Friday, December 29, 2017

This Blog's History: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

In case you missed it last time, for This Friday in This Blog's History, I send you back to the short post I wrote on Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  This is the start of a great fantasy book series I have thoroughly enjoyed over the years.  Can't go wrong with dragons, magic, knights, swords, and battles.  :-)

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Constructing Dominoes

The other night my wife and 10 year old were off at Girl Scouts meeting, so my 7 year old and I had the evening to ourselves.  After dinner we took a look in the game closet to pull out a couple of games.  We played a game of chess, followed by a game of checkers, and then found a small set of dominoes and set out constructing simple domino structures to topple.

One of our simple domino structures.

We had quite a bit of fun building different structures and then toppling them.  These were all very simple structures since the dominoes you see in the image above show ALL the dominoes we found in the house.  :-)  Nonetheless, fun was had.


Christmas has now passed but I see a set of more dominoes in the future with upcoming birthdays so we can build larger structures together!  There's quite a bit of science to constructing domino structures.  It's easy to build simple structures, but more complex structures take more careful planning.  There are several websites out there sharing domino construction hints and tips.



Now that we have a cat in the house, building more complex domino structures will be interesting, if not frustrating.  :-)


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Halloween Cow Costume

I missed posting this just after Halloween, but this year I decided to break out the make-up and the cow costume and dress up along with my kids for trick or treating this past Halloween.

I'm an evil cow with an evil cat.  :-)
I'm not just any cow.  I'm a cow that doesn't smile and carries an evil cat to pet so I look even more villainous!  LOL!  It's been a couple of years since I pulled out the cow costume, but with oldest daughter already in 5th grade, I'm not sure how many more Halloween's she'll dress up.  Thus I took advantage and joined in the trick or treating fun!  It was a great night for trick or treating.  Not too cold, no wind, and no rain.  Perfect night for a grown adult to walk around the neighborhood as a cow!  

The moral of this story is to have fun while you can!  Live life to its fullest and have fun with your kids, even if it embarrasses them a little.  Actually I don't think they were embarrassed at all.  They know me very well by now!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Misconceptions that Kill #6: Climate Change Denial

Today's post is the sixth in a continuing series of posts that focus on misconceptions that kill.  Today's misconception is that of climate change denial.  The science of climate change leaves no doubt that Earth's surface is warming and that warming is primarily caused by humans.  If I were to lose my mind and come out and deny climate change, I would not immediately be killed, but the attitude of climate change denial by an entire political party (GOP) in the U.S. leads to policy change or lack of policy change that harms the planet and leads to further death.

By denying climate change and failing to act now, drought has increased dramatically in some parts of the world while flooding has increased dramatically in other parts of the world.  Melting ice caps are flooding coastal regions causing many to lose their homes.  In some areas of the world, lack of access to food and drinking water caused by climate change leads to civil war and fleeing of refugees to other countries. 

This is not a problem for the future.  This is a problem RIGHT NOW.  Consider the many, many articles on how climate change denial is literally killing us RIGHT NOW.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS KILLING US RIGHT NOW

Climate Change Is Killing Us, Literally — And Here's How

CLIMATE CHANGE IS KILLING US

Climate Denialism Is Literally Killing Us

Climate Change Is Killing Us Right Now

It is clear that climate change is real and it is killing people all across the world.  To deny climate change is to take part in the slaughter of civilization.  Many misconceptions kill and climate change denial may very well top the list of misconceptions that literally kill. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Enjoy Today

Today is Christmas and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope everyone has a chance to relax and enjoy their day.  Or if not today, then tomorrow, or the next day.  Life can be tough at times and some days are tougher than others.  We all need days in which we can sit back, relax, and let life's worries slip away for a few hours.  If you need help, here's a picture of our kitty, Netwon, who has clearly let his life's worries slip away as he naps on our couch!

Newton taking a nap.

Friday, December 22, 2017

This Blog's History: Shrinking Ozone Hole

Quite often the news is very bleak, but every once in a while there's good news to report.  In case you missed it when I first posted this last month, for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to the post I wrote on the increasing evidence the ozone hole in Earth's stratosphere is finally shrinking after strong government regulations were first enacted in the late 1980s.

Shrinking Ozone Hole

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Outlander Books/TV Series

After visiting Scotland in June, my wife and I started reading the Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon and starting watching the TV series by the same name.  Both are excellent! We've both finished the first two books of the Outlander series and are just finishing the first season of the TV series.  There are currently nine published books in the series and the rumor is the 10th book will end the series.  The TV series is currently in its third season with each season covering one of the books.  Will the TV series make it to the 10th book?  I hope so!!!

Outlander TV Series

The Outlander books are very dense and take me about a month to read per book.  They are very well written and very detailed in setting up the scene to the point of the reader being right there witnessing the story in action.  Thus far, and again, we are just finishing the first season of the TV series, the TV series is very true to the books.  There are a few small changes here and there, but overall it tracks the first book very well.  

It's hard to describe the Outlander series.  It's a combination of time travel, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, and historical fiction.  It's a very unique book series and that's what makes it so interesting to read.  There really is nothing else like it.  If you really like Game of Thrones, well, you may or may not like Outlander.  They are very different books and TV episodes.  I won't give too much away, but major characters in Outlander do not die at the same rate (at least in the first 2 books) as the same rate as major characters dying in Game of Thrones.  Don't get attached to ANY character in Game of Thrones.  They'll likely die on the next page.  :-)

If you're looking for a set of books that are unique and quite likely very different from anything you've ever read, start with the first book in the Outlander series.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Object Visits the Solar System

This is a little over a month old, so not exactly a current event, but still super cool.  Astronomers have recently discovered an asteroid or comet that did not originate in our Solar System.  This is the first visitor to our Solar System ever discovered!  How cool is that?!?!?  Prior to discovering this object, every known asteroid and comet formed in the Solar System, along with the Sun, planets, and moons.  This is the very first object that we now know did not form in our Solar System.  This little object formed in a different solar system and was likely flung out, traveling through nearly empty space until it encountered our Solar System.  NASA has a great write-up on this that shows the projected future path of this object.

Small Asteroid or Comet 'Visits' from Beyond the Solar System

The object is now heading out of our Solar System, never to return.  A brief, but very, very interesting astronomical event!  Astronomy never ceases to amaze!

Past and future path of asteroid/comet originating outside the Solar System.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Did That Thanksgiving Turkey Make You Sleepy?

Did that Thanksgiving turkey you ate last month make you sleepy?  The answer is a definite 'NO'.  I previously discussed this three years ago on this blog, but it's a misconception that continues to live on, so let me discuss it again, this time adding a personal story.  Let's start by looking at why this misconception exists.

