Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Upcoming Solar Eclipses

It's been almost a full month since the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017.  I saw this total eclipse in person!  Jealous?  You should be!  LOL!  Solar eclipses take place every couple of years, but you have to be in a very specific place on Earth to see totality.  So when and where are upcoming solar eclipses?  The image below shows future (and a few past) eclipses for the next two decades.

The next total solar eclipse is in about two years, in 2019.  Much of the path of totality cuts across oceans, but there is a stretch through southern South America.  The next total solar eclipse to cut across the U.S. is April 8, 2024.  I'm excited about this one as totality will last nearly 4 minutes and I currently live in the path of totality.  No traveling required for this one!  Unfortunately April is not a great month for clear skies for much of the U.S.  There's a much greater chance of cloudy skies in April than in August (this past eclipse).  There are, of course, sunny days in April, so fingers crossed.

Looking at the U.S. further into the future, we see the following map of eclipses.

The blue paths are total eclipses while the yellow paths are annular eclipses.  An annular eclipses takes place when the Moon moves in front of the Sun, but at a time when the Moon is a bit farther from the Earth.  Thus the Moon may move across the middle of the Sun, it isn't big enough to block the full disk of the sun.  

For total eclipses, there's another good eclipse coming in 2045 that will sweep from the west coast to the east coast.  It's also a bit wider with an even longer total eclipse length.  So there are still opportunities out there for you to view a total solar eclipse if you happened to miss the one in August 2017.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cool Black Hole Video by Kurzgesagt

A couple of weeks ago I watched a very cool black hole video produced by Kurzgesagt and posted on YouTube.  I previously wrote about this science YouTube channel here.  It's an excellent channel that produces a new, animated science video every couple of weeks.  The particular video I'm referring to is on the topic of black holes.

Why Black Holes Could Delete The Universe – The Information Paradox

At a very basic level, a black hole is a massive object packed into a tiny space.  Because this mass is packed into a very small space, the gravitational force is extremely large.  It is so large, in fact, that the mass is squeezed to an infinitesimally small space.  There's a distance away from this infinitesimally small space in which nothing, not even light, can escape.  This distance is referred to as the Schwarzschild radius or event horizon.

The cool thing about this video is that it goes well beyond this basic definition and explains the weird role that black holes can potentially play in the universe.  Give it a watch because it is very interesting!  The animation nature of this (and all videos on this channel) adds to the coolness!

Friday, September 15, 2017

The End of Cassini

Four spacecraft have flown by or orbited Saturn.  The first was Pioneer 11 in 1979.  The Voyager 1 spacecraft flew by a year later and the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by a year after that, in 1981.  It was over two decades before another spacecraft visited Saturn.  In 1997, the Cassini spacecraft launched from Earth and reached Saturn in 2004.  Cassini was the first spacecraft placed in orbit about Saturn, giving astronomers their best chance yet to study Saturn and its moons in great detail.  At the time Cassini had a four year mission lifetime, but was extended twice.  Cassini was a VERY successful mission, but it comes to an end today when Cassini plummets into the atmosphere of Saturn.

Awesome image of Saturn's rings taken by Cassini.

Why must the Cassini mission come to an end?  Given Cassini's location, there is no way to re-fuel or fix any mechanical problems with the spacecraft.  NASA has made the decision to destroy the spacecraft in a controlled way while they still have the ability to do so.  The concern of doing nothing is the possibility of the spacecraft contaminating the pristine conditions (including water) on several of Saturn's moons.  Thus NASA has chosen to destroy the spacecraft in such a way to eliminate the possibility of contaminating the moons.

Cassini provided amazing views of Saturn and provided a great deal of information on Saturn's rings, storms, atmosphere, and moons.  Without Cassini we'd lack this very valuable information that tells us more about the planet and its moons as well as the Solar System as a whole.  Today this mission ends.  Farewell, Cassini!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

This Blog's History: We Saw a Total Solar Eclipse!!!

In case you missed it last time, WE SAW A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE!  It was AMAZING!  For my full description of our experience, take the link below to the original post.

We Saw a Total Solar Eclipse!!!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Scotland - Elgin Cathedral

After visiting Fort George and the Dallas Dhu Distillery, we found ourselves with just enough time to visit the Elgin Cathedral before it closed for the day.  This cathedral is another historic site on the Explorer's Pass list of sites to visit.  Again, this pass is a great opportunity to save money!

I'm am not a religious person by any means, so the thought of visiting a cathedral is usually not at the top of my list.  However, we had time and were close to this historic cathedral and I must admit it was quite interesting to view.  This is not an intact cathedral as you can see in our images below.  It has a very historic, castle type of appearance.  The two towers have been maintained and you can walk to the top of one and get an amazing view of the town!

