Wednesday, April 16, 2014

PamStroller - (How to conquer stairs)

It's very hard to imagine having a kid without having a stroller. One of the big complaints I have is having to move the stroller up and down the stairs. There's a big trade-off between having a huge SUV-like stroller with big wheels, and having a lightweight city/umbrella strollers with small wheels. In both cases, it is difficult to move up and down the stairs-- big strollers may have bigger wheels to climb stairs but are much heavier (20-30 lbs), while smaller strollers (8-20 pounds) have small wheels that are difficult to clear the stairs.

Last summer (2013) I started googling for strollers that can climb stairs more easily, but none of them are consumer ready and in production. So instead of waiting for one to come out, I decided to make one. After doing some research, tri-wheel base seems the most ideal configuration because of form factor, simplicity, and weight. Below illustrates how tri-wheel works:

The left most picture shows that intermittent but great amounts of effort is needed to either pull-up or move-down a stroller. The middle pictures shows that a super large wheel could gently spread the amount of effort needed (even though technically, the amount of "work" is the same), at the cost of weight and form factor. The last picture shows that with a tri-wheel, the amount of effort is similar to a huge wheel without as much compromise on weight and flexibility.

Here's a video of the prototype I made in action. I call it PamStroller:

PamStroller was prototyped by modifying the Chicco Lightweight Stroller. I also bought 2 extra wheel base from stroller parts store, and lastly the "Cosmos ® Pair of Replacement Stair Climbing Shopping Cart Wheels." Below are some pictures while making the prototype:
This is v1, mounted directly on the aluminum bar. It didn't work too well. The v2 version as shown on the video mounts to the plastic wheel mount, which allow me to easily exchange wheels (Chicco's original design to snap on/off wheels).

This is the original Cosmos wheels. First you take out the chrome pins.

Then, drill a whole in the center.

Add your own screws (about 4", I got these from Home Depot)

This is the extra wheel I bought, as I was about to destroy the permanent spoke, remove the rubber wheels, and replace it with Cosmos wheels.
It was a pretty fun project and took less than half a day! Is this a stroller you'd like to use? Would you like to see this readily available in stores? Are you interested in backing PamStroller on KickStarter? Please share and comment!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bike Accident with a Toddler

I just looked at my blog history and find it interesting that the majority of my blogs are written months before I leave my job (i.e. most of them are written in 2009 Q2 & 2013 Q2). By inferring from historical data, I probably shouldn't be blogging now because I enjoy my time at work. However, I'm awake at 5am -- I keep having replay images of the bike accident.


I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but this is an unforgettable mistakes that I made because it involves my 3 year old son Calvin. Calvin and I had a bike accident this weekend. His right side of the helmet cracked and he has some road rash on his right parts of the body (road rash pictures not show). I also have road rash on my lower legs and arms, and banged my right knee pretty badly. 

As we approached an intersection there were several cars in front of us. I decided to go around by swerving to the pedestrian lane (dumb!) and somehow, the front mountain bike tire got caught (on mere 1/2 inch height clearance) and *BAM* both of our heads went down first -- I can only remember hearing the sound of our helmets hitting concrete first -- and my son screaming and crying afterwards. It was the most awful thing I had experienced to date, and I caused it.

What amazed me was that after a few minutes of crying, he he said he wanted to go play in the park.

A few thoughts:
  • Always wear your helmet! There's a saying that falling from the bike is not a question of if, but when. Always wear your helmet!
  • If you must use systems similar to the WeeRide, iBert, rear seat, or anything that raises the center of gravity for the kid, DO NOT FALL because the head distance to ground is increased drastically.
  • I can no longer vouch for WeeRide. In fact I can't imagine using any system that raises a child's height, including the frontal iBert-style seats. BIG DISLIKE. I am switching to a trailer.
  • Don't underestimate a 1/2 inch height clearance even on a mountain bike. Always ride towards uneven surface by going perpendicular to it (see the Better green arrow above).
  • I just got a Burley Bee Bike Trailer. This is one of the best on Amazon (based on ratings and weight and quality). I highly recommend it. If you click on this picture and buy it, I'll get a few bucks from it too :)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Get a glimpse of the future (weight and height)

Ever wondered what your kid's projected adult weight and height is? Here's a really easy way to do it without having to dig up & look at AAP charts and/or cross reference with CDC data. Just to go and type in your query. For example, I typed a sample query below (this is not real data, they're just random number I picked), and search for "projected adult height":

WolframAlpha is an amazing computational knowledge engine in the world! If you enjoy using it, here are 32 other tricks you can do with it. If you like this blog, please share it with your friends and follow me for more goodies in the future!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hacking for Parents

I saw this site with a bunch of simple hacks that will make parenting a lot easier. It's pretty neat, check out the link!


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Terrible Twos - My Easy Fix

I can't remember a time when my 2.5 toddler doesn't scream and cry and toss stuff a couple of times a day. Actually it was probably last year, but with sleep deprivation and all the commotions that go on each day, that seemed so long ago. We've read books by psychologists and behavior experts and nothing really seem to help. While we await eagerly for the terrible two phase to pass, there are some things we did to provide immediate relief:

Use all plasticware. This seems obvious in retrospect, but you may be tricked into thinking that your cute calm little 1.5 year old baby that you have now will be well behaved in the future, and start using nice-ware. Then, one day, SURPRISE! Tantrum here, tantrum there, tossing of metal fork towards your face and breaking nice glass cup on the table. Lots of things WILL get broken. It's like Gremlins-- it's just a matter of time before terrible things happen, very fast, and you will feel overwhelmed.

