Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Doktor Kaboom

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to take our kids to a science show nearby put together by Doktor Kaboom.  I had never heard of Doktor Kaboom until getting tickets, but the show he put on was absolutely amazing.  He did a show on electricity and had several demonstrations that included audience participation.  On top of that, he was very humorous, including some dry humor for the adults.  After the show he signed autographs and allowed pictures.  We got a picture of our kids with Doktor Kaboom and purchased one of his DVDs which he signed.

We truly loved the show and I encourage you to check out his website.

He's touring the United States and there's a list of show locations.  If he stops in a town near you, be sure to go.  Your kids will love it and so will you!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pluto Friday!

About 2.5 months have passed since New Horizons flew by Pluto taking images.  The data is slowly being transmitted back to Earth so we'll see new data coming in for many more months.  Astronomy Picture of the Day is a NASA website that posts a new astronomy-related picture each day.  For the foreseeable future they are posting a new Pluto picture every Friday.  The pictures are absolutely amazing!  For example, look at this picture from last Friday.

Wow!  The previous Friday gave us this.

Yes, those are mountains!  I am stunned by these images, especially when I look at the best images of Pluto we had before July 2015.  

To be clear, the above image was not taken by some telescope you can buy on your own.  This is an image from the Hubble Space Telescope!  That's the best we had until July 2015 and New Horizons has provided amazing images that have completely changed our understanding of Pluto.  

Now it's your turn.  Check out Astronomy Picture of the Day at:

There's an amazing picture every day and Friday's are AWESOME!!!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Last Night's Lunar Eclipse

I hope you had the chance to view last night's total lunar eclipse.  For most of the day I was convinced it would remain cloudy and it was at the start of the partial portion of the eclipse.  I went back out about 15 minutes before totality to check and the moon had appeared.  The clouds were breaking up just in time!  I didn't have a telescope with me but I did manage a few shots with our camera.

The first image was taken about 15 minutes before totality and the last was about 10 minutes in to totality.  There are many better pictures out there, but I was satisfied with what our camera captured.  The last one is pretty good in my opinion.

If you missed the lunar eclipse, don't worry, there will be others, although the next total lunar eclipse to cover the United States isn't until January 2019.  

Friday, September 25, 2015

This Blog's History: Reading Harry Potter

I posted this the other week but am bringing it back for This Friday in This Blog's History.  Reading books to your kids is obvious, but I encourage you to consider starting a new family tradition of reading young adult or full adult books to your kids (assuming the book is kid appropriate).  We started this with Augie and the Green Knight, and then moved on to Harry Potter.  We're now on the second Harry Potter book and our girls love it, as do my wife and I!!!

Reading Harry Potter to our Kids

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Elementary School Book Club

Something cool and exciting just happened to my 8 year old.  Her school is starting an after school book club once a month.  Once we received the announcement she was super excited.  Fortunately it didn't conflict with her soccer schedule so we didn't have to worry about working out schedules.  Kids receive a book list and are reading 4 books over the next 4 months.  Each month a book will be discussed.  I'm not exactly sure how the discussion will go, but my daughter is super excited and I'm excited that she's excited!

Prior to this book club our daughter and a close friend have had their own unofficial book club days where they get together, read a few shorter books, and discuss.  They started this all on their own and both are excited for an official book club to start.  As a parent, I encourage all parents to sign your kids up for book clubs if there is one offered at your school or local library.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


We've all seen images (or with our own eyes) of something in the sky that we can't explain.  By definition this is a UFO.  UFO stands for unidentifiable object.  A UFO is not an alien spaceship.  It simply means there's an object that can't be explained at the current time.  Nearly all of the disc shaped images of "flying saucers" are hoaxes and been proven as hoaxes.  Those that aren't explained are by no means an alien spaceship.  It's greater than a 0% chance they are the real thing, but that chance is extremely close to 0.  They are most certainly hoaxes or have a natural explanation that doesn't involve aliens.  Take the picture below, for example.

It's sort of disc shaped and shiny.  It's too big to be a plane moving across the sky and too high in the sky to be a radio tower light of any kind.  So what is it?  It's a picture I took of the moon one morning as the sun was rising using my crappy cellphone camera.  Yet it looks quite odd.  It doesn't look like the moon.

