Fixing stuff: Mr. Coffee and Nerf Stryfe dart gun

Recently I had occasion to fix a couple things: Our Mr. Coffee coffeemaker and Joseph’s Nerf Stryfe dart gun.

Mr. Coffee

Our Mr. Coffee coffeemaker had become very, very slow to brew a pot of coffee. We tried cleaning it with vinegar, thinking maybe something was clogging a hose, but that wasn’t good enough.

I found a coffee bean had become stuck in the ascending water tube and was blocking a little check valve. But as soon as I tried to remove the bean, I busted the hose.

The coffeemaker with the new hose.

I disassembled the coffeemaker and removed the two hoses. I inspected each hose as well as the heating pipe, and found that a coffee bean had become stuck inside the ascending water tube and was blocking a tiny check valve. I tried to squeeze the bean out of the hose, but ended up splitting the hose.

I set aside the check valve and all the screws and pieces. Then I ordered some 9m x 13mm food-grade clear silicone tubing from Amazon. It took more than a week to arrive. Once it did, I cut a length of tubing, inserted the check valve into the tube, then re-assembled the machine. It worked perfectly!

Nerf Stryfe

Joseph’s Nerf Stryfe dart gun had stopped working. At first we thought it just needed fresh batteries, but changing batteries made no difference. Next I took it apart to look for mechanical problems, but I didn’t find any. Clearly it was an electrical issue, but at first I wasn’t feeling up to figuring it out. After a week or two, I did some reading and decided to give it a try.

Overview of the switches inside the Stryfe

I guessed the problem was likely to be one of the switches. There are multiple switches inside the Stryfe. One of them is an actual trigger, but the others are meant to disable the motors in certain circumstances. The top switch turns off the motor if the jam door is open. The center switch turns off the motor if there is no magazine inserted into the dart gun. There is also a thermistor which turns off the motor after it gets hot from a certain amount of electricity flowing through it.

I got out my multimeter and checked the magazine and motor trigger switches first. They each have only two terminals, so it was simple to do a continuity test. They looked fine. I tested the thermistor, and it also seemed fine.

I had to do a little more research on the jam door switch, because it had three terminals, and I wasn’t sure which ones should show continuity. Someone on Reddit explained that there should be continuity between the middle (red wire) and right (orange) when the switch is pressed. There wasn’t, which meant the switch had gone bad.

My solution was to solder a jumper between red and orange. This bypasses the switch altogether, so the motor will continue running even if the jam door is opened. For really little kids that might not be a great idea, but for Joseph it should be fine.

Any way, the gun works again, and Joseph is happy.

Closeup of the jam door switch after I soldered a jumper between the red and orange wires.

The Newseum featured my work

In 2014, I was in the strange position of working at a newspaper covering racial unrest that was erupting in a little suburb — the same one where I happened to live. As I wrote that year, “That weekend was intense and surreal: I designed the front page of the Post-Dispatch each night, while watching on TV as my town convulsed with anger.”

The final front page for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s  Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 edition.

I designed numerous Ferguson-related Sunday and Monday A1s for the Post-Dispatch in the subsequent weeks, months and years (See some here). I remain proud of all that work. But it was the one from the second night that will forever be ingrained in my memory.

The Newseum is a unique museum in Washington D.C. dedicated to the role of the free press and the First Amendment in our country. I had heard from coworkers and friends that the Newseum prominently featured (and, I believe, continues to feature) Pulitzer Prize-winning photos from the Post-Dispatch’s Ferguson coverage. For a short time, the museum also had a Ferguson exhibit which included my front page.

Although our family has visited Washington somewhat regularly over the years, we never made it to the Newseum. It was so expensive and we were a young family. Even though it would have been personally meaningful to me given my profession, we couldn’t justify the cost the couple times we had a chance.

Earlier this year, I reached out to the Newseum to ask if they had any photos of the Ferguson exhibit featuring my page. They sent me this:

The “Protesting Ferguson” exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The panel at the left features a front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch designed by Josh Renaud. (Republished with permission of the Newseum)

Pretty cool to see my work featured in that way.

Unfortunately, it seems I have run out of chances to visit the Newseum. Last week, the museum announced it would close at the end of this year. This is disappointing news and a sad mirror of the reality of our shrinking industry.