No carpet. I'm renting a little 2 bedroom apartment now. I have no choice on flooring, but if I did, I would not opt for carpets. Anything that one can conceive of spilling on the carpet, WILL HAPPEN. In no time, your 2.5 year old will learn to open any drawer (even those with child-proof locks) and toss everything he can get on the floor. If you think spaghetti is hard to clean, imagine a toddler getting into the kitchen and pouring oil, soy sauce, vinegar, EVERYTHING. FUN FUN FUN! However you'll miss all the fun he just had because you passed out from a lack of sleep last night. If you have carpet, get good carpet cleaners (we use the Bissel cleaner, it cleans out 90% of the stains, 90% of the time-- that means you'll probably still see 100%-81% + 10%, or 29% of the stains. ARGH!!!)

Paint your room with a lot of colors. I'm renting a little apartment but if I actually owned a place, I would paint the entire place with colorful walls. This isn't so much as making it look child friendly, but more of serving the purpose of hiding mess. Just remember, anything that you can think of that can be on the wall, WILL BE ON THE WALL. Spaghetti sauce, check. Pen markings, check. Permanent marker, check. Oily, dirty, and muddy handprint-footprint-tongue print, check. If I had colored walls, I would save a lot of time by not having to spend so much time cleaning them. You need all the time you can get to rest/sleep/take a break from the terrible twos.

Wear glasses. My terrible two thinks it's funny to hit people in the face. I can't remember how many times I was doing something on the sofa/bed, and all of a sudden *WHAM* I see stars the next minute. At one time, my left cornea was scratched, leaving my eyes really red and inflamed and I had to go see a doctor who prescribed antibiotics. This happened TWICE. I've learned that wearing glasses around toddlers (especially ones that love to skip nap and get super cranky at night) is the best thing. My glasses makes me feel like a super Marines. I've taken many direct blows since then but haven't had to go to the optometrist. I love it.

Get a good gate and make sure to DRILL IT IN. A lot people simply rely on the friction/pressure of the gate to hold in place. It is just a matter of time before your toddler realizes that he has enough strength to rock them out of place. Also, there are fancy gates that you need to press/pull some special buttons/latches to open. FORGET IT! He will learn how to do these things by the time he is terrible. The only gate that works for my son, is the Dreambaby Gate, which requires a very subtle (imperceptible) upward pressure to open the gate. Even my parents think it's magical! However, I have a strange feeling that my son will figure it out by next week. Terrible babies tend to be clever.

Allocate an adult-only room. You may think you can place valuable and/or dangerous items out of reach by placing them high or by using gates or toddler locks or special toddler door locks (Monkey Door Lock). Forget it. He will learn to climb, get a box/ladder for height, and access anything and everything. My toddler shredded a bunch of really important family papers using the shredder and he thought it was fun. The only thing that kept him out of trouble was to just get a special No Calvin Room.

Get a good sitter before your kid turns terrible. It can feel draining at times to be with a terrible two, therefore you deserve to take a break. It takes time to find a good sitter. Do it early so the sitter can have some bonding time while your baby is still cute. That way, the sitter will more likely help you when your baby eventually turns terrible. If you don't do this early, you may find yourself going from one sitter to another. I mean, how many sitters are looking forward to baby sit newly minted terriblĂ©?

Past performance IS indicative of future results

If there is one thing that is tougher than having a baby, that would be raising a baby/kid. Almost everyone I've talked to has had a really rough time during the first 1-2 years of raising a kid. In many cases, I've seen people move closer to their family or even move parents closer so that they could get help more easily. We are very very thankful for some of our family members who helped us through everything. I can't imagine raising kids without help!

Is there is some correlation between people's past and future willingness to help? For me personally, the people who were able and willing to help with our dog (2007) and our wedding (2009) [as denoted by "pre-kid helpfulness score"] were also the same people who were willing to help taking care of my son Calvin (2010) [as denoted by "post-kid helpfulness score"]. Here are the scores, real names anonymized:

Scoring methodology: everyone in the column is able (e.g. they are capable of help and they have time) who are family members, and the score per row represents willingness to help. A score of 10 is that he/she has consistently and eagerly volunteered to help with chores even when not asked. A score of 7 is that he/she has occasionally volunteered to help with chores. A score of 5 is that he/she has occasionally helped after occasional requests for help. A score of 3 is that he/she has, in a few instances, helped with chores after being asked a few times. A score of 0 has never helped and comes up with excuses or runs away, even when asked repeatedly. I've split the chart in two sections: pre-kid chores (dog help, wedding help) and post-kid chores (diaper, feed, shower, ...).

Below I plotted pre-kid helpfulness score against post-kid helpfulness score. The size of the circle is relative to a person's age. Based on limited data points, one sees that those who are helpful pre-kid (helped with dog/wedding) also tend to be helpful post-kid (helped with baby/kid chores). There is no data point on either extreme side of the line as denoted by the orange text.

In summary, raising a kid is super tough and that is why many couples are desperate for  help. If you're counting on help from your family members, then based on my personal life and observations: 1) his/her past willingness to help IS indicative of future results 2) women tend to be better helpers  than men.

Do you observe the same thing in your personal life? Let's hear about it!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Good Ways to Encourage Children to Talk

I saw this article from io9 by Katharine Trendacosta that I really liked and now sharing with you guys. If you don't have time to read it, here is my summary. You still have to read the article for specifics:

  • You can start training children to have a conversation by asking the right questions and by responding "properly".
  • Try to ask open ended questions.
  • There are good and bad ways to ask open ended questions to children.
A few things struck me:
  • Children will actually respond to non-sensible/silly questions (e.g. "where do circles live?").
  • Children don't have a good grasp of time, try to avoid asking those.
If you have kid(s), how do you encourage him/her to have a conversation? Are you doing what the article suggests?