After the cathedral doors closed, we took the opportunity to find a couple of geocaches in the area.  Anytime we travel to a new state or new country we've never visited before, we make sure to find a geocache or two to knock if off the to-do list.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Got Science Podcast

The Got Science podcast is another excellent science themed podcast to add to your podcast list.  This podcast is produced by the wonderful people at the Union of Concerned Scientists, of which I'm a member.  This is a great organization that encourages strong science in politics and fights members of Congress who choose partisan politics over strong science.

This is a relatively new podcast, having just released their 12th episode at the time of this writing.  Thus far they've had episodes on the topic of rising sea levels, rocket forensics, and renewable energy.  It's a great new podcast that I enjoy, and one that I think you'll enjoy as well.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Emoji Movie

A few weeks ago I took the kids to see the Emoji movie despite having heard the reviews were horrible.  The movie has a whopping score of 8% on Rotten Tomatoes.  LOL!  I'm not sure the movie is really that bad.  It has it's moments and has a bit of good humor, but it's certainly not the greatest movie in the world.

My kids enjoyed it, I'll give it that!  My 7 year old loved the scenes with the poop emoji.  LOL! If I were you, I'd save this one until it comes out on Netflix or on Redbox.  If the movie still in the theater, go on a Sunday morning or a matinee when prices are cheaper.  It's not worth evening prices to go see.  

Friday, September 8, 2017

This Blog's History: Arthur's Seat

In case you missed it the first time, let me point you back to the post I wrote describing our experiences climbing Arthur's Seat in Scotland.  If you enjoy hiking, this is a great place to visit and the hike includes some breath-taking views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area.

Scotland - Arthur's Seat

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Scotland - Dallas Dhu Distillery

After visiting Fort George and grabbing a bite to eat (okay, I had a full Scottish breakfast so it was a bit more than a bite!) we drove a bit further east and visited the Dallas Dhu Distillery.  Although this is not a castle, it is one of the historic sites included in the Explorer's Pass.  In other words, free to visit if you purchase the pass ahead of time.  A great money saver!

Dallas Dhu is an historic distillery that produced single malt scotch whiskey for nearly 100 years, ending in 1983.  Since this is not an active distillery, you can take a tour and get right next to the equipment used to make scotch whiskey.  This was a very interesting tour that provided a ton of information on the scotch whiskey making process.  At the end of the tour there's the opportunity for a free scotch whiskey tasting.  You get to taste a scotch whiskey, that although is not produced at this distillery, is only sold at this distillery.  You cannot purchase it anywhere else in the world.  Naturally I purchased a bottle.  :-)

If you're travelling through this part of Scotland and are interesting in the scotch whiskey making experience, the Dallas Dhu Distillery is a must-see!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Scotland - Fort George

On our second full day in the Inverness area in Scotland, we took a tour east of Inverness and visited a few attractions.  The first place we visited was Fort George, an active military base with a strong history.

It was very interesting visiting an active military base that has an historical castle-like look to it.  Some areas are off limits, but you are able to enter many other areas and tour around.  While touring, you see active military personnel walking around.  Off in the distance we could hear what sounded like a series of shooting drills.  If you visit Fort George, I highly recommend picking up the free audio headphones.  There are several spots inside the fort programmed into the audio devices and you get a much greater in-depth explanation of Fort George.

Fort George is also a great location for viewing dolphins, although we didn't see any.  Boo!

Nice views, but no dolphins.  Hopefully you'll have better luck when you visit!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Doctor Who and Black Holes

My kids and I love watching Doctor Who.  We recently watched the 9th and 10th episodes of the first season of the 10th Doctor and I must say the physics of black holes was horribly botched.  Still a fun couple of episodes to watch, but horrible science.  In these episodes, there is a ship on a planet about to be sucked into a black hole, but isn't sucked in because the planet is in orbit.  Everyone is shocked by how a planet can orbit a black hole.  Um...shocked?  This is exactly what is taking place with our current Solar System.  Okay, Earth itself is not orbiting a black hole, but the Solar System is orbiting the center of our galaxy which contains a super massive black hole!

The above image is straight from these episodes.  Ug...horrible representation of a black hole.  If the Sun were suddenly replaced by a black hole of equal mass, nothing happens to the orbit of the Earth.  The Earth continues to orbit as normal.  Mercury continues to orbit as normal.  Venus continues to orbit as normal.  You see the pattern.  Will Earth be sucked in?  No.  Gravity hasn't changed.  The first of these two episodes makes a big deal of a planet orbiting a black hole.  Orbiting is normal!  They should have made the planet NOT orbit the black hole.  Now that would be a big deal!

Again, despite the horrible science, Doctor Who is a wonderful show that everyone should watch.  If you have kids, watch it with your kids!  

