Friday, July 29, 2016

This Blog's History: Gender Roles

In case you missed it the first time, for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a few thoughts I posted on forced gender roles in society.  If you're interested, check out the link below.

Forced Gender Roles

Thursday, July 28, 2016

6 Year Old Points out Science

The other day at dinner my 6 year old gave me a very proud science daddy moment.  She took her fork and balanced it on the edge of her dinner plate.  She then pointed at it, looked at my wife and I, smiled, and said "It's science!"  Yes, that was definitely science.  She had successfully balanced the fork on its center of mass.  It seems simple, but her recognizing this as science gives me a bit of evidence that I'm doing the right things as a dad trying to promote science in the lives of his daughters.  The best part was her smile!

This got me thinking about some of the balancing science experiments we've done together over the last couple of years.  The one that comes to mind is the balancing of forks on a glass and burning matchstick.

The Balancing Fork Experiment

If you haven't seen the balancing fork experiment, please click the link above and watch our video.  It is super cool and appears impossible, but it's simple physics.  Find the center of mass and the forks balance regardless of what your eyes tells you!

I leave you with this take away.  Introduce your kids to science.  It doesn't have to be super elaborate.  Do simple experiments with them.  Let them design experiments.  Let them test their hypotheses.  Point out things in nature.  Ask them questions.  Let them respond in their own way.  Each little thing may be simple, but added up, you are making a huge impact on your child's life.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Earthjustice Magazine

If you're interesting in reading more about actions being taken to protect Earth's environment and interested in donating to causes that protect Earth's environment, then I encourage you to check out Earthjustice.


Earthjustice self-describes as:

"As the nation’s original and largest nonprofit environmental law organization, we leverage our expertise and commitment to fight for justice and advance the promise of a healthy world for all. We represent every one of our clients free of charge."

I've been a member for a couple of years.  As a member, you receive their quarterly magazine which discusses the work the group has done across the globe to protect the environment.  I don't agree with everything they fight for (they are anti-GMO at times) but I do agree with their overall goals.  With conservative politicians attacking climate science and pushing for de-regulation of environmental protections, organizations such as Earthjustice need help for you and me.  As a member, I'm doing my small part to support their goal of making the planet a better place.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Should You Open Your Windows in a Tornado?

Several days ago I posted a couple of myths regarding tornadoes and then discussed the truth.  Another common tornado misconception is linked to the windows in your house.  It's very possible you've heard that during a tornado you should open your windows to reduce damage to your home.  The misconception states that the large difference in air pressure outside of the window versus inside the window produces a large force that can shatter your windows.  Opening the windows equalizes this pressure and reduces home damage.  Not true!

It is true that a large pressure difference can apply a large force to a window and possibly break it.  In a tornado, however, homes are damaged due to strong wind and flying debris, not pressure differences.  Taking time to open your house windows in the false hope this will save your house and increase your chances of surviving wastes valuable time in seeking shelter.  If you're running around your home opening windows, you are not getting to safety.  During a tornado your best chance of surviving is if you immediately seek shelter.  Forget the windows.  Opening them does nothing.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Spam Museum

You may not know it, but there is an official Spam Museum dedicated to the food product you can find in the canned meat section of the store.

While traveling to Minnesota over the July 4th weekend, my family and I decided to stop in Austin, MN for a quick tour of the Spam Museum.  The museum is not very big, but is very informative.  It's a new building, having recently moved from a different building, so it looks brand new.  Anything and everything you wanted to know about Spam you can find in this museum.  And the best part?  It's free!  There are several Spam related exhibits along with a nice gift shop.  I couldn't help myself and had to buy the travel coffee mug shown below.

Very cool!  The next time you find yourself near Austin, MN, take an hour break (that's about how long we were there) and take a quick tour through the Spam Museum.  You'll walk away learning something about Spam you didn't know before.  For example, I learned there are MANY different varieties of Spam!  Who know?  Now I do.  

Friday, July 22, 2016

This Blog's History: Trip to Disney World

In case you missed it, let me, for This Friday in This Blog's History, point you back to the post I wrote on my family's trip to Disney World.  Fun times!  I offer a few recommendations based on our experiences.  Click the link below to read the original post.

