).  The Silverlight Plug-in was using version 5.1.10411.0 which was released May of 2012 and 3 newer versions have come out since (and Silverlight’s vulnerability database).DSC07148
  7. I tried to do a favour and upgrade it so we could continue our project, but of course they have blocked software installation by users.DSC07149
  8. The timer software they use is terribly intrusive giving multiple warnings that you need to save your work and be prepared to leave the machine, starting as early as 50% into the time.
  9. There was no obvious volume control on the machines, and the song my son programmed was barely audible so we just didn’t bother with doing any sound related activities (our theme for the day was music sigh).

The library has a fantastic collection, and wonderful branch staff, but their technology department continues to disappoint.  I have such little faith in their webteam, but feel I have little choice but to use their catalogue.   I feel sorry for the people who don’t have alternative choices for using computers and are only exposed to such a poor experience when interfacing with this technology.

Learning about Snowflakes

A couple of years ago we got Kenneth G. Libbrecht‘s Field Guide to Snowflakes book out of the library and I was fascinated.  After a few failed attempts at capturing our own flakes and getting them under a microscope we moved on from the topic for that winter.

Last winter we augmented our usual kirigami snowflake cutting by doing up a large 3-d snowflake craft to help decorate for the holidays.Large Snowflake Craft

snowflake necklaceThis winter we’ve been participating in a homeschooler group that North York Central Library has been hosting (Wednesday afternoons 1:30-3pm for those who want to stop by — thanks Janet & Sharon) and for our first two weeks we picked Snow and Winter as our theme.   A highlight for me was when I made a giant kirigami flake out of some flipboard paper and my daughter wore it as a necklace, and then later as a skirt.  It reminded me of this ballerina snowflake craft (note: even though they said the craft was only for Moms, I looked past their discrimination) I had come across (which we’ve done too).

sample snow crystalsIf you haven’t seen any of Ken’s books, or his informative website over at SnowCrystals.com, I suggest you look into them, even if you just hit up his kids activity page.  I made a tumblr post back in Dec that included a bunch of animated gifs that their lab made showing the crystals forming too.  I’ll include below a list of some other books and resources that can further your journey on learning about snowflakes and the fun to be had with them.

A chart of commonly agreed upon types of snow crystals

A chart of commonly agreed upon types of snow crystals

Feedback on Changes to Checkout Desk at North York Central Library

I wanted to share some feedback regarding the checkout desk construction I noticed on Friday at North York Central Library.  It might only apply to us, but I imagine others who checkout large # of items (kids books?) and those in wheelchairs might also be affected.

Of all the checkout locations available, there is only one I’m comfortable using and it has been altered.  It is only one of two that is low enough for the kids to participate in, and is the only one with enough space to handle the high-volume of items we typically have.  The extra wood-type level that has been added to the front section of the circle area prevents me from sliding our piles along the counter as we are checking out.  Days when we have 20 or 30 items (picture books for the win!) it is rather involved to pile 8 or 10 on the RFID reader, move that pile over, repeat two or more times, then sort the items so they can then fit well into our bags.  The extra bevel prevents the sliding (need to slide far enough away that it doesn’t get picked up again by a switch in card), and I suspect whatever is going to be installed on that space will limit any piling and sorting area.

I imagine that checkout spot is also the designated wheelchair checkout spot and I can’t speak for them but I imagine it might be an issue too, though not as much because there is no knee space in the section covered by the new block.

Plus to me, the aesthetic of the mixed materials (the stone type desk, topped with the almost matching colour non-stone) doesn’t convey the library as a place of culture and high standards I imagine it to be.

I understand we are an extreme user, and you can’t always take these edge cases into account when extending and improving things for the majority of patrons, but I wanted to share my feedback.

Thank you for your consideration.

[[ A note I sent to the circulation head at my local library ]]

Want to be my neighbour? 5 Options on the block atm

Follow-up to previous post from last year, 5 options are on the market at the moment if you’d like to be my neighbour.

Many options on the block at the moment.  2 new builds, 2 existing homes and one for lease.  On Ellerslie Ave between Tamworth and Senlac (one is two houses the other side of Senlac).

From east to west:

  • New build 183 Ellerslie (MLS# C2775924) listing at $1,689,000
  • New build 188 Ellerslie Ave (MLS# C2783699) re-listed with new agents after months of not selling (MLS#C2639633).  New price $1,749,000
  • For Lease 197 Ellerslie Ave (MLS#C2769820) for $1,800 a month
  • 205 Ellerslie Ave (MLS#C2784832) listed yesterday for $975,000.  Lot is listed at 57’ feet, which if split in the future would in theory be less than the previously allowed split size.  Nice enough place it might stay to be lived in instead of destroyed like so many others on the street
  • On the other side of Senlac 274 Ellerslie (C2774630) listed last week and I believe reduced since then but not 100% sure, now $849,000

Remembering Albert E. Nolan, Squadron 435 Burma

remembrance day poppy lest we forgetToday is Remembrance Day in Canada and I was sharing a story about my Grandfather, Albert Nolan (deceased 2003-01-13) with the kids.  He used to talk very little about the war, but as a boy I knew he served in Burma (and I didn’t know where Burma was then, but I know now he was stationed at Tulihal near Imphal India over the border from Burma), flew airplanes, and once crashed the plane.  My cousins and I would make up stories about him dog-fighting or something exciting like we’d seen in movies, but as a teen I learned the plane had run out of gas and simply didn’t make it over a hill.  Prompted by an email from my Uncle, I’ve done a bit of research and here are some notes and photos I’ve found.

The “Burma Campaign” as it is known now saw 8,000 Canadians in India and Burma.  My grandfather was part of “The Dakotas”.

Nos. 435 and 436 Squadrons, two medium-range transport squadrons based in India which flew their first operational missions in December 1944 and January 1945. The squadrons were comprised of C47 Dakota transport aircraft (the military version of the Douglas DC 3). The “Dak,” as it was affectionately called, was tough, reliable, extremely stable and able to take considerable punishment from ground fire.”

435_Transport_and_Rescue_SquadronThe Chinthes (Chin-thay), whose motto was Certi provenhendi (Determined on delivery), ran supply missions, often kicking the supplies out of the plane as it flew over the ground forces.  The chinthe is a legendary leogryph creature which guards the temples in Burma. The motto refers to the unit’s activities as a transport squadron.  They continue today as the 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron  stationed at CFB Winnipeg.

Another interesting resource I came across was this VEMRA page which had over a hundred photos from scrapbooks of the time.  In the list I discovered my grandfather was part of ‘”A” Flight 12’, it seemed there were 16 ‘flights’ in ‘A’ group and some ‘B’ group flights.  I include a couple of photos from that page where they show a Dak being worked on, and the cockpit.  Review their slideshow for pictures of men at work and rest, and some of their living conditions.

I found reference to two books written about the 435 Squadron, one listed here is by R Pittet titled “Determined on Delivery” and another on a used book site with no authorship information.