Are you sleepy yet?  :-)

Turkey contains an amino acid, tryptophan, that can have a sedative effect if consumed in large enough quantity.  The key words here are "in large enough quantity".  There is some truth hidden in this misconception, in that there is the amino acid in turkey that can lead to a sedative effect, but you will never consume enough to actually become sleepy due to the tryptophan.  You'd have to eat a large amount of turkey for this effect to be real.  Far more than you'd eat even when gorging yourself at Thanksgiving. 

Turkey is not the only food item containing tryptophan.  Chicken, beef, and pork are other meats that contain similar quantities of tryptophan, yet are not associated with sleepiness.  Turkey is associated with sleepiness because adults often do feel sleepy after the Thanksgiving meal and turkey is not consumed nearly as much as other meats throughout the year.  It's a great example of correlation but not causation.  Sleepiness can be caused by many factors.  Many people gorge themselves at Thanksgiving and often eat more than they normally eat.  This can be caused by eating too many carbohydrates, drinking too much alcohol (common at Thanksgiving), getting up early to prepare the Thanksgiving meal, and plopping on the couch in a relaxed position.

Did I fall asleep after the Thanksgiving meal?  You bet I did!  We all sat on the couch around 5 PM and turned on one of those sappy Hallmark Channel Christmas movies that all have the exact same plot!  You know the ones.  I was bored, stuffed full, and laying down on the sofa couch, very relaxed.  Five minutes into the movie I was asleep and woke up at the end of the movie feeling quite refreshed!  But it wasn't the turkey that caused me to fall asleep.  I consumed far too little tryptophan for that to happen.

If you'd like to learn more, Snopes has a great article on the turkey vs. sleepiness misconception.

The Big Sleep: Does eating turkey make people drowsy?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Moscow Ballet Great Russian Nutcracker

After Thanksgiving this year we had the opportunity to take our kids to see the Moscow Ballet Great Russian Nutcracker at a local theatre.  A great show that we all loved!  Tickets were reasonably priced as well for a well known show and a major theatre.  We sat up in the balcony about halfway back (still great seats!) and paid a bit over $200 for 4 tickets, including all fees.  I say reasonably priced not because $200 for a family is cheap (it's not!), but compared to typical theatre tickets for major shows, this was on the lower end of what one might pay.  For example, we really want to take our kids to Wicked, but ticket prices are much higher and after taxes/fees, we are looking at $350-$380 for a family of four.  My wife and I have seen Wicked before, but would love to take our kids.  However, like most people, we are not made of money and a cost approaching $400 is probably too much for us at this time.

Anyways, back to the Moscow Ballet Great Russian Nutcracker.  A beautiful, amazing show I highly recommend.  There are still tickets available this year in many states, depending on where you live.

MOSCOW BALLET'S GREAT RUSSIAN NUTCRACKER

During the show I looked over at my 7 year old and she had her face resting in the palm of her hands propped up with her elbows on her knees, completely mesmerized by what she was seeing.  My 10 year old absolutely loved the show and had been looking forward to this for some time.  I'm a big fan of the theatre, despite the higher costs, and I want my kids to experience the theatre as well.  We just can't drop $400 several times a year to go!  Once a year type event?  That fits pretty well for our family. 




Friday, December 15, 2017

This Blog's History: Vaccinating Your Pet

I've discussed many times on this blog the importance of vaccinating yourself and your kids against easily preventable diseases, but it's also important to vaccinate your pet.  If you missed it early, today, for This Friday in This Blog's History, I point you back to a post I wrote on the importance of vaccinating your pet.  Pets are part of the family too and should be treated with proper health care just like the humans in the family.

Importance of Vaccinating Your Pet

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Great Science Fair Resource

I've probably shared this site before, but it's a really good one so I don't mind sharing it more than once!  My 10 year old's school science fair is quickly approaching and she's already chosen a project and started on it.  Keeping it secret for now until the fair gets here.  I will tell you that she's really excited for this year's science fair, her third.  Anyways, when searching for ideas, I pointed her to the following website and let her roam through and pick out interesting project ideas.

Science Fair Project Ideas

Some of the 'projects' listed are better described as science demonstrations and not a good choice for an official science fair.  For a science fair you want to setup an experiment that tests something and collects data.  Science demonstrations, although very cool, often don't fit this experiment/data collection criteria.  But there are many, many project ideas on this site that setup an experiment and require data collection.  You can also search by project type and grade level to help narrow down your search.

After my daughter selected about 20 different possible projects (only browsed half of the total projects on the site!) we narrowed it down a bit further to remove any that required expensive equipment or seemed less likely doable given the experiment requirements.  She narrowed it down to 5 or 6 and then spent several days debating which to choose.

If your child is interested in a science fair (and encourage them if the school has one), I highly recommend this website as a great way to pick up a few possible project ideas.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Misconceptions that Kill #5: Essential Oils Cure Cancer

Today I present the fifth in an on-going series of misconceptions that can literally kill you.  Today's misconception focuses on the myth of the cancer curing properties of essential oils.  Before getting into the details, let me be very clear that essential oils have ZERO cancer curing properties.  They do nothing of the sort.

As described on Wikipedia "an essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants."  In other words, it's a liquid that smells.  Maybe it's a pleasant smell or maybe it isn't.  This depends on the user.  If you want to purchase them to make your room smell nice, feel free to do that.  However, there are probably far cheaper ways to make your room smell nice than essential oils.  Essential oils tend to have a higher price tag due to their "healing properties".  Again, essential oils have no healing properties.  The problem with essential oils is too many argue essential oils can heal pretty much any ailment known to humans, including cancer.  This is where the danger comes in.

If someone decides on an alternative treatment to cure cancer, this is a problem.  Essential oils provide almost no help to any ailment, let alone cancer, other than often smelling pleasant.   Western medicine is ALWAYS the better option.  Cancer treatments can be expensive and too often cancer patients are duped into spending money on essential oil treatments that do nothing.  If they are receiving traditional chemotherapy and radiation at the same time, the chances of any harm by essential oils is limited.  But if patients forego chemotherapy and radiation in favor of essential oils, the essential oils will literally kill them via medical inaction. 

The harm is not a direct result of essential oil use, but the indirect result of skipping known medical treatments that work in favor of some more "holistic healing".  If the word "holistic" is in the treatment plan, run away.  Run far away!  It's possible essential oils may have a direct negative effect on an individual.  If you do a search for essential oil harm, there are all sorts of stories of skin burns and other serious injuries and possible deaths.  None of these sites is what I would consider a reputable, evidence based research site, so I'm not sure what, if any, direct harm there is from essential oils.  What I will say, again, is that essential oils do harm as a result of people using them in place of known medicine.  This is why the misconception of essential oils having healing powers can literally kill. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Can You Play Basketball on Mars?

