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 Kiill #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.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Scotland - The Kelpies

On our last full day in Scotland we drove from Dunoon to Edinburgh, taking it easy before checking into a hotel and preparing for our flight home the next day.  On the drive over we stopped at the Keplies sculpture, which can only be described by an image.

The Kelpies

Yes, this is a large sculpture of two horse heads!  Very impressive, especially when viewed from close up.  But here's my question.  Why?  Why indeed!  From what I was able to determine, it is a piece of art that serves as a monument to "the horse powered heritage across Scotland."  Okay then.  

I certainly wouldn't put this at the top of my must-see list in Scotland, but if you have the time and are nearby, go ahead and visit.  It is impressive!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Evolution Misconception #7: Fossil Record Gaps Disprove Evolution

Here is the seventh in a continuing series of evolution misconceptions.  Evolution deniers often argue the gap in fossil records disproves evolution.  Not so.  It is true there are gaps in the fossil records.  Some of these gaps are the result of not yet finding transitional fossils (fossils that show traits of two ancestral groups), while others are the result of fossils that do not preserve well, making it very difficult to find these transitional fossils.  However, this does not disprove evolution.  There is still a great deal of information supporting evolution.  A gap in the fossil records does not change any of this evidence.  A gap provides no new explanation to explain the fossil evidence we do have.

Very common evolution diagram. Image Link

It is important to note that the gap in the fossil record is closing with new studies and new fossil evidence.  Transitional fossils are in fact not rare.  Here's a link to a great website discussing what we know about transitional fossils.


If you haven't, read the book "Your Inner Fish" by Neil Shubin, an evolutionary biologist.  You can also find more information, including options to watch the "Your Inner Fish" documentary, here:


I watched this documentary with my 10 year old a couple of years ago and it was fantastic!  One of the episodes focuses on transitional fossils and explains they are quite common.  Yes, there are still gaps in the fossil records, but those gaps are quickly closing as more studies are done and more evidence is discovered.  

To conclude, no, the gap in the fossil records does NOT disprove evolution.

Friday, October 20, 2017

This Blog's History: Upcoming Solar Eclipse

In case you missed it last month, here's my post on upcoming solar eclipses.  If you live in the United States and missed the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017, there's another coming in 2024.  Click the link below to read my original post and see the map of future totality paths.

Upcoming Solar Eclipses

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Scotland - Glasgow

On our second to last full day in Scotland, we took the car ferry from Dunoon to the other side of the loch and drove into Glasgow.  After parking we walked around a bit and visited the Glasgow Cathedral.  I'm not religious, but I had to admit the architecture is quite amazing!

Glasgow Cathedral - Outside

Glasgow Cathedral - Inside

After visiting the cathedral, we walked around a bit more and then took off for a car ride around the loch back to Dunoon.  This was the long way around, but we had the time and wanted to check out Loch Lomond.  Very pretty!

Loch Lomond

After this we went back to our house in Dunoon, made dinner, packed up, and prepared for our trip back to the United States.  Glasgow wasn't our favorite.  It looks more modern and after 9 days visiting historic areas, Glasgow just seemed a bit of a let down.  I'm sure there are many fun things to see and do, but we just didn't see/do those things.




Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Unicorn Poop Slime

Over this past Labor Day weekend, while I was out of town in Iowa, my wife and kids took an afternoon and made Unicorn Poop Slime.  Google it and you will seriously find recipes for Unicorn Poop Slime.  Here's just one website describing how to make it.

Unicorn Poop Slime

Basically you need regular school style glue, borax, shaving cream (to make it fluffier), and food coloring to adjust the color as you like.  My wife tells me you can by the biggest box of borax imaginable for less than five dollars.  The slime recipe use one tablespoon of borax, so we have quite a bit of borax leftover in our house.  LOL!

Follow the recipe, of which there are many different varieties online, and soon you have slime!  We've had the slime for about 3 weeks now (at the time of this writing) and it hasn't dried out and the kids continue to play with it.  It drives my wife and I a bit mad at times because when they toss it around, tiny fragments will break off and inevitably our kids don't fully clean up there mess.  You can see our slime in the video below I made while testing the consistency.

