Tracking down a hot-air balloon in Ferguson

Finding the hot air balloon at Walnut Gove Elementary.

Editor’s note: The following post is synthesized from accounts by Yoli and Jadzia.

One day after Josie finished her guitar class, we saw a lot of hot air ballon passing over our heads. One of them was getting increasingly larger and closer to the ground, so we decided to chase it. After trying to find where it was going, we saw it land behind the field at Walnut Grove Elementary. The balloon had come from the Forest Park race, even though it’d been cancelled.

The kids helped the pilot, Mr. Mike Wade, disassemble the balloon and put it away. That was quite an adventure, and exhausting to say the least.

The kids help Mr. Mike Wade, the pilot from HI Flight, Inc.

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:

Return to the Club

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Editor’s note: This summer we spent a few days at the “clubhouse” built by my great-grandparents near Clearwater Lake. It was our first time back there in a few years. Though the lake was very high because of spring floods, we still had a great time. On our way home we visited the Johnson Shut-ins. Ludi shares a few memories from the trip:

When we got to the lake, my dad needed to buy supplies for fishing. The Lake was very high. The only way to reach the dock was by boat. Josie and Joseph rode a boat with him to go to the dock to buy stuff.

During our trip, my dad was whittling. I asked him if I could try. He had one or two extra pocket knives, so he let me use one that he got at church. That’s how I learned how to handle a pocketknife and how to whittle.

We hung up the hammock. We walked around. We went fishing near the top of the flood parking lot, then waded in the water after we finished fishing.

After several days, we packed up and got ready to go to the Johnson Shut-ins. There were these huge rocks there, so you could climb on top of a rock, and there would be water going over it. You could slide down it like it was a slide.

As you got deeper through, the water would get much deeper. It was fun because there were certain areas where there were big rocks together, so it was like a fort. Me, Josie, and Joseph would play in the fort and splash water at each other and stuff. Then there was a scary part: a family said they saw a snake. Me and Josie were really scared because I thought I saw a snake when we were heading back towards the shallow area, but we never did actually come across one.

Beginning baseball

Joseph, after playing a baseball game for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Editor’s note: Joseph played on his first baseball team this summer, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, which is located at the end of our street. My dad went to school there long ago when it was called Sts. John and James. Anyway, Joseph shares his memories of his first baseball season:

It was my first time being on a baseball team. My coach’s name was coach Cliff.

When the team is in the field, there’s only one person who wears a helmet when you’re in the little league, and that’s the pitcher. There are two pitchers: the first one is the coach who throws a baseball. The other one is a kid player and he wears a helmet. I normally wasn’t pitcher, but a few times I did get to be pitcher. Once my dad thought that I was going to be batting when I was pitcher because I was wearing a helmet.

I did not have a favorite position. However, I did a least favorite position: shortstop. Because I’m not short and I don’t like stopping!

I wasn’t so good at batting [but he got better!].

I learned in baseball that when you’re throwing a ball, you throw it to first base and you always take a step with the opposite foot from your throwing hand. So, if you’re throwing with your right hand, you step with your left foot.

Jadzia: Spelling Bee finalist!

Jadzia spells a word at the Post-Dispatch spelling bee finals.

Editor’s note: After winning the Ferguson-Florissant district-wide spelling bee for the second straight year, Jadzia reached the finals of the 2017 Post-Dispatch Spelling Bee. Here’s what she had to say about it.

Winning my school bee wasn’t too hard because there were only five contestants! My real challenge started with the district bee. Although not required to move on to the Post-Dispatch bee, it puts in a good bit of practice for me. After a bit of challenge from another student, I won the district bee for my second time in a row.

After that came the regional semifinals, a written bee. I successfully managed to spell 19/20 (or 24/25) out of the words and move on to the finals.

I was very nervous about getting so far, but the fact that I was there and that I had a chance to move on was quite astounding! I did my best. I had studied lists of words that were used for the first several rounds, but beginning with the fifth round, the words were taken from a giant dictionary and the bee got increasingly difficult. I managed to survive to the 6th round, before losing on the word “dromond.”

It was a great experience and I hope to be back in 2018!

Jadzia’s words (in order):

  • incorruptible
  • staccato
  • virgule
  • anschluss
  • minatory
  • dromond

Strings attached

Josie with her guitar
Josie with her guitar

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson offers a program called “Strings Attached” which offers students guitar lessons and the chance to earn a guitar if they stick with the program.

A spot finally opened up for Josie this year and she has worked hard. Like her older sisters, Josie often doesn’t want to practice, but she has pushed through, and performed in her first concert.

Here’s a video of Josie in action:

Josie's guitar concert from Josh Renaud on Vimeo.