Monday, April 30, 2007

Pinewood Derby Champion

Aaron with the winning car
When I was 9, I joined Cub Scouts for a year. I don’t remember all that much about it. I started a coin collection as a suggested project. We went to a Yankees game at the old Yankee Stadium, and Bobby Murcer hit two home runs. The den leader showed us a tributary of the Rahway River that ran right through the basement of his house.

The other thing I remember was the Pinewood Derby. I had no skill to make a car, and what I remember mostly was painting it. I put it on the kitchen table and spray painted it royal blue. Little dots of royal blue paint remained on the kitchen wall until the day the wallpaper was replaced many years later. But it wasn’t very stable, and my Pinewood Derby career was over after the first race.

Aaron is in his 4th year in Scouts. He doesn’t pay much attention to the various achievements and patches, I think the patches have collected in a draw and the achievements have gone mostly unachieved and unattempted. Even the derby was a little iffy this year. His first year, he shocked nearly everyone, except maybe himself, by winning his first two races as a 7-year old and making it to that year’s semi-finals. His car beat a big car with a giant Sponge Bob on top, of course everyone else was rooting for Sponge Bob and Aaron thought it was all very funny.

But the last two years had both ended too quickly, in first round losses. Last year Aaron was sure he had a fast car, but he had the misfortune to be matched up against an eventual finalist in the first heat, and lost a close race. My one input as an officer this year was to insist that the races not be single elimination. I had to promise Aaron he’d get at least two races before he’d agree to do participate again.

Aaron made the car himself. Dad’s involvement ended when the official Grand Prix Pinewood Derby Kit was delivered to the house. Aaron took it from there, except for enlisting Mom to help with sanding and gluing. We put the car on the kitchen scale and it weighed 4 ounces – one ounce short. In the past, we supplemented by putting pennies on top, but this time Aaron had a brainstorm: batteries. One on each side should be about enough. Lori insisted only that they be dead batteries, but we could only find one dead AAA, so we sacrificed a new battery to the cause. They were glued in to place, and we were good to go.
There were about 22 cars in this year’s derby. The race organizer brought a digital postal scale this year, and Aaron’s car came in at 5.0 ounces. I have no idea what we would have done had it been 5.1.

The race organizer had it set up so that each car would get at least one race on each track, thus eliminating the track as a factor and also giving each kid multiple chances. But that also meant it could take a long time to get to some of the cars. Aaron’s was the very last car to race. He was getting frustrated. In the meantime, one of the adult volunteers accidentally kicked the car, and another managed to bump it as well, causing the left battery to come off. Aaron got the glassy eyed look, which meant two things: 1) yell at the adult volunteer, and 2) emergency procurement of a piece of tape. The car bandaged battery back in place, was declared ready to race.

The first race came up and… it won. By a lot. The car quickly acquired a nickname: Duracell. And so it went through the preliminary races, and also the final round. And so Aaron got his ribbon.

Then we discovered that, due to an entry error, Aaron’s car hadn’t actually raced one of the 2nd place finishers, a car that was also undefeated. So we had two final heats. Duracell will be retired with a final record of 14 wins, no losses, and one dead heat. And until next year, Aaron is the fast car builder of Pack 364.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cherry blossoms and duck eggs

7pm this evening
Spring finally arrived here last weekend. In March, we briefly considered skipping right by spring and on in to summer, then for most of April we skipped past spring the other way back to winter. The crocuses bloomed early and were eaten by a rabbit the next day. The cherry blossoms nearly bloomed two weeks early, and then nearly froze off the trees.
The crocuses, the day before the rabbit ate them
Finally, last Friday the temperatures eased over 50, and we were able to get the trees sprayed. This is important, as we prefer our cherries without the worms. Then, on Saturday, spring arrived. I had to be a spectator that first day, as somehow I ended up with some friends at the Corner Bar of the Townsend while very tall former basketball plaers came and went, and some very nice looking woman was telling me how she’d been at the Tigers game that day but they’d lost “in overtime.” So I knew spring had arrived: I was sure she was hitting on me.

Sunday was the coming out party. Cleared the dead canes from the black raspberries, went for a bikeride with Aaron, who is now 10. Saw how much he has improved. I had to get a new battery for my tripmeter, and when I pt it in I didn’t notice that it defaulted to metric. It said I was going 36 when I hit that bump along Franklin Road. My tripmeter said we went 18km, but Aaron told me it was 14 miles. I think he needs a new tripmeter.

Sunday was supposed to be the last nice day. We even ate outside, only to be interrupted when the neighbor called to tell us they had successfully trepped the groundhog and that we just needed to see it right away. That was one big groundhog, I hope it’s the one that ate our corn last year. Or maybe the racoon they caught on Saturday. If they catch a few more I’ll consider forgiving them for being Republicans.

It stayed nice on Monday. Aaron and Elianna have learned to try to chase ducks from the pool. The ducks invade from the late winter until the pool is opened and the water starts to heat up. Early April, they’re there. One year, a duck made a nest in the hostas, and tended to them dutifully. It was going to be a celebration when the eggs hatched, but then there was an awful war, and when it was over there was a dead duck in the pool, and a mess of broken eggs scattered about. The momma duck came back, poking around, seeing if there was anything to salvage, but ducks don’t salvage broken shells.
one duck egg being kept warm in a shoe box
So Aaron had a squirt gun, and was yelling at the ducks yesterday, with Elianna merrily following. The ducks wouldn’t move. Then Aaron must have gotten a lucky shot with the water, and the ducks vacated, leaving behind... an egg! On the edge of the pool cover. No nest. Just out on the pool cover. After handling the egg, shaking the egg, testing the egg, the children decided they’d really like to hatch the egg. It now sits in a shoe box under a lamp. We’ve read that it is almost certainly already dead, but they’ll try anyway. Elianna is prepared to be the momma duck already, with her little duckling in tow.