Monday, September 4, 2017

Remembering My Dad

Three months ago on this day, my dad died.  I wrote about this in greater detail here.  He died as a result of a brain tumor, glioblastoma, the same type of aggressive brain cancer John McCain, U.S. Senator from Arizona, was diagnosed with in July.  Between his diagnosis and when he died, we fortunately had about 3.5 years, far above the median life expectancy of 15 months.  During that time my siblings and I took advantage and did several things with him.  One of those days I remember was the time I took him to a Minnesota Twins game in the summer of 2016, about a year before he died.  As a kid we went to a handful of Minnesota Twins games.  We didn't live in Minneapolis, MN (lived in rural Iowa), but tried to hit a Twins game each year.  The Twins built a new stadium in 2010 and he hadn't yet been there, so I wanted to take him to see this stadium which I feel provides a great baseball atmosphere.  Anyways, here's a picture I took of that day of him and me and it's a great example of how I remember my dad.  

Friday, September 1, 2017

This Blog's History: The Scotch Whiskey Experience

For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to the post I wrote on our trip to the Scotch Whiskey Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland.  If you're a fan of Scotch whiskey or just interested in how Scotch is made, this tour is a must-see!

Scotch Whiskey Experience

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I know, we are a bit behind the times in not having seen this when it was out in the theaters, but we finally sat down and watched Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story.

My kids and I loved it!  My wife, on the other hand, was more or less 'meh' on it.  LOL!  She's never seen the originals (Episodes 4, 5, and 6).  She's only seen Episode 2, which I took her to in the theater and she was scarred for life.  Episode 2 is not very good and the absolute wrong movie to watch first in the Star Wars franchise.  Actually, we did see Episode 7 in the theater, but watching Episode 2 first probably but a bad taste in her mouth as it relates to Star Wars.

I really don't have much else to say other than to watch Rogue One.  It details how the Death Star blueprints were obtained, which lead to the destruction of the Death Star in Episode 4.  In Episode 4 we know the rebels have the blueprints, but are never told how they were obtained.  Rogue One is the story of how they were obtained.  Rogue One also contains a very strong female lead which is good to see in movies.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Scotland - Ormond Castle

While visiting the Black Isle in Scotland, we ended the day with a pleasant hike to the top of a hill to see the ruins of Ormond Castle.  This is not to be confused with Castle Ormond in Ireland.  These are two VERY different castles.  Whereas the castle in Ireland is a standing castle, the castle in Scotland is a set of ruins with just a few stones remaining.  Ormond Castle in Scotland was destroyed in 1650 and the materials were used to build a castle in Iverness.  So what does it look like at the top of this hill?  Our pictures below cover this nicely.

In addition to a few stones left over, there is a breathtaking view of Avoch, down below.  

Getting to Ormond Castle is a bit tricky.  The walk itself is easy, but to figure out where to walk is the tricky part.  The trail itself begins on private property.  It's someone's farm and the trail starts by walking along their fenced property.  On the day we visited one of the farm's horses greeted us at the fence! Walking up to and along the farm is legal, but you can't park on their property, nor can you park at the end of their driveway.  You have to park down in Avoch, walk along the road up the hill to the end of the farm's driveway, walk up the driveway, and then finally access the trail.  Here's a link describing the access point in more detail.

Let me put this hike in perspective.  We cheated a bit.  My wife dropped my oldest daughter and I up by the driveway and we walked from there.  The two of them looked for seashells on the beach while my oldest daughter and I took the short hike.  It probably would have taken us 30 minutes to walk from the town to the top of the hill.  We walked back from the top to the town in 19 minutes.  Again, not a hard hike at all once you figure out how to get there!  

The hike to Ormond Castle provides a bit of history, beautiful scenery, and a great way to end another amazing day in Scotland.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Republic Wireless Review

Let me start by saying I'm not being paid by Republic Wireless to say this.  Let me also start by saying that today's post is focused on saving money and not so much on science.  However, finding ways to save money is a form of science, in my opinion.  My wife and I have been customers of Verizon Wireless for 14 years.  She was a customer a few years prior to that before I purchased my first cell phone.  Over the years the monthly costs have gone up as texting became more common and data plans were introduced.  We often look at our finances to see if there are ways to save money.  The cell phone bill is a big chunk of change each month, coming in at about $140/month.  We spent a couple of months investigating low cost carriers as a way to save money each month and eventually decided to make the leap and leave Verizon to join Republic Wireless.

