Saturday, August 31, 2013

Rules of the Dishwasher

Both of my daughters are at an age where they can help with some basic cleaning around the house.  Obviously my 6 year old can help out with more cleaning activities than my 3 year old, but they both help clear the table of dishes after dinner.  They put the dishes in the sink or on the counter and then I or my wife put them in the dishwasher and start the dishwasher.  What came out of the dishwasher the other day is a good teaching example of how NOT to load the dishwasher.  Our utensil rack has several holes in the bottom so you have to be very careful where you place anything plastic.  If it is placed in the wrong spot it will fall to the bottom.  All of us know that plastic melts when placed on something hot.  We've lost several spatulas and other plastic products in our dishwasher over the years.  Here's what we pulled out the other day.

Yep, no more plastic knife.  Just a melted, curved plastic knife that no longer works.  Moral of this story?  Watch how you load the dishwasher or be prepared to lose some utensils.  It's also a good lesson to your kids that the dishwasher can get very hot and that you always need to be careful when taking dishes out right after the washing cycle is over.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Science and Sports

Looking for another way to introduce your kids to science?  Try sports!  If you have a child who is active in any sport, you have a great opening for introducing him/her to science.  Every sport is filled with science, whether it's swinging a bat/racket or putting the proper spin on a football/soccer ball.  You can't play sports without using science.  It's impossible.

A great place to get ideas on how to combine science and sports is this Sports Science Project Ideas site.  It's filled with lists of different science experiments involving sports.  It's organized by different difficulty levels so you should easily find something that is appropriate for your child's age.  

With the start of school my daughters and I have been busy with other things, but just the other day my 6 year old asked when we were going to do another science experiment. (Proud Daddy moment!) With winter weather still several months away, I think we'll find several sports science experiments to do this fall.  It'll be a nice break from the many chemistry and physics experiments we've done over the last several months.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Soccer Practice Success

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm coaching my 3 year old's soccer team this year.  I'm now proud to report that I survived the first practice of the season.  I was nervous going in since I didn't know what to expect.  From what I can tell I have a great group of 3 and 4 year olds.  Not one of them cried!  Woohoo!  And to my surprise none of them needed their mom or dad to hold their hand on the field.  Well...there was one little girl who started to run back to her mommy before stopping.  Guess who's daughter that was?  Yep, mine!  Our first game is coming up in a week.  Fingers crossed that no one cries at the game...including me!!!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Don't Be a Dumb Parent

Okay, I'll start off by being very blunt.  Don't be a dumb parent.  I'm not saying don't make mistakes.  We all make mistakes.  You can be the best parent in the world and you'll still make mistakes.  But there's a difference between a smart mistake and a dumb mistake.  Dumb mistakes are mistakes made by parents who aren't thinking about the welfare of their child.  Here's a perfect example from the Atlantic magazine which I subscribe to.  The following question was asked and printed in the advice column.  For full details, including the columnist's answer, go here:

Can I Take My Baby Monitor to the Bar?  Really?  That's your question?  If you read the article the person lives in an apartment above a bar and wants to know if it's okay to leave the apartment and go to the bar if they bring the baby monitor since it's just downstairs.  Again, really?  You really have to ask that?  Sigh.

When my first daughter was a baby I was too paranoid to leave the house for even 10 minutes to do some yard work, let alone go more than 50 feet from the house.  Mowing the lawn wasn't an option.  Even though my daughter would sleep for 2+ hours at a time, I was too scared to go out an mow for an hour.  I was too fearful that she would wake up early and I wouldn't know.  I can't even imagine asking anyone if it's okay that I leave the the house and go to a bar.  Really???

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Science T-Shirt #1

This past weekend we were out as a family doing some shopping before heading to see Planes in the movie theater.  While at Kohl's my wife found the following T-shirt in my 6 year old's size.