Despite the headaches of cleaning up bits of slime our kids don't pick up, this is a cool science experiment that is easy for kids to complete on their own with just a bit of parental guidance.  Our kids have had many hours of fun playing with their slime too, so well worth the minimal effort it takes to make.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Scotland - Inveraray

On one of our last day's in Scotland we drove from Dunoon to Inveraray, a very scenic drive along a couple of lochs, and toured the town and Inveraray Castle.  I already wrote about Inveraray Castle a few days ago, so let me have this blog post focus on the town of Inveraray.  

Map of Inveraray, Scotland and surrounding area.

After visiting Inverary Castle we parked in Iveraray and walked around.  Inveraray is located at the end of Loch Fyne and offers some very scenic views.  We were there for several hours in total so it was very cool seeing the difference in the shoreline between high tide and low tide.  While in Inveraray we had lunch at one of the many excellent restaurants (from what I'm told since we only actually ate at one of them).  I had fish and chips, which I highly recommend if you ever visit Scotland.  If memory serves correct, I had fish and chips no fewer than four times in Scotland!  All were excellent!  

After walking around a bit and checking out the shops in Iveraray, we stopped at one of the several ice cream shops in the town for a tasty dessert.  Before leaving Iverarary we stopped at The Loch Fyne, a local seller of Loch Fyne Scotch whiskies.  We tasted a couple and purchased a bottle of whiskey.  Okay, fine, we purchased two bottles of Scotch whiskey.  LOL!  

Entrance to Loch Fyne Whiskies in Iveraray, Scotland.

Before heading back to Dunoon, we drove a bit along the loch shoreline, taking in the views.  All in all it was an excellent day.  If you're looking for a more laid back day while in Scotland, I recommend the Inveraray area.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Science for the People Podcast

One can never have too much science in their life, so let me suggest yet another excellent science themed podcast to add to what is probably an already too large podcast listening list.  :-)  The podcast I'm recommending today is titled "Science for the People" and does an excellent job discussing various science topics.

Science for the People Podcast

Science for the People Podcast

Science for the People is produced out of Canada and self-describes as:

"Science for the People is a syndicated radio show and podcast that broadcasts weekly across North America. We are a long-format interview show that explores the connections between science, popular culture, history, and public policy, to help listeners understand the evidence and arguments behind what's in the news and on the shelves. Every week, our hosts sit down with science researchers, writers, authors, journalists, and experts to discuss science from the past, the science that affects our lives today, and how science might change our future."

I've been listening for a couple of months and really enjoy this podcast!  Check it out if you are a science enthusiast or help the science enthusiast in your family become aware of this podcast.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

This Blog's History: The End of Cassini

The Cassini mission (to Saturn) ended on Friday, September 15, 2017, when Cassini was directed to plummet into Saturn's atmosphere.  A wonderful mission that provided a great deal of information to astronomers on Saturn, Saturn's moons, and their role in our Solar System.  In case you missed my original post on this, I bring it back to you for This Friday in This Blog's History.  Check out the link below for the original post from last month.

The End of Cassini

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

I recently finished reading The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins.  In this book Dawkins address several science topics and goes into detail in how our ancestors several generations ago explained these phenomena and compares them to how we explain them today with a much greater level of scientific evidence.  A few topics discussed are Earth's tectonic plates, evolution, the age of the Universe, tsunamis, etc.

Book cover of The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins.

Although I already understood much of the science Dawkins discusses, I still found it to be a wonderfully written book that does a fantastic job explaining complex scientific concepts to a general audience.  I particularly enjoyed Dawkins' use of various religions to explain how our ancestors explained these scientific concepts.  What we know to be true today was not obvious several centuries ago.  Although it's easy to say today the Earth is round, picture yourself as someone living hundreds of years ago without the use of today's technology.  Determining the Earth is round is a much more difficult task!