Republic Wireless is a low cost carrier that uses wireless networks for phone calls as opposed to a cellular network.  Whenever your phone is connected to a wireless network and you make a call, that call is made using that wireless network.  If you move off a wireless network, you can still make phone calls as your phone will switch to T-mobile's cellular network.  The phone will make the switch even if you are currently on a call.  I've tested this out by starting a call when on a wireless network and walking out of wireless range.  The phone call remained connected with no interruption.
So what are the advantages?  I have a smartphone that does exactly what I was doing on my smartphone with Verizon.  My wife and I now have two phone plans that total (and this is the true cost) $45/month.  That's a savings of $95/month!!!  We have the same amount of data.  On Verizon we had a shared plan of 2 GB/month.  Now we each have our own plans with 1 GB/month.  No contracts or 2 year plans either.

What are the disadvantages?  Phone calls are probably a bit less reliable, but I've had no phone calls dropped thus far.  On top of that, making phone calls is not the primary use of my phone.  Phone choices are limited to about 7 to 8 phone choices and all are Androids.  There are a few top of the line choices, however.  I went with a mid-level phone, Moto 5G+.  Works as well as my previous top of the line phones.  If you are a big iPhone user, you are out of luck.  I've never had an iPhone and I consider them highly overrated.  The Verizon coverage map is quite large.  It was very rare I found myself in an area with no coverage, although there were times this was the case, particularly in West Virginia.  With Republic Wireless using a T-mobile coverage map, I have found myself, when in rural areas geocaching, with spotty cellular coverage.  So this is something to consider depending on where you live.  Another possible disadvantage is that there is no real-time customer support.  If you have a support question, you go to their website and fill out a form.  To be honest, this really doesn't concern me.  Whenever I had a issue with Verizon, I always went online and searched forums to find my answer.  Calling Verizon was always a pain in the butt and rarely helpful.

Most of the disadvantages above are not really disadvantages in my opinion.  The only real disadvantage to me is the smaller coverage maps when not on a wireless network.  But with a savings of $95/month, I'm more than willing to accept spotty coverage in areas I don't often find myself.  It's well worth the trade off in my opinion.  Republic Wireless is not necessarily a good fit for everyone, but if you are looking for ways to save money each month, taking a look at your cell phone expenses is a great start.  A savings of $95/month is nothing to sneeze at.  I've been on Republic for about a month now with no complaints.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Scotland - Black Isle

After going for a nice hike to Loch nam Bonnach, we had lunch at the Bad Girl Bakery, which was an excellent cafe!  Then we hopped in the car and took a drive along the coast of the Black Isle, just north of Inverness.  The Black Isle is a piece of land that juts out into a couple of firths, as shown in the map below.

We drove along the south side, stopping in Avoch, Rosemarkie, and Cromarty.  All three are neat little villages with beautiful scenery of the firth.  The little bit of land that juts out on the map near Rosemarkie is a must drive.  At the end is a nice viewing spot of the firth.  It's also a prime viewing spot for dolphins.  Cromarty is another great viewing spot for dolphins.  After our hike in the morning, we took it easy driving around the Black Isle, enjoying the scenery, and looking for dolphins.  We didn't spot any dolphins, but the views were breathtaking nonetheless.  Here are a few of our pictures.

Near Avoch one also find the ruins to Ormond Castle, but more on that in the next Scotland post.  

Friday, August 25, 2017

This Blog's History: Edinburgh 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 on our family visit to Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.  Simply amazing!  If you haven't caught on by now, I highly encourage everyone to visit Scotland.  So much to see and do!  For more details and pictures, check the original post, linked below.

Scotland - Edinburgh Castle

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Scotland: Loch nam Bonnach (Beauly)

On our first full day in Beauly, Scotland, we took the advice of the owner of the house we rented and took a wonderful walk/hike to Loch nam Bonnach.

In the image above you see Beauly on the right.  The loch is the body of water on the left side of the map.  The start of the path to the loch was very close to our house and started as a logging road through a forest.  It was interesting seeing where the forest was logged and how the landscape differed along the walk.  There were areas of old forest, new forest, and areas recently logged with barely any new growth yet.

On the way there the hike was mostly uphill, although not a steep uphill climb.  The hike offered some excellent views of Beauly from above.  After about 60 to 90 minutes we made it to the loch and were well rewarded with some beautiful views!  Here are a few of our pictures along this hike.

We spent some time skipping rocks on the shore of the loch.  Above is a picture of me, in action, skipping a rock, as well as one of my oldest daughter.  This quickly became a theme on our trip.  Whenever we stopped at a body of water, there was a competition as to who could get the most skips from a single rock!  LOL!

The other nice thing about this walk is you are off the beaten path.  There was no one else along this hike, both there and back.  The hike itself is not a tourist hotspot and is mostly visited by locals out for a nice walk (or horse ride).  If you find yourself in Beauly, you can't go wrong on this relatively short hike.  It's quicker coming back as you are walking downhill.  I think in total we were gone for about 2.5 hours.  A very nice morning hike to kick off our day.