My daughter tried it on and liked it, so we bought it.  When she found out it was a science shirt, she was super excited about it.  And after discounts, it was only $5!!!  Science, awesomeness, and cheapness all rolled into one.  My kind of shirt!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Coaching My Daughter's Soccer Team

I never really pictured myself coaching my 3 year old's under 4 soccer team, but I took the leap this summer and made the decision that I had the ability to do the job and signed up.  Now it's official!  I have my team roster, along with their shirts.  We're having our first practice this week.  I have no real idea of what to expect and I'm a bit nervous.  Wish me luck!  I'll let you know how it goes and later recommend whether you should or should not coach your daughter's sports team!  :-)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Do Moons and Planets Produce Light

There's a big misconception regarding the origin of light seen from planets and moons.  For example, when you look at the sky when the Moon is up, you see light.  If it's a full Moon, you see the Moon as being very bright.  But it's important to understand that this light is not the Moon's light.  The Moon produces no visible light.  The reason we see the Moon is due to sunlight.  Sunlight strikes the surface of the Moon and reflects back to the Earth.  This is why we see the Moon in the sky.

The same is true for the naked eye planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter) and all other telescope necessary planets, regardless if they are in our Solar System or not.  We see these planets because we are seeing the sunlight reflected off of them.  These planets do emit infrared light (especially Jupiter and Saturn) that can be viewed by an infrared telescope, but our eyes cannot detect this light.  

Remember, knowledge is power so pass it along to your kids!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cost of Raising a Child

Anyone who is a parent knows that raising a child is expensive.  It starts out with baby formula, diapers, wipes and turns into school programs, sports uniforms, and more food to feed their ever growing bodies.  We don't, however, fully realize how expensive those costs are.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost of raising a child born in 2012 to the age of 18 is $241,080!!!  Wow!

Here's the additional shocker.  That doesn't even include the cost of college!!!  The average college cost at a public college in 2012-2013, according to the College Board is around $22,000.  Over 4 years that's $88,000 and rising!  

So include college costs with the cost of raising a child to 18, multiply that by 2 or 3 depending on how many kids you have, and suddenly you are approaching $1 million to raise your kids!  Yikes!  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Astronomy versus Astrology

One of my biggest science pet peeves is when people confuse astronomy with astrology.  I realize that most people are doing this unintentionally and it's just a word slip, but as someone with a Ph.D. in astrophysics, it's a bit annoying when someone refers to my class or job as astrology/astrologist.  So let me take a minute and clear point out the differences between astronomy and astrology.

Astronomy is a science.  Astrology is not.  A science is a field of study that bases its conclusion on observable physical evidence.  In other words, when we say that the Sun has a surface temperature of 5800 K, there is solid evidence that backs up that statement.  In the "field" of astrology there is no evidence that supports the claims made.

Astronomy is the study of the Earth, stars, planets, galaxies, and the Universe.  Telescopes are used to acquire data and answer questions.

Astrology is the "study" of predicting someone's future based on the position of the planets, stars, Sun, etc.  There is absolutely no evidence that backs up these predictions.  We all read our horoscope from time to time and often it seems that our horoscope is correctly predicting our future.  It's not.  Horoscopes are very vague, so you can almost always find a sliver of truth in them.

So there you are.  I teach astronomy, not astrology.  I teach a science, not a pseudoscience (fake science).  I study the stars, galaxy, universe, etc.  I can't predict your future...although for $25 I'll gladly "read" your palm!  :-)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sweet Pea Tomatoes - Skip Them

Each spring my family and I head to the local Farmer's Market to purchase locally grown plants for our garden.  We fill the garden with several pepper and tomato plants, as well as different types of squash.  Each year I try out a couple of new varieties of tomatoes.  I decided to plant 3 cherry tomato plants, in addition to several more regular size tomato plants.  For the cherry tomato plants, I selected a black cherry and a sun-sugar.  We've had both of these before and they are delicious.  For the third plant I decided to try a sweet red cherry tomato and went with the sweet pea because it was supposed to be a sweeter tomato.

I love tomatoes, as does my 6 year old, so cherry tomatoes don't last long in our house.  It's a fight between me and her as to which one of us gets the last black cherry (purple in color) and/or the last sun-sugar (orange in color).  However, neither of us wants anything to do with the sweet pea tomatoes.  They taste okay, but the problem is their size.  I should have realized this in the spring given the name, but they are literally the size of a pea!

As you can see, they are smaller than my fingernail.  Here's a picture comparing them in size to one of the black cherry tomatoes.