The other day at dinner my 7 year old suddenly blurts out that you can't play basketball on Mars.  The comment came out of nowhere so I asked her why that was.  She's 7, so she didn't have a perfectly well thought out answer, but it was interesting seeing her wheels churn as she offered an explanation and provided us with some interesting dinner time conversation!  She had the right idea that gravity is different on Mars which is certainly going to make the game of basketball different.  So what are those differences? 

I did a quick google search and the average 'hang time' of a person is 0.53 seconds.  This means that a person who jumps upward is in the air for 0.53 seconds before landing back on the ground.  Earth's gravitational force pulls a person back to the ground.  Mars is a smaller planet and therefore has a smaller gravitational force.  The acceleration of gravity on Mars is 2.64 times smaller than Earth's.  This means that when you jump off the ground, gravity doesn't pull you back down as hard, meaning you'll be in the air for a longer period of time.  How long?  I won't run through the math, but it works out that the time you are in the air is inversely proportional to the gravity.  If the gravity is three times lower, your 'hang time' is three times greater.  This means that a hang time of 0.53 seconds on Earth becomes 1.59 seconds on Mars.

Initially that seems great for basketball!  But maybe not.  Less gravity means more 'hang time' and a greater jump height.  It means shooting the ball is very different as the ball will go higher and stay in the air longer than on Earth.  Does this make basketball on Mars impossible?  No.  Does it make it more difficult?  Depends on how you look at it.  If you are used to playing basketball on Earth, playing basketball on Mars will be very difficult...at first.  Once you make the adjustment and get more practice, you'll adapt and playing on Mars will become the new normal. 

Anyways, interesting dinner conversation at our house.  It beats the typical conversation of why the cat always poops right after we clean his litter.  :-)

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Science of J-Turn Intersections

There is a proposal to put in a J-Turn intersection on a major highway near where I live.  The intersection in question is one that has had increased traffic over the years but currently doesn't have a light or any other easy way for traffic crossing or turning onto the highway to do so safely.  The easy, and cheapest, solution is a traffic light.  But is this the best solution?  Since a J-Turn intersection is not common in this area, and given it's a change to the intersection, naturally there is a ton of outrage at this proposal.  So what is a J-Turn intersection?  The image below describes these intersections very well and comes from the Missouri Department of Transportation.

J-Turn intersection (Missouri Department of Transportation).
A J-Turn intersection creates a far safer method of crossing the highway and turning onto the highway, while at the same time keeping traffic flowing.  A stoplight slows traffic down, but this is not necessarily a good thing.  There's no way to completely remove traffic accidents, but the goal should be to limit the possibility of traffic accidents as much as possible.  J-Turns are not just a crazy idea someone came up with.  They've been researched extensively and you can read more about the safety of these intersections by going to the Missouri Department of Transportation link below.  The evidence is quite clear they reduce traffic accidents.

Evidence of J-Turn Safety

Here's the deal.  The particular intersection where I live is one I've crossed many times and one that can be very dangerous at specific times of the day.  I want something done with this intersection, but the last thing I want is a stoplight.  More stoplights halt traffic flow and increase driver angst/anger.  This results in drivers getting more frustrated with additional stops and additional lost time.  This increases poor decision making and results in drivers taking risks to beat a red light to save time.  This puts drivers and bystanders in a dangerous position.  Why put in a stoplight if there is a far more effective method to increasing safety AND keeping traffic flowing at the same time?

There are additional factors to traffic flow design as well.  Although safety is often the primary factor, traffic flow plays a big role in economic development of an area.  There are many times I've chosen a particular gas station or store to stop at versus another based on the ability to get there given poorly designed road access.  Keeping traffic flowing, yet safe, can increase economic development in an area. 

Sure, a stoplight could be put up, but this isn't always the best decision.  It's important to recognize that many factors must be considered when re-doing an intersection.  Even if the only factor is safety, stoplights do not always increase safety, or if they do, there may still be other intersection designs that increase safety beyond what a stoplight can do.  Another intersection option is a roundabout.  I LOVE roundabouts!  They keep traffic flowing and have been shown to work in high traffic areas.  They are becoming more common in the U.S., but they are all over Europe and they work extremely well! 

I'll end with this.  It's easy to be outraged because a change is made to traffic intersection.  But that outrage is often not founded with solid evidence.  When designing roads and intersections, emotion needs to be tossed out the window and replaced with solid research and evidence of what works best.  Before being outraged when presented with a change, think through what this change means.  Too often people are outraged at what helps them and society. 


Friday, December 8, 2017

This Blog's History: Misconceptions that Kill (Flu Vaccine Misconceptions)

I recently started a new series on this blog about misconceptions that can literally kill.  In case you missed the first post in this series, I now bring it back to you for This Friday in This Blog's History.  There's a misconception that the flu vaccine can be harmful and/or is ineffective.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Thousands die in the U.S. every year from flu complications.  A vaccine can help save your life and it's easy to get.  To read further on this, click the link below to read my original post on the topic.

Misconceptions that Kill #1: The Flu Vaccine is Ineffective

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Jeff Corwin Live

Last month we had the opportunity to see Jeff Corwin live.  I'll admit, prior to getting tickets (for free!) to this show, I had no idea who Jeff Corwin was.  He's a biologist who has hosted several TV series, including the current running "Ocean Treks with Jeff Corwin" on ABC.  He was in one episode of CSI: Miami (the one CSI series I haven't seen) in which he played himself and helped investigators remove a human foot from inside a live crocodile (according to his Wikipedia page).  Multi-talented!  :-)

At the show we attended, Corwin brought out several species of mammals and reptiles and talked quite a bit about each.  He spent a great deal of time encouraging conservation and highlighting conservation success stories (American alligator, grey wolves, etc.), but also quite a bit of time talking about species that are struggling to survive and may soon go extinct.  It was an excellent show that my two daughters loved.  Their eyes were glued to the stage and as I looked over from time to time, not once did they appear to be bored. 

After the presentation Corwin opened things up to the audience for a Q&A session.  He probably spent 30-45 minutes answering questions, walking around the crowd and making sure as many kids as possible were able to ask a question.  My 7 year old was able to ask a question about the number of wolf species in the world today.  She really enjoyed the end of the presentation when Crowin brought out two grey wolves (my favorite was the screaming armadillo)!  One of the more interesting parts of the Q&A was when Corwin answered a question about what the average person could do to help in conservation efforts.  He responded very bluntly by asking back "Did you vote in the last election???"  He didn't beat around the bush and spoke very candidly about the need for everyone to vote.  He didn't focus too much on the current administration other than stating there are many that care very little about conservation efforts.  He turned the blame on voters, and more so to those who sat home and didn't vote.  He was very blunt about this and I appreciated it.  It was a message people needed to hear.  He also didn't beat around the bush on the topic of evolution, simply stating that evolution is real whether you want to believe it or not.  He said you can sit there and deny evolution, but it doesn't do a thing to take away the truth of it.  Yes, yes, yes!!!

