“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!

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).”

Little Creek camp

Ludi with a memento from critter camp.

Editor’s note: this summer, Ludi attended three different camps at Little Creek Nature Area. She learned survival skills, worked with animals, and all sorts of things. Here are some of her memories:

One day we were canoeing, searching for a certain kind of frogs (I believe it was the American bullfrog). That day Ranger Bob — my favorite ranger — had a fishing hook that looked like a fly. He said it was something bullfrogs were attracted to. At this, it was imperative of one to make a mental note to learn how to fish for trout, as these are among the biggest catches they could be favoured with. We saw several frogs and he put it out in front of them and they would hop around objects and get close to the hook-thing.

We did lots of fun things in the survival camp, like build a fire, learn how to make shelters, and learn what kinds of food we can find in the wild. We went to different areas like the pond, grasslands, and fields. They’d tell us what insects, bugs, mammals we could find, and how to catch/hunt them. I have a notebook full of that stuff so I can carry it with me when we travel.

We learned if you want to cut down a tree, you need to have a sapling to plant in its place.

My favorite day at Little Creek camp was activity day where we played water games, rode bikes, went canoeing, went kayaking in a tandem kayak, did archery, and made pottery all in the same day. I was really good at canoeing because I had done it before.

When we did archery, the first time I wasn’t so sure I could do it because the bow felt really heavy. The arrows would slip out, so I gave it up the first week. But the second week on the next adventure day, I tried it again. It was the same guy, and he encouraged me to try again with a different bow. It was so much easier. The arrow only slipped out a couple times. When I shot the arrows, one of them was close to a bullseye.

Building a dot-matrix EV3 Lego printer

One of my early attempts to build a Lego printer. The print head here is driven by a rack and pinion. Later versions used a technic tread and sprocket.

In June and July, I borrowed the girls’ robotics team Lego pieces and EV3 brain in order to build my own dot-matrix printer.

At various FIRST events, I have seen a kid or two who built a printer. I’ve also seen some on YouTube. As a fan of retrocomputing and Legos, I thought it would be a lot of fun to make my own printer.

The basic idea is simple and requires three motors. One feeds the paper forward or backward. One slides a print head back and forth horizontally across the page. The last one moves a marker or a pen up and down to draw a dot.

I made a lot of iterations of this printer, trying to solve various problems. It wasn’t perfect, and I was particularly limited by the number and kinds of pieces I had available. But it DID work! I was able to print out some portraits that were recognizable, as well as a Print Shop-style banner.

Lego printer for Fathers Day from Josh Renaud on Vimeo.

This is a simple dot-matrix portrait of my dad made using an early version of my Lego printer. The right side gets distorted, but the left and center are pretty good.

The main challenges (for me, anyway), were how to move the marker up and down, and how to code the printer so that it had good resolution. Early on, I attached the motors directly to the shafts, then measured how far to move things using tacho counts. But that led to very sloppy, inconsistent results. After a while, I realized I needed to use a technique called “gearing up”: The motor turns a small gear, which then drives a much larger gear. This decreases speed, requiring me to use many more tacho units to move the print head the same amount. On the surface this might sound bad, but in fact it greatly reduced inconsistency. I used “gearing up” to improve both the paper feeder, and the horizontal print head movement. You can even use acrylic photo blocks for printing and showcasing colored images as they last for years and are moisture proof thus ensuring no damage to the picture.

I wrote the code for the printer in Python, and controlled the EV3 using the ev3dev linux system. Later versions of the code were capable of reading in a PNG file and converting it to a low-res black and white image to print.

At the end of the summer, I created a 3D model of the printer using Lego Digital Designer. Download the viper-printer.lxf file and try it yourself in either LDD or Stud.io. The model isn’t perfect (There are two blank slots in the tread where I couldn’t get things to connect, for example), but is a nearly exact replica.

Inexplicably, I failed to take photos of the final version of the printer. So, here instead are some renderings of the printer, made using Stud.io: