Kids’ Day Out: 2011(ish) Edition

Each Summer, while the kids are out of school, I arrange a full day out with each of them. Sometimes that means taking a day off of work; on other occasions we squeeze it in on a Saturday. Regardless of when it is, it’s one of the things I look forward to a ton each year (and seems to be a highlight for the young people too).

This year, the first adventure was with Liam. Thanks to Kevin Huffaker, a friend of mine from the university who is not only an amazing polymath but also a tremendously generous guy, we were able to start our day with a SCUBA primer. Neither Liam nor I had ever been before. We both love being in the water, and found the experience utterly delightful. While the river was running low and water conditions turned cloudy pretty quickly as people upstream swam around, we had a great time learning how to control our buoyancy and seeing a bit of the river from a new vantage point.

From there, we treated Kevin to lunch at Valentino’s, Liam’s favorite pizza place in San Marcos, and then caught the then-current Harry Potter movie. A trip to the Blazer Tag center up in Austin was next, where he and I emerged 1st and 2nd in our game with 30 other people. (All those video games do pay off!) The center in Austin is one of the best arenas I’ve been to, and was a ton of fun. We finished off the day with a visit to the Nazi Pirate at Peter Pan mini golf, where I was able to salvage a bit of my honor after the thumping Liam gave me at laser tag.

Next up was my day out with Maggie. She loves nothing more than to be in the water, so Schlitterbahn has been the natural destination for us for many years. Repeatedly voted best waterpark in the country, it’s only 20 minutes away from our house, and is a much more agreeable experience than many amusement parks these days. (Free parking, bring your own picnic, and new stuff every year.) We were a bit disappointed to see that Family Blaster, a ride that uses high-powered jets of water to shoot a raft containing up to 6 people up a hill, had been retired, but we did spend a delightful day climbing on floating crocodiles, navigating our tubes down 20-minute long tube chutes, and slipping down slides. We even invented a word game while we were waiting in line that’s become a standard in-car activity for our family.

I took Abigail out next. Our first stop was Tacodeli, a vegetarian-friendly taco joint that’s both delicious and a quintessentially Austin experience. After that, we wandered Barton Creek mall for a bit, and then went to see Cowboys & Aliens, which I’d been looking forward to since seeing the first preview. Our next stop was Mozart’s, a wonderful coffee shop on the banks of Town Lake. We got tasty beverages, I introduced Abby to cannoli (one of my favorite treats), and we both pulled out guitars and played and sang together down by the water while the turtles looked on appreciatively. When our fingers tired, we moved on to Pinballz (the best arcade I’ve ever visited) and played Addams Family, Twilight Zone, and other pinball classics. Our last stop for the day was at the Alamo Drafthouse for Abby’s first Master Pancake Theater show: Twilight! She was a fan of the books, and had been disappointed by the first movie, so I figured a lampooning would be the ideal way to enjoy the second. She agreed.

In addition to the goal of simply having a grand time, I also set Abby and I the task of both taking lots of photos along the way, and picking out our favorites along the way to edit and post on Facebook as a record of our day together. Here are the 8 shots we deemed best.

Unfortunately, I had a dreadful time coordinating Emily’s and my calendars, but in March of the next year, we finally managed to find a day we both had open. After hearing of Liam’s mini-adventure, Emily was keen to try SCUBA as well, so we rounded up Kevin again and my friend Jason and set off for a larger-scale run: near the headwaters of the San Marcos River down to the whitewater course at the other end of town. Since we’d finally had some rain after a tremendous drought, the water was running clear and fast, and we had beautiful visibility as we swam under waterfalls, through valleys of endangered Texas Wild Rice, and past a variety of water creatures. Emily filled a bag with treasures she found in the water, and I reveled in the opportunity to see the river as we never had before.

After our swim, we regrouped at the house while eating big Subway sandwiches, and then Emily and I went north for her first Master Pancake Theater show: Back to the Future. The lads did a terrific job with it, and we had a great time eating, drinking, and laughing our heads off. We even got the surprise treat of getting to overhear some of a Young the Giant show as we walked past — a favorite of Emily’s that she hadn’t even known was playing that night.

I had a terrific time getting to enjoy each of our kiddos individually, and treat them to some unique experiences they all enjoyed. Thanks, squirrels, for the great time. Now, let’s get cracking and plan this year’s adventures!

Facebook and the Coming Zombie Apocalypse

My good friend Daniel Priest recently posted the following to his Facebook profile:

Daniel Priest is a tree climbing fool

I thought that it was important that the conversation that ensued be available for posterity outside of Facebook’s domain, so here it is. When the undead rise up, you’ll thank me.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 8

Fanny, apparently you’ve married a monkey. I bet he looks cute in a ten-gallon hat.

Jonathan Hunter, May 9

Trees are pretty.

Sean McMains, May 10

It’s good to know that when the zombie uprising comes and I need someone to hoist me into the upper branches of a magnificent magnolia to escape the zombies’ brain lust, you’ll be around.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

Wow, I just learned that zombies can’t climb trees.

Sean McMains, May 10

Have you ever seen a zombie perched in a tree? Well, there you go.

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

Matthew, Sean may have learned this from Shaun of the Dead. One of the characters, Diane, is able to escape the zombies by hanging out in a tree until she is rescued by the British Army.

Sean McMains, May 10

(Of course, I’m discounting the rare South American Arboreal Zombie here…)

Daniel Priest, May 10

The zombie lore on display here is sadly lacking. Zombies may not climb trees, but they do climb other zombies. And when the moaning, staggering pile of mindless undead under the tree reaches high enough…

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

The only thing I have ever heard of zombies being able to ‘climb’ is stairs. You would have to have a zombie staircase. That would pretty much never happen, since zombies are not capable of cooperating intelligently.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

Zombies might be able to pull themselves out of their graves by using the bodies of other zombies if they were buried in mass graves, but to accept the possibility of anything beyond that I would have to see an example.

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

I think Matthew is onto something here. In order to make plans and such, one has to be conscious. But zombies aren’t conscious, so they can’t make plans. It’s logic.

The only way, then, that a zombie could get someone from a tree would be if it just so happened that a bunch of bodies and other artifacts were piled up in a a certain way and that zombie just so happened to make its way up that pile. But, as Matthew said, that would pretty much never happen.

Sean McMains, May 10

Jonathan: I call shenanigans on your logic here. How can you possible assert that zombies aren’t conscious? Certainly it takes consciousness to shamble and to cry “brains! BRAAAAIIIINS!”

I think you’re just a closed-minded lifeist.

Daniel Priest, May 10

Big sigh.

Let me spell it out here, since the bunch of you have evidently watched a total of about 25 minutes worth of zombie movie material. Zombies smell living human flesh up in the tree. The first zombies start moaning and clawing at the tree. Additional zombies are drawn by the moaning of the first zombies. As the mob grows, zombies at the middle of the pile are trampled, piled upon, etc. Over the course of the night this zombie mound gets higher and higher.

Y’all are the meat snacks in the film who climb the tree at the beginning of the night, look down at the zombies, and say something like “Alright, I think we’ll be safe here,” before being awakened in the middle of the night by a cold hand gripping your ankle, dragging you down to immediate dismemberment.

It’s when you think you’re safe that you’re in the most danger. When you think you’re in danger, well, you’re in danger then too. You’re never safe. Remember that.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10


It’s not the herd instinct that I question. It’s the sheer physics. I don’t believe everything I see in movies. Movies are unreal scenarios as we all know well.

Any movie maker who scripted the scene you’re describing would have to be ignorant of the problem. As soon as your hypothetical mound reaches the height of a human being, unless it is the width of a football field with a gradual grade, zombies have to climb. Zombies don’t climb. They walk.

By the time enough zombies have pooled to create a nice pleasant hillside stroll to the top of my tree, the US Marines have arrived and helicoptered me out of the joint because it has been three days.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

I never said zombies weren’t conscious, for the record. I don’t care if they’re conscious. They’re not capable of cooperating intelligently.

Ross Richie, May 10


Okay, everyone take notes. THIS IS HOW IT REALLY WORKS (points to Priest for trying):

ROMERO ZOMBIES: are mindless. Priest’s example is true there.

RUSSO ZOMBIES: are smart, capable of thought, can wield tools, etc., and can talk to you, crying out for brains. Those zombies will climb that tree, no problem, and this is NSFW:

Or, as you can see in this clip, they have the ability to try to talk to you and smash through the trap door in the attic:

For those taking notes at home: Russo and Romero collaborated and created the genre in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, got into a Lennon and McCartney-esque squabble, split up, and individually created competing zombie franchises, hence creating seemingly conflicting rules to how the zombie mythology works.

Ross Richie, May 10

Amateurs. I love you guys.

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

I was going to let Daniel have the last word, but I can’t let this go.

Romero zombies wouldn’t be able to climb trees, as Matthew has demonstrated. And if we’re talking about Russo zombies, then you wouldn’t be silly enough to climb a tree. So, it doesn’t matter what kind of zombie we’re dealing with. They wouldn’t be able to pluck you out of a tree.

Ross Richie, May 10

HOOO-KAY. Didn’t wanna play this card, but looks like I’ll have to.

Everyone that’s published (i.e. poured 10s of thousands of dollars into) a series called ZOMBIE TALES that is a signature part of your corporate identity, raise your hands.

Now that we’ve gotten that outta the way… (HARSH!)

Romero zombies will get you in exactly the way Daniel laid out. They’re a swarm monster, and the swarm will pile up and attain height….

RE: climbing a tree in a Russo flick, if you’re willing to hide in an attic, you’ll hide in a tree. And they’ll climb it, while crowing about the need to snack on your brains.


Jonathan Hunter, May 10

I feel like I’m in crazy town and Ross is the mayor.

Everyone that had a normal childhood (i.e. played outside with other children instead of rotting away in front of the television box while eating pork rinds) that is a signature part of your personal identity, raise your hands.

Romero zombies COULD get you in that way, but they don’t swarm fast enough. The Marines would rescue you first.

I wouldn’t hide in the attic, so I also wouldn’t hide in a tree.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 11

Pouring 10s of thousands of dollars into zombie literature doesn’t automatically make you right. In fact, it might make you stupid. Oh snap.

I am grateful for this broadening lesson, however.

I know very little about zombies, but I do not accept statements merely on the basis of varying and respectively unquestionable zombie traditions. I am trying to learn by questioning everything and using careful reasoning. In this way I hope to one day truly be a philosopher.

Daniel Priest, May 11

Ross–thanks for the input. What did you think of World War Z?

Jonathan–I think you’re right. You aren’t the sort to hide in an attic or tree. I think you might be the zombie imitation sort, try to make your way into the countryside by walking, moaning, etc. like a zombie, thereby escaping notice. Good luck with that.

Matthew–Physics of zombie accumulation. We assume a maximum slope of 45 degrees and a cone height of 40 feet. Sean specified the upper branches of a magnificent magnolia. In the thin alkaline soils of central Texas <i>Magnolia grandiflora</i> will attain a height of no more than 50 feet, so if we’re in the very upper branches the zombies would need to be approximately 40 feet high to be in ankle grabbing distance. This is an absurdly generous estimate of both tree height and sturdiness of upper branches, btw. But I’m a generous guy.

The zombie cone will have a volume of approximately 67000 cubic feet. Assuming an average zombie volume of 10 cubic feet, you’ll need 6700 zombies to arrive during the night. If zombies shamble at 4 miles an hour every zombie within 32 miles could conceivably arrive within the course of the night. And there’s a hell of a lot more recently dead and/or soon to be bitten and infected people within 32 miles of San Marcos, Texas.

If only 3 zombies spot us initially, and each of them with their moaning alerts only 3 additional zombies, each of whom alert 3 more, etc, and each of them does so within 30 minutes (again, very generous–in an urban setting far more zombies are likely to hear, and much more quickly), then we could conceivably have 20,000 zombies at the tree within 5 hours.

