Dec 122009

One part of the Michigan State finals of First Lego League was held at Carman-Ainsworth Middle School in Flint, Michigan on 12 December 2009.

The team from Byron Center – Team <Default> – made it to the State Finals for the first time ever thanks to their performance at the Regionals at Grandville on 20 November 2009.

Overall as a Team they finished in the lower half of the 48 teams present, but they learned a lot from seeing and competing against the other teams. They did however win the “Alliance Challenge” – a time limited challenge whereby 4 teams had to work together on a plan to have their robots each drive down the course and for all of them to end up parked in the smallest possible space.

Alliance Challenge Winners

Alliance Challenge Winners

Kyle’s idea of having the Team <Default> robot run up a ramp that was on one of the other robots, thereby effectively parking 4 robots in the space occupied by 3 robots proved to be the winning idea. A photogallery of images from this is available when viewing the whole post. (click link below if it’s not showing.)

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 Posted by at 2:29 pm
Nov 302009

We live adjacent to a large field that is planted in either corn or soy beans each summer. I don’t know who owns the ground, nor who does the planting and harvesting, but they sure have access to some very large machinery. At the end of November we got an inch of rain over Thanksgiving, which came on top of already very wet and soggy conditions, and it seemed like the corn might have to stand all Winter, or at least well into the Winter until the ground froze enough to let the get on it. But on 30 November a monstrous combine harvester on very large rubber tracks turned up to harvest this corn. And it needed all of that support and drive that the huge rubber tracks and large rear drive wheels could offer to get around the field. It was accompanied by an equally large IH Case tractor with 8 drive wheels pulling a large bin that was on rubber tracks to take the corn from the combine out to waiting semi-truck and trailer that was beside the road.

Here’s one picture, and a gallery shows if you open this post.

John Deere 9770 STS

John Deere 9770 STS

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Nov 252009

On 25th November Lisa and I took her Mum down to the Toledo Museum of Art to see the exhibit of Dale Chihuly glass works “Chihuly Toledo!

We had been to the Toledo Museum of Art during the Summer to spend a day there looking at displays, including a fascinating glass blowing exhibition in The Glass Pavillion and learned of their upcoming Chihuly display. So the day before Thanksgiving we headed off there to take a look.

In the Chihuly exhibit room I didn’t see any signs saying “No Photography” as I walked in, so took a couple of pictures before I got scolded. Turns out the only sign was in such a place that you’d see it only as you exited the room. So here they are…

Nov 212009

I had occasion recently to try and figure out how to use the Firewall built into Mac OS X to prevent a very bad mannered “bot” from hitting one of my sites – at times at the rate of 10 hits per second, and 2 seconds later another 8-10 hits!!! So I needed to be able to block certain IP numbers, or ranges of IP numbers. Mac OS X comes with the FreeBSD firewall programme called IPFW. This is a very powerful feature that can be accessed from Terminal.

Some Googling later I came up with several helpful sites that got me up and running with this.

First, using the Apache server logs identify the IP number, or range of IP numbers you want to block. I used TextWrangler to open the log file and do some preliminary editing, and then imported that into FileMaker Pro to get only the log lines applicable to PiplBot (BAD ROBOT!!!!). Over the course of about 5 hours it used 84 different IP numbers as it hit away at one of my sites over 19,000 times.

So once I had a list of these numbers, I was able to break them down into a number of shorter lists that had the first 2 or 3 octets of the IP number the same. With this done, this site provides a VERY handy calculator that will take the starting and ending IP numbers in a range, and convert it to a range in the CIDR notation (very technical explanation here) which takes a range of numbers like,,,

which potentially covers 14 different numbers and converts it to which represents 16 numbers without the need to list them all out. And simlarly the range from to covers 2,572 addresses, and is represented by – a range of 16,384 addresses.

So, armed with this knowledge and ability, I’m now able to understand the instructions on this page and this page which in their simplest form are saying that you can use Terminal with this instruction

sudo /sbin/ipfw add 02010 deny ip from to any in

to add a block into the Firewall for the range of numbers You can see the current status of your ipfw with this Terminal command

sudo /sbin/ipfw list

which will return a list in this form

02010 deny ip from to any in
02020 deny ip from to any in
02030 deny ip from to any in
02040 deny ip from to any in
02050 deny ip from to any in
65535 allow ip from any to any

Changes made by Terminal only last as long as your Macintosh is running – they are not saved to be used on a Restart unless you write a startup script to do this. This site provide details on this, including a number of sample scripts, but frankly this was way over my head, so I turned to MacUpdate to see if there was an application that would do this via a GUI (Graphical User Interface). I found several, and settled on WaterRoof by Hany El Imam. This allows you to define the rules you want to implement, and then takes care of creating the script that will activate these rules each time your Macintosh is started up.