Monday night, the cherry blossoms came out. A sea of white. Both trees on the same day. Countdown to cherry season, but for today and tomorrow enough to see the trees, out at the same time as the daffodils and the forsythia and the first of the tulips, with the chives up and the asparagus just a couple days away, along with the apple blossoms and pear blossoms. It’s almost too much beauty, all at once. Our other neighbor is moving to Arizona. We understand... but we don’t.
Happy Birdoodle daydoodle!!
Today was Elainna’s birthday. I picked her up from gymnastics, and she was singing, loudly. First in hebrew, then, “Happy birdooddle daydoodle toodoodle youdoodle oodoodle,” over and over. She flits around, arms in motion like nothing quite so much as a butterfly, if only she were light enough she’d take off. She’s the one who might say, “Quiet! I’m in the middle of a dream.” Presents of a toy pegasus and other characters, a cake to eat, and dreams today of being the mommy duck.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

... And the Rabbit Died

Friday was my birthday. Born on Friday the 13th, and for the 6th time in the 45 years since, a birthday on Friday the 13th. The first wasn't until I turned 11, and I got sick that day, so I figured for a while that Friday the 13th birthdays might be bad.

This year, it was dinner at the in-laws. Elianna spoiled the "surprise" Thursday night, when at dinner she blurted out, "we ordered a cake!!" That's ok, I can live with that, so long as I get my slice of 7-layer cake.

We went to the in-laws separately; Lori with the kids and me from work. After dinner, I trailed on the ride home. As Lori approached the driveway, a rabbit darted out in to the road. And... Lori hit it. Or it hit Lori. I'm not quite sure which, it just got swallowed up by the underside of the car, and as Lori pulled in to the driveway there was the rabbit in the road in what had to be horrible pain, making spastic leaping movements to and fro though not able to get to its feet, its eyes wild with terror in its final moments.

I drove around it, and up to the garage. Lori and the kids were exiting the car, both of them saying "we win, we win" as a statement of a "race" home. I said to Lori, "I can't believe you hit that rabbit," and after she finished saying "what rabbit?" and "I didn't see any rabbit," continued, "I hope it was the one who ate our crocuses," and, "is it still there?"

"Well," I thought out loud, "it's probably dead by now."

And then a slice of human nature revealed itself to me.

"Can we see? Can we see?" The cries were clear. We walked back to the road, and the rabbit by now was quite dead, but it was dark. "Can I get a flashlight? Pleeeeeaaase?"

It was more exciting for them than the robin that managed to fly at full speed in to the living room window last week, crashing with a explosive thud and remaining plastered to the window just long enough for us all to see the feathers fly.

Saturday morning, the rabbit was gone, like it had never happened. Big rabbit, too, wonder what made off with it. I hope it wasn't the animal that ate our corn last year.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Gorging on P2P

Note: This post originall appeared at

Market research cited in an article in Monday's New York Times says that users of peer-to-peer downloading networks—BitTorrent, LimeWire, and the like—downloaded ten times more songs than users of "legit" download services like iTunes. More than 5 billion songs were downloaded from P2P source in 2006, as opposed to 509 million legal downloads, said NPD Group, a market research firm.

Those numbers didn't ring true to me. Here's my response:

I would guess that 10:1 is seriously understated—I wouldn't be surprised if it's closer to 100:1.

The article doesn't capture how these ratios work out when considering "officially released" content as opposed to "bootleg" content. For example, the torrent site (capped at 100,000 free members) has a strict policy banning any material that is either in official release or likely to become officially released.

On March 21, the files for a full-length Bruce Springsteen concert DVD from Paris 1985 went up. Not just a handheld thing, this was from the monitors, first-generation. 28 songs. 12 gigabytes of data. And many hundreds of people logged on, downloading the whole thing. How many song downloads is that, just for that one show? Well, I'll count: Dimeadozen reports that there have been 769 downloads so far. In addition, a Springsteen-only torrent site called Jungleland has had 956 downloads. That's 48,300 song downloads, just for that one show. In addition, there are currently another 122 people in the process of downloading the show from the two sites (and there are likely other torrent sites hosting it as well), so that'll be an additional 3,416 downloads, for a total of 51,716 downloads, or about 20 terabytes of data. And that's in less than two weeks, for a single 22-year-old concert.

There's a Simon and Garfunkel show from 2003 that's generated more than 130,000 downloads. Bob Dylan's show in Sweden on Sunday had already produced 2750 completed song downloads with 3200 more in process as of Monday afternoon; his club-gig show last Tuesday is nearing 20,000 completed downloads. Pretty much every show he does will do similar numbers—at 3 shows a week, that's nearly 3 million song downloads just for Dylan on an annual basis, just for his new shows. You get the idea, I guess; there's nothing on iTunes or similar services that will be remotely in the same order of magnitude.

Of course, those numbers are global; the Jungleland numbers, in particular, are majority outside the U.S. But the general concept remains (and Dimeadozen is majority U.S., in any event).