This is a book I can see my kids reading in a few years and walking away with a general understanding of these scientific concepts.  Dawkins has written several books that go into great detail, but this book does a wonderful job explaining science to an audience that may not already have a background science.  If you, or someone you know, is a budding science enthusiast, this is a great birthday or holiday gift option!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Europa Clipper Mission

NASA has produced a large number of amazing missions exploring the solar system in the past several decades, and continues to produce a large number of amazing missions.  The mission currently on the books I find the most interesting is the Europa Clipper mission.  I've shared many times that water found elsewhere in our Solar System always brings up the question of life.  Water doesn't assure the existence of life, but it greatly increases the chances.  There are several moons in the Solar System in which there is much evidence supporting the existence of liquid water underneath the surface.  One such object is Europa, one of Jupiter's Galilean moons.

Image of Europa's surface, courtesy of APOD.  https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap160519.html


Now that is super cool!!!  Europa's surface has many cracks and different colored features.  This is due to Europa's ever changing surface.  Europa has a solid ice surface, but underneath is likely an ocean of liquid water heated by tidal interactions with Jupiter.  Where there's water, there's the possibility of life.

The Europa Clipper mission is still in the planning stages with a tentative launch date in the 2020's.  This most likely means the end of the 2020's if not into the next decade.  Complicated missions such as this have a tendency to experience many delays.  This is not a lander to touch down on the surface of Europa.  That would be super cool, but adds further complications.  Right now the plan is for the Europa Clipper to orbit Jupiter and do many close flybys of Europa for a more detailed look at the surface.  

Very cool!  Keep your fingers crossed for a launch near the end of the next decade, followed by a trip of a few years to Jupiter, followed by awesome pictures and more information on Europa!!!  For more information on this mission, visit NASA's Europa Clipper website that offers further details.



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Clue Board Game

The other day my wife and I were talking about board games when the topic of the conversation turned to Clue.  I played Clue many, many times as a kid with my parents, but neither of us thought we owned it.  Looking in the closet, there it was, with the other board games.  Upon opening it, it had been played before, but neither of us have any recollection playing this with our kids or playing it at all!  I'm not even sure where it came from!!!

Classic Clue board game.

A few days later we introduced our kids to Clue.  After a refresher on the game rules and explaining the goal of the game, we set out to play.  Clue has quite a bit of strategy behind it and I look forward to future games with my kids.  If you just wait until you see all of the person, weapon, and room cards, before making an accusation, you are likely to lose.  You have to pay careful attention to which suggestions are made and by whom.  Often times you can cross off a suspect (person, weapon, or room) without seeing the actual card.  This allows you to make an official accusation a few turns earlier, increasing your chances of winning.

My oldest daughter came close to making an accusation.  I could tell she was only a turn or two away from knowing who did it, with what weapon, and in which room.  Unfortunately for her, I was ready before her and made the correct accusation.  I look forward to more games of Clue with my kids as it is a great game that is easy for kids to learn, but also includes quite a bit of strategy and critical thinking.  If you haven't noticed, I'm a big fan of games that involve strategy and critical thinking!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Scotland - Inveraray Castle

On the third of three legs of our Scotland trip this past summer we stayed in Dunoon, Scotland and toured this area.  While there we drove up to Iverarary and visited Inveraray Castle.

Inveraray Castle

Throughout all of my posts on our trip to Scotland, I've pushed the advantages of purchasing the Explorer's Pass before visiting many of Scotland's castles and historical landmarks.  This castle, however, is not part of the Explorer's Pass and you have to purchase tickets separately.  Don't let that stop you, though.  This is an amazing castle to visit!  

Inveraray Castle is the seat of the Dukes of Argyll, currently held by Torquhil Ian Campbell.  When visiting the castle you see it is much more modern than most of Scotland's historical castles.  Each room is fully furnished with plenty of information describing the past and present of the castle.  

Dining room in Iveraray Castle.

This castle was a great change of pace from the castles we previously visited.  Yes, it costs extra since it is not part of the Explorer's Pass, but well worth the cost.  In addition, Inveraray itself is a nice town with plenty of small shops and eating establishments.  I'll talk more about this in my next Scotland post, but it's located on Loch Fyne and offers many scenic views.  Well worth the visit.

Friday, October 6, 2017

This Blog's History: Scotland - Dallas Dhu Distillery

In case you missed it when originally posted, for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to the post I wrote describing our experiences at the Dallas Dhu Distillery in Scotland.  A very informative look at the scotch whiskey making process.  For more details, go to the link posted below.