Trip to Disney World - An Overview

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trip to Target Field - Minnesota Twins

Having lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota for 5 years and being a big fan of the Minnesota Twins, I attended many Twins' games during my years there.  I averaged 15-20 games a year when I was a grad student.  Since graduating and moving away, I've tried to get back, but it is difficult.  I've been back three times, all after the new stadium, Target Field opened.  Prior to the opening of Target Field, the Twins played in the Metrodome, a dump of a stadium.

I can't stress enough how a dump of a stadium the Metrodome was.  It looked dingy.  It smelled dingy, and it wasn't great for baseball viewing.  Target Field, on the other hand is amazing!  My wife and I went during the inaugural season without our kids.  We then returned with our kids a couple of years later and more recently took them to a game over the July 4th weekend.  Target Field is an engineering marvel, in my opinion, for baseball stadiums.  There's a great atmosphere, wonderful seating, and plenty of excellent food options.  

To add some science to this, I always find baseball games interesting because you can easily observe the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound.  When the batter hits the ball, a sound wave is produced.  However, since the speed of sound is much lower than the speed of light, you see the ball leave the bat before you hear the crack of the bat.  It's actual a very cool event to observe because it contradicts your intuition.  You expect to hear the crack of the bat when you see it, but it comes a split second (very noticeable) later.  Pay attention to this the next time you attend a game.  Note, however, that if you have seats very close to home plate, you won't notice this effect.  Go higher up or in the outfield and you'll easily observe this.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Geocaching Adventures

This is probably my 10th post on geocaching in the last four years, but I post again regarding the subject because it is an excellent way to spend quality time with your kids.  If you're new to geocaching or have never heard of it, it is basically treasure hunting for adults (and kids!) without the danger of death by pirates!  There are caches, small containers with a log and sometimes trade-able items, hidden all over.  I guarantee you there are caches hidden near you.  My kids are 9 and 6 and I've been geocaching with them since they were in a stroller.  Now that they are older we can be more adventurous and this year we started doing all day geocaching marathons.

We've done two of these marathons this year.  We get up early, pack lunches and snacks, and head out.  We drive around the countryside looking for caches.  Both trips lasted 9-10 hours and we could have kept going but dinner beckoned us home.  On our first trip we found 27 caches and on our second we found 22.  We're sitting around 470 all-time caches found for us and have the goal of finding our 500th before school starts in a couple of weeks.  Another marathon, or maybe two, and we'll reach our goal!

To learn more about geocaching and to find the location of caches near you, go to:

Geocaching is free, although you'll pay for gas driving around.  I do encourage you to purchase the app for your phone.  It is well worth the few dollars it costs!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Finding Dory - Movie Review

Last month we had some free time and took the kids to see the new Disney Pixar film, Finding Dory.  We went on opening weekend and the theater was relatively full compared to the typical Sunday morning.  We usually find ourselves going to movies on Sunday morning because they are less than half the price of a weekend evening movie.  When you're a family of four, that makes a huge difference in the monthly budget!

Anyways, back to the movie.  We enjoyed Finding Dory.  If you've seen Finding Nemo, this movie plays off of that and tells the story of Dory, the fish in the movie that has short term memory loss.  We learn of Dory's days as a young fish, how she came to meet Nemo, and what happens next.  Like Finding Nemo, Finding Dory is a feel good movie with a happy ending (you didn't really think the ending was unhappy did you?).

If you have kids and haven't seen Finding Dory yet, I recommend it.  I liked it.  My wife liked it.  And most importantly, my kids loved it!

P.S.  The whole idea of fish having very short memory is a myth.  There are several studies showing fish have relatively good memories and can remember things for several weeks.  That's better than many humans!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Introduction to Tennis

Last month both of my daughters enrolled in a week long tennis camp offered by their school.  Neither had played tennis before and I've never played tennis before.  My wife has, but it has been years since she last played.  We had to run out and buy rackets for them before the first day.

Both of my daughters loved it!  My oldest competed in a friendly tournament on the last day.  Her and one of her good friends competed as a doubles team and finished second out of four teams, earning a runner's up trophy.  Both were super excited!  It was great watching my daughters learn the basics of tennis.  Since my daughters were in different sessions due to their age difference, while one was on the court, the other practiced with me in the parking lot.  