The point here is that it's easy to find UFOs in the sky.  However, take a moment to ask a few questions before jumping to conclusions.  You may very well find a natural explanation.  Even if you don't, there's still a likely natural explanation.  Don't jump to conclusions and claim this is a government cover-up of aliens taking over the Earth.  It's not.  It's simply something you don't have enough evidence at the time to explain.  For more information, here's a great site discussing many of the greatest UFO hoaxes of all time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dihydrogen Monoxide

Today I have a meme to share.  Too often people are scared of eating foods with ingredients they can't pronounce, as if the length or spelling of the word has anything to do with one's health.  Food is a chemical.  To say a food is chemical free is to say the food is invisible and doesn't exist.  All food is a combination of chemicals.  Some chemicals are easy to pronounce.  Water is a great example of this.  Water is perfectly safe, right?  Nope!  For starters, you can drown in water.  Less well known is that drinking too much water too fast also kills you.  Arsenic is not difficult to pronounce either, but it, like water, can be deadly.

Let's move on to an apple.  An apple is not simply an apple.  An apple is composed of many different chemicals.  One such chemical is tocopherol.  That's a more difficult word to pronounce.  Must be bad for you then.  If the word is too long and unpronounceable, it should never go in a human body, right?  WRONG!  Tocopherol is a natural chemical in apples.  It's perfectly safe for you to eat an apple and therefore ingest tocopherol.

Let's go back to water and get to the meme I said I was sharing.

Water is H2O and thus called dihydrogen monoxide.  Maybe this meme seems silly and stupid to you, but this is the argument too many health "activists" promote.  They claim complicated sounding ingredients are bad.  They claim too many ingredients are bad.  There's no science to back this up and it is simply WRONG!  Spelling has no role in the safety of food.  Don't be scared by what you don't understand.  If you don't understand something, research it!  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Space Movies in 2015

I'm all about space movies and now that my daughters are getting older, many of them are close to becoming appropriate for them to watch.  I'm so excited!!!  New space based movies come out every year.  Some are worth seeing, others are not.  Some we remember forever and others we also remember forever, but for all the wrong reasons!  I found this article a few weeks ago (originally posted in January 2015) discussing several space based movies coming up in 2015.  A couple have release dates in 2016 now, but the point of the article is to present the reader with space based movie options.  I hope to see several of these in the coming months.

10 Space Movies to Watch in 2015

In addition to introducing my daughters to space movies, I'm always on the lookout for bad science movies for the Bad Astronomy course I teach each year.  I'm guessing several of these will make the list.  :-)  Many of the movies I show in this course are entertaining, yet the science is horrible.  The more horrible the science, the more appropriate it is for this course!

Friday, September 18, 2015

This Blog's History: Water Expansion

In case you missed it earlier this month, I'm bringing back to you, for This Friday in This Blog's History, my family's inadvertent demonstration of water expansion.  Hint:  Don't fill a bottle full of water and put it in the freezer if you wish to keep said bottle.  :-)

Water Expansion

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

As mentioned in a previous post, I've been reading the first Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) to my kids.  My wife and I both read the books a few years ago and watched the movies, but this is my daughters' first experience to Harry Potter.  We recently finished the first book and then watched the first movie in the same day!  It was an exciting day.  The day started with quite a few pages left to read, but since we had a free day and had the movie, we sat and read, and read, and read until the book was finished.  Then it was movie time!

The movie is an adaptation of the book but follows the book very closely.  There are a few minor changes here and there.  The most notable difference is Neville Longbottom.  In the book Neville plays a much greater role.  In the movie, many of the scenes in which Neville played a big role in the book were replaced with Ron Weasley.  Ron is greater character in the books than Neville, so I guess the producers didn't feel the movie could hold on its own with more Neville.  

My kids loved the book and the movie.  Having read all of the books first, I enjoyed the first movie, but there's a lot in the first movie one wouldn't fully understand without having first read the book.  I'm not sure it's that great of a movie minus the book, but my kids loved it.  

If you and your kids are bored and in a rut, try having family book time.  It doesn't have to be Harry Potter, but reading books together is a great way to spend time together as a family and do something different.  We've already taken out the second Harry Potter book and sat it on the coffee table.  My youngest daughter wanted to start reading it right away, but I needed a day off from reading out loud!  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lunar Eclipse - September 27, 2015

Coming up on the evening of September 27th and morning of September 28th is a total lunar eclipse for residents in the eastern United States, South America, and western half of Europe and Africa.  A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is situated in a direct line between the Sun and the Moon, casting a shadow onto the Moon.