Dallas Dhu Distillery


Thursday, October 5, 2017

JWST Launch Delay

When I first started teaching, in grad school way back in 2001, I would briefly share the basics of the James Webb Space Telescope with my students.  I don't think it had an official name at that time and each year the launch date was pushed further and further into the future.  The past several years, however, the launch date as remained the same, with a projected launch next year, 2018.  I just finished our unit on telescopes in my astronomy class this year when the news broke that the launch of the JWST is delayed once again. 

Model of the James Webb Space Telescope
The launch, scheduled for October 2018, has been pushed back to March-June 2019.  Not a full year, so not too bad.  Still a bit disappointing as this is the next great space based telescope to be launched.  The science this telescope will produce will be absolutely amazing!  The reason for the delay is to build in more time to complete the spacecraft that will carry the JWST.  The JWST is ready to go, but the craft that it travels in needs more time.

Delays suck, but the mission is still planned, so fans of the JWST just need to wait a few more months. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Evolution Misconception #6: The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Disproves Evolution

It's been a couple of months since I last posted an evolution misconception, so now is the time to discuss the sixth evolution misconception in this series.  The misconception states the second law of thermodynamics proves evolution is not possible.  Let's look at what the second law of thermodynamics has to say.

"The state of entropy of an isolated (closed) system always increase over time."

Okay, but what is entropy?

Entropy is a measure of disorder in a system.  For example, if an air freshener is sprayed in a room, the entropy of the system will increase over time and the air freshener molecules will disperse throughout the air in the room until you can no longer smell the air freshener.  The room is an isolated, or closed, system.

Anti-science evolution deniers claim this law of physics states entropy must increase and therefore evolution, which claims complexity increases over time (decreasing entropy), must in fact, be a lie.  Did the evolution deniers just debunk an entire field of science through this simple argument?  Um...no.  Not even close.

The second law of thermodynamics is true...IN AN ISOLATED SYSTEM.  The Earth is not an isolated system.  It is constantly being changed within an influx of energy from the outside, in the form of the Sun.  The Earth, therefore, is an open system, and not subject to the second law of thermodynamics.  Consider your desk at work.  Over time entropy changes and your desk gets messier and messier.  But if you add input into the system and change it from an isolated, closed system, to an open system by continuing to clean items up, the second law of thermodynamics doesn't apply.  Your desk gets cleaner and less disorganized.  The entropy of this system decreases over time in this example.

Don't worry, evolution is safe and it will always be safe because science is on its side.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Water in TRAPPIST-1???

You may remember the announcement of seven Earth-sized planets in the TRAPPIST-1 solar system.  This system is relatively close to us, at a distance of only 40 light years.  This means the light we see took 40 years to to reach us.  This may seem to be an incredibly large distance, but on astronomical scales, this is quite close.  Finding Earth-sized planets is a huge deal as it brings us one step closer to finding other, habitable planets in our galaxy.  In addition, this is a step closer to finding life outside of our own Solar System.  Life elsewhere would be the greatest discovery in the history of humans!!!

More recently, astronomers have detected the first signs of water loss in the atmospheres of TRAPPIST-1 planets.  Where there is water loss there is water.  These are just the first signs of water in this system and more research is needed to confirm, but this is very exciting news!  If there's water, that opens the door to the possibility of life in some form!  Wow!

First hints of possible water content on TRAPPIST-1 planets


Will life elsewhere be discovered in my lifetime?  I don't know, but the chances have increased in the last few years.  I'm hopeful, that's for sure, and I really do expect it to happen, if not in my lifetime, then in the lifetime of my kids.  

Monday, October 2, 2017

Scotland - Off the Beaten Path

On our drive from Loch Ness to our next destination, Dunoon, our GPS directed us off onto a 'B' road.  I'm not an expert on Scottish roads, but the 'M' roads are sort of like interstates in the U.S.  The 'A' roads are like your state and U.S. highways.  The 'B' roads, on the other hand, are very narrow, one-lane only, roads that take you off the beaten path.  We could tell why the GPS was telling us to take the 'B' road, as the 'A' road went off in the wrong direction before turning back around.  It was a major road, but with a much longer travel distance.  We decided to stick with the 'B' road.  The road was very narrow and very curvy.  We only encountered one or two cars and fortunately the road had pull-off points all over to pull over to the side and allow a car through.  The road gave us some great mountain views and about half way on this road, we came across a beautiful waterfall with a small parking area.  No signs at all indicating this waterfall was here, so we were quite happy that we took this road.







