Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ready to Watch Star Wars

As a kid I loved watching Star Wars (Episodes 4, 5, and 6).  I was in college when Episodes 1, 2, and 3 came out.  Episode 1 was okay, but Episode 2 sucked, in my opinion.  I've yet to watch Episode 3.  Now that Disney has the rights to Episodes 7, 8, and 9, I hope they can re-ignite the franchise and vastly improve upon Episodes 1, 2, and 3 and bring back the magic of Episodes 4, 5, and 6.  Anyways, I've been thinking quite a bit recently about introducing my 6 year old to Star Wars Episodes 4, 5, and 6.  I was probably around her age when I first watched them and I think she would really enjoy watching them with her Daddy.

I'm still debating whether she's old enough to watch these movies.  The movie itself is rated PG, so that's not an issue.  The violence in the movie is not bloody, although there is death present.  The violence is no more violent than what she might watch in Shrek, just not animated.  I think she's ready, but I'm still debating.  Hmm...thoughts?  When did you first watch Star Wars?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Fondest Memory

I subscribe to the "Life to Her Years" blog feed which has short, 1 sentence statements about dads and daughters.  It's a joy to read and helps me appreciate the little moments with my daughters.  I encourage you to check it out:

Life to Her Years

A recent post shows a picture of a dad combing his daughter's hair with the statement:

"Brush her hair when she's a little girl.  It will be one of her fondest memories someday."

For some daughters, I suppose that is true.  For my 3 year old?  I'm not so sure.  That kid usually screams bloody murder whenever I or my wife comb her hair.  Usually the screaming/crying starts before the comb even touches her hair!  Fondest memories?  I dunno!

Friday, December 27, 2013

This Blog's History: Lava in a Cup

This Friday's in This Blog's History brings back the Lava in a Cup experiment.  This is another classic density experiment that uses material that you likely already have in your kitchen.  Most of us are familiar with a lava lamp and this experiment produces something similar.  Blobs of material rise when they are less dense than the surrounding material and sink when they are more dense than the surrounding material. For details on how to make your own lava in a cup experiment, please see the original post.

Lava in a Cup Experiment

Thursday, December 26, 2013


The other day I was cleaning up the house a bit and saw this:

No words...speechless!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

That Crazy Elf on the Shelf

I posted a week or two ago about the new Elf on the Shelf tradition we started in our house.  Things have gone well, but there have been a few hiccups concerning the elf that are best summarized in the following image I saw posted to Facebook.

Yep...there have been a couple of times where we forget about the elf until after we were already in bed.  Ug.  Once we completely forgot about the elf.  It was a Saturday morning and we had the opportunity to sleep in.  Our kids woke up around 6:30 AM as they usually do and went to get some cereal for breakfast.  As I prepared to go back to sleep for a bit it suddenly popped into my mind that I forgot to move the elf!  Crap!  While the kids weren't looking I moved it and then went back to bed.  Later they asked why the elf wasn't moved in the morning.  Sigh.  Sometimes they notice way too much!!!  LOL!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cooling a Chicken Nugget

The other day at dinner we were having chicken.  My wife and I had a chicken breast of some type and my daughters were eating chicken nuggets.  We all know that food straight out of the oven or straight off of the stove is hot.  We all know from experience that if you don't want to burn your tongue or mouth that you need to let that food cool.  Both of my daughters were complaining about how hot their chicken nuggets were and they were impatient.  We've told them to blow on their food to cool it down and we've cut their nuggets in half before, but for some reason this time I decided to geek it out!

While cutting their chicken nuggets I explained that cutting them allows them to cool down faster, but then I geeked it up by taking the explanation further.  I said that the outeer crust of the chicken nugget acts as an insulator and keeps the energy trapped inside the chicken nugget.  Thus the chicken nugget remains hot inside.  Cutting the chicken nugget lets the energy escape into the air.  Energy transfers from the hotter object (in this case the chicken nugget) to the cooler object (in this case the air).  

They were staring at me a bit weird.  LOL!  

Friday, December 20, 2013

This Blog's History: The Magic Ketchup Experiment

This Friday in This Blog's History I return you to the Magic Ketchup Experiment.  In this experiment the goal is to make a small packet of ketchup (or mustard, hot sauce, soy sauce, etc.) to rise and sink in a two liter bottle of water.  The key is density.  When the density of the packet is greater than that of the water, the packet sinks.  When the density of the packet is lower than that of the water, the packet rises.  The trick is figuring out how to get the densities to change in the same experiment such that the packet rises then sinks then rises then sinks, over and over again.  So how is this done?  That's where you need to check out the original post.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Colored Snow - My Daughter's Own Science Experiment

My 6 year old is all about coming up with her own science experiments.  Just the other day she came up with one that combined snow, milk, water, and food coloring.  Uh...okay!  Since there's no danger in combining these materials, I let her go ahead and do it.  We had to wait awhile for some snow to appear, but once it did, we were all set.  Here's the video of her procedure.

After the video she added more snow and started to add food coloring.  I have to admit that the texture and color of the resulting mixture was very cool!

So there you go.  I highly encourage you to let your kids develop their own science experiments.  The experiments might seem silly and pointless to YOU, but they aren't silly and pointless to your kids.  Make sure your kids stay safe, but let them explore science and try different procedures.  Let them be creative.  They'll thank you later!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Science of a Heat Vent

I've been attempting, unsuccessfully, to teach my daughters the purpose of a heat vent and how it works.  Here's a picture of a heat vent in our house.

In the typical home you have a furnace that warms air and then a large fan pushes the warm air through ducts and up through the vents that are scattered around the house.  In order for a room to warm, it needs an unblocked heating vent.  If the vent is blocked, the air just re-directs to a different vent in the house.  I've tried telling this to my daughters over and over, yet they still insist on stacking toys and/or boxes on the heating vent in their toy room when they clean.  As a result, the room is usually cooler than other rooms in the house.  They then complain about it being cold in there.  Well, duh!!!  