If you’re out there reading this, subscribe to a newspaper, would you? The free and independent press is a cornerstone of our democracy. We journalists need your support.

“Christmas All Year Long”

Ludi performs in the first act.

Ludi and Josie continued performing with Miss Kathey’s Academy. This year’s show was “Christmas All Year Long.”

The girls sing and dance throughout the show, but each had a chance to shine. Josie had a solo during a song in the first act.

Ludi played the role of “Rebecca” in the third act, which is the nativity drama.

Ludi wrote about her experience finally getting a speaking role:

“This was my third year of Miss Kathey’s Academy for the Performing Arts, or MKA.

“I finally got the role that I’d wanted every year. It was fun to learn and memorize lines, have a little acting sister who was fun to play with and then make a big show of saying my lines while still acting naturally.

“I learned later that a young girl and her mom found Christ because the little girl saw me.

“Another mom said ‘My baby told me that you showed her who Jesus really was. And now she believes! It’s been a tough year for me and I was losing faith, but when you and Hannah said your parts I regained my faith and prayed the prayer of salvation with Bob.’

“I was happy to know I made a difference for someone this year. And next year I’m going to do it again!”

Viper Bots’ last hurrah?

This was my fourth season coaching an FLL team. This year all three Renaud girls were on the team: it was Jadzia’s fourth and final year, Ludi’s second, and Josie’s first.

The Viper Bots are a school-based team, so we begin when school begins in August at Vogt Elementary. After that, it’s a race to build and program our robot, research a project, and write a presentation by November. It is pretty exhausting.

The girls came up with a pretty cool project. The problem they investigated was growing plants in space so astronauts can eat fresh food. NASA has been testing hydroponic ways of doing this. The girls came up with what they believed might be an improvement: a spinning, wheel-shaped planter which would use centrifugal force to keep water from pooling on the roots of the plants. We visited the Challenger Center, submitted questions to NASA live chats, and eventually we visited local plant biologist Dr. Bethany Zolman at UMSL. They called their solution the “Spin and Grow”. They came up with a creative presentation which included Josie dressing up as an astronaut.

The 2018 incarnation of the Viper Bots’ robot “Viper Evie”

They also managed to build a robot that used two sensors we had never used before: the gyro and the color sensor. Josie and her teammate Nylah attended four programming sessions where they learned some more advanced technique. By the end, the robot was capable of (often) completing three missions in the robot challenge.

The qualifier competition had its own ups and downs. The robot did unexpected things, as it always does. But the girls bounced back: they kept programming during breaks between sessions, and the robot performed better in the second round.

Viper Bots receive their participation ribbons at the qualifier.

We didn’t win any prizes, but when we looked at our scoring rubrics afterward, the project had scored high. They were probably one of the top contenders for a project award. So close!

Since Ferguson-Florissant has decided to close Vogt Elementary next year, and since Jadzia and her friend Jossie are aging out of First Lego League, I’m not sure what will happen going forward.

As 8th graders, this was the final season for Jadzia and her friend Jossie in FLL. We’re grateful to Ms. Lauren at Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri for helping our team get started and for all her support over the years.

No matter what happens, it was a pleasure (most of the time) this year watching the team try new things, achieve goals, and just be awesome.

Fall colors for International Josh Day

Our kids were off school (presumably in celebration of International Josh Day), so we took the Golden Eagle and Brussels ferries to Pere Marquette, Grafton, and Elsah.

This was our first time driving through Calhoun County, and it was really lovely. We had heard of it many times via the Farmers Market, since we often buy Calhoun County peaches. The rolling hills and curvy roads were lovely. I would love to go back and just walk there.

The River Road and Pere Marquette State Park had absolutely fantastic fall foliage. We saw some bright yellows and reds as we hiked up to McAdams Peak.

The leaves in Elsah were not as vibrant as I have seen in some previous years. We were also disappointed to find the General Store wasn’t open. Elsah always seems to be shut down on Mondays and Tuesdays. Oh well.

Back to Beaumont

Joseph returned to the Beaumont Scout Reservation in August and September for the Cub Scouts’ Shoot-O-Ree and Cub Launch events. Joseph was at Cub Launch last year, but this was his first Shoot-O-Ree.