WaterRoof Screen Shot

WaterRoof Screen Shot

This seems much easier to deal with 🙂

So for now PiplBot is banned, even though they seem to be honouring their statement that they would remove all of my sites from their list of sites to crawl.

I hope this helps someone else – I’ve written it partly to help me remember what I did, but also to help others.

 Posted by at 10:42 pm
Nov 212009

Saturday 20 November was the “Smart Move Regional LEGO League Qualifying Tournament” of “FIRST Lego® League” at Grandville Middle School, Grandville, Michigan.

The Team from Byron Center is Team <default>. The ended up finishing 6th at this tournament, including 1st place in Research, so are off to the State Finals in Flint on 12 December. Congratulations Guys and Girls!!!

Here are a few photos taken by Uncle Roger.

 Posted by at 5:37 pm
Nov 012009

Halloween 2009 was at Kurt and Ann’s house again. Everybody got into the spirit, and a great time was had by all. Even Balto the Brittany reluctantly got into his costume – a glow in the dark set of ribs and skull cap.

As usual there was lots of good food, and even the pavlova I made got into it by having black (or very dark purple) filling and orange whipped cream on it. It looked a bit odd, but tasted just like it should.

 Posted by at 3:25 pm
Oct 172009

Saturday 17 October was the 2009 Edition of “Making Strides for Breast Cancer” – a 5 km walk in downtown Grand Rapids, starting in Calder Plaza, along side the Grand River, through Ah Nab Awen Park, past the burial place of President Gerald R Ford, past the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum, the Amway Grand Hotel, the Civil War Veterans Monument, Veterans Memorial Park, down Jefferson Ave to “Hope Lodge”, up onto “Heritage Hill”, then back down past Grand Rapids Community College to the Calder Plaza – whew!!

Thankfullly it was a sunny day, even if not so warm at least initially.

Pictures below.

 Posted by at 12:55 pm
Sep 122009

Over the last several weeks we have heard several times that the proposed funding of $7,500,000 for Michigan libraries is only 50% of what is required by law.

What law?

And if it’s a law, why is not complying with it subject of legal action by someone – there’s no shortage of lawyers that’s for sure!!!!

So I set out to try and find out just where this “requirement” is. It turns out that this was laid down in Act 89 of 1977 – State Aid to Public Libraries, which contains a list of the requirements that must be met by libraries in Michigan, categorises them based on the population they serve and lays out the amount of state aid that they must receive. See here, here and here for several presentations of Act 89.

From State Aid Guidelines on page 3 we see this list of the funding categories required in Act 89.

PA89, §13 Public library cooperatives shall receive 50¢ per capita for their served population.

PA89, §16(2) Public libraries shall receive 50¢ per capita for their served population if minimum standards are met.

PA89, §16(4) Public libraries that meet minimum standards and are members of a cooperative library shall receive 50¢ per capita to pay for services provided by the cooperative.
All or part of this amount shall be used to purchase these services.

PA89, §16(4) A cooperative shall receive $10 per square mile for the area it serves if the area has less than 75 persons per square mile.

PA89, §16(5) County public libraries serving a population of 50,000 or less with a director who meets educational requirements can receive a maximum of $400 per month or $4,800 annually for salary reimbursement. A form must be filed quarterly by the county library to claim the reimbursement.

So while I’m certainly no lawyer, one has to wonder why if there’s a law, then this law can’t be enforced?!?!

The main thing I got out of the Rally at the Capitol was just how important it is that Michigan Libraries receive $10,000,000 in funding – “only” 2/3rds of the required $15,000,000 – so that they then receive the $5,000,000 in Federal money which is what by and large seems to pay forMeL and MelCat. The Governor is proposing $7,500,000, while the Senate is proposing $10,000,000.

How hard is to to realise that for a further measly $2,500,000 they would be able to treble their money, since that last $2,500,000 would trigger the Federal $5,000,000. That’s a return on investment that it ought to be criminal to turn down.