Much, much smaller!  The plant itself has hundreds of little pea sized tomatoes on it.  Way too many to pick in any reasonable amount of time.  I've basically given up on picking these because it is too much trouble for what's it's worth.  A lesson learned!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reading Boo_s

My 6 year old loves school.  She had a blast in kindergarten and was super excited to start first grade this year.  During her week of first grade, she brought home the following completed activity.  The activity was all about what first graders can do.  They had to make a list of things that first graders can do.  For example, first graders can tie shoes and be patient.  Then there's the third thing she wrote down.  She meant to write that first graders can "read books".  Instead, she wrote:

That's right, first graders can read BOOBS!  ROFL!  Wow!  Moral of this story?  Pay close attention to the work your child brings home for school.  You never know what funny things they will unintentionally write!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Upper Peninsula Trip #10: Sunken Ship Boat Ride

Here's another cool, kid-friendly, Upper Peninsula Michigan attraction. We took a sunken ship boat ride through part of Lake Superior.  The boat had a glass bottom, allowing riders to see remains of old sunken ships.  The boating company is Munising Bay Shipwreck Tours.  The tour takes you out to see 3 or 4 different underwater shipwrecks along with a close-up view of several historical landmarks on Grand Island.  Here are a few pictures we took on the tour.

The underwater pictures didn't come out the best on camera, but the view from inside the boat is excellent.  My daughter's enjoyed the shipwreck that included an old toilet that was on the ship at the time of the wreck!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Parents Nailing the Parenting Thing

Here's a link to a great website that someone recently sent me.  It's a humorous list of 24 People Who are Really Nailing This Parenting Thing.  I thought all of them were funny.  I tried narrowing it down to a small list of favorites, but my favorites list including 12 of the 24 items!  My favorites are 1, 3, 4, 9, 12, 13, 15, 18, 20, 21, 23, and 24.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Science Podcasts II

Back in July I posted a few links to some cool science related podcasts.  Since that time, I've found a couple of others that are very educational and hold your attention.

1.  The Naked Scientists - No, this isn't porn!  The Naked Scientists have several different podcasts dedicated to the varying areas of science.  Bonus:  They have a British accent!

2.  Skeptoid - Brian Dunning is the skeptoid who runs this podcast.  The podcasts focus on uncovering misconceptions and discovering the truth.

3.  Science Friday - Science Friday, by Ira Flatow, is broadcast on public radio every Friday.  Each podcast is around 90 minutes of various science topics.

There you go.  More podcasts to quench your science thirst!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Upper Peninsula Trip #9: Springs

If you ever find your family visiting the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I highly recommend you visit Palms Book State Park.  It's a very tiny state park, but has a very cool attraction.  The state park basically consists of a visitor's center, a parking lot, and a big spring called Kitch-iti-kipi.  It's a clear water spring that gushes up to 10,000 gallons of water per minute from below the limestone.  There's a boat (free of charge, although you need a state park pass to park) that you can get on and turn a wheel to move across the spring.

 The boat has an open bottom to allow you to see underneath.  Looking at the bottom you can see water gushing into the spring in many different places.

The circular areas you see in the pictures show "dirt" on the bottom of the spring being disrupted by incoming water from below.  My kids loved the boat and loved being able to move the boat themselves simply by turning the "steering" wheel.  This is a great stop for kids.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Is Mercury the Hottest Planet?

Is Mercury the hottest planet in the Solar System?  At first glance it makes sense that it should be.  It's the closest planet to the Sun, and we all know that the closer you are to an energy source, say a campfire for example, the hotter you feel.  So the same should be true for planets, right?  Unfortunately common sense is wrong in this case.  There's another factor that determines a planet's temperature and that's the planet's atmosphere or lack thereof.

Mercury has no atmosphere (well, maybe a very very thin one).  As a result, there's nothing to hold in the heat that escapes from the surface.  Mercury's surface can reach very high temperatures.  Due to Mercury's rotation and revolution about the Sun, a day on Mercury is equivalent to 176 Earth Days.  Therefore the Sun is up for several Earth months heating the surface.  As a result, Mercury's high temp can reach 750 degrees F (670 degrees K).  But this also means that Mercury's surface spends many Earth months with the Sun below the surface.  As a result, Mercury's low temp can reach -330 degrees F (70 degrees K).  That's a huge range of temperatures.

So if Mercury isn't hottest planet, what is?  The winner of the Solar System's hottest planet contest is Venus.  Although Venus is farther away from the Sun than Mercury (second planet from the Sun), it reaches higher temperatures due to a very thick atmosphere of greenhouse gasses that retain and prevent heat from escaping.  Venus has a very stable surface temperature across the entire planet, day or night, of 860 degrees F (733 degrees K).