Not that they’re all going to come for us–there are presumably other equally tasty people in other trees–but I think the plausibility of the scenario has now been pretty well established.

Jonathan Hunter, May 11

Daniel, I thought you would know me better than that. I’m not the imitating type. I’m the joining type. I wouldn’t hide in a tree or attic because I would rather become a zombie and come after all of you myself. I’ll admit that I don’t understand how the conversion process works, but that would be optimal.

Ross Richie, May 11


Sean McMains, May 11


If my studies in Zombie Lit. have taught me anything, it’s that the person who sets himself up as a pompous authority figure will be among the first to be devoured by the ravenous hordes.

Thus, by erecting yourself as an authority figure — a verb I here find particularly apt, given your apparent desire to turn this into an exercise in comparative phallic metrics — you have thrust yourself — verb, ditto — into the head — noun, ditto — of the line of victims.


P.S. New personal best for oblique naughty jokes in one sentence! YES!

Sean McMains, May 11


While I’m loathe to give offense to the very person on whom I will be relying to save me from the apocalypse, I do find a few of your premises troubling:

1. A 45° slope seems singularly optimistic, especially with modern, low-friction synthetic clothing. Perhaps this would be reasonable if the zombies weren’t wearing much (not unreasonable in San Marcos), or were wearing clothing with natural fibers that would have a higher coefficient of friction. I would hold that a figure closer to 30° is likely. That would give us a radius for the cone of 69′, and therefore a volume of 199,427 cubic feet.

2. 10 cubic feet is an absurdly large figure. Consider that human bodies are approximately as dense as fresh water, as shown by the fact that many of us can sink or float in a pool depending on how deeply we breathe in. Water weighs 62.4 pounds/cubic foot. American men average around 180 pounds, women around 140. Thus, a 160 pound “average person” would have a volume of around 2.56 cubic feet. (Alternately, think about how many foot-square boxes Steve Buscemi would fill at the end of Fargo.)

Thus, with the new figures, we’d need 77,901 zombies to build a sufficient pile.

3. Your zombie-alert figures presuppose that zombies’ communication is at least sophisticated enough to convey bearing and distance over miles. I’m not sure how much nuance one can pack into the word “Braaaaiins…”, but my tentative experiments this morning with my coworkers aren’t promising.

Alternatively, perhaps zombies work like ants do, and leave a pheromone trail to food sources. This bears further investigation.

Ross Richie, May 11

McMains — the new popular variant in horror is that they can SMELL the living.

Doesn’t make a whole lotta sense to me, but characters in THE WALKING DEAD smear themselves with zombie smell and sneak past the zoms undetected. The horror community’s glommed onto that and adopted it.

Of course, all this goes out the window if you are loyal to Romero, who established the zoms are getting smarter in LAND OF THE DEAD, where they begin to use tools. LAND OF THE DEAD zoms would be able to scale that tree, no problem. Hell, they’d prolly grab some power tools and just cut it down…

In the trailer here, you’ll see they reference “they’re thinking, they’re communicating” and there’s a brief clip of them using a machine gun, so maybe it’s all moot, they’d just SHOOTCHA OUTTA THE TREE!


A few goings-on of late that bear mentioning:

  • Liam has started playing Little League baseball. It’s a load of fun, and significantly more action-packed than Major League, since stealing bases is allowed and the boys aren’t so hot at catching the ball. During the last game, which due to time limits was only 4 innings long, the final score was 13-15. I got drafted to do scorekeeping, so got to learn what those little sheets that my friend Robert Leahey used to have around the house are actually for. The worst moment in the recent game, however, was when a stray foul ball from an adjacent field abruptly appeared and whacked Liam in the face. He was OK after a 15 minute sit-down and some ice, and his enthusiasm for the game continues unabated.
  • Daniel Priest and I got together for a visit this weekend. After much dithering over what we would do, we eventually decided to watch Nick Cage’s movie Next. Not, mind you, because it looked particularly good, but because it was one of the titles for which there was a download available on RiffTrax. “What,” I (for rhetorical purposes) hear you asking, “are RiffTrax?” Well, consider that Mike Nelson, who spearheads the site, was the host of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for many a year, and you can take a pretty good guess. They’re basically MP3s you can buy to play along with a movie and thereby provide a steady stream of jokes at the movie’s expense. I hadn’t tried one before, but found it great fun. Mike still has a razor wit, and is complemented nicely by different foils for various movies. (Weird Al Yankovic is a guest for Jurassic Park.) Great fun, and heartily recommended.