After the show we purchased his book, 100 Heartbeats, and waited in line for awhile to have it signed.

Haven't read it yet, but 100 Heartbeats is now on my to-read list!
Overall this was an excellent show that my kids loved.  I'm very grateful this community was able to bring him in and speak to what was a quite a large crowd.  Now I'll have to check out his current TV series!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

I love science fiction and fantasy books.  My to-read list is so long that I'll never finish it in my lifetime and that's without adding any new books to it.  I can't help but keep adding books to it, so I just have to accept the fact I will never complete this list.  Oh well.  I recently finished reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Dragons of Autumn Twilight is the first in a trilogy and one of many, many books in the Dragonlance universe.  The most common books people read in this universe are the ones written by Weis & Hickman, who created the universe and wrote several of the books.  I've read this book before, many years ago.  This series is one of my favorites in the fantasy book genre, so I decided to read it again.  There are dwarves, elves, magi, half-elves, barbarians, dragons, etc!  What's not to love!?!?

If you have a fantasy book lover in your family or know someone looking for a good fantasy read, point them in the direction of the Dragonlance universe.  In my opinion, you can't go wrong reading a book in this universe.  I recommend starting with Dragons of Autumn Twilight and reading this trilogy first, but you can really start anywhere.  Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Misconceptions that Kill #4: Little Sleep is Okay

Here is the fourth in an on-going series on misconceptions that can literally kill you.  Today's misconception looks at the harmful misconception that some people can function on just a couple of hours of sleep per night.  The amount of sleep one needs to remain healthy varies by age.  There's the general rule of 8 hours per night, but children and teenagers typically need more.  An adequate sleep range for adults is 7 to 9 hours, but if you are getting a bit less than 7 hours because you are naturally waking up (as opposed to forcing yourself to wake up), you are likely fine.

Consistently getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night is not healthy, even if you feel you are functioning fine.  WebMD has a great site listing the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss

That is quite the list and shows that lack of sleep can literally kill you.  Hand-eye coordination drops considerably on lack of sleep and one's reaction time increases to dangerous levels.  Driving or operating heavy machinery on lack of sleep can literally kill you or someone else near you.  According to the CDC, sleep deprivation caused 800+ car accident deaths in 2013.  This is serious business. 

Even if you don't feel the effects of sleep deprivation, consistently getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night is putting you in direct danger that could result in serious injury or death.  It's very simple.  You are NOT fine when you lack sleep, even if you feel fine. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Brain Box: Inventions

Over the last year my 10 year has received a handful of Brain Box games.  I've previously written about the Science & Nature Brain Box game.  While killing some time on a lazy Sunday afternoon after a soccer game was canceled we decided to crack open the Inventions edition of Brain Box.

Brain Box Inventions

The goal of the game is to answer a question based on observing a card that details a specific invention.  In the card are various facts and images of the invention.  You have 10 seconds to view the card and then you roll the die and answer the question number associated with the die roll.  If you answer the questions correctly, you keep the card.  The person with the most cards at the end of a defined time period wins.  Seems easy, but remembering facts on a card is difficult when you only have 10 seconds.  I 'won' five cards against my kids.

I earned five cards.

Pretty good, until you compare it to the six cards my 7 year old won and the eight cards my 10 year old won.  LOL!  These Brain Box games are very informative and a great way to kill some time but not get involved in a 3 hour game (such as Risk). 

  

Friday, December 1, 2017

This Blog's History: The Myth of Poisoned Halloween Candy

Let's face it.  It's December first and we both know you still have uneaten Halloween candy in your house.  Don't worry though, it's still good.  :-)  For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a post I wrote on the myth of poisoned Halloween candy that originated in the 1980s and 1990s. 

The Myth of Poisoned Halloween Candy

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Headbanz

A couple of weekends ago we had a soccer game scheduled for a Sunday afternoon, but alas the weather was poor and the game was canceled.  We filled the time playing a few board games together as a family.  One of the games we played was Headbanz, a family game in which you wear a headband, attach a card to it, and have to guess what is on the card by asking the other players yes or no questions.

Playing Headbanz

The game comes with a couple of cards of sample questions to ask, so my 7 year old starts reading down the list of questions.  I can't remember what her card was, but the questions went like this.

Her:  Is it an animal?
Me:  Yes
Her:  Is it a pet?
Me:  No
Her:  Is it big?
Me:  No
Her:  Does it have hair?
Me:  No
Her:  Is it a vegetable?
Me:  ....

LOL!  Critical thinking gone out the window in favor of reading off the card in order.  We had a good laugh over the possible vegetable animal on her card.  :-)  We played for a few rounds and it killed some time on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sci-gasm Podcast

I came across a new science themed podcast a few months ago and its another pretty good podcast that focuses on science.  It's called the Sci-gasm Podcast.


It's a great science podcast that discusses current events in science and science misconceptions in an exciting, humor-filled way.  This is not, however, a podcast for young kids.  Adult language is used and you should know this before playing it in front of your kids.  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Shrinking Ozone Hole

There is more and more evidence the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking, detailed in the Washington Post article below.


This is a good thing!  The hole in the ozone layer does NOT cause global warming, as is often stated.  Global warming and climate change are the result of increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere that absorb infrared radiation and warm Earth's surface.  Ozone is located in the stratosphere of Earth's atmosphere.  This is a the layer above the troposphere (where we live and where climate change takes place).  It was discovered in 1984 (article mistakenly states 1987) that the ozone layer was weakening, with a hole forming over Antarctica. 

A weakening ozone is a bad thing as the ozone absorbs UV radiation from the Sun.  This extra radiation reaching Earth's surface results in more sun burns and skin cancers.  Chemical compounds containing chlorine and bromine can break apart the ozone molecule and weaken this UV protecting layer of our atmosphere.  Fortunately governments across the world recognized the problem, believed the scientists researching this, and made efforts to limit the amount of chlorine and bromine molecules released into the atmosphere.  This started with the Montreal Protocol in 1987 that drastically limited the release of these ozone harmful chemicals.  We've seen a strengthening of the ozone layer for several years now and if the trend continues, the ozone layer will return to its normal levels a few decades from now, later this century.