Atmospheres play a very important role in the surface temperature of a planet.

Monday, August 12, 2013

First Day of First Grade!

It's hard for my wife and I to believe this, but our 6 year old started first grade.  It seems like just yesterday that we were sending her on the bus for the very first time to go to kindergarten.  It seems like just the day before yesterday that she was a tiny little baby with no hair!  Time has flown by incredibly fast.

This year will be a test for me as a parent.  My daughter had a great year in kindergarten and had an absolutely amazing kindergarten teacher.  We've heard great things about her first year teacher, so I'm not worried, but this is the first year she receives letter grades.  How will I handle that as a parent?  Hopefully well, but I have to admit I'm a bit nervous about it.  

Most of my nervousness comes not from any experience myself, but from hearing the horror stories of bad teachers.  As a teacher myself, I hold all teachers to a high level, particularly when it comes to organization and student feedback.  I expect every teacher to provide timely feedback to their students.  A teacher who grades and provides feedback 6 week after the fact is not doing his/her job.  I also expect every teacher to respond to parent questions in a timely manner.  Waiting more than 2 days with no response at all is unacceptable.  If it's a question that may take some time to answer, shoot back a quick email that says you received the email and will have a response to you a week from now.  That tells me that the teacher isn't simply ignoring my question.  

This is definitely going to be an interesting school year for me, the parent. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How to Talk to Little Girls

Here's a very interesting article on how to talk to your daughters (or nieces, cousins, etc.).  Too often society uses words like 'pretty', 'princess', 'cute', etc to describe little girls.  This passes along a horrible stereotype.  I highly encourage your to read this article.  It won't take more than 5 minutes to read.

How to talk to little girls

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Three Year Old Asked What?

At some point every parent needs to explain the birds and the bees to their kids.  I have no advice on how to do this or where to even begin, so I won't fake some advice to you. :-)  I was thinking about this topic the other day due to several questions that my 3 year old asked my wife one morning.

My 3 year old daughter looks at my wife and asks the following questions:

1.  What are those mommy? (Pointing to my wife's chest)
2.  Why doesn't daddy have them?
3.  Why don't I have any?

Moral of this story?  My daughters are growing up WAY too fast!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Upper Peninsula Trip #8: The Mackinac Bridge

If you ever find yourself in the northern part of Michigan or in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, take some time to drive to the Mackinac Bridge that connects the upper part of Michigan with the lower part.  For most people, you have to cross the bridge to get to the Upper Peninsula, but if you are coming from the west you can drive through Wisconsin into the Upper Peninsula.  If you've been reading this blog, you know my family and I visited the Upper Peninsula this past June.  None of us had seen the bridge before, so it was super cool to see it first hand for the first time.  Both of my daughters in the back seat were mesmerized by the size and length of the bridge.

As long as this bridge is, at 4.99 miles, doesn't even crack the top ten list of longest bridges in the U.S.  At #10 is General W.K. Wilson Jr. Bridge in Alabama (6.08 miles).  The longest bridge in the U.S. is the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana (23.87 miles).  The Mackinac bridge does come in as the 15th longest suspension bridge in the world! 

So if you are driving up this way, take some time to stop and enjoy the sight of the bridge.  There's a pull-off resting area on both the north and south side of the bridge to stop and take pictures.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Explaining Inertia

Inertia is a physics topic that gets tossed around, but unless you are in a physics class or have studied physics, you probably don't have a very good idea of how inertia works.  Therefore, when your 7 or 8 year old asks, you probably don't have a good answer for them.  Let me take a few moments to explain inertia using a few examples and a relatively funny picture.

Simply put, inertia is an object's ability to resist a change in motion.  For example, a ball rolling on a table will continue to roll on that table FOREVER until some other force acts on it.  Now, that force could be the ball rolling off the edge of the table and the force of gravity taking over.  If you're rolling a ball down a long, flat road, the ball will slow down due to friction.  If you could make the road friction-less, that ball would continue to roll until the end of time, assuming no other forces act on the ball.