I guess this is one of these cases where they just need to learn the science the hard way...as in being cold!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Inside of a Watermelon

I think we have all seen the inside of a watermelon, but have we seen the inside of a tiny watermelon?  This year my 6 year old wanted to plant a watermelon plant in our garden, so we did.  However, the seeds never sprouted, or so we thought.  We later discovered that the seeds did sprout, but not where we planted them!  They had been washed away to a different part of the garden and eventually took root and produced a single, full sized watermelon which was very yummy.  Due to the late start in growing, there wasn't enough time to produce more full sized watermelons, but there were two mini watermelons produced.

I figured these weren't edible, but my daughters wanted to see what they looked like inside, so we cut them open.

They sort of look like the inside of a watermelon, but not as red/pink and very little actual edible fruit.  We licked the central part and it tasted like a watermelon, but not much there to eat, so we just tossed them into our compost pile.  

So no fruit, but still cool to cut open and observe!  It's the little things in life that make great scientists, so look for opportunities such as this to share with your kids.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Exploding Pop and Mentos Experiment Revisited

A very common science experiment that I've posted about on this blog before is dropping several pieces of Mentos candy into a two liter bottle of pop and watching the pop explode out of the bottle.  The height that the exploding pop reaches varies with pop type, but usually you can get the pop to fly upward 4-6 feet or more.

I recently did a Saturday class for 3rd - 6th grades and as part of the class we did the mentos/pop experiment.  Having done this experiment many times I expected typical results.  However, we did not get typical results.  In fact, every bottle of pop, and there were 8 of them, were duds.  The pop barely reached 1 foot above the nozzle.  After the first bottle I was a bit surprised, but just figured something was going on with just that bottle.  Nope.  Same result for all 8 bottles!

So why the big difference?  I'm not entirely sure, but I came up with a few possibilities.

1.  The pop was flat.  A possibility, although unlikely since I purchased the pop that week and bought different varieties.

2.  The mentos candy was bad.  Again, a possibility, but I just purchased the mentos that week.  There's no reason to suspect a candy malfunction.  Plus the mentos tasted fine.

3.  It was very cold out.  I'm not convinced this was the cause, but it's the most likely possibility I came up with.  After buying the pop I left the bottles in the trunk of my car.  Although my car was sitting in the garage, the temperature dropped to the upper 30's/lower 40's in the garage.  The trunk of the car was sitting close to the garage door.  With no time for the pop to warm to room temperature, the pop was still cold when we did the experiment.

Was cold pop the problem?  I don't know, but it's the one difference between this attempt and previous attempts.  Usually I do this in the summer and/or fall/spring with kids.  I've never done this experiment when temperatures were this low.  So that's my hypothesis.  Future tests are needed for confirmation.

Friday, December 13, 2013

This Blog's History: The Bouncy Egg Experiment

In today's This Blog's History I bring back a classic egg experiment that can be done with materials that are most likely in your kitchen.  Needed are the following materials.


That's it!  Fill a jar of vinegar and drop the egg in.  Wait three days, then very carefully remove the egg.  The egg feels very 'rubbery' and will bounce if dropped from small heights.  For full details and pictures, see the original post at:

The Bouncy Egg

This is a great indoor activity that will excite your kids!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Elf on the Shelf

This year we decided to start the Elf on a Shelf holiday tradition.  We have several friends who do this with their kids and our kids keep asking about it, so we decided to do it ourselves.  So far so good.  If you're not familiar with Elf on a Shelf, check out the following link.


We started by reading the book and learning about the history of the elf.  Then starting the morning of December 1, my wife and I hid the elf in the house.  The goal is to hide the elf each night or have the elf doing something for the kids to find.  I'm pretty sure my 6 year old understands the elf isn't real, but my 3 year old probably thinks the elf is real and moves by itself (in the same way she thinks Santa is real).

To start out we hung the elf from a hook hanging between the living room and kitchen area.  Both kids completely passed under the elf without seeing it!  It wasn't until they finished breakfast and walked back into the living room that my 3 year old finally found it first.  The next morning we set the elf up on the kitchen counter with a bowl, a spoon, an box of open cereal, with some cereal in the bowl and some scattered on the counter.  The kids loved that!  In the future we have several other things planned such as the elf reading a book, the elf getting into the DVD collection, the elf playing with toys, etc.

Our elf, Sparkle, reading a book to stuffed animal.s

Sparkle spying on the kids through the Galileo telescope!

The kids love it and I have to admit that I love it too.  I keep thinking of interesting things for the elf to do at night!  So there you go.  Elf on the Shelf is fun for the entire family!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


On Thanksgiving day this year my wife and I had to have a talk with our 6 year old about superstitions and myths.  She was in the kitchen helping grandma with the turkey and grandma (through no fault of her own) pulled out the wishbone in the turkey and told my daughter to go have Mommy or Daddy help her break it.  So she came to me and had me grab one end and her the other.  I had the small end, so when we pulled it broke on my side so she earned to right to make a wish.  This is where trouble set in.

She didn't know what to wish for and after a few minutes of thinking, started to cry.  Granted, she had already had a long day and was tired, but she was also really worried about her wish and whether it would come true.  So my wife and I sat down with her and chatted about superstitions.  We said the wishbone breaking wish thing is just a superstition that people do for fun.  It doesn't make your wish come true.  We said that sometimes people wish for things and sometimes those wishes come true and sometimes they don't.  And if they do come true it's not simply because you wished for it.  My daughter is already skeptical about certain things and I want to continue to reinforce her skepticism over unbacked claims.  We also said that wishes don't always come true (like getting everything you want for Christmas or a sick person not getting better, etc.).  In the end this made her feel better so she wished for Playdoh for Christmas.
My wife and I certainly didn't anticipate this question, but the opportunity presented itself and given the emotional state my 6 year old was in, we had to step in and say something about wishes and how they do or do not come true.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Take a Moment to Appreciate Your Kids

Today I want to remind all parents to take a moment to appreciate the small moments in your child dominated lives.  Anyone with kids knows that life is busy.  There's school, daycare, homework, doctor's visits, sports, family visits, etc.  Oh, and then the crying and whining that never seems to end on some days!  But built within all of that your child will say something or do something that makes you forget about all the annoying aspects (i.e. crying and whining) of raising a child.  The other night I was reading a book to our 6 year old while my wife was playing "I Spy" with our 3 year old.  All of a sudden my 3 year old says "I spy a tooting chipmunk"!  Yep, a tooting chipmunk.  Not only that but she starts giggling like crazy after saying it.  Nothing beats these little moments in life!