So what does this all mean?  It means that we have the ability to fix an environment we've altered, but it takes some political willpower.  This happened in 1987, a mere 3 years after the ozone hole was discovered.  If the ozone hole was discovered today, in today's political climate, would anything have been done?  It's hard to say, but it seems unlikely.  Given the constant climate change denial by today's Republican party, I can only assume they'd deny a hole in the ozone.

The fact we did something about the ozone hole gives me some hope, that soon, and hopefully before it's too late, we'll have the political willpower to address climate change.  For now though, I'll have to accept the good news of a shrinking ozone hole.  

Monday, November 27, 2017

Importance of Vaccinating Your Pet

I've written many times on this blog about the importance of vaccinating yourself and your children.  But what about your pets?  Should you vaccinate your pets, and if so, why?  The answer is a definite yes.  It is just as important to vaccinate your pet as it is you and your children.  Vaccinations for pets are readily available and can often be found at low cost, especially if you adopt a pet from an animal shelter.  When we adopted our cat, Newton, from the animal shelter, all vaccinations were covered as part of the very low adoption fee.  A win-win situation.  So why vaccinate?

For starters, vaccinating your pet drastically increases the chance your pet will lead a long, healthy life.  For cats, the main vaccines given are for feline distemper, feline herpes, and rabies.  These are major diseases that could lead to the early death of your cat.  Are there side effects of vaccinations?  Sure, just as there are for human vaccinations, but these side effects are almost always minor in nature and short term.  The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site.  That's a small price to pay to provide protection against serious complications or death.

The rabies vaccine is quite possibly the most important vaccine and some states require this vaccination by law.  Rabies is a deadly disease that can be passed to humans through the saliva of an infected animal.  Rabies is almost always deadly.  Fortunately, due to high vaccination rates in pets, humans rarely contract rabies, but it does happen.  There are typically 1 to 3 cases of rabies in humans per year.  This is very low, but it is very, very rare that anyone who contracts rabies survives.  There is no cure once symptoms prevent themselves.  If you have any suspicion you've been bitten by a rabid animal, head to the doctor ASAP!  There is a vaccine you can receive that can prevent the disease.  In some cases, individuals have woken up to a bat in their room or a bat in their child's room.  Even if you are not sure you've been bitten and can't find bite marks, go get the rabies vaccine immediately.  It's not worth the risk of certain death.

To conclude, if you have a pet and have not yet vaccinated your pet, please do so.  Give you and your pet the protection needed to prevent very preventable diseases.  This will improve the quality of life for both you and your pet.  Besides, who could NOT want to make sure this cute little guy below lives a long healthy life???


Friday, November 24, 2017

This Blog's History: We Got a Cat!!!

In case you missed the pictures of our very cute cat, I'm pointing you back to them for This Friday in This Blog's History.

We named him 'Newton' and he's super cute!

We Got a Cat!!!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Misconceptions that Kill #3: Seat Belts Make Vehicle Evacuation More Difficult

Today's misconception is the third in an on-going series on misconceptions that kill.  For most people, it seems obvious that seat belts in vehicles drastically decrease the chance of dying or being seriously injured in a car accident.  I have, however, heard from more than one person that wearing a seat belt can cause serious injury or even result in your death.  Those I've heard this from do not wear seat belts for this various reason.  So let's take a look at this argument. 


The CDC has a great site presenting the data that makes it clear seat belts save lives.  Wearing your seat belt does not mean you can't be killed by driving, but it drastically reduces the odds of dying or being seriously injured in an accident.


In 2009, 33,000 people were killed in vehicle accidents in the U.S.  Half of those were not wearing a seat belt.  Given far more than half of drivers wear a seat belt, this statistic shows you are far more likely to die while driving when not wearing a seat belt compared to wearing a seat belt.  

Let's get back to the evacuation argument.  It's possible that a driver needs to evacuate the vehicle as soon as possible.  Maybe the car is on fire or the car is sinking in a body of water.  Evacuating quickly could mean the difference between life and death.  Taking off your seat belt is an extra step, but does this extra step increase your odds of dying?  Snopes.com takes a look at this and says no.


Does taking your seat belt off increase the evacuation time?  Yes, that part is probably true, but the time is very short, and there's no evidence a seat belt has prevented someone from escaping a deadly fire or sinking vehicle.  There's anecdotal evidence, but that's not real evidence.  Was it really the seat belt or something else?  Was the person injured and immobile?  Was the dash or steering wheel crushed/moved to trap the body?  

But let's say that there was a documented case of a seat belt preventing someone from escaping.  Does that mean we shouldn't wear seat belts?  No!  Even if there is a death or two from wearing a seat belt, seat belts prevent far, far more deaths than cause them.  Not wearing a seat belt is a death wish.  The misconception that seat belts can prevent you from escaping a burning or sinking vehicle is one that can literally kill if you believe in it.  If you don't wear your seat belt for fear of being trapped in a burning car, you open yourself up to the far more likely event of dying in a blunt force car collision.  

Important!  When wearing your seat belt, be sure to wear it properly.  Never have the belt cut across your neck and always wear the shoulder harness.  Wearing a seat belt incorrectly can lead to one's death.  For more information on correctly wearing your seat belt, go here:


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Citizen Science Projects

Yesterday I talked about how my 10 year old is getting ready to start her project for this coming year's science fair at her school.  I encourage all students to participate in a science fair, even if they are not quite sure what to do or have little to no science knowledge.  Participating and getting your hands dirty, so to speak, is the best way to get involved in science.  If your school is not participating in a science fair, or if it's the wrong time of the year but you still want to do a science project, the good news is there are many citizen science projects out there to get involved in.

Citizen science projects are science projects setup by professional scientists who have done the leg work of setting up the experiment and often acquiring the data.  In many cases, the data set is so large that it's impossible for one scientist, or even a team of scientists to analyze the data in any reasonable amount of time.  Therefore thousands of citizen scientists are needed to help analyze the data.  This is where you, the non-scientist and possibly aspiring scientist, comes in.  The professional scientists setup an online platform to deliver the data to you and ask you to analyze the data.  This may seem impossible, but it's actually quite easy.  The citizen science projects I've worked on, mostly through Galaxy Zoo, provide the necessary training for you to accurately analyze the data.

Citizen science projects used to be few and far between and the ones that existed often required you to have a significant knowledge base to get started.  That's not true anymore which means more people can get involved in real scientific research!  I came across this list of citizen science projects at National Geographic.

Citizen Science Projects

The projects on this site range from astronomy to biology to environmental science, and more!  So check out the link, find a project you find interesting, and get started!  It's that easy! 


