Friday, August 29, 2014

This Blog's History: Colored Snow Experiment

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you an experiment that my daughter devised herself.  Although simple, in the end it turned out to be a very cool experiment.

The Colored Snow Experiment

The moral of this is to let your kids explore their own experiments, being careful of safety, of course.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Beauty of Garden Tomatoes

I've mentioned previously on this blog that my family and I have a 16' by 16' garden in our backyard where we usually grow tomatoes and peppers each year, along with a few other items that we rotate from year to year.

Gardener in Training

If you've never eaten a tomato fresh from your own garden, then you've never tasted a real tomato.  Tomatoes you by in stores have been genetically modified (nothing wrong with this) for freshness as the tomatoes are transported from farm to store.  But by doing so, much of the taste has been zapped out.  Nothing beats a fresh garden tomato.  The other cool thing is the color.  Tomatoes are not just red.  Tomatoes can be red, orange, green, white, yellow, purple, or blue depending on the variety.  Check out this bowl of cherry tomatoes my 7 year old plucked from the garden the other day.

How does that not look delicious? My 7 year old loves tomatoes and it's often a battle between me and her as to who gets the last one!  I'm still working on my 4 year old.  She'll help pick them from the garden, but won't try them.  Then again, she's in a stage where she's picky about all foods and fights over most food items placed in front of her.  Hoping this stage ends soon!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

I knew it would happen sooner or later and it happened last week.  My sister nominated me to complete the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.  I accepted the challenge and my kids had fun as my wife dumped a bucket of ice water on my head.  LOL!

In addition to the challenge, we'll be donating to an ALS charity.  Often times it is unknown if a charity is a good charity.  It may sound legit and of high quality, but how does one really know?  What fraction of raised funds go to the cause the charity is funding?  To the general public, this can be a very difficult answer to find.  Fortunately there is a great website, Charity Navigator, that does all of the work for you.

Charity Navigator

I used Charity Navigator to check out a couple of ALS charities and found Project ALS to donate to.  They have very high rankings and nearly all of the raised funds go to ALS research.  Any charity you can think of is in the Charity Navigator database.  This is a very valuable resource as I think we all want our donated money to be used appropriately.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Celery and Colored Water

Here's an interesting science experiment to do with your kids.  Take a couple of pieces of celery and break them in half.  Take several glasses/jars and fill them with water and a food coloring of your choices.  Take the celery and place it vertically into the water and let it sit for several hours to a day.  The water is drawn up the celery and can be observed if the water is colored.  Here's a piece of celery we stuck in blue colored water.

Very cool!  My daughters and I took this experiment one step further and asked ourselves, what happens if the celery is placed in colored salt water?  Will the salt make a difference?  Let's see.

Nope...nothing!  No colored celery.  It appears that salt water made a big difference in this experiment.  In addition, the rigidity of the celery differed.  The celery in the tap water was still hard and firm.  The celery in the salt water limped and could bend very easily.  It was cool seeing the expressions on my daughters' faces when they noticed the difference in the celery.  

Give it a shot!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Daylight/Darkness in Iceland

Iceland is an amazing place to visit, as my wife and I did back in July.  I encourage everyone to consider a trip to Iceland in the future.  In addition to the beautiful scenery, Iceland is interesting when it comes to the number of hours of daylight/darkness throughout the calendar year.  The center of Iceland has a latitude of 65 degrees North, placing it very close to the Arctic Circle at 66.5 degrees North.  In fact, the northern tips of Iceland just enter the Arctic Circle.  As a result, Iceland has a large range of daylight/darkness hours throughout the year.

Due to the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth, the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun in the summer and away from the Sun in the winter.  Inside the Arctic Circle, the Sun will spend a period of days completely above the horizon during the summer months and completely below the horizon during the winter months.  The number of days depends on how far into the Arctic Circle one goes.  (Same is true for Antarctic Circle in the Southern Hemisphere, but at opposite times of the year.)  The closer you are to the poles, the greater the number of daylight hours.  For example, from March 21 to September 21, the Sun is always above the horizon if you are standing on the North Pole.  

Although the Sun does set on all days over most of Iceland, Iceland's proximity to the Arctic Circle means that the number of daylight hours varies dramatically over the year.  Below is a chart showing this.

We visited Iceland in mid-July when there were about 20 hours of daylight.  Even when the Sun set, it didn't drop far enough below the horizon to get dark.  The skies darkened a little big, but it was still essentially light out.  However, if you visit in December, you may only have 4-5 hours of daylight.  That's not much daylight!!!

Visiting Iceland in the summer was awesome because we never worried about it getting too dark to do something.  Visiting a water fall at 1 AM?  No problem, it's still light out!!!

Friday, August 22, 2014

This Blog's History: Learn the Moon Phases

There are many, many, many misconceptions regarding the Moon and its interactions with the Earth.  The phases of the Moon are one of these misconceptions.  Too many people think that the Moon's phases are caused by Earth casting a shadow onto the Moon.  Nope...not true.  I previously discussed this a couple of months ago, so for This Friday in This Blog's History, I bring back to you a post on the Moon's phases.