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Tough Talk

My wife and I recently had a very difficult talk with our 6 year old.  She wasn't in trouble or anything like that.  There are certain talks that parents must have with their kids in order to raise them properly.  If you're a parent, you know the talks I'm referring to.  I'm not willing to say what the talk was about although I will say that it went well.  My point is that although talks with your children can be very difficult, they are absolutely crucial in your child's upbringing.  If you, as the parent, don't give your child the talk, who will?  The bully on the school bus?  TV?  Cartoons?  Make sure that talk comes from you and not someone else.

Friday, December 6, 2013

This Blog's History: The Tie Dye Milk Experiment

For this week's This Blog's History post I point you back to July 2012 when I introduced my now 6 year old to the Tie Dye Milk Experiment.

This is a very simple experiment using simple, easy to obtain supplies.  You need milk, food coloring, basic dish soap, and water.  That's it!  Chances are you already have these supplies in your kitchen, so no need to delay in showing your child this awesome demonstration/experiment.  Simply fill a bowl of milk.  Drop a couple of drops of food coloring across the surface of the milk (don't stir).  In a separate bowl, mix water with a teaspoon of dish soap.  Then take a Q-tip and dip it in the water/soap mixture.  Then touch the Q-tip to a spot of food coloring on the milk.  The food coloring will disperse quickly across the milk.

The original post (see link above) explains the physics of what happens.  My daughter loved this demo and has talked about it many times since.  Great fun for a lazy or rainy weekend afternoon.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What's the Difference Between a Hurricane and a Typhoon?

Here in the United States we are very familiar with hurricanes, especially if you live along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico or the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.  Hurricanes, as most of us know, are very large, intense storms that develop in the Atlantic Ocean and work their way toward the coast.  They are huge rotation systems with wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour.  Hurricanes are ranked by category numbers.  A category 1 hurricane has wind speeds ranging from 74 - 95 miles per hour.  As the wind speed increases, so does the category number.  Category 5 hurricanes, the strongest hurricanes, have wind speeds greater than 155 miles per hour.  The greater the wind speeds, the greater than damage done.

A large rotation system with wind speeds between 39 and 74 miles per hour are called tropical storms.  Many times hurricanes begin as tropical storms.  Often a hurricane decreases in strength as it approaches land and turns back into a tropical storm before reaching land fall.

So what's a typhoon?  As a kid I was once told in school that typhoons are tornadoes that start over water.  It sounded good at the time, but I later learned this is completely untrue.  Tornadoes over water are simply that.  They are still called tornadoes!  A typhoon is really the same thing as a hurricane, but with one difference, location.  

Large rotating weather systems starting in the Atlantic Ocean are called hurricanes.  Systems starting in the Pacific Ocean are called typhoons.  In addition, systems starting in the Indian Ocean are called cyclones.  That's it.  The difference is based on location.  The storms are all very large rotating systems with high wind speeds.
So now you know the truth.  Don't make the mistake that a teacher once made to me and tell your kids that typhoons are over-the-water tornadoes.  :-)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Science News Magazine

If you're looking for a great source to gain basic knowledge of current events in science but don't want to get bogged down in the minute details of the research, then I highly recommend Science News Magazine.

Science News

Science News is published every 2 weeks and basically summarizes several science studies across a wide range of science fields.  There are usually articles on astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology.  It's a great way to learn about interesting studies and advancements, and a great resource to share with your kids (depending on age there's a kid's version of Science News).  For example, here's one of the recently posted articles (this one is available as a subscriber only).

Eating Peanuts May Extend a Person's Life

Now that sounds interesting!

The website offers many articles to read for free.  If you want more, you can subscribe to the magazine at very reasonable rates.  I subscribe to the Kindle version of the magazine and look forward to it every 2 weeks!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Last Year Believing in Santa?

I think this is probably the last year that my 6 year old believes in Santa Claus.  In fact, I'm not sure she entirely believes in Santa Claus this year, but I can't tell for sure.  She's beginning to ask a lot of questions and is becoming more skeptical about things which is exciting for me to see.  On the other hand, it opens up a few awkward conversations.  Take this conversation, for example, that took place at the dinner table the other night.

6 year old:  Daddy, does Santa Claus die?

Me:  Uh...what do you mean?

6 year old:  Does Santa Claus die?

Me:  Do you mean has he already died or will he die sometime in the future?

6 year old:  Will he die?

Me:  (Not knowing what to say since my 3 year old is sitting at the table listening.)  Well, some people live longer than others, so I don't know when Santa will die.

6 year old:  How old is Santa?

Me:  I don't really know.  (Always an appropriate answer to kids.  Never be afraid to say I don't know.  It's much better than making up an answer that later leads to a misconception in your child's life).  Santa was alive when I was a kid, when your grand parents were a kid, and when your great grand parents were a kid.

6 year old:  Ok.

And that was the end of the conversation.  AWKWARD!  And it was just me since my wife worked late that night.  No adult backup from my better half.  Ug.

So I'm guessing she's questioning Santa Claus and will discover the truth on her own soon.  On one hand it's sad to see this since it means she's growing older and is no longer the baby/toddler she was once.  But on the other hand, watching her think critically about the world around her is an amazing sight to observe.