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Science Fair Project Season

We are nearing the end of 2017, which means we've now entered the start of science fair season in many areas.  My daughter's science fair is typically in late January or early February so she's started thinking about what to do.  This will be her third year doing a science fair project.  The first year she tested plant growth from different liquids.  Last year she swabbed various objects in the house and tested for bacterial growth.  This was a very interesting project, allowing her to see which swabbed objects resulted in greater bacteria growth. 

She hasn't quite decided what to do this year, but she's gathering ideas from various websites, including this one: 

Middle School Science Fair Project Ideas

As my daughter grows older, science fair projects move from simpler science demos to actual experiments.  The goal of a science fair project is to setup an experiment to acquire data.  Science demos are cool, but not the goal of a science fair project.  Students are expected to design an experiment, collect data, and then analyze that data to arrive at a conclusion.  Analyzing the data is probably the tougher part of a project for kids at this age.  But science fairs are a fantastic opportunity for kids to get involved in the scienctific process!!! 

If you're a parent and your kid brings home science fair information, please consider participating.  Even if you don't know what you're doing, science fairs are a great way to get involved in science!  Some of the best science is done when you don't know what you're doing at the start.  That's when the investigation begins and the learning proceeds!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Misconceptions that Kill #2: Vaccines Cause Autism

I've written several times in past years on the importance of vaccinating yourself and your kids from very deadly diseases.  Unfortunately there is a very deadly misconception that vaccines cause autism.  The science is very clear on this.  Vaccines do NOT cause autism.  Why does this misconception exist?  There are a couple of reasons.

For starters, in 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a British medical researcher, published a study linking the MMR vaccine to autism in kids.  Long story short, the article was retracted when the study could not be reproduced and Wakefield was later found guilty of intentional fraud with the goal of financial gain.  In other words, he cherry picked his data to produce the result he wanted for his own financial gain.

Further studies have found no connection at all between vaccines and autism.  But the damage is done.  There is a significant portion of the population that is fearful of vaccines and much of this fear comes from Wakefield's 'study'.  The result is the return of diseases that were nearly eradicated.  Measles is making a comeback, particularly so in certain regions of the U.S. where there are a larger number of vaccinated children.

Another reason leading to this misconception is the timing in which autism is often diagnosed in children.  Autism is typically diagnosed right around the time kids are receiving vaccines.  But this does not imply causation.  Many studies have analyzed the MMR vaccine and there is no evidence whatsoever this leads to autism in children.

Measles is a disease that kills.  Across the world in 2015, over 134,000 people died of measles, mostly in African countries where the rate of vaccination is very low.  Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in the U.S. in the 1960s, several million people were diagnosed with measles and deaths numbered in the hundreds every year.  A simple, extremely safe, vaccine basically dropped those numbers down to zero.  In recent years the U.S. has seen an increases in measles diagnoses.  Numbers are still low, but it's scary to think we have the ability to completely eradicate this disease but people have the misconception the measles vaccine (and others) cause autism in children.

Therefore the 'vaccines cause autism' misconception is one that literally kills.

Friday, November 17, 2017

This Blog's History: The Europa Clipper Mission

For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to the post I wrote on the very cool Europa Clipper Mission.  Although still in the very early stages, there is a lot of excitement for this mission.  For more details, check out the original post below. 

Europa Clipper Mission

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Skeptic Magazine - Zombies

I've previously mentioned, a couple of years ago, that Skeptic Magazine is a great source for skepticism and great for early Sunday morning ready with a coffee when the rest of the house is still groggy!  I particularly enjoy the Junior Skeptic section at the end of each issue that has several pages devoted to a myth of some kind.  The myth in the latest issue is zombies.

First page of the zombie article in Skeptic Magazine.

Of course zombies are not real, but the article focuses on the history of zombies.  How did the idea of a zombie come to be?  Where did it originate?  How did zombies become popular today?  When did zombies first start appearing in print and films?  It's a very interesting and informative article on zombies and a great way to start off a Sunday!  I highly encourage anyone looking for great skeptic reading to check out Skeptic Magazine.  It is well worth the subscription cost!!!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Family Movie Night - The Sandlot

Recently, for family movie night, we checked out The Sandlot from the local library.  My wife and I have both watched this movie several times.  It came out in the early 1990s when we were both kids approaching teenagers.  It's been awhile since I've watched this movie in full, but it is AMAZING!  Such a great movie!

The Sandlot kids.

The plot of the movie is basically just a group of kids playing baseball one summer and figuring out how to get a ball out of someone's yard.  That's it!  But it is so well done!  I don't even know how to explain it!  Just watch it.  It is that good!  Kids loved it!  I think they were a bit weirded out by how excited my wife and I were to watch it again.  LOL!

I also learned there are two sequels to this movie with a whole set of new kids.  Haven't watched them and have no plans to watch them.  They receive far, far lower ratings than the original.  So next time you are having a family movie night, check out The Sandlot.  A great movie that all in your family will enjoy!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Misconceptions that Kill #1: The Flu Vaccine is Ineffective

Today's post is a first in a new series titled "Misconceptions that Kill".  I'm starting with the misconception the flu vaccine is ineffective (or not necessary).  I typically publish a post on the flu vaccine each year in the fall since this is the typical flu vaccine season.  I admit that I never received a flu vaccine as a child and didn't take the flu seriously until my first daughter was born.  Each year, for the last ten years, I make the effort to vaccinate myself and my kids against flu.


Too often people don't get the flu vaccine, using the excuse of lack of time.  Many others avoid the flu vaccine with the misconception it is not very effective.  It is definitely true that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from year to year and it is never 100% effective.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu vaccine typically reduces your chances of contracting the flu by 40-60%.  This does not mean you have a 50/50 chance of getting the flu.  It means your odds of getting the flu are about half what they would be if you didn't get the flu.  Even during a year in which the effectiveness is lower, you are still reducing your chance of contracting the flu.

Why is getting the flu vaccine important?  According to the CDC, anywhere from 3,000 to 50,000 people in the U.S. die each year due to the flu.  That's a lot!  Many are the elderly and very young with weaker immune systems, but some are healthy adults.  Does a flu vaccine prevent all deaths?  No, even with a flu vaccine, some may die, but the numbers are drastically reduced.

To conclude, the ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine is a nasty misconception that literally kills.  Go out and get your flu vaccine.  Even if it is late in the flu season, still go and get the vaccine as some protection is ALWAYS better than none.

For more information on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, go to the vaccine effectiveness information site at the CDC.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Solar System Project

My 10 year old recently had an assignment to build a model of the solar system for her 5th grade class.  Here's what she put together, mostly on her own.