Learning the Lunar Phases

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Upcoming Lunar Eclipses

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth lines up in a straight line between the Sun and the Moon.  Earth blocks sunlight from reaching the surface of the Moon and a shadow is cast for an hour or so depending on whether the eclipse is a partial or full eclipse.  For further details on eclipses, check the following previous post.  

When is the next lunar eclipse?  A great source for eclipses is the following website setup by NASA.

This site has a listing of eclipses going out several decades in the future.  The next lunar eclipse on Earth is on October 8, 2014.  If you live in the western U.S. you'll be in a great location to observe the eclipse in totality.  However, the farther east you go, the less impressive this eclipse will be.  The eclipse will occur near moonset and may only be in the partial eclipse stage when it sets.  Those living in the eastern U.S. will have to wait until September 28, 2015 to see a total lunar eclipse.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Improve Your Mood

Here's a great idea I use to help me out during the day if I'm having a rough day or just tired of working but know I can't leave yet.  I've taken a large number of pictures of my kids and set them as my laptop's (and home computer) background.  I changed the desktop background settings to randomly select a new picture every couple of minutes.  Thus every time I see my laptop's background, there's a new image of my kids staring at me.  Regardless of my mood, seeing my kids playing, smiling, and simply enjoying life, always brings a smile to my face and cheers me up a bit.  We all need a small lift from time to time and your kids are a great source for that lift!  Use it!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Iceland - Geysers

One of Iceland's top tourist attractions is Geysir, Iceland.  Geysir is the location of a large geyser in southwestern Iceland.  This particular geyser, named Geysir, which the area is famous for, no longer erupts very often.  There's another large geyser at the site that erupts every 8 - 10 minutes, producing quite an interesting sight, as you can see in the pictures below.

There are several other pools of hot, bubbling water at the same site, not to mention several hot springs scattered throughout Iceland.  Iceland is a prime spot for geological activity.  Due to Iceland's high level of volcanic activity, hot, boiling water is pushed up from below surface to produce geysers, or heat small bodies of water.  This is very similar to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA.  The park sits on a geologically active volcano spot.

Had I not already seen the geysers at Yellowstone as a kid, I'd probably find these in Iceland more impressive.  The Geysir area is a bit too built up and developed for tourism for my liking.  Regardless, it's still a must visit attraction in Iceland!  It just wasn't one of my favorites.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Iceland - Waterfalls

If you're a reader of this blog then you already know that my wife and I recently visited Iceland for a kid-less vacation.  It doesn't take long to discover that Iceland has many waterfalls.  Driving along the ring road (Highway 1), it's easy to see many waterfalls in the hills/mountains.  Several of the waterfalls are accessible without much walking, and many more are accessible if you're willing to walk a few km.  Here are some of the pictures we took.

So what causes a waterfall?  Two things are needed.  1.  A water supply.  2.  A distinct change in land elevation.  In Iceland the water supply comes from the glaciers and the often rainy climate.  The distinct change in land elevation comes from the fact that Iceland is a volcano, much like the islands of Hawaii (which also have many waterfalls.  Water will flow from a higher elevation to a lower elevation, down to sea level.  When water cross a sharp drop in elevation, a waterfall is produced.  

Waterfalls are a thing of beauty and there was no shortage of beauty in Iceland!

Friday, August 15, 2014

This Blog's History: The Common House Fly

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you the common annoying housefly.  How long does that pain in the arse live anyway?

How Long Does a Common Housefly Live?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is Reading in the Dark Bad for Your Eyes?

You've most likely heard that it's bad to read in the dark, that it strains your eye and may cause serious eye damage.  Is this really true?  Turns out, it is not.  Reading in the dark may cause you to strain your eyes and may cause headaches in some people, but there is no evidence that it causes and long term eye damage.

If your kids insist on reading in dim light, go ahead and let them.  There are probably bigger, more important battles to pick with them.  :-)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How Savvy are You at Physics?

You think you know your physics?  Do your kids think they know their physics?  Put your knowledge to the test by taking the Physics Savvy Quiz.  It's harder than you think!  Once done, submit the quiz and it will give you your % as well as an explanation for all answers.

Physics Saavy Quiz

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Walk Through Nature

I've stated this before and I'll state it again.  Never underestimate the power of a walk through your neighborhood.  Sure, walks through official nature areas are very cool, but a simple walk down the street can bring wonders to the eyes of your children.  For example, the other day my 7 year old and I went for a walk to a nearby neighborhood pond.  Near the pond we found several dragonfly like animals flying around.  My daughter was particularly focused on a particular one that had landed on a blade of grass.

I admit that it's pretty cool looking, but I have no idea what it officially is.  My daughter was asking several questions, and all I could tell her is "I don't know".  Again, don't underestimate the power of saying "I don't know".  It'll let your kids know that science isn't about knowing all of the answers, but that it's about finding and searching for an answer.  Science starts by observing your surroundings and walks through the neighborhood are a perfect opportunity to do just this.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Newton's Apple

Most of us have heard the story that Isaac Newton "discovered" gravity when an apple fell from a tree and hit him on the head.  There are a lot of misconceptions in this statement.  First of all, Newton didn't "discover" gravity.  Gravity was always here on Earth since the Earth's formation and people have always observed gravity in action.  They just didn't know what the cause was.  You can't discover something that everyone sees everyday.  You can, however, explain it.  That's what Newton did.