Consider riding in a car.  Your body moves with the car.  Your body has inertia in the forward direction.  When you slam on the brakes, your body has that inertia which causes your body to continue to move forward.  If you're wearing a seat belt, the seat belt is the outside force that stops you.  If you're not wearing a seat belt, inertia continues to carry your body forward until you smash into the windshield.

Consider the following picture which I found posted on George Takei's facebook page:

Assume the truck was moving at 50 mph.  That means your body is moving at 50 mph.  It has inertia.  So does the big stone in the trailer, which is also moving at 50 mph.  If the truck slams on the brakes, both your body and stone have inertia and want to continue moving forward at 50 mph.  The seat belt prevents the person from moving forward, but the stone itself has no "seat belt" other than the front of the trailer.  Since the stone continues moving forward, it had enough force to break through the front of the trailer.  

Moral of this story?  Understand inertia.  No one wants a big stone slamming into the back of their head!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Nebraska Archway

Ever driven from somewhere in the western U.S. to the eastern U.S. or vice versa and crossed through Nebraska on I-80?  If you haven't, let me inform you that the trip through Nebraska (and eastern Colorado) can be quite boring.  It's a very dry region with a lot of farmland.  Not that farmland is boring but the dryness of the region means there is less "green" to see than in other farm states such as Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, etc.  If you have kids with you, it can be a tough drive.  There is, however, a very cool attraction that I highly recommend.  The attraction that I speak of is the Archway.  It's a big arch that stretches from one side of I-80 to the other.  I've driven under this thing many times, and remember driving under it when it was under construction (opened in 2000), but I've never stopped to check it out.

I finally had the opportunity to check this out last month (unfortunately without my kids who were not with me on this particular trip).  Inside the arch are two levels of museum exhibits that detail the western expansion of the U.S.  It was not at all what I expected inside.  All I an say is that it's very cool and something you should definitely take your kids too.  I plan on taking my kids the next time we pass by it.  

There's also a nice outdoor exhibit area that includes a Native American smoke house, along with a few other buildings, including a human maze that your kids will enjoy.  I completed the maze in 8 minutes.  :-)  

They next time you find yourself driving in Nebraska and need a break, this is a great place to take a break!  It's just outside of Kearney, NE.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Learning About Dolphins and Whales

My 6 year old daughter recently read a National Geographic book about dolphins.  We sat down and read it together and I'll admit that there were several things that I learned.

For example, I learned the difference between river and ocean dolphins, the difference between dolphins and porpoises, and most interestingly, that some whales are actually dolphins.  Didn't know that!  Moral of the story?  Read books with your kids and you'll learn something new too!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Trip to the Zoo

If you're looking for an outdoor activity for you and your kids that differs from your standard outdoor routine, then I recommend a trip to the zoo.  There are zoos all over the place, so you should be able to easily find one.  In my life I've had the opportunity to visit several zoos.  Some are better than others.  Some are bigger than others.  Here's the list of zoos I remember visiting:

Omaha, NE
Minneapolis, MN
St. Paul, MN
Kansas City, MO
Cincinnati, OH
Indianapolis, IN
Fort Wayne, IN

We most recently took our daughters to the Omaha, NE zoo.  It's a big zoo and we didn't have a chance to see everything.  We also recently took our daughters to a bear park in the Upper Peninsula.  Although not technically a zoo, it was pretty cool.

So find some time to mix up your daily routine and take a trip to the zoo.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Garter Snakes

The other day both of my daughters embraced nature once again.  We were in Nebraska near a lake getting our life jackets on.  I was about to take them on a jet ski ride through the bay.  While getting on their life jackets, they both, at nearly the same time, noticed a snake slithering through the grass.  Instead of running away shrieking in fear, both of them do the exact opposite and take a couple of steps toward it to get a closer look.  It was a common garter snake, so no worries.  I didn't get a chance to take a picture of it, but it had a slight yellow streak through it, similar to the picture below.

I have to admit that given its length, even I was a bit leery of it initially.  Not my daughters though.  They were both excited and shouting to my wife and I asking if we saw it.  Yes, we saw it, at a greater distance than you, I thought to myself.  LOL!

No Post Yesterday

Sorry about the lack of a post yesterday.  I usually post Monday through Saturday with Sunday being an off day.  Yesterday, Thursday, I spent 16 hours in a car, driving 1,000+ miles across part of the country, so I never had a chance to get a post in.  Hopefully you'll forgive me!  :-)