Monday, December 2, 2013


As a parent, I beg you, on my knees, to teach your kids to respect others and the property of others.  I've done everything I can to teach my kids to be respectful and will continue to do so.  When they aren't respectful and I catch them, I'm certainly going to call them out and deliver the appropriate punishment.  I wish others would be just as responsible on this issue with their kids.  Why am I ranting about this?  I'll tell you.  In the past I've never had much of an issue with trash in my yard, but this year it's gone to a great extreme.  Every time I mow the lawn I first have to walk through the lawn and pick up the trash (usually candy wrappers, ice cream wrappers, etc.).  I have pictures to prove my point.  The picture below is the trash I picked up BEFORE mowing the lawn this past week.  My lawn is about 1/4 of an acre with most of the trash in the front yard.

For crying out loud, there's a cookie in there!!!  While mowing the lawn I picked up even more trash, shown below.

Seriously!?!?!?!  Throw your damn trash away!  It's several neighbor kids around us from 3 different houses.  I find it very uncomfortable knocking on the door and talking to parents (there will be issues there with the parents, trust me!), but it's getting to that point.  

I leave you with the following request.  Teach your kids respect.  Teach them that it's not right to leave candy wrappers on the ground.  Punish them when they do something that they know they shouldn't be doing...like throwing candy wrappers in my yard!!!  :-)

Friday, November 29, 2013

This Blog's History: Hubble Space Telescope Misconception - Hubble vs. the JWST

Last week in This Blog's History I revisited a post on the misconceptions regarding the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

This week I revisit another misconception regarding the HST.  The HST is currently on its last legs.  There will be no more service missions, so once current equipment and gyroscopes malfunction, the HST will be dead.  There's another big space based telescope coming soon.  The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is scheduled to launch in 2018.  The media often describes the JWST as the replacement to the HST, but that is a big misconception.  The two telescopes observe a different type of light:  visible for the HST, infrared for the JWST.  Thus the type of images they take will be very different.  The JWST isn't replacing the HST.  It's simply a new, different telescope that is schedule to launch near the time of the HST's death.  For more details read the original post at the link below.

Hubble Misconception: JWST

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

There are so many things to be thankful for this year that I can't name them all, so I'll mention just a couple relevant to this blog.

1.  I'm thankful for daughters who love playing with their Mommy and Daddy.
2.  I'm thankful for daughters who enjoy science with their Mommy and Daddy.
3.  I'm thankful for daughters who ask about science experiments when too much time goes by between.
4.  I'm thankful for what science delivers to society.
5.  I'm thankful that, although more work needs to be done on gender equality in science, more opportunities continue to open up every year for women in science.

Have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy the time with your family!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How Much Do Your Feet Sweat?

We've all had sweaty feet, especially when working out.  We take off our shoes and pull off our damp/wet socks and toss them in the hamper.  But how much do our feet really sweat?  My wife and I were recently watching an episode of Bones when Hodges says that the human feet sweat, on average, one up a day.  ONE CUP A DAY!!!  It struck me as impossible.  Think about this for a second and look at a picture of a full cup of water.

The water shown in this is just over 4 ounces.  That's 1/2 of a cup.  You need to double this to get a full cup of sweat!  WOW!  At first I simply couldn't believe that our feet sweat this much in a single day so I decided to do some research.  No, I didn't wring the sweat out of my socks to get a direct measurement, although now that I think about it, this would be an interesting experiment.  LOL!  No, I went to the web for my research. Sure enough, everywhere I looked reported a number of approximately 1 cup a day.  Over the course of the year that equates to 100 Liters of sweat!  That's 50 2-liter bottles of pop filled with sweat in a single year.  Amazing!

I'll never look at my feet in the same way again!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Toothpick Bridge Time

I first wrote about toothpick bridges last November and recently repeated the activity with my high school students last week.  The goal of the Toothpick Bridge Project is to build a bridge made out of toothpicks and glue (wood).  The bridge is intended to be designed to hold as much weight as possible.  The only restrictions students and were:

1.  The bridge must cover a gap of at least 25 cm.
2.  The bridge must have a mass that does NOT exceed 50 grams.

Below are some high school student bridges from this year.

A 5 gallon bucket is hung from the bridge and slowly filled with sand.  In the past I've used water, which always makes a mess.  This year a student asked why I don't use sand as weight.  I thought about it for a second and thought to myself "why don't I use sand?!?!"  I even had a bucket of sand at home!  I brought it in and we slowly filled the bucket with sand until the bridge broke (had to use a few solid weights for the stronger bridges).  Not nearly the mess as I had with water.

Prior to this year, the record for most weight held was 73 pounds.  Bridges this year ranged from 3 - 89 pounds.  89 pounds!!!  Wow!  That's amazing!!!  And several bridges held between 60 - 80 pounds.  I was very impressed this year.

I haven't done this project with my daughters yet, simply because handling toothpicks and glue requires patience and skill they don't yet have.  When they are a few years older we'll do this project at home and see if we can top 89 pounds!

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Daughter's Canker Sore

My 6 year old has her first canker sore.  It's a rude welcome for her and something she picked up from me.  I get canker sores quite often and have learned to deal with them.  The ones I get are pretty big and the one she has on the inside of her lower lip is a pretty big one too.  I'd take a picture and show you, but it's kind of disgusting so I'll be nice and leave the picture out.  :-)

My wife and I had a talk with our 6 year old this morning and gave her some tips on how to deal with the pain.  It's usually only painful when eating or rubbing the inside of your lip against your teeth.  I gave her some tips on certain foods (acidic foods such as some fruits, ranch dressing really bothered her yesterday, etc.) to avoid that can irritate the sore and cause pain and also that chewing on the other side of her mouth can help.

Unfortunately there isn't much you can do about a canker sore except to let it run its course.  Within a few days the sore will diminish in size and then disappear.  The best I could really tell my little one was to be patient and in a few days it will be better.  That didn't comfort her too much and I had to deal with her pouty face, but that's the life of a parent!

For more on canker sores, read the following entry on Web MD.

Web MD - Canker Sores

Friday, November 22, 2013

This Blog's History: Hubble Space Telescope Misconceptions

What makes the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) special and distinct from ground telescopes?  There are many misconceptions regarding this that I first cleared up on October 12, 2012.  Here are the two misconceptions I discussed in that post.