We couldn't have asked for a better spot to take a break from driving!  My advice is to take a few 'B' roads in Scotland.  We took a few others, and each time we were rewarded with beautiful scenery and amazing views.  Don't let the narrow, one-lane nature of these roads scare you away.  There are pull-off spots every few hundred feet, so if a car is approaching, you just pull over and then continue on your way.  Find a 'B' road to take and I wager you'll be rewarded.  

Friday, September 29, 2017

This Blog's History: Doctor Who and Black Holes

In case you missed it the first time, for This Friday in This Blog's History, I point you back to the post I wrote on some bad black hole science in an episode of modern Doctor Who.  I love Doctor Who, but certainly don't watch it to learn the science of black holes!

Doctor Who and Black Holes

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Old Capitol Museum - Iowa City, IA

Over this past Labor Day break, one of my work colleagues and I took a weekend trip to Iowa City, IA to attend an Iowa Hawkeyes football game.  I attended undergraduate school here many years ago and this was my first visit back in over 15 years.  We had a fantastic time at the game, made even better by Iowa beating Wyoming 24-3.




I always found this stadium very impressive so it was great to come back for a game.  After the game we took a tour around campus.  I was curious to see what had changed.  Several new buildings since 15 years ago and many new restaurants and pubs.  We took a look at the Old Capitol building and took a tour of the museum inside.  The Old Capitol building was built in 1840 and served as the location of Iowa's first capitol.  The capitol was later moved to its current location, Des Moines, in 1857.  The museum is a great piece of history and it was fun looking around and seeing the original state house and senate chambers.  Very impressive!  The building is not large, so it doesn't take long to tour, but definitely stop by if you find yourself in the area.  The museum is free to tour too!  


This was a kid-less trip, but at some point I'd like to take my kids to Iowa City for a visit.  My oldest daughter is already 10, so who knows, in 6-7 years we may be taking a trip for a college visit!  Yikes!  College already?!?!  Wow!  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Upcoming Lunar Eclipses

I've spoken quite a bit on solar eclipses over the last several months.  With a total solar eclipse sweeping from the west coast to the east coast of the United States and sweeping relatively nearby to where I live, can you really blame me?  Of course I was going to talk about solar eclipses!  But what about lunar eclipses?  When and where are the upcoming lunar eclipses?

To start, a lunar eclipse is the opposite of a solar eclipse.  Where a solar eclipse is the Moon blocking sunlight from reaching Earth, a lunar eclipse is the Earth blocking sunlight from reaching the Moon.  Given the Earth is a much bigger object, the shadow Earth casts onto the Moon during a lunar eclipse is much larger.  Therefore, you do not need to be as localized on Earth to view a total lunar eclipse.  If you are basically on the side of Earth facing the Moon at the time of a total lunar eclipse, you will see the total lunar eclipse.  Although not as impressive, in my opinion, as total solar eclipses, total lunar eclipses are still a sight to see!

The next total lunar eclipse is January 31, 2018.  This eclipse is observable from most of Asia, Australia, Alaska, Hawaii, and maybe just a bit of the very western continental U.S., as shown in the map below.


The white areas in the map will see totality.  As you can see, about half of the world will see the eclipse and the other half will not.  Some parts will see a partial eclipse.   The next total lunar eclipse observable from the continental U.S. is the next year, on January 21, 2019.  On this day, the entire continental U.S. will see a total lunar eclipse.


Lunar eclipses, although not as impressive as a solar eclipse, are still impressive and the U.S. population has the opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse in less than two years!




Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Scotland - Loch Ness

When we visiting Urquhart Castle in Scotland we, of course, took in the views of Loch Ness.  With Urquhart Castle on the shore of Loch Ness, it's impossible not to take in the views.  Loch Ness is a hot tourist spot, so Urquhart Castle had several tour buses dropping off tourists every hour.  Thus it was quite packed with people.  Don't let that stop you from visiting the castle, however, as you'll miss out big time on a historic castle in ruins on a beautiful loch surrounded by mountains.