For residents in the eastern time zone of the United States, the partial eclipse begins around 9 PM with totality starting around 10 PM.  Totality ends near 11:30 PM and the partial eclipse ends around 12:30 AM.  It's a Sunday evening/Monday morning so it is a school night for kids.  I'm not sure how I'll handle this with my kids, but if they are in bed earlier, I may wake them up for a few minutes at 10 to see the total lunar eclipse.  Of course, for that to happen, the weather needs to work out which is always a big IF!  

I encourage you to mark this on your calendar and plan on observing it.  Lunar eclipses aren't all that rare, but it can be many months to a few years between eclipses.  It's all based on the geometry of the Earth-Sun-Moon system and your location on Earth.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

More Triops!

I know I've posted on this several times, but here's another video of our triops.  I took a look at them yesterday morning.  There's a few tiny ones, but here's the big one moving around.  He/she is quite interesting to watch as it moves around the sand with it's legs moving around quickly.

And to think I thought we had failed in our second attempt to hatch triops!  Our second attempt has been a HUGE success!!!  I encourage anyone reading this to go out and buy a triops kit!  Your kids will love it!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Air Hockey

Air hockey is a fun game to play with your kids that has some physics behind it.

I'm assuming must everyone reading this is familiar with air hockey, but if not, an air hockey table is shown above.  When started, air is blown through the tiny holes in the table.  Each person grabs a paddle and uses the paddle to hit/push a puck.  The puck is light enough and the upward force from the air is great enough to create a tiny bed of air between the table and the puck.  In other words, it greatly reduces the friction force between the puck and table, allowing the puck to glide across the surface.  That's it.  Physics is the reason you can enjoy a game of air hockey.  Without the air, one could still play, but it wouldn't be called air hockey and wouldn't be nearly as fun!

Friday, September 11, 2015

This Blog's History: Ireland - Long Woman's Grave

For this Friday in This Blog's History, I bring back to you my post on visiting Ireland and seeing the Long Woman's Grave.  This was a fantastic hike (and doable with kids) with amazing views at the top.  If you're ever in the north eastern portion of Ireland, take time for this hike!  It is amazing!!!

Ireland - Long Woman's Grave

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Triops Live!!!

After telling you about a week ago our second attempt at hatching triops failed, I'm proud to report I was wrong.  Fortunately I was lazy and we didn't empty the tank.  It sat in the bedroom for several days until one night my 8 year old comes running out to the living room telling my wife and I to come quickly to the bedroom.  She was ecstatic!

We ran into the bedroom and she was pointing at the tank, which was almost out of water due to evaporation.  Near the bottom of the tank were a few small white objects moving.  The white objects were triops!  We counted 5 or 6 of them.  The video below shows one moving around the tank.

We filled the tank back up with water and dropped a few pellets of food into the water.  Now the trick is keeping them alive.  I have to admit being just as excited as my 8 year old at discovering live triops!  Very cool!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Spherical Maze

My daughters each received one of these (below) as Christmas gifts this past year.

Inside each sphere is a winding track and a small spherical ball.  The goal is to get the spherical ball from the start to the finish without falling off the track.  It is very addicting!  The sphere on the left is easier than the sphere on the right, but by no means does this mean either are easy.  I've maybe gotten 1/5 of the way through the blue and white sphere on the right.  It's very difficult!  As for the colored sphere on the left, I have finished it...once!  That's it!  This is the most addicting one because I feel I should be able to complete the maze.  When I fail, I feel I have to try again because I know I'll get it the next time.  But then I fail the next time, and the next time, and the next time!  

These are fun to play around with and great gift ideas for kids (and adults)!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Harry Potter

After reading Augie and the Green Knight to my daughters in July, my wife and I decided to continue this evening task of reading books together.  Don't get me wrong, reading alone is very important and both of our girls read on their own quite frequently.  More so with the 8 year old since the 5 year old is still learning to read.  However, it's a fun family task to read a more advanced book together before bed.  Augie and the Green Knight was a great start and now we are starting the Harry Potter series.

We're nearly finished with the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  The plan is to watch the first movie once we are done with the first book.  Our girls are old enough to watch the first movie and it will be a cool follow-up to the first book.  My wife and I have both read the series and watched the movies, but it's a joy doing it again, this time with our daughters!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Indiana State Fair

A couple of weeks ago we took a trip to the Indiana State Fair.  It had been many years since our last trip to a state fair and this was my 5 year old's first visit ever to any state fair.  I've been to state fairs in several different states and they are all somewhat similar, at least in the Midwest.  I guess I have no clue if a state fair on the east or west coast is any different than a Midwest state fair.  We had fun walking around, eating unhealthy food, riding a few midway rides (more on this in a separate post), and had a chance to walk through the Swine Hall filled with, to no surprise, swine.