My 10 yr old's Solar System model.
She did an excellent job!.  Her and mom went to the craft store to look for supplies.  They went the easy approach and just purchased a Solar System model kit that already had the spherical foam balls cut to various sizes.  Hey, don't knock us!  There's only so much time in the life of two working parents with two kids doing 18,000 things at once!  :-)  Cutting foam spheres out of a block did not fit in the schedule!  My 10 year old looked up the colors of the planets and did all of the painting. 

At first I was all about helping her figure out how to make the planet sizes and distances to scale.  That quickly ended when I realized how impossible that would be on a board this size.  The inner planets would be very squished together and the outer planets spread very far apart.  Even sizes would be difficult, if not impossible, as 1,300 Earths fit inside Jupiter.  That would require a HUGE ball for Jupiter or a really, really tiny ball for Earth (and the other terrestrial planets. 

One note in the image above.  It looks like the last planet is labeled as Pluto.  The bottom part of the image is cut off.  There's a tag for Neptune (not shown) and a small sphere for Pluto (not shown; dwarf planet). 

In the end my 10 year old had a lot of fun with this project.  She looked up and picked out a fact for each of the planets and had a blast constructing it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

This Blog's History: Unicorn Poop Slime

In case you missed it last time, for This Friday in This Blog's History, I point you back to the post I wrote on the unicorn poop slime my daughters made while I was out of town.  The post even includes a video of me playing with the slime.  :-)

Unicorn Poop Slime

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Kitty Named Newton

Just posting a few pictures of our kitty, Newton.  :-)

Newton exploring on his first day at our house.

Demon cat or cat moving head to fast for camera?  Hmmm....time will tell.  :-)

More exploring.

Even more exploring.

Newton taking a rest after hours of exploring his new home!

How cute is that?  Paws up on food bowl!

If you can't tell, we love our new kitty, Newton!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Evolution Misconception #8: Evolution Always Increases Survival

Today's post is the eight in an on-going series of posts on common evolution misconceptions.  Most people have likely heard the phrase "survival of the fittest" and then incorrectly make the assumption evolution always promotes the advancement of the fittest and the survival of a species.  Although this may be true in many cases, evolution does not always result the survival of the fittest.  There are several examples of this in various species.  One of the best examples of this is selfish DNA. 

Selfish DNA can spread through a genome but provides no positive benefit to the host and can often result in negative benefits to the host.  Hemophilia, a blood clotting disorder is caused by selfish DNA.  Thus this does not fit the "survival of the fittest" phrase.  A great article with far more detail on this is here:

Evolution myths: Evolution promotes the survival of species

One interesting item of note in this article is how selfish individuals can dominate a group and result in the harm of the group.  It's happened to all of us.  How many times have you been part of a group or collaborative project in which one individual dominates to the detriment of the group?  This is not all that different from selfish DNA. 

Although "survival of the fittest" plays a large role in evolution, it is not the end all be all. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

I Made Pacos!

Sometimes it's the small things in life that light up your day.  One day a few weeks about, that small thing in life for me was making pacos.  Yep, you read that right.  It is not a typo for 'taco'.  I made pacos! 

Mmmm....pacos!

That's breakfast taco filling with a taco shell replaced by a pancake!  Delicious!  Don't knock it until you've tried it!  Kids loved them, so my advice for all parents out there is to be creative and make pacos for dinner one night!  Your kids will love you forever for it!  Let your kids help you.  

If I remember correctly my wife had the kids at soccer practice, so I was in charge of having dinner ready to go when they got home.  If you lived in our house you'd know how important it is to have dinner ready to go on the table when soccer is over.  Those at practice have the hangries, including me when I have soccer duty!  Pacos satisfied those hangries on this day.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Septoberfest

Last month while traveling during our fall break at school, we had the opportunity to visit Wabasha, Minnesota and take part in their Septoberfest activities.  The coolest part was checking out the amazingly large pumpkins and pumpkin carvings.  Pumpkins can grow quite large in the right conditions.  The world record for pumpkin weight is over 2600 pounds!  Holy cow!  The pumpkins at the festival we visited didn't come close to that, but there was one that weighed in at 818 pounds.


The 818 pound pumpkin!

A few pumpkins were carved and the best were these:

Spooky!

Yep, that's my shadow.

My pumpkin carving sucks.  Just ask my kids.  LOL!  These were amazing!  A few days prior to visiting Wabasha, MN, I read a really interesting article in the Smithsonian magazine, which is available to read here:

Why Is America Losing Ground in the Contest to Grow the World’s Biggest Pumpkin?

The article provides a very good look at pumpkin growing.

Friday, November 3, 2017

This Blog's History: Inveraray Castle

In case you missed it last month, for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to the post I wrote detailing our trip to Inveraray Castle in Scotland.  Enjoy!

Scotland - Inveraray Castle

Thursday, November 2, 2017

We Got a Cat!!!

The kids have been talking about getting a pet for some time now and we recently started seriously discussing the possibility of getting one.  We finally pulled the trigger last month and went to the local animal shelter and adopted a 3 month old kitten picked up as a stray.  Kids are in love and so am I!  He's such a cute little guy and purrs like a motorcycle!

Newton, tired from running around!

Newton just chilling!
Look at that guy!  How can you not want to snuggle with him???  As the captions above state, his name is Newton.  We made a list of names that included several science names, Lord of the Ring names, and other random names.  Eventually the kids decided on Newton, after Isaac Newton.  Love it!  He follows us around the house and loves to purr and play.  Definitely brings a new dimension to the household!


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Myth of Poisoned Halloween Candy

If you're like many Americans with kids, you woke up this morning to a huge pile of Halloween candy your kids collected last night.  The same was true for my parents in the 1980s and early 1990s.  Every Halloween my parents would look through the candy to make sure nothing was tampered with.  It was an attempt to make sure the candy wasn't poisoned.  I remember this every year and remember reading newspaper articles and watching TV news reports providing tips on how to best search Halloween candy.  When my kids first started trick or treating I did the same thing.  But is poisoned Halloween candy a worthwhile worry of parents?

The answer is no.  There are several reports over the years of a child getting sick or even dying of poisoned Halloween candy, but the truth of the matter is there are NO documented cases of a child getting sick or dying of poisoned candy.  The cases in which this was suspected turned out to be a different cause.  Snopes.com has done a wonderful job discussing this on their website.  You can read the article here:

Halloween Non-Poisonings

This is not to say you shouldn't check over your kid's candy just to check for anything obvious.  A more justifiable reason for checking candy is just to make sure a wrapper hasn't come open, in which case the candy may have hit the ground or some other contaminated source.  If candy really is poisoned, the odds are you would never know from a cursory check.  The good news is there's no reason to worry about poisoned candy.  It's one of those urban myths that has run rampant over the years. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween Science!

