Friday, September 30, 2016

This Blog's History: Stargate

It's Friday so it's time for me to share a previous post you may have missed.  This week I'm the post I wrote about the Stargate TV franchise.


I love Stargate and so do my kids!  If you've never checked out the show (3 TV series and 3 movies), you are missing out!  Go watch them now!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Coffee Cup and Inertia

The other day I challenged the laws of physics and the laws of physics won.  It wasn't just a win.  It was a beat down!!!  So what happened?  On my way out the door one morning I had a travel coffee mug in my hand filled with coffee (because why would it be empty).  It was my new ceramic Disney World travel mug I purchased in June when we were at Disney World.  As I walked into the garage I noticed the neighbors had their garbage cans out because it was garbage pick up day.  I sat my coffee mug on the trunk of my car, grabbed the garbage can, rolled it out to the street, and headed back to the garage.  You can see where this is headed.

Yep, you guessed it.  I walked right past my coffee travel mug and got into my car and started to back out of the garage.  Looking back I caught the coffee travel mug out the corner of my eye.  My natural reaction was to hit the brakes and in mid-motion of hitting the brakes I was screaming in my head "No!  No!  No!  No!".  Why?  Inertia.  That's why.  The travel mug stayed steady as the car moved.  Once I hit the brakes, the car stopped, but the travel mug had its own motion (inertia).  Friction was not able to hold the coffee travel mug in place, so it continued to move backward, tipping over, crashing to the concrete driveway, and shattering in 100 pieces.  :-(  I liked that coffee travel mug!!!

So there you have it.  I challenged inertia (and gravity) and it won.  DAMN YOU INERTIA!!!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Deep Look - YouTube Channel

Today I have another fantastic science themed YouTube channel to share.  I discovered this one a few weeks ago and it is well worth checking out.  It's called Deep Look and focuses on nature.

Deep Look - YouTube Channel

Videos are typically 3 - 5 minutes in length, so don't take up too much time, and focus on a nature-related topics.  For example, recent topics include sea urchins, caddisflies, bumblebees, and mosquitoes.  Very interesting stuff so check it out!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dino Dig Kit

Over the Labor Day weekend we dug through my daughters' science box and pulled out this:

This is a science kit from the Smithsonian with 6 different science activities for kids.  My daughters started with the Dino Dig activity.  In the box is a sandish block with basic chiseling tools.  Inside the sandish block are dinosaur "fossils" and one has to chisel them out.

My daughters took turns and started digging away.  This is not an activity to be finished in a few minutes as it requires careful chiseling to avoid damaging the mock fossils inside.  Eventually they found something.

A "fossil"!!!  My kids thought this was cool and spent the next 2 hours digging away.  They found other fossils, but not enough to complete the full dinosaur.  In fact, they still have quite a bit to go.

They loved working on this and remained focused the whole time!  This is a great activity to occupy your kids for an afternoon, but I'll warn you that if you do this in the house as we did, dust from the chiseling gets everywhere in the immediate location.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fun Science Experiments

The other day I had 10 minutes to kill before the start of class and I didn't feel like starting a new work task/project.  So I googled "Fun Science" and found this page.


It's a page filled with all sorts of science experiments for kids that teach basic level science. Several of these experiments I've done in the past with my kids, but there are a few that are new to me that look cool to try out.  There's one on making butter and another on freezing oil and water.  The oil/water activity is probably a density separation experiment.  We've done many of these as a family, but never by freezing the solution.  There's also the walking on eggs experiment.  I've had my eye on this one for awhile, but have never gotten around too it.  It's similar to walking on hot coals, but the goal is to walk across a carton of eggs without breaking the eggs.  Impossible right?  The experiment results say otherwise.  You can be assured I will post our results here when I have them.  

So check out this website and pick out a few experiments to do with your kids.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

This Blog's History: The Closest Exoplanet Ever

In case you missed it last month, astronomers have discovered the closest planet orbiting another star EVER!  This is a super cool discovery!