1.  The HST takes better images because it is closer to the stars.

Well, technically it is closer, but stars are many light years away.  Being a few miles closer to the stars out of a total distance of light years is almost no change in distance at all.  HST quality images have nothing to do with distance.

2.  The HST is the largest telescope.

Nope, not even close.  The largest visible telescopes on Earth are around 8 meters in size.  The HST is only 2.4 meters in size.  If the HST was larger, it would be an even bigger telescope.

So what makes the HST special?  Full details are discussed in the original post.

Hubble Space Telescope Misconception #1

The issue at play here is Earth's atmosphere.  Earth's atmosphere produces turbulence (movement of air) that affects the quality of images.  By getting above Earth's atmosphere, the HST doesn't have to worry about air turbulence and thus it produces much better images.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pumpkin Mold

The scariest part of a jack-o-lantern isn't the scary face you carve into it or the spooky candle glowing in the dark.  It's the mold that covers the inside of the pumpkin a few weeks later!  We carved our pumpkins the second or third week of October and recently removed them from the deck.  Here's what they looked like after a month carved and sitting outside.

Mold grows best in warm, wet conditions.  It had rained during the 4 weeks the pumpkins were out, providing the moisture.  The temperature also reached into the upper 60s several days which provided the warmth.  Thus the mold.  This happens every year, but the mold has pretty much covered these pumpkins.  Yuck.  They went straight to the compost pile!  These pictures are a great lesson in why carved pumpkins go outside.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Peanut Butter Bird Seed Feeder

Here's a cool fall task to do with your kids.  I must give credit to my better half, the Cool Science Mom, for this one.  She's the one who found activity, collected the materials, and actually put it together with our kids.  All I did was take the picture and write about it!

The activity is very simple.  Take an empty toilet roll holder, spread peanut butter on it, coat the peanut butter with birdseed, and use some string to make a hook.  Hang it from a tree and you have a quick and dirty bird feeder!

Since we don't have a lot trees around our house, we don't see too many birds, but we do get a few bird's nests in the bushes.  We took a look at the bird feeder a week later and some of the bird seed is missing.  Now whether that's due to birds eating the birdseed or the birdseed falling off, I don't know.  But it's still a fun activity to do with your kids and it's neat seeing them eager to check the feeder to see if any seed is missing.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Egg Drop Experiment Time

I've posted about this before (see here and here), but just did this egg drop experiment again with a group of 3rd-5th graders.  The basic idea of an egg drop experiment is to build a ship/container out of very specific materials that is designed to protect a raw egg when dropped.  These students had the following materials:

15 tongue depressors (wide popsicle sticks)
15 narrow popsicle sticks
1 plastic grocery bag
5 paper clips
5 straws
15 cotton balls
5 rubber bands
3 pipe cleaners
2 feet of yarn

With those materials and only those materials, students had to build a ship.  Ships built by these 3rd-5th graders are shown below.

They did a great job with several eggs surviving a fourth floor fall to the ground!  The egg drop experiment is something you can do with your kids when they're bored on the weekend.  You can use the same materials I chose, or mix and match with different materials.  My 6 year old is close to being old enough that she can build the ship without  much parental guidance.  I'm looking forward to doing this with her (and my 3 year old) in the relatively near future.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Making an Apple Pie

I have to give the Cool Science Mom credit for this one since all I did was watch from the kitchen table and write up this post.  :-)  We recently read Amelia Bedelia's First Apple Pie book to our kids.  At the end of the book is a recipe for making an apple pie.  Our kids wanted to make the apple pie, so they did, with my wife.  I took a few pictures of them in action, but basically I stayed out of the actual pie construction.

The kids had a lot of fun, especially when it came to peeling and coring the apples using a special apple peeler/corer.

This isn't our apple peeler, but looks very similar to ours.  The kids loved turning the handle themselves, and even my 3 year old was strong enough to do a complete apple peeling.  The apple peel stays intact as one very long strand which was kind of cool.

Then came the point where I learned something about making apple pies.  Once the filling was poured onto the pie crust and the top half of the pie crust was placed on top of the filling, my wife used a cookie cutter to cut out a small portion of the upper pie crust.  I asked her why she did this and learned that if you don't there's no way for the hot air to escape.  The pie crust will bubble up and potential make a mess in the oven.  Makes perfect sense.  Never thought about this before since I've never made an apple pie.

So there you go, a great activity for the kids, and the Cool Science Dad learned something too!!!

Friday, November 15, 2013

50,000 Page Views

We did it!  Yesterday morning this blog reach 50,000 unique page views!  It took 18 months, but the number of page views per month continues to steadily increase.  What started out with 200-400 page views the first couple of months is now 4500 - 5000 page views per month and growing!  Below is a plot of page views versus month.  There's a clear upward trend!

At the current monthly pace of 4,800 page views, this blog will reach 100,000 page views in September 2014.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Science Experiments

As you've noticed, I haven't had a chance to post much about science experiments I've done with my daughters lately.  We did many science experiments this past summer, but as fall arrived we became busy with school, homework, and after-school activities (primarily soccer games/practices with both kids).  As a result, this took time away from doing science experiments.  My 6 year old still asks on a frequent basis if we can do a science experiment.  This is when I usually check my list and find something science related to do.  Not to worry though, I still have a long list of different science activities to do with my daughters.  Until you see them posted on this blog, here's a list of several websites I use to gather ideas for experiments.

24 Kids’ Science Experiments That Adults Can Enjoy, Too

40 Cool Science Experiments on the Web

Science Kids

Science Fair Projects

Sports Science Projects

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Do a web search and you will find thousands of different science experiments/activities that you can do with your kids!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Does Intelligent Life Exist Outside of Earth?