Happy Halloween!  Have fun and be safe trick or treating if your kids are still of age to want to go out trick or treating.  In the past I've worn my cow costume while trick or treating with our kids.  Last year they told me no.  Boo to them!  This year I'm not taking no for an answer.  If walking around with a cow is embarrassing, so be it! 

If you're not trick or treating, or even if you are and have the time, you can turn many typical Halloween festivities into science activities.  I found this really cool webpage listing all sorts of different Halloween themed science activities.  These are a great way to occupy your time and have fun with your kids.

23 HALLOWEEN HOME SCIENCE FUN IDEAS FOR KIDS

Many of these are activities I've done with my kids, without the Halloween theme.  For example, Bubbling Slime is a typical slime making activity, but altered slightly to make it Halloween themed.  Flying Tea Bag Ghosts takes the floating tea bag science activity and turns them into little flying ghosts!  Now that's cool! 

So check out the site above and get started.  Oh, and don't listen to your kids.  Just dress up as a cow for Halloween because you want to...or want to embarrass your kids.  :-)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Risk Board Game - Bad Geography

As a family we've been playing more strategy based board games this summer and one of those games is Risk.  It's a fun game, but similar to Ticket to Ride, the geography of the world map is not the most accurate.  Take a look at the image below (not ours).


Given a flat board that maps a round world (sorry flat earthers...you are still horribly wrong), some liberties need to be taken when creating the board.  But a few leave me shaking my head.  Consider Iceland.  This is the island just east of Greenland.  Notice how Iceland is actually EAST of Great Britain?  Um...no.  Iceland is not east of Great Britain.  Iceland is clearly west of Great Britain.  Having been to Iceland once, with plans to go back next summer, the placement of Iceland on the Risk game board really bugs me.  Call me a big nerd if you want (I consider this a compliment), but I want Iceland placed correctly!  :-)  Here is an image of a more correct placement


Don't let the bad geography stop you from playing, however.  It's still a great game!

Friday, October 27, 2017

This Blog's History: Water in the Trappist-1 System?

In case you missed it the last time, and you don't want to miss something this cool, I bring back to you, for This Friday in This Blog's History, the blog post I wrote on the preliminary evidence for water in the Trappist-1 solar system.  This system is of particular interest to astronomers, but to learn why, you need to click the link below.  :-)

Water in the Trappist-1 System

Thursday, October 26, 2017

5th Grade Energy Efficiency

My 10 year old recently finished a science unit on energy efficiency in her 5th grade class.  Upon completion of the unit, students received an energy efficiency kit from the local power company.  In the kit were a couple of LED light bulbs, a low flow shower head, a low flow sink head, and an LED night light.  When we first moved into our house we slowly changed all incandescent light bulbs to energy efficient fluorescent light bulbs (those curly ones).  Recently we've started changing the fluorescent light bulbs, as they go out, with even higher efficiency LED bulbs. 

LED night light similar to the one my daughter brought home.

The LED night light my daughter brought home has a 1 Watt bulb in it.  This compares to the 4 Watt incandescent bulb in my daughter's current night light.  This means the LED light uses one fourth the energy of the incandescent light.  This is similar to the difference in a standard 60 Watt bulb and a standard LED replacement.  Most LED replacement bulbs are 9 Watts, meaning they use about 6.7 times less energy.  A greater energy savings than this night light, but similar.  The bigger question though, is how much money this one night light saves.  Let's take a look.

The difference in wattage is 3 Watts, which is an energy savings of 3 Joules per second.  The night light is probably on each night for approximately 10 hours.  There are 3600 seconds in each hour, so this is a total of 36,000 seconds.  Multiply by 3 to get the number of Joules saved per night.  This works out to 108,000 Joules.  Now consider 365 nights per year.  Multiply by 365 to get 39,420,000 Joules per year.  That may seem like a huge amount of energy, but a Joule is a tiny amount of energy.  Let's convert this to kW*hr as this is the common energy unit reported on your energy bill.  This gives us an energy savings of about 11 kW*hr.  An average energy cost per kW*hr is about 12 cents.  Thus this single LED night light will save us about $1.32 per year.

Okay, that's not much.  We are not suddenly doing a three month summer cruise around the world with this savings.  But it is a savings and once you factor in ALL light bulbs in your house, the savings can add up quickly and easily cover the extra cost of purchasing an LED light bulb versus an incandescent light bulb.  Yes, LEDs cost more initially, but they last much longer and use much less energy, resulting in much greater savings down the road.  Start slow by replacing bulbs one at a time as they go out in your house.  Replacing all bulbs at one time is a very daunting cost that not even I could swallow.  One light bulb at a time, however, is much easier to handle. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Scotland - The Last Day

All good vacations must come to an end and our visit to Scotland was no different.  On our last day we packed up and drove to the Edinburgh airport.  Let me offer you some advice based on our experience flying home from Scotland.  Give yourself plenty of time at the airport!  This isn't new news, but I'm not sure what I was thinking when I booked the flight.  Actually, I know what I was thinking and it was incorrect thinking!  On the way home we flew from Edinburgh to London to the United States.  For some reason I was thinking we'd go through customs in Edinburgh and as long as we got to the Edinburgh airport early, we'd be fine.  It didn't click to me until we were already in Scotland that Edinburgh to London is NOT an international flight.  It's a domestic flight!  London to the United States was the international leg of the journey.

We had a two hour layover in London and we made our London flight, but it was far too close for comfort.  First, our flight from Edinburgh was delayed 15 minutes.  Second, while en route to London we were told not to get up and exit the plane right away as room was needed for emergency medical personnel to enter the plane.  Someone on the plane was having a medical emergency.  This probably bought us time.  Although we had to wait 5-10 minutes to leave the plane, when the plane touched down in London we immediately taxied to a gate very quickly.  Under normal landing procedures, the taxing would probably have taken longer.  I'm still leaving this in my story to make it sound better.  :-)  Then I swear our plane parked at the end of the airport farthest from where we needed to go.  Then we needed to transfer terminals (a 15 minute bus ride).  Then more walking.  We were walking briskly and sweating by the time we arrived at the London gate.

Thankfully we did not have to go through customs in London.  When returning from Ireland two years ago, we went through customs in Dublin before departing.  On that trip it took us 3 hours to get from the front doors of the airport to our gate.  Ug.  If customs in London was necessary, we would have missed our flight.  Yikes!

My point is this.  Give yourself more than a 2 hour layover when flying internationally.  Maybe it will work, but I'd much rather have too much time than too little time.  If there's too much time, I always have a book or magazine to read.