Closest Exoplanet Ever

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Nerdist Podcast

It's time to share another science-themed geek-themed podcast with you.  This time it's The Nerdist Podcast.

The Nerdist Podcast

The Nerdist podcast is hosted by Chris Hardwick.  He basically sits down and talks random stuff with his friends.  There are guests and the topic is usually a science or geek themed topic of some kind.  The podcast is very professionally done with great sound quality.  Recent guests include Seth Rogen and Dana Carvey.  Each episode is different so it doesn't get old after a few weeks.  

If you're looking for a geeky podcast, The Nerdist is for you!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How Much Longer is Earth Habitable?

To answer this question, let's first ignore the possibility (quite strong actually) of humans killing themselves off due to nuclear war, climate change, etc.  Let's focus on natural changes to Earth only.  If we make this BIG assumption, this question boils down to the lifetime of the Sun and changes to the Sun over its lifetime.

The Sun is a star with enough "fuel" to survive 9-10 billion years before reaching the final stages of its life (white dwarf).  The Sun is about halfway through its lifetime, meaning that it has another 4.5-5 billion years before it expands into a red giant before becoming a white dwarf.  When the Sun becomes a red giant, it will grow in size, swallowing up Mercury, Venus, and possibly Earth.  Earth is toast, literally, at this point.  At first glance it may seem that Earth has another 4.5-5 billion years of habitability.  Not true.

Over longer periods of time, the Sun is slowly increasing in brightness.  This results in temperatures at Earth's distance increasing.  This is NOT the cause of global warming on Earth.  Global warming on Earth is happening WAY too fast to link it to the Sun.  Global warming on Earth is caused by humans.  The science is VERY clear on this.  Back to the Sun.  In about 500 million to 1 billion years, the temperature at Earth's distance will increase enough that Earth will no longer be in the habitable zone.  That's still a very long time, but not nearly as long as one might think based on the Sun's remaining lifetime.

If humans don't kill themselves off first, I have to think we'll have the technology to move elsewhere in the Solar System or Milky Way galaxy to avoid the fate of dying on an inhabitable Earth.  Or we'll have built a dome around the Earth to keep us sufficiently cooled.  Who knows?  A half billion years is a LONG time!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Wisconsin Dells Duck Boat Tours

One of the activities we did while in the Wisconsin Dells last month was a Duck Boat tour.  Duck boats are vehicles that travel on both land and water.

We had a blast on this 1 hour tour that took us through the forest area of the Wisconsin Dells as well as on the lake.  We saw several deer, just hanging out a few feet from the vehicle as it drove by.  Very cool!  

There are a few other companies that offer duck boat tours.  The tour we went on was done by the Original Wisconsin Ducks.  If you go with this tour company, do NOT buy your tickets on-site at the ticket window.  Either find a coupon and bring it, or purchase the tickets on your phone for 20% off adult ticket prices.  I bought them on my phone standing 5 feet from the ticket window!  You immediately get a QR code sent to your email that is used as your ticket.  Piece of cake and saved 20% off on all adult tickets.  We had 6 adults with us, so the savings were significant!

Will you get wet?  Unlikely.  The boat moves slow enough on water that you won't really get wet.  Maybe a few drops here or there depending on where you sit, but I wouldn't worry.  There are duck boat jet style tours that move much faster and you WILL get wet from what the advertisements state.  So choose wisely based on what you want.  :-)

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Chet Kinsman Series by Ben Bova

I'm currently working through the four book Chet Kinsman series by Ben Bova.  Ben Bova is a science fiction writer whose most famous book series is the Grand Tour, a 23 book series looking at space colonization.  He's written several other books outside this series, including the one I'm reading.

The Chet Kinsman series includes the following four books.