Does intelligent life exist outside of Earth somewhere else in the Universe?  We've never been contacted by intelligent life (sorry conspiracy theorists who think otherwise) and we've never contacted intelligent life that we know of.  However, it's still very likely that intelligent life exists somewhere outside of our own Solar System.  The Kepler spacecraft has produced a wealth of data that is quickly increasing the numbers of known planets outside of our own Solar System.  As of November 1, 2013, the number of confirmed planets outside of our Solar System stands at 1,038 and that number continues to increase every week.  Although the Kepler spacecraft is no longer in operation, there is a treasure trove of data that has yet to be analyzed.

A new report was just released by the NASA that says data/evidence shows there are at least 8.8 billion Earth-size planets in the habitable zone.

Milky Way Teeming with Earth-Like Planets

The term "habitable zone" is extremely exciting in this report.  These are planets that are the appropriate distance away from their star such that the temperature is right for liquid water to possibly exist.  This doesn't mean liquid water exists on the planet's surface, it just means that it is possible.  Where liquid water might exist, there is a chance that life, and possibly intelligent life, exists.  To me this is beyond exciting!  I'm convinced that there are many intelligent life populations that exist in our Galaxy, and many more that exist in the Universe.  The odds of intelligent life existing on any random planet are very low, but given there are 9 billion Earth-sized planets in habitable zones in our Galaxy alone (there are billions of galaxies in the Universe), there are certainly many planets with intelligent life in our Galaxy.  Will we ever make contact with them?  Who knows, but all signs point to them existing out there somewhere.

At some point your kids may ask you about life elsewhere in the Universe.  Share this, and other articles with them.  Who knows what we'll know in 10 years?!?!?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Are Meteors Hot After Hitting Earth?

If you watch movies and TV shows you come to the conclusion that meteors flying through Earth's atmosphere become very hot and once they hit (and become meteorites) they are smoking hot to the touch!  Unfortunately this is very far from the truth.  The asteroid that became the meteor that became the meteorite has been in space (very cold conditions) for millions, if not billions of years!  These are very cold objects, all the way down to the center!  Yes, they flare up and can look like fireballs in the sky and can leave a trail of "smoke" through our atmosphere, but this is only heating the surface of the rock.  The time spent flying through our atmosphere before striking the surface of Earth is VERY short.  The time is much too short to raise the temperature of the object.  The final result?  To the touch, meteorites are the exact opposite of smoking hot.  They are freezing cold!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hot Air Balloons

The other day my two daughters and I were sitting at the kitchen table.  I was reading a book with my back to the kitchen window and my daughters were coloring pictures, facing the window.  Suddenly they both got excited and started pointing and telling me to look at the window.  I turned around and saw this:

A hot air balloon!  I've never been in a hot air balloon, and neither have my daughters.  Part of me thinks it would be cool to ride in a hot air balloon, but then the part of me that is terrified of heights steps forward and slaps me!!!

Seeing this hot air balloon offered a great opportunity to explain to my daughters, especially my 6 year old, how hot air balloons work.  It basically boils down to density.  A burner is used to heat the air inside the balloon.  Hot air is less dense than cooler air, so the the balloon rises.  It's similar to mixing a glass of water with a glass of oil.  The two substances have different densities and separate with the lower density material rising.  

To keep the balloon from falling, you need to keep re-heating the air to keep it less dense than the surrounding air.  If you want to land, simply stop heating the inside air, it will cool and become more dense, thus causing the balloon to slowly sink.  

Physics in action!

Friday, November 8, 2013

This Blog's History: Why Does Water Condense on Windows and Glasses?

As a kid I always wondered why water droplets formed on windows and on drinking glasses.  I had no idea what condensation was when I was a kid, so I concluded that water in a glass "leaked" through the glass and caused the outside to become wet.  LOL!  I was wrong, but can you blame a little kid for coming to that conclusion?

It turns out that the answer is condensation.  I first discussed this on this blog on March 19, 2013.

Condensation Misconception

You can read the original post at the link above for full details.  Basically if the air surrounding the glass or window is warmer than the glass/window, energy will transfer from the air to the glass.  When this happens, the water vapor molecules lose energy.  If they lose enough energy their temperature drops enough to change phase from a gas to a liquid.  Thus water (liquid) droplets form on the glass.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bad at Math Myth

As a high school teacher of physics and astronomy I hear students say all the time "I'm bad at math."  I always tell them, no, you're not.  You're just choosing to be bad at math.  Turn your attitude around and you'll be good at math.

Here's an excellent article in The Atlantic that discusses the "I'm bad at math" myth.  It's an excellent read that I encourage you to check out.

Bad at Math Myth

Prepare yourself as a parent because there's a decent chance that one day your son/daughter will come home one day with a poor math score and say "I'm bad at math".  How you respond to them at that moment could change their life forever!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Conservation of Energy Physics Experiment

Here's a physics activity that I do in my high school physics classroom each year and it's something that you can do with your high school student at home, but potentially on a larger scale.  The goal is to roll a marble down a ramp, off a table, and into a bucket.  Sounds easy right?  The catch is that you don't get the marble until you've already positioned the bucket in the appropriate place!

Students use conservation of energy to determine the velocity of the marble at the end of the ramp.  They then use that velocity and the height of the table to determine how far away the bucket should be placed.  This is a good activity for your kid to prove his/her understanding of physics to you!  Plus you can expand on it.  Instead of a small ramp off a table, take the ramp to your roof!  Or build a taller ramp, or build a larger ramp and use a bowling ball instead of a marble.  The options are limitless.  Just be careful to not fall off the roof or drop a bowling ball on someone!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey

There's a new TV documentary coming up that looks to be very interesting.  It's an astronomy-related documentary titled Cosmos:  A Space-Time Odyssey and will be presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson.  The show is considered a follow-up to the famous Cosmos:  A Personal Voyage presented by Carl Sagan back in 1980.