We got to talking afterwards and my wife and I are getting rackets with plans to head to the courts to play with our kids.  Tennis is relatively easy to learn the basics and do some standard volleying back and forth on the court.  This is not to say that tennis is easy to play competitively.  It's not.  But to go out and have some fun, hitting the ball back and forth with a racket is easy to pick up for people of all ages.  

I encourage you to give it a try.  We all need exercise and tennis is a great way to get that exercise and have fun at the same time.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

This Blog's History: Kennedy Space Center

In case you missed it when I posted it last month, for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a post I wrote detailing our June 2016 trip to the Kennedy Space Center.  Yes, due to my background I may have a biased viewpoint, but the KSC is a MUST visit at some point in your life.  It is an amazing place and you get close up views of the the shuttle Atlantis, as well as close up views of several rockets.  Plus the bus ride to the restricted areas to view a launchpad and other areas is awesome too!  For other details, including our pictures, click the link below to take you to my original post.

The Kennedy Space Center

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Star Wars Books

After visiting Disney World, particularly Hollywood Studios, and seeing all of the Star Wars characters in action in shows as well as picture lines, the nerd in me got the Star Wars excitement bug.  Once home I did a little research into Star Wars books.  There are plenty of Star Wars kids books, but there is a whole series (several, actually) of Star Wars books for adults.  I did not realize how well the Star Wars universe was developed within these books.  I then took a look at my library's collection (online collection too) and discovered they have many, many of the Star Wars books available to check out for free!  Super cool!  So I did what any nerd does and checked out one of the books.  I didn't have a good idea where to start, so I went with the very first book in chronological order, Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void by Tim Lebbon.

How was it?  I thought it was a good book.  Not in the category of best books I've ever read and I have no idea how it compares to the other books in the Star Wars universe, but I enjoyed this quick read.  Will I read others?  Absolutely!   I'm a big science fiction fan and a Star Wars fan, so of course I'm going to read more Star Wars books now that I know there's a huge list of them out there.

If you have a science fiction enthusiast in your family who likes to read, consider Star Wars books as a gift, or point your kids to Star Wars books your local library may have.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Disney World - Hollywood Studios

After visiting Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Kennedy Space Center in our first three days in Florida, we spent the fourth day at Hollywood Studios.  If you're a big Star Wars fan, this is the place to be!  There are shows throughout the day as well as character stations.  We waited in line for by Chewbacca and Kylo Ren.  Both were worth the wait.  Kylo Ren gaves us a good laugh as he was in full character as a 'bad guy' in Star Wars.  LOL!  We saw Darth Vader walk by, as well as several storm troopers.

We also hit several other characters, including Chip and Dale, Goofy, and another goofy like character in which we debated for several minutes as to who it was.  It was Max, Goofy's son.  LOL!

Hollywood Studios is a bit smaller than the the other Disney parks in Orlando, or at least it seemed that way, but there is plenty to occupy you for a full day.  And don't forget The Great Movie Ride.  Well worth the wait if you don't have a fast pass option for it.

If you're looking for a good place to eat, I advise you try Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano.  This is a table service meal (not a character dinner) that requires reservations but it is super delicious!  For quick service we ate at Catalina Eddie's which was also yummy!

Oh, and one last thing.  We got in line to get pictures taken with Jake from the Disney kids' show Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  Jake is my 6 year old's favorite character so we couldn't pass him up!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Radiolab Podcast

Is there such a thing as too many science podcasts?  I hope you answered no to that because I have another science podcast to share.  I briefly mentioned this podcast in a list of podcasts several months ago, but since then I've had a chance to listen to several of the episodes.

Radiolab is a high quality podcast produced by WNYC Studios.  They typically release one new podcast per week that is related to science in some way.  There's probably less hard science discussed in these podcasts than other podcasts but that by no means diminishes the quality.  Often times the podcast focuses on the story behind a science discovery.  For example, a recent episode focused on the difficulties of ice skating.  The physics wasn't discussed, but the difficulties behind the sport in terms of injuries, judging, and politics was.  Another episode focused addictions and medications that may help.  Radiolab podcast episodes almost always contain a personal story behind the science with several interviews.

If you still have time in your schedule for a new podcast (I encourage you to stop watching Dancing with the Stars to make time) Radiolab is an excellent choice for an addition.