  • The Weathermakers
  • Millennium
  • Colony
  • Kinsman
I've read the first two books.  The Weathermakers focuses on Earth and the manipulation of weather systems.  The second book, Millennium includes a character from The Weathermakers, but now focuses on the startup of a space colony.  I've just started reading Colony and it also focuses on space colonies along with extreme weather conditions on Earth making Earth unlivable.  

The Chet Kinsman series is an interesting hard science fiction series that I've enjoyed reading thus far.  I like science fiction, in particular hard science fiction.  It's interesting how various authors perceive the future on Earth.  Given the lack of urgency on climate science in society, it's not hard to envision a world described in science fictions novels such as these.  

My kids are getting older, but they are not yet at the reading level to tackle these books.  They take me awhile to read.  They're quite interesting and I have hope my daughters will like science fiction.  I'd love to discuss these books with them.  However, I fully realize that although they'll like some of the same things I like, there'll also likely be many differences in their likes and dislikes.  If they like science fiction, fantastic.  If not, there are plenty of other ways to bond with them as they grow.  

If you are a fan of science fiction or know someone who is, point them toward Ben Bova and the Chet Kinsman series.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

This Blog's History: Kids' Creativity

In case you missed it, for This Friday in This Blog's History I re-share with you a few thoughts of my own on kids and creativity.

Kids' Creativity

Thursday, September 15, 2016

SkyView Virtual Observatory

If you or your kids are interested in beautiful astronomical images and are interesting in learning more and/or investigating images yourself, then you definitely need to check out the SkyView Virtual Observatory.

SkyView Virtual Observatory

This is a website operated by NASA that allows you to pick a piece of the sky and retrieve previously taken images using different telescopes at several different wavelengths.  If you know the coordinates of an object you wish to see you can enter those or you can enter random coordinates.  Then choose the telescope/wavelength you wish to see and in a few seconds an image pops up!

I plugged the coordinates (Googled them) for the Andromeda Galaxy and chose an optical image and out popped this:

That is super cool!  The full galaxy does not fit in this image, but I could go back and choose a larger image size.  I did, and here's what popped back to me:

Even cooler!  So check out the SkyView Virtual Observatory and mess around.  Try looking at objects using different cameras and different wavelengths.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Strategy of Fantasy Sports

I've played fantasy sports for years, dating back to 2001.  I used to play every fantasy sport possible, but with kids and work, as I moved from college to a real-world job, I've cut back and now only play baseball, football, and hockey, with baseball being my favorite.  Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I do NOT spend money on fantasy sports.  I play in free leagues through Yahoo with friends.  I do NOT spend money on magazines or other fantasy resource publications.  I use the current knowledge (limited) I have to draft my team (if I even make the draft which I rarely do), and then watch the stats to make roster decisions throughout the year.

Too often fantasy sports gets a bad rap as a waste of time.  I'm here to tell you fantasy sports are NOT a waste of time and in fact can help promote critical thinking skills.  It is possible to become too involved and sink too much money into fantasy sports, but if you can avoid this, there's a great deal of critical thinking involved from the drafting of players and in-season roster changes.

Take baseball for example.  I'm currently in a heated battle for first place with a good grad school buddy of mine.  I was in first place early in the season with him being in first for a good chunk of the middle of the season.  Just recently I passed him again for first, but the lead is narrow with just a couple of weeks to go.  With the season coming to an end, how I use my pitched innings could make or break the season for me.  There are only a limited number of innings pitched one team can have, so down the stretch it's important to use the innings where they are likely to maximize points.  This is where home/away matchups come into play.  Day versus night games.  Which pitchers have an advantage today versus which are likely to prefer at a lower level?  Make the wrong choice late in the season and I give up valuable points that could cost me the league.

There is definitely a lot of guessing, but carefully monitoring trends and paying attention to the overall makeup of your team requires a heavy dose of critical thinking skills.  It may help to know the players, but my knowledge of players has dropped over the years.  I base all of my decisions on the stats...the numbers.  There is so much the numbers can tell if you spend a bit of time analyzing them.