From what I can find, this show will premier sometime in the second quarter of 2014 and will air on Fox and the National Geographic Channel.  We don't have satellite or cable TV in our house anymore, so hopefully episodes will be shown on Hulu or on one of the channels websites.  Fingers crossed on that because this looks to be a great documentary.  And Neil DeGrasse Tyson never disappoints!  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hybrid Eclipse - November 3, 2013

I failed to post about this last week, but figure I should say something now in case there's any confusion about yesterday's hybrid solar eclipse.  One of the reasons I didn't post about it was the location.  It was only visible in the United States near the east coast and since I don't live near the east coast, I didn't pay much attention to it.  However, there was something very interesting about this eclipse.  It wasn't a total eclipse, an annular eclipse, or a partial eclipse.  It was a hybrid eclipse.  So what's a hybrid eclipse?

First of all, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon moves directly between the Sun and the Earth and casts a shadow onto the Earth's surface.  See below.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon blocks the entire disk of the Sun.  A partial eclipse occurs when the Moon only blocks part of the disk of the Sun.  An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is a bit farther away from the Earth and doesn't quite block the entire disk of the Sun.  The Moon's apparent size is smaller than that of the Sun.  Below is an example of an annular eclipse.

What made Sunday's eclipse special is that it was a hybrid between an annular eclipse and a total eclipse.  For part of the eclipse's path across the Earth's surface it was an annular eclipse and for part of the path it was a total eclipse.  Hybrid eclipse's such as this are very rare.  Of the 12,000 solar eclipse (any type) over the last 5,000 years, only 4.8% were hybrids (as noted by Universe Today)!!!

If you had a chance to see it, congrats.  Unfortunately most people on Earth were not in the right place at the right time to see this one.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

This Blog's History: Why is the Sky Blue?

Why is the sky blue?  This is a common question that kids ask parents and it's a common question that parents don't have the correct answer to.  I first discussed this question on this blog on July 7, 2012.

It's a very common misconception that the sky is blue as a result of the blue oceans.  Since water covers 70% of the planet, it's assumed that since water appears blue, this causes the sky to appear blue.  Guess what?  That's NOT why the sky is blue!  The sky is blue as a result of the scattering of blue photons across our sky.  This explains why the sky appears blue all across the globe, even in a desert region that may be hundreds to thousands of miles away from a large body of water.  

For full details, read the original post last year.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Kids and Sugar

Both of my kids usually have an afternoon snack.  Depending on what they've already eaten that day we often let them choose their snack.  Sometimes they choose fruit, other times granola bars or raisins, etc.  Sometimes they choose a sugary snack, which is okay from time to time.  They usually make reasonable choices, so it's not too often that we tell our daughters that they need to choose a different snack because they've already had too much sugar.  Here's a perfect example.

Last week my daughter got off the school bus and runs into the house.  Usually she has a snack of some form before doing her homework.  On this day, however, she comes to me and says "Daddy, I'm not having a snack today.  I had a brownie and cookie at school because someone had a birthday and brought snacks.  If I have another snack it will be too much sugar."  And off she went to change her clothes and get ready to do her homework.  I must say that I was a very proud father for the decision she made.  Neither my wife nor I are very picky about what our kids choose for snacks as long as they aren't always choosing sugary snacks.

Then there's the cupcake my 3 year old had the other night for dessert.  We made cupcakes a few days ago and needed to finish them up before they went bad.  There were 4 cupcakes left, so we all had a cupcake for dessert.  Here's what my 3 year old's cupcake looked like after she said she was finished.

Yep, she didn't eat any of the cake.  She simply licked off the frosting and called it good!  LOL!  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Parenting and Firstborns

Here's an interesting article regarding the differences in parenting style between firstborns and younger siblings.

Parents are Tougher on Firstborns

The gist of the article is that parents are tougher and more strict on their first child than they are on subsequent children.  I spent some time thinking about how my wife and I parent our two daughters.  I'm not sure that I'm more strict on my oldest, but there is definitely a difference in how we parent them.  A lot of this has to do with their personalities.  My 6 year old is shy yet very focused on her surroundings.  She has a type A personality that takes after me.  My 3 year old is the wild one.  She's more outgoing but also more prone to mood swings.  As a result, similar situations require different parenting methods.

Anyways, it's a very interesting article that I recommend you read.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Science of a Messy Child Car Seat

Every parent knows that kids continually make a mess of their surroundings.  If you're playing hide and seek with your child it's easy to find him/her because you simply follow the mess they make while hiding!  Okay, maybe that's an extreme, but you get my point.  The other day I pulled the child car seat out of my car to transfer to my kids' grandparent's car.  It's probably been well over a year since I've removed the car seat from my car.  Here's what I found when I removed the seat.

OMG!  What a mess!  How does one kid make a mess like this and how does all of that get UNDER the car seat!?!?!?!  I purchased this car in 2003.  It was a new vehicle at the time and I have no plans to ever trade it in.  I'm driving it until it dies.  Who wants to buy this? If you have kids, don't ever plan to put a car seat in a car you wish to keep nice because it will end up looking like this!  For crying out loud, look at those stains!  Milk stains, juice stains, soda stains...at least there are no vomit stains!!!  A bunch of wrappers, cheerios, other cereal pieces.  And then a crayon.  Yep, a crayon!  LOL!  All I can do as a parent is to look at this and laugh!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Believing in the Tooth Fairy

I think my 6 year old is suspicious about the existence of the tooth fairy.  The other day she lost a tooth and put it in her tooth holder by her bed for the tooth fairy to pick up.  My wife was working late that night and the kids were already in bed when she got home.  Being the amazing Dad that I am, I forgot to tell her about my daughter's lost tooth.  More importantly, I myself forgot about the lost tooth!

My 6 year old wakes up in the morning, checks her tooth holder, sees that the tooth is still there and there is no money, comes running into our bedroom to tell us that the tooth fairy didn't come.  The best part was the expression on her face.  The look she gave me with her hands on her hips made it very convincing to me that she wasn't mad at the tooth fairy, but she was mad at me because she thinks I'm the tooth fairy.  LOL!  She didn't come out and say she didn't believe in the tooth fairy, but her facial expression certainly implied it!