A Day with Liam

Yesterday was my day to take Liam out on the town for a romp. I had purchased tickets for a special event several weeks before, but had been keeping Liam in suspense until the day of the event.

“What is it Dad?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes!”

“We’re going to go see a 60 foot robot dinosaur that eats cars and shoots fire out of its nose!”

“Daaaaaaaaad! No, really, what is it?”


Long pause to reassess whether I was pulling his leg.


So we embarked, heading north to Austin. We stopped at Cabela’s long enough to visit the shooting gallery and to buy matching $5 multi-tools as a memento of the day, with which I fully expect at least one of us to slice off a finger before week’s end. Once to Austin, we stopped in HEB to pick out some snacks (orange soda, peanuts, and jerky — which is why I don’t get to do the grocery shopping), and then went on to Peter Pan Mini Golf.

Peter Pan has a reputation as the best miniature golf course in Austin. We had never been before, but were taken with its funky fiberglass figures, the friendly attitude, and the nicely laid out holes. Legend has it that most of the figures are the originals, constructed sometime in the early 50’s. (Even the owners don’t remember exactly when they opened the place.) I was further impressed when the fellow running the place, seeing that I didn’t have quite enough money for us to both play a second round, waved us on through anyway. Viva Peter Pan!

From there we moseyed on down to Zilker park. Unfortunately, due to the combination of a lost ATM card, my exhausted wallet, and a “Cash Only” policy, we were unable to swim at Barton Springs and ride the Zilker Zephyr as per my original plan. Curses! Liam wasn’t excited about hiking in the 90° heat, so we went over to the Alamo Drafthouse and got our tickets.

We still had an hour to burn before we could get into the theater, so we wandered around the shopping center, visiting a Mexican restaurant to cool off, play paper and crayon games, and rehydrate. We also stopped in at a music store and an electric bike store where Liam found an electric mini-ATV that he quite liked. He also took advantage of the opportunity to tell everyone all about the giant robot dinosaur we were going to see — news that surprised nobody, as it had been taking up 80% of their parking lot all day.

5:30 finally rolled around, and we trooped into the theater to enjoy 90 minutes of the Draftouse’s delightfully eclectic pre-show footage. Featured this time were a lengthy rhapsody on the blissful life of the future as imagined by filmmakers of the 1950’s, previews for a bunch of B-Grade, MST3K-worthy films, and several cartoons. Nearly all of it was funny, though only some of it intentionally so.

The film we were there to see was Transformers. I was keen to see it because John Rogers, who writes brilliantly and whom I expect to have an opportunity to meet later this year, had a hand in writing it. Liam was keen to see it because he’s an 8 year old boy. It was almost exactly what you’d expect from Michael Bay bringing an 80’s nostalgia property to the big screen, but a notch or two better.

After the movie concluded, we trooped on out to the parking lot for the Robosaurus show. The earlier show had been rained on, dousing Robosaurus’ nostril-mounted flamethrowers, but the announcer assured us that God loved us a great deal more than the people at the earlier show as demonstrated by the fact that the weather was clement and cooperative by the time we assumed our seats. (I also want nostril-mounted flamethrowers, as I imagine they would come in handy in quite a variety of situations.) After a bit of preparation, things got underway.

Rather than bore you with an inevitably inadequate description of the event, I took video and edited it together for your viewing pleasure. Behold, Robosaurus!

After the show, we piled back in the car, pointed our noses south, set the cruise control and napped our way back to San Marcos, dreaming happy dreams of giant robot dinosaurs.