This page MHAL – Significant Dates in Michigan Library History should be required reading for all decision makers before they decide to underfund the Libraries of Michigan, so that they might get even a small grasp of what they’re about to undo before they go and undo it!!!!

And finally (maybe) this from writer Anne Herbert

“Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”

Sep 112009

Today is 8 years since the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon.

Where were you 8 years ago? I remember it all very clearly because of the unusual, and as it turns out very fortuitous situation Lisa and I were in.

We had been up in the Rocky Mountains at Estes Park for the Clan Moffat Society AGM that had ended on Sunday 9 September 2001. We spent Monday 10 September driving up to the top of the Rocky Mountains above Estes Park and then back down and just out of Colorado into Denver.

I had driven out to Colorado and Lisa had flown out, with me meeting her at Denver Airport. I was to drop her off at Denver Airport early on the morning of September 11 and then set out for the 2 day drive home while she flew back. But up at Estes Park I hadn’t been so well, suffering perhaps a bit of mountain sickness, with a bad headache much of the time, so we decided Lisa would come back in the car, incase I couldn’t handle all the driving myself.

Tuesday morning I was down in the car park cleaning the car windows, talking to a biker dude from Texas who was readying his Harley for the day’s riding when Lisa came down and told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We went upstairs in time to see GMA show the second plane hitting live.

We spent all of that day driving 700 miles to the outskirts of Chicago, listening in stunned amazement to Public Radio from Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois all day. We endured a massive line at a petrol station and paid some artificially inflated price to refuel as everyone panicked about what the price of oil was going to be.

Got to a motel about 9 PM which was the first chance I got to see anything on TV to put pictures to what we had been listening to all day, so watched that for a couple of hours.

During the afternoon, somewhere in Iowa, with the news from NPR that President Bush who had been shuffling around the country in Air Force One was on his way from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which we had passed earlier in the day was on his way to Washington DC, and we saw this – unfortunately not taken quickly enough to capture the best we’d seen, or Air Force One with its F-16 fighter jet escort heading to Washington DC. They were of course by then the only planes in the air.

Air Force One 11 September 2001

Air Force One 11 September 2001

We were of course extremely thankful that the fates had seen Lisa travelling with me in the car – had we stuck to the original plan I would have dropped her off at Denver airport early on Tuesday morning, and headed east. She would have ended up stuck in Denver airport, while I would have been who knows how far away before I even found out what had happened, and that all flights were grounded. Neither of us had  a cell phone so it would have been very hard to contact each other again.

My brother from Australia was not so lucky. He had been in Louisiana at a computer conference and was due to fly back to Australia 11 September. So he was stuck in the US for quite a few more days and then had a very long chaotic series of flights lasting more than a day to get across the US to Los Angeles and then on to Australia once the planes did finally start flying again.

Sep 102009

Thursday 10 September 2009 was the day of the Michigan Library Association “Rally at the Capitol” where Librarians and other interested parties from across Michigan rallied to express their displeasure at the proposed funding cuts to Libraries in Michigan overall and specifically the plans to dismantle and disperse the collections of the Library of Michigan, which have been being collected for more than 180 years.

The theme of the day was RED – people were encouraged to show their support for Libraries by wearing a red shirt – and there were a LOT of RED shirts. Thanks in no small part to Gale Group of Michigan who were giving out free red shirts that said on the front “Protect Michigan Libraries”. Others were wearing red shirts from the Grand Rapids Public Library that said on the back “I ♥ Grand Rapids Public Library”.

Roger Moffat and Shirley Hodges on the Capitol Steps

Roger Moffat and Shirley Hodges on the Capitol Steps

The emphasis today in particular was to keep State funding for Libraries  at $10,000,000 – at this level there is a matching Federal $5,000,000 which is largely what keeps MEL – the Michigan Electronic Library and MelCAT operating. If the state funding drops to the proposed $7,500,000 then the Federal $5,000,000 will be lost, and MEL is in serious danger.

It was also the day chosen for Michigan Fire Services Awareness Day so there was a large presence of Firemen, and firetrucks present with displays of firefighting and HazMat equipment. I hope they knew we were coming, or else they got a large surprise when a crowd that was about the same size as the “Hands Around the Library” event a month earlier.

Below is a photo gallery of some photos from today with the “Sea of Red” or is that the “See of Read” perhaps?