Friday, October 25, 2013

This Blog's History: Thunder and Lightning

There are many misconceptions regarding thunder and lightning.  What causes thunder?  What causes lightning?  Is it really true that if the number of seconds between the lightning strike and the thunder tells you how many miles away the storm is?  The answer to that last question is a no.  It's not as simple as that.  I discussed the misconceptions of thunder and lightning back on July 1, 2012.

Thunder and Lightning

If you missed reading it, click the link and read it now.  My original Thunder and Lightning post is the most viewed post on this blog, coming in with 3,580 page views as of this morning.  It has a commanding lead over the next most viewed post which comes in at 2,700 page views.

Thunder and lightning is a likely topic your kids will bring up with you.  As a result, it's important to know the truth and pass along the correct information to them.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Take Your Kids to a Movie

Never underestimate the power of taking your kids to the movie theater.  We don't make it to the movie theater often because it's an expensive activity, especially when popcorn and soda are involved, but when we do go, we splurge on popcorn and soda and make a big event out of it.  The other day I had the opportunity to take my 3 year old on a Daddy/daughter date.  My 6 year old was at another event with my wife.  I took my 3 year old out to dinner and then we went to see Cloudy with Meatballs 2, an excellent choice!

The best part of going to the movies is that my daughters will cuddle up next to my wife or I.  Who knows how long this will last, but we are definitely taking advantage of that.  Nothing beats cuddling with your daughter and watching a movie with popcorn.  Yeah, it sucks to dish out $10 a ticket (a bit less for a matinee) and another $20 for popcorn and pop, but as long as it's a once in a while activity, it's well worth it!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

State of Education

I encourage all parents to read the following news article.  It's short!


This is a big part of what is wrong in education today.  Here is a student who wants to take the SAT on a certain date to qualify for early college admission deadlines.  However, if the student takes the SAT on this day and misses a cheer-leading event, the cheer-leading team will suspend her for 3 weeks.  And worst of all school administration is backing up the cheer-leading team!!!  Incredible...in such a bad way!

I can understand this coming from a cheer-leading coach since a lot of coaches at high schools don't always have the best educational interests for the students, but the principal?  The superintendent?  Give me a break!

I really hope my daughters never encounter a horrible situation like this.  I can guarantee that their Daddy will stand up for their rights as students!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Writing Secret Messages

Looking for a cool science activity for you and your kids?  Try writing secret messages using lemon juice!  The setup is very easy.  Pour a small bowl of lemon juice, dip a Q-tip into the juice, and use the Q-tip to write a message on a standard piece of white paper.  Let the lemon juice dry.  When it dries you'll be able to tell something is there because the paper will crinkle but you won't be able to read it.

Here's my 6 year old's secret message.  Again, you can tell something is there, but it's really hard to tell what it says.  My 3 year old created a secret message too, but it was basically one big blob of lemon juice!  :-)

Once the paper is dry, heat it up.  I tried using a candle to start, but that didn't work very well.  Next I used the stove burner, but you have to be very careful to not light the paper on fire!  This activity definitely requires parental supervision.  After heating the paper, here is what we found.

Pretty cool!  See the oven mitt on my hand?  Yep, it got a bit warm holding the paper above the burner!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Learning About a Surge Protector

We recently bought a new TV for the bedroom but were short on surge protectors so I had to go to the store to buy one.

My three year old was with me and when we got home she wanted to open the package to see what was inside.  I took her to the bedroom with me and explained that this was a surge protector and that it protects the TV from electricity surges.  I told her we don't want the TV to break, so we plug the TV into this thing and plug this thing into the wall.  She then looked up at me, smiled, said "Ok Daddy!", and then ran off into the other room.  LOL!

Friday, October 18, 2013

This Day in This Blog's History: Does the Moon Have Gravity?

I've decided to start a weekly Friday theme that I've titled "This Day in This Blog's History".  Each Friday there will be a post summing up a prior science misconception that I've discussed on this blog.  Today's This Day in This Blog's History....does the Moon have gravity?

To sum it up, there's a misconception that the Moon has no gravity.  However, that is completely false.  Any object with mass has gravity, including you and me.  It's just a matter of how small that gravity is.  On the Moon it's about 6 times weaker than gravity on Earth, but it's not zero.

For full details read the original blog post.

Does the Moon Have Gravity?

NASA's Website Back!

Many times I've referred readers to NASA's website for specific information regarding various missions.  Starting October 1 and continuing through the end of October 16, NASA's website was down due to the government shutdown.  Fortunately the shutdown is over and NASA is back up and running.  So get out there and show your kids NASA's website and get them interested in space missions!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Women and Science

A must read article from the New York Times on the lack of women in science.


I have no clue what field my daughters will be interested in as they grow up, but I want to make sure that I'm taking the steps that lets them know that science, engineering, and math are always open options regardless of their gender.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Discovering the Ingredients in a Can of Soda

Ever wonder what is in that can of soda you're drinking?  Here's a cool science experiment you can do with your kids to directly see what is in the soda.  When you look at the back of the can you can read the ingredients, but seeing the ingredients provides a much better understanding of the soda's contents.

For example, when you look at the back of a Sprite can, you'll see something similar to the above image.  The first ingredient is carbonated water, the primary ingredient in soda.  Then comes high fructose corn syrup.  In the nutrition facts table you see that this can of Sprite contains 38 grams of sugar.  So what does 38 grams of sugar look like?  It's easy to figure out.  Take a can of soda and pour it into a small saucepan.  Place the saucepan on a stove burner and bring the liquid to a boil.

Let the soda boil for a few minutes until all of the liquid boils away.  What is left is a brown syrupy mix.  That's the sugar that was in the soda.  

Mmmm...yummy.  :-)  Makes you think twice about drinking that can of soda!  Anyways, a great experiment to teach your kids about what is inside a can of soda.  You can also do this with fruit juice.  Try it with fruit juice, orange juice, etc., and see what you come up with!

Oh yeah, if you are feeling especially adventurous, dump cold water in the syrupy mix.  It will very quickly cool down to a hard clump that you can't remove from the pan!  The only way to easily get it out is to reheat the syrup back into a liquid.