The first swine pen we came to contained this "little" fellow:

It was the middle of a hot day and most of the pigs were resting, but wow, that's a big pig!  My daughters were just as amazed as my wife and I.  Later we visited another farm animal area and had a chance to feed sheep.

That's my 5 year old feeding this young sheep.  As a kid I grew up on a farm and although we didn't have pigs or sheep, we did have goats.  At a young age I learned how to hand milk goats and feed them.  Goats eat a lot of different things!  As kids my siblings and I would lead the goats around to different areas and in general, had a blast playing outside with the goats.  My wife, and now my daughters, didn't grow up on farms, so aren't used to interacting with farm animals.  The state fair is a great way to introduce non-farm kids to farm animals.  And they think it is super cool!  

So I end with a recommendation of state fairs, or even county fairs.  Take your kids to a fair with animals and let them explore.  Splurge on the 25 cents it takes to buy a handful of food and let them feed the sheep, goat, etc.  It's an experience they will not forget!

Friday, September 4, 2015

This Blog's History: Augie and the Green Knight

If you haven't read Augie and the Green Knight to your kids yet, both you and them are missing out big time!  This is a fantastic book with a strong female lead.  You can't go wrong.  Buy it now!  Stop waiting!  Stop reading this!  Buy it now!  :-)  For further details, read the original post at:

Augie and the Green Knight

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Popular Science - September 2015

I've mentioned before that Popular Science is a great monthly magazine for the science lover or a great gift for the budding scientist.  When the September 2015 issue arrived in the mailbox, I was thrilled to see the cover!

That's right, Neil deGrasse Tyson!  I haven't read any of the content yet, but Tyson on the front cover makes this the best issue of the year!  If you're not a subscriber, I encourage you to subscribe.  You can't go wrong with great science every month.  If you don't want to subscribe just yet, buy an issue from the local bookstore.  My daughter will often flip through the pages when I'm done.  At 8 years old, she doesn't understand much in it, but she loves checking out the pictures and reading some of the smaller articles!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Are Diamonds Pressurized Coal?

Most children learn in school that diamonds are composed of carbon.  Most children also learn that coal is composed of carbon.  This leads to the misconception that diamonds are nothing more than pressurized coal.  That is not true.

If diamonds and coal are both made of carbon, what's the real difference?  Diamonds most likely form deep in the Earth's mantle.  This is the region of the Earth between the crust and the core.  

Over time diamonds were carried from the mantle to the Earth's crust where we mine them today.  While in the mantle, diamonds using a type of carbon called graphite.  Coal is formed much closer to the Earth's surface, within the Earth's crust.  It forms from organic material.  You could form a diamond by pressurizing coal but it would be very impure and different from the standard diamond we typically envision.  

So if you're looking to propose to someone and looking for a cheap way out, I suppose you could pressurize some cheap coal, but it's probably not going to turn out the way you or your fiancee want it to!  :-)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Midway Ride - Scrambler

I mentioned in a previous post that we took a trip to the Indiana State Fair and had fun riding the midway rides, viewing the pigs, and feeding the sheep.  One of the rides we rode on, what I grew up knowing as the Scrambler, introduces one to the concept of centripetal force.  What's centripetal force?  Imagine yourself in a car driving in a tight circle.  It feels like your body is being thrown outward, away from the turn.  This is often referred to as a centrifugal force, but it's not a real force.  The real force, the centripetal force, is actually in toward the center of the circle, the opposite direction you feel you are moving.

You feel as if you are being thrown outward (away from the circle) due to inertia.  Your body is moving in the direction the car is moving at any particular time and wants to continue moving in that direction.  When the car turns your body's inertia works to keep your body moving forward, thus you feel as if you are being thrown outward.  The same happens in the Scrambler ride at the Midway.

In the Scrambler ride, you end up moving very quickly in circles.  Your body wants to keep moving forward, but the Scrambler ride turns in a circle.  You then feel as if you are being thrown outward away from the circle.  If you the unlucky person sitting on the outside of the ride seat, the person on the inside slides to the outside and squishes you into a pancake!  :-)