For more information on Radiolab and how to access the latest episodes, go to:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Bad Astronomy May Term: 10.5 Apocalypse

During my Bad Astronomy May Term class we watched the movie 10.5 Apocalypse which is actually the sequel to 10.5.  There's no need to watch 10.5 before watching 10.5 Apocalypse.  I haven't seen 10.5 but I assume it's equally as bad as 10.5 Apocalypse.  :-)  The point of the movie is that Earth is going through tremendous geological activity because the plates in Earth's crust are stopping and reversing directions.  Yes, because that's how the plates work...NOT!

The geological activity starts on the U.S. west coast and works its way to the U.S. midwest.  The plates are stopping all over the world, but for some reason only the U.S. is affected.  Go figure.  At one point in the movie they stated that a huge rift is opening in the ground at Mount Rushmore, except the red dot they showed on the map was nowhere near Mount Rushmore.  The red dot was in the middle of South Dakota.  Mount Rushmore is not in the middle of South Dakota.

The rift moved south at a huge rate of speed, working toward the Gulf of Mexico.  The rift is working its way to a nuclear power plant in Texas (can we get a bad science movie without nuclear energy destroying something in some form?).  To stop it they blow up an oil field RIGHT NEXT TO THE PLANT!  LOL!  But the rift turns and heads to the Gulf of Mexico.  When it reaches the gulf, water flows up the rift, creating a big river, hundreds of miles wide in the midwest U.S.  For starters, this water would have to flow uphill!!!  The midwest U.S. is at a much higher elevation than the Gulf of Mexico.  As the movie ends, suddenly the rift extends all the way into Canada.  How?  Why?  What?  It just did.  

A very confusing, very long, very boring, very bad science movie that has no clue how geological activity works.  Avoid watching this, unless you're a Dean Cain fan, than go ahead and watch it.  :-)

P.S.  Oh yeah, a big part of the movie focuses on characters trapped in Las Vegas after the city is swallowed into the ground after a big sink hole developed.  These characters play no role in the outcome of the story.  They are simply there to waste your time.  :-)

Friday, July 8, 2016

This Blog's History: Fraser Cain YouTube Channel

For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a post I wrote about Fraser Cain's YouTube Channel.  If you're looking for a great place to pick up some astronomy knowledge, this is the channel for you!

Fraser Cain's YouTube Channel

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Earth at Aphelion

I'm a couple of days late, but on July 4th, 2016, Earth was at aphelion in its orbit around the Sun.  Aphelion is Earth's farthest point from the Sun in a single orbit.  Since Earth's orbit around the Sun is an ellipse, and not a circle, the distance between the Sun and the Earth is continually changing.  Notice that aphelion takes place in the summer...not the winter.  Thus the Northern Hemisphere experiences summer when Earth is FARTHEST from the Sun.  That goes against common sense.  There's a common misconception that the closer Earth is to the Sun, the warmer it is on Earth.  Not true.  For starters, this ignores the opposite seasons in the Southern Hemisphere.  This means Earth's elliptical orbit is not the main driver of temperature changes on Earth.

So what does cause Earth's season?  The answer is Earth's 23.5 degree tilt on its axis.  This changes the directness of the Sun's rays and changes the amount of energy the surface of Earth receives as it makes its way around the Sun.  When the rays are more direct, more energy is received and Earth's surface warms, giving us summer.  When the rays are less direct, less energy is received and Earth's surface cools, giving us winter.  Axial tilt is the reason for the seasons!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Gender Roles in Children

While at Disney World last month a comment from a grandmother to her granddaughter got me thinking about gender roles society too often forces on children.  Before I discuss what was said, let me state that I saw no evidence the grandmother was trying to harm the child with her words.  In fact, based on other conversations overheard, it was clear the grandmother clearly loves her granddaughter and wants the best for her.  The point of this post is that we just need to be careful at times choosing the right words.  We all makes mistakes regarding gender and children but if we can learn from them we can make the world a better place for our children.

So what was said?  While waiting for the Beauty and Beast show to start at Hollywood Studios the grandmother was talking to another family about their trip thus far.  Their conversation got into the kids' hobbies.  It was at this point the grandmother said the she really hoped her granddaughter would be a princess but she's turned out to be a tom boy.  She then said that she realizes she just has to settle for what her granddaughter wants.  Again, the grandmother was not malicious in any way but the word 'settle' bothered me.  It was just a poor choice of words, but why should any parent ever have to 'settle' for what their child wants/likes?  As parents we teach our children, but we must accept who they are and what they want to be.  Accepting our children for who they are is how we love them.