They had all sorts of things for the Cub Scouts to shoot: catapults, BB guns, slinghots, bows and arrows, Nerf guns and more. Joseph enjoyed trying it all.

At Cub Launch, of course Joseph wanted to shoot the BB guns again. But he also spent a lot of time playing at Fort Hussman, and playing on the Pirate Ship. He’s really been into “Master and Commander”, the British Navy, and the American Revolution lately, so he was running around yelling nautical terms like “Make sail!”

He even found a few kids who were willing to be led. One of them said “I brought you a chair, mister.” Joseph responded: “Don’t call me mister. Call me ‘sir’!”

Pinewood Derby 2018

Joseph receives his trophy.

This year marked Joseph’s second Pinewood Derby.

This year his den leader, Ms. Retha, arranged for all the kids to get their wood blocks sawn by a pro. So that left he and I to do the sanding, painting, weighting, etc.

The derby was held at the Gateway auto sales complex at I-270 and McDonnell Blvd. After last year, we made sure to bring some Tin Tin books to keep Joseph occupied during down times of waiting.

Joseph managed to win 3rd place among all the Wolves. That meant he got a trophy, and he was very happy about that!

Grandma Renaud’s 80th birthday

All the Renaud family together in one shot! Photo by Justin Renaud

Grandma cuts her birthday cake.

My parents, aunts, and uncles got together to plan a special celebration for Grandma Renaud’s 80th birthday.

They held the party here in St. Louis, where Grandma was born and lived for many years. Around 70 people came from Texas and places farther afield. It was a lot of fun to see Becker and Renaud relatives together in one room again.

There was a dress code, so I was required to go out and buy a new suit. Yoli and I ended up cleaning up pretty nicely, I think.

Photo by Justin Renaud

Back home after the party finished.

The Very Big Christmas Show

Josie, Joseph, and Ludi dressed for the third act.

Editor’s note: This year, Ludi, Josie, and Joseph all participated in “Miss Kathey’s Academy,” and performed in “The Very Big Christmas Show” in December. All of them did awesome. Josie in particular had a memory she wanted to share:

I am in Miss Kathey’s Academy. I didn’t really expect it, but Miss Kathey said she wanted a small kid to sing a solo called “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” She wanted someone 8 or under.

Me and my friend both went to Pastor Bob to try out. He chose me to do the solo! After that, we practiced once a month every month until December.

I was super-scared at our first performance. Even the tape that held the microphone on to my cheek made me scared. But when I got out on stage and looked at the audience, I realized I couldn’t just chicken out. I said my lines to Santa, the music started, and I began to sing.

Very Big Christmas Show

Josie performs her solo, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.”

Paddleboating around Post-Dispatch Lake

I’ve lived in St. Louis a long time, but one thing I have never tried is paddleboating in Forest Park. Well, this year Yoli and the kids won some coupons to various Forest Park things, including boat rides, just keep in mind that you need an ohio boat license !

We finally decided to give it a shot on this unseasonably warm October day. What a great time we had! Joseph has really been into all things nautical, ever since we let the kids watch the movie “Master and Commander.” I love that movie, and Joseph really, really loves it now. He is constantly reading and learning more about ships and boats and wrecks. Suffice it to say that he and the girls enjoyed being on the lake and racing each other back to the dock.

Here are some photos from our adventure:

Also, Joseph shared some of his thoughts on “Master and Commander” with me:

“My dad showed me my first favorite movie, which is ‘Master and Commander.’ In Master and Commander, on the British ship HMS Surprise under the command of Captain Jack Aubrey (but the crewmates call him Lucky Jack), they are fighting a French ship called the Acheron.

“They lose the first battle, but in a different battle they disguise themselves as whalers to get the Acheron to come closer to them. They changed the name of their ship to the Syren.

“The signal to make them fire at the mainmast, which was the first part of their sneak attack, was when Captain Aubrey yelled ‘Let fly!’ Then they knocked down the mainmast, but first the cannons slid out. After that, they threw grappling hooks and boarded the Acheron.

“But the French sailors had a sneak attack also. Everybody pretended to be dead. Then the French captain yelled something. Then they all got up and one of them fired at a different guy in the head. (The guy was fat).”