So if you're yelling at your kids to stop playing fantasy sports, maybe reduce that or stop it all together.  Playing fantasy sports can help to develop your child's critical thinking skills they'll carry with them for the rest of their lives.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Vsauce YouTube Videos

There are an amazing number of excellent science-themed YouTube channels out there and this is a great thing!  There's no time to watch them all, but each one offers its own thing or has its own niche within the YouTube science community.  There are some I enjoy better than others.  Some are shorter while others are much longer in length.  Some focus on more general science topics, while others are very specific in the science field they discuss.

Today let me share with you Vsauce.  The Vsauce YouTube channel has the following for its channel description.

"Our World is Amazing"

Yes, yes it is!  Vsauce is a channel that explains some of the amazing things observed in the world.  Videos come out sporadically, but when they do they are excellent.  Recent video topics include Alzheimer's and the Brain, How the Earth Moves, and Math Magic.  Vsauce videos are typically longer in length with videos approximately 20 minutes in length.  Thus they go into much more depth than science channels with 3-5 minute videos.

I encourage you to check out Vsauce.  As I've said above, the videos are quite interesting and filled with science!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Space X Rocket Explosion

By now you've likely heard about the recent Space X rocket that exploded on the launch pad prior to launch.  If not, read this article to get a brief overview of what happened and the impact it may have on Space X in the future.

Space X Rocket Explosion

Fortunately no one was killed or hurt.  That's the good news.  The bad news is this is a setback for Space X and the future of space flight.  It won't stop future rocket launches by Space X, but no one likes to see a failure such as this as it results in delays and extra expenses that were not anticipated.

Scientists and investigators have yet to determine the exact cause, but what this does point out is how hard it is to launch something into space.  You can't just build a rocket in a few days and successfully launch it.  It take decades of research to design and launch successfully.  Even then there are still unexpected things that pop that may cause a failure.  Maybe one day humans will find a 100% failure-free method of launching something into space, but we are far from that day.  Until we reach that day we have to do our best and put in every fail-safe possible.  As John F. Kennedy once said, "we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

Friday, September 9, 2016

This Blog's History: Poison Ivy

In case you missed it, for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to the post I wrote on coming in contact with poison ivy and spreading the oils across my arms and legs.  Itchy.  It sucked.

An Introduction to Poison Ivy

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Getting on the Front Page of NASA's Website

A couple of weeks ago one of my former students found himself on the front page of NASA's website,  That is super cool!  Not just super cool, but super duper duper cool!  I admit that I am a bit jealous!!!

So how did he end up on the front page of NASA's website?  After high school he chose to major in physics and astronomy.  Immediately upon arriving he started talking to the professor in the physics and astronomy department and found one willing to involve undergraduates in research.  To be honest, finding a professor to work with an undergraduate student is not hard to do.  Most professors that I knew were very willing to involve undergraduates in research.  The project my former student worked on had him and others in the group designing experiments to be tested on a rocket.  Near launch day, an article was written and published on NASA's website and put on the front page.  Super cool!

If you're a high school student or an undergraduate college student looking to get involved in research, the best, and most effective way to do so is to talk to the professors in your the department you wish to work in.  Some may not have room in their lab but it is very likely you'll find someone willing to work with you and teach you the basics of research in the field.  That's how I started.  As an undergraduate, one day after astronomy class, I went up and talked to the professor.  Next thing I know, I have a summer job working on a radio telescope!  So give it a shot.  What's the worst that can happen?  The professor says no and you move on to the next professor.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Start of the New School Year

Every year my kids get older.  My wife and I tell them to stop getting older, but they just won't listen!  :-)  Last month they started a new school year.  My 9 year old is now in fourth grade and my 6 year old is in first grade.  They were both super excited to go back to school and I hope their love for school sticks with them as they go through puberty, middle school, high school, and beyond.