So let's talk about Loch Ness and the Loch Ness monster.  I will be blunt.  There is no ancient sea monster tens to hundreds of feet long living in the depths of Loch Ness.  There just isn't.  There's plenty of anecdotal evidence from people who saw something, but literally zero credible evidence of any kind supporting a sea monster.  Loch Ness is beautiful and you should visit for the views, but don't visit in hopes of seeing a sea monster.  You might see a floating branch or random pile of trash (Loch Ness shores were very clean), but you are not seeing a sea monster.

A day prior to visiting Loch Ness we had lunch at a restaurant in which the owner came over and asked us about our visit and what we were doing next.  A very friendly and polite conversation.  He then pulled out the local newspaper that had an article on the second sighting of Nessie in Loch Ness in 2017.  Um...no.  Just...no.  The picture in the paper was a picture of a blurry blob floating in the distant waters.  It could have been anything!  As far as I could tell it was an ink splotch on the paper!  Sigh.

There is so much REAL beauty in the world that one shouldn't waste one's life seeking the non-existent.  Marvel at Loch Ness for what it is, a body of water surrounded by the Scottish Highlands.  Don't marvel at a sea monster that no evidence supports even exists.

While touring the castle and loch, I did quite a bit of drastic pointing with a shocked look on my face.  My kids thought it was funny, but my wife told me to stop because some people were going to believe that I found Nessie.  LOL!



Monday, September 25, 2017

The Tipped House at Science Central

Last Friday I shared my family's experience visiting Science Central in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  A great museum that was a ton of fun!  I mentioned in Friday's post that on the lower floor of the museum is an exhibit of a house/room tipped at an angle.  My kids ran right in and started walking up the angled floor and running down the angled floor and basically jumping all over the place.  I decided to run in and join them.  Unfortunately I did not take any pictures, but picture the room you are in now and tip the whole thing to one side by 30 degrees.  This should give you a good visual of this exhibit.

What happened when I ran in?  Nothing for 30 seconds.  I didn't trip and fall.  I started angling my body forward and walking up the floor.  At about t = 31 seconds I suddenly became nauseous.  Yikes!  It was a blast of nausea that just came upon me.  I stepped out of the room, and good thing I did because a few more seconds and I really think I would have thrown up!  This room severely effected my inner balance!  These effects hung with me for several hours.  After a few minutes I was no longer nauseous, but I was a bit light headed several hours later.

What does this all mean?  Well, I think it boils down to one thing.  I'm getting old.  :-)

Friday, September 22, 2017

This Blog's History: Scotland - The Black Isle

In case you missed it the first time, today, for This Friday in This Blog's History, I point you back to the post I wrote on our trip to Scotland's Black Isle.  Beautiful scenery and excellent dolphin watching spots.  For more of our experience and pictures, click the link to the original post below.

Scotland - Black Isle

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Science Central - Fort Wayne, IN

I recently had the opportunity to visit Science Central in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  We went as a family, along with my 10 year old's Girl Scouts troop.  My youngest daughter visited here in the spring with her first grade class and my wife attended as a chaperone.  This was the first visit for my 10 year old and me.


Science Central is a very cool science museum.  It's not particularly large, but it doesn't need to be.  There are two floors of exhibits and most exhibits are setup to be hands on, which is great for science!  They allow kids (and adults) to mess around with different science concepts.  I was like a kid in a candy shop, running around with my kids, and putting my hands on every hands-on demo!  I even slid down the two story slide, just like all the other kids there!  Don't believe me?  Here's my leg warmers they made me wear for protection.


Yeah!  Looking good!  LOL!  There was also an excellent demo show put on by one of the employees on the topic of electricity.  My kids loved the demos in the show!   Overall a great museum with reasonable admission prices.  Plan on spending approximately 2 hours when you visit.  

One last thing.  There's a tipped/angled house on the lower floor that you can go into and walk around.  I'm not sure the angle.  Maybe 30 degrees or so?  I thought this looked really cool and ran right in behind my kids.  Um...not the best move on my part.  More on this in Monday's post.  I'm creating a level of suspense here.  :-)