The story of an apple falling on Newton's head is a great story, but unfortunately there's no evidence to support it.  Newton did reside on a farm with apple trees (hence the origin of Newton/apple tree story) and this may have initially brought up questions on why apples fall, but as it stands, there is no evidence whatsoever that he was hit on the head with an apple.

Sometimes stories that seem too silly or too good to be true, are not true.  :-)  

Friday, August 8, 2014

This Blog's History: How to be a Cool Dad

This is for all of the dads out there reading this.  You thought you were cool?  Hardly...not after you watch this video.  I've posted this video link before, but for This Friday in This Blog's History I post it again.  Check the original post to watch the video.

Must See Video for Dads

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Starting Second Grade

It's so hard to believe, but my 7 year old started second grade this week!  Wow!  It seems like just yesterday that she was a little baby in our arms.  It seems like just yesterday she started pre-school.  It seems like just yesterday when she walked on the school bus for the first time.  And now she's 7 and starting second grade!

Time with kids flies by fast.  Over 7 years ago she entered our lives.  She has another 11 years before finishing high school, but given how fast the first 7 years went, I know the next 11 will go just as fast.  It's important for all parents to remember the little moments in their kids' lives.  Doing this blog helps me with that and helps me remain focused on staying active in their lives, especially on the science side of things.  

At the same time my 7 year old starts second grade, my 4 year old is starting her last year of pre-school.  One year from now she'll be starting her first day of kindergarten!!!  Wow!  Simply wow!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Avoid Gender Discrimination

As parents it is very important that we avoid gender discrimination concerning our kids, both boys and girls.  Many times it comes up unintentionally, but it can still be negative gender discrimination.  Here's an example of potentially inadvertent gender discrimination and a way to avoid it.

My youngest daughter recently celebrated her 4th birthday.  My wife and I asked her what kind of cake she wanted and she said she wanted a superhero cake.  No problem, but here's where gender discrimination can creep in.  Most superheroes are male.  We're starting to see strong female characters in superhero comics, but historically, the superhero market is dominated by males.  This is a situation where a parent, with no ill intention at all, might give his/her daughter a choice of a few female superheroes, because she's a girl.  Maybe the parent mentions Wonder Woman, She-ra, etc.  Don't do that.  Doing so sends a message to your daughter that male superheroes are for boys and female superheroes are for girls.  Superheroes are for EVERYONE!!!  Even adults like me!!!

Chances are that if your daughter mentions superheroes, she already has a few in mind.  Let her chose the superhero free from parental influence.  If she chooses Spider-man, then she chooses Spider-man.  If she choose Wonder Woman, then she choose Wonder Woman.  The point is letting HER choose her cake.  Speaking of the superhero cake, my daughter chose Batman.  My wife does an amazing job making cakes from scratch so I'm giving her some props.  Check out her amazing Batman cake!

How cool is that!  It tasted great too!  

The moral of this post is to do whatever you can to avoid unintentional gender discrimination.  Girls are girls and boys are boys, but there is nothing wrong with them choosing the same cake or liking the same things.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I ******* Love Science Website

Okay, so the name is a bit vulgar, but the "I ******* Love Science" website is a fantastic website for learning about current science topics, events, news, etc.  I can honestly tell you that I learn several new science things EACH day by following this site.  It's amazing how much wonderful science is taking place every day in the world!

The website itself doesn't use profanity, although I did find one link to the facebook page down near the bottom.  So use your best judgment when showing your kids the site or allowing them to use it on their own.
IFL Science

I'll admit that I rarely go to their website.  I follow and get notifications from their facebook page.

IFL Science on Facebook

I encourage you to check it out!  You are guaranteed to learn some science!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lost in Translation

You've likely encountered instructions of some sort that were written in a different language and then translated to English.  In addition, you've likely read instructions with horrible translations that make little sense.  My wife and I recently ordered a small bottle cap humidifier to take with us traveling for hotel rooms.  Here are the instructions that came with the product.

My favorite is near the bottom.  "Dropping out the product will make the product of out of work."  Great!  So if I drop out the product (how?) then I increase the nation's unemployment rate!  Super!  

My other favorite is "Do not use it for the other purposes."  Wait?  What are THE other purposes.  Now I want to know!  

This is a perfect example for your kids that using an online translator for foreign language homework assignments is not a good idea!

Friday, August 1, 2014

This Blog's History: Running vs. Walking in the Rain

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you a question that is often asked when it's raining.  Do you get less wet if you walk in the rain or run in the rain?  Hmmmm.  Usually this question is posed when one is stuck outside without an umbrella.  You know you'll get wet, but can you limit or reduce the amount of rain that strikes your body?  Read the original post to find out!  :-)

Is it Better to Walk or Run in the Rain?