Take my kids for example.  At the Kennedy Space Center we each bought a 3-pack of NASA T-shirts.  For kids there were 'boys' labeled shirts that were white, red, and blue.  Then there were 'girl' labeled shirts that were lighter, neonish colors.  First of all, shame on the KSC for labeling these shirts boys and girls.  That was my one and only disappointment with the KSC trip.  My oldest daughter went for the 'girls' shirts because they glow in the dark and she liked the colors.  Fine with me.  My youngest wanted nothing to do with those shirts and wanted the 'boys' shirts.  Fine with me.  NOTHING about the shirts differed other than the colors.  Those weren't boys shirts and girls shirts.  They were shirts at the appropriate size for kids.  That's it.

Again, I don't blame the grandmother.  Society has had gender roles hammered in for generations and it's easy to let something slip when not carefully thinking.  We've all done it, but we need, as a society, to watch our words in an effort to not put undue pressure on our children when it comes to gender roles.  They are not born in to gender roles.  They are taught gender roles.  Society is improving, but there's much work still to be done.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Disney World - Animal Kingdom

In our second day at Disney World last month we went to Animal Kingdom.  Animal Kingdom is not a park my family visited when I was a kid since it didn't exist at that time, so this park was brand new to me.  One of our favorite experiences at Animal Kingdom was the Safari ride.  I recommend a Fast Pass for this ride if you can get one.  For this ride you get on a large truck and are driven through an area in which many of the animals are.  It was very cool how close you got to some of the animals, including giraffes, elephants, alligators, etc.  One of the hippos was out of the water which we were told was rare at that time of the day.  My kids loved the ride!

We did several other rides along with a couple of shows.  We went to the Finding Nemo Show and the Lion King show.  Both were excellent and ones I highly recommend you go to.  Following the Finding Nemo show it was pouring outside so we got our first chance to use our ponchos.  We bought cheap $1 ponchos that ripped right away, so take my advice and buy more expensive ponchos that won't rip!  We were in a tropical storm warning on this day, although I think we must have been on the edge of the storm.  It was windy, but not what I would consider high winds.  It rained longer than normal for this part of Florida, but not always as a hard down pour.

For dinner we had reservations at the Tusker House for a character based table service meal.  The food, a buffet, was excellent!  Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, and Minnie Mouse (or was it Mickey?) stopped by our table for pictures and signatures.  After dinner we decided to head home early since it was still raining pretty hard.

Of the four Disney parks, Animal Kingdom was my least favorite.  Don't get me wrong, it was fun and we had a blast, but a lot of the animal related activities are not all that different from a typical zoo.  The shows were great and we had a great experience, but something has to be the least favorite, right?  For us it was Animal Kingdom.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Are Tornadoes More Likely to Strike Mobile Home Parks?

It's July 4th and everyone's focus is on fireworks, but since we are still in the middle of tornado season, it's important to know the truth of tornadoes.  There are many, many misconceptions regarding tornadoes.  In previous posts I've discussed tornadoes crossing rivers and tornadoes hitting cities.  Today let me talk about the misconception that tornadoes are more prone to striking mobile home parks as opposed to solid structure homes.

No.  Tornadoes do not target mobile home parks.  Think about this for a second.  Does the tornado have a brain that determines where a mobile home park is and head straight there?  Of course not!  In no way is a tornado attracted to mobile home parks.  So why is it this misconception exists?  The answer is the damage done to mobile homes during a tornado.  Mobile homes are less solid structures than standard homes and buildings.  When a tornado does strike a mobile home park (at random) the damage is typically much greater as a result of the weaker construction and foundation.  Where there's greater damage, the incident sticks with us in our memories.  That's it.  Tornadoes aren't sentient beings.

Friday, July 1, 2016

This Blog's History: Exoplanet Discovery

For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a post I wrote on NASA's recent announcement of hundreds of newly confirmed exoplanets (planets around other stars).

Exoplanet Discovery

Several of these exoplanets are in their solar system's habitable zone, meaning temperatures are in the range in which liquid water could exist on the surface.  Very cool!  Earth is definitely not alone!