It's been amazing watching them grow over the years and seeing how they've grown as critical thinkers.  Some of the questions they ask are amazing.  Some are silly.  But the point is they continue asking questions and seeking the truth.  Asking questions is something my wife and I have always stressed with our daughters.  It's something I stress with my students at work.  Part of learning is asking questions and seeking/demanding the truth.  If we don't ask questions, we don't learn.  We don't advance forward as a society.

I have no idea in which career direction my kids will head as they work their way through school, but I'm ready to watch and find out.  Having kids is stressful.  It's expensive.  You worry a lot.  But in the end, it's an amazing experience.  Watching their big smiles on the first day of school this year is evidence of how awesome it is to have them as my daughters.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Physics Girl - YouTube Science Channel

It's been awhile since I've shared a science themed YouTube channel.  I came across the channel by Physics Girl several weeks ago and have since watched several of her physics themed videos.  They are excellent videos in which she explains complex physics concepts, interviews famous physicists, and throws a bit of humor into the videos.

Recent topics on her channel include anti-bubbles, exploding soda cans, and curving soccer balls.  I may have a Ph.D. in astrophysics, but I've learned a few things watching these videos.  Check out her channel!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Stargate Franchise

I fell in love with the Stargate franchise several years ago and both of my kids have fallen in love with it recently.  In fact, just the other day they were watching the last 10 min of an episode I was working out to.  It was a cliffhanger ending, so they demanded I wake them up early to watch the whole episode the next day while I was working out.  LOL!

If you're not familiar with the Stargate franchise, it started in 1994 with the Stargate movie starring Kurt Russell and James Spader.  It then spawned 3 TV series and 2 other direct to DVD movies.  The biggest of the series was the first series, Stargate:  SG-1, which spanned 10 seasons and over 200 episodes.  SG-1 also includes the two direct to DVD movies.  We just finished watching the series and the movies and my kids LOVED it!  So did I!  We just started watching the first season of the second series, Stargate:  Atlantis.  It's good too.  The third series, Stargate: Universe, is on our to-watch list at some point in the future, likely when we finish watching Atlantis.

If you or your kids are science fiction fans and you've never checked out Stargate, boy are you missing out!  Get to it, starting with the original Stargate movie.  Stargate:  SG-1 starts off where the original movie ends.  

Friday, September 2, 2016

This Blog's History: Should You Open Your Windows in a Tornado?

It's important to differentiate between facts and myths regarding tornadoes.  Your life literally depends on knowing the difference.  In case you missed it last time, for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a fact vs. myth post concerning tornadoes and home windows.

Should You Open Your Windows in a Tornado?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Kalahari Indoor Theme Park

When we visited the Wisconsin Dells this summer we did not stay at the Kalahari resort, although the resort we stayed at, Baker's Sunset Bay resort, offered free tickets to the Kalahari indoor theme park.  We had a few hours available between family reunion events, so we decided to head over and check it out.

My kids, wife, and I had a fun time during our three hour visit.  Our resort tickets gained us free access to the go-kart racing, mini golf course, ferris wheel, laser tag, rock climbing wall, and the ropes course.  We had a blast running around the laser tag course.  This was my first time at laser tag and I felt like a little kid again.  LOL!  We did laser tag 4 or 5 times.  There are other activities too, but they cost extra.  There's a bowling alley, golf simulator, and several arcade style games in which you earn tickets for prizes.  All of these cost extra.  

On the day we went it was very nice outside, so there were few people inside at the indoor theme park.  As a result, lines were non-existent.  In fact, for laser tag, we went from one session, straight to the next without waiting in line.  I'm guessing on days in which it is raining out, the indoor theme park is much busier.  I couldn't tell you how long lines would be, but I'd be a bit concerned about wasting a lot of time in line at this place.  I don't have any evidence for that, just my gut feeling.  

To conclude, if you have free tickets, take advantage of this indoor theme park!  No need to waste those free tickets!