Friday, March 31, 2017

This Blog's History: NASA's Earth Now App

For this week's This Blog's History I point you back to a short post I wrote on NASA's Earth Now app.  It's a fantastic app filled with NASA science.  And it's free to download!  A must have for your phone!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Pseudoscience of Himalayan Salt Lamps

It seems Himalayan salt lamps are all the rage these days.  During this past holiday season, I noticed several Facebook threads on where to get them, what types there are, and what ailments they cure.  Let's start by defining a Himalayan salt lamp.  Straight from Google you find:

"The Himalayan Natural Crystal Salt Lamp also works as an air purifier. When lit, the lamp emits negative ions that fight against positively charged particles that cause you to feel stuffy and sluggish. The lit salt crystal clears the air naturally of allergens like smoke, pet dander, pollens, and other air pollutants."

There is so much anti-science in that statement.  They do NOT purify air.  They do NOT emit negative ions.  They do NOT fight against positively charged particles, nor do positively charged particles cause you to feel stuffy and sluggish.  They also do NOT clear air naturally of allergens.

A Himalayan salt lamp is nothing more than a chunk of salt with a light bulb in it.  Granted, they look pretty.  They have a pinkish color due to impurities in the salt.  That's it!  They have no healing powers at all!  They are nothing but a scam!!!   In fact, most "Himalayan" salt in salt maps does NOT come from the Himalayans.  It comes from different mines across the world!  Snopes wrote up an excellent article pointing out the immense anti-science in these lamps.

Salt Shams

To conclude, don't fall for the claim that a simple lamp can cure you of ailments.  If it sounds too good to be true, it is.  These lamps do NOTHING but serve as an expensive night light.  You can get a pretty night light for far cheaper than you can from purchasing a salt lamp.  In addition, people with ailments using these lamps as a cure, can seriously harm themselves by not seeking appropriate medical treatment.  If you have an ailment, see a doctor!  Don't buy a salt lamp!!!  The salt lamp, below, I made in my home in 5 seconds does as much 'curing' as expensive Himalayan salt lamp scams.

Just looking at that picture I 'feel" my allergies floating away!  :-)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Chronicles of the Invaders Trilogy

To all my readers who are big science fiction fans, go check out The Chronicles of the Invaders book trilogy by by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard.

Chronicles of the Invaders

I admit I have not finished the trilogy yet  In fact, I haven't even finished the first book, but thus far I've really enjoyed it.  It starts with the invasion of Earth by an alien race, the Illyri.  The Illyri take over, but do not wipe out humanity nor do they enslave humans.  Humans continue to live side by side with the Illyri.  I'm about 100 pages in and thus far it's not so easy to determine who is right and who is wrong in some of the things that have taken place.  It's a different style of science fiction than I typically read so I'm very intrigued as to how the book will end.

If you're looking for a new science fiction series to read, consider this one.  I found it at my local library, so try checking at yours if you're not interesting in buying the book(s).  If you have a middle schooler or high schooler in your house and he/she is bored, check out this book for them!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Encourage Science Fair Participation

As readers of this blog know, I spend a lot of time encouraging science experimentation with my kids.  We work on demos, setup experiments, etc.  It's a great way to bond with your kids while having fun and teaching critical thinking.  In addition to this, I encourage all parents to urge your kids to participate in local (probably your school's) science fairs.  Over the last couple of months I've shared the results of my 10 year old's science fair project this year.  She choose to test bacterial growth and swapped several sources in our house.  She also tested anti-bacterial soaps to determine if they actually stop bacterial growth.  Quick answer?  They don't.  So how did she do in the fair?

She won her school's science fair (woohoo!!!) and advanced to the regional fair.  In the elementary division she was in there were over 90 projects for local schools.  A very good showing!  This division doesn't have a level at the state, so there was no moving on.  She received an honorable mention for her work on this project (another woohoo!!!).  Best of all, she was very happy with how she did and excited to see the other projects.

At the older age groups, there were far fewer projects.  Middle school projects number around 50-60 and the high school division had only 36 projects.  I was disappointed in this.  There were a fair number of fantastic projects, but I was really hoping to see more kids involved in the competition.  My challenge for you, as a parent, or friend/aunt/uncle/brother/sister/etc., is to encourage kids you know to participate in science fairs.  Although there's a lot you can do at home, a science fair project takes this to the next level.  It requires a greater degree of concentration and effort.  The feedback from judges is a great learning experience, even if it's not all positive feedback.  Not only that, participating in science fairs allows you to see what others are thinking and doing and gives you information on what you can do to improve your project.

Critical thinking skills are crucial for a successful life and participation in science fairs is a great way to develop and/or hone those skills!

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Dog's Purpose

I had the chance, although without my kids, to see A Dog's Purpose when I recently visited my nephew and niece.  We went to one of those newer fancy theaters with large reclining seats, extra aisle room, and a footrest.  :-)  I know you're jealous, so here's a picture of my feet on the footrest.  :-)

Like I said, very comfortable.  Back to the movie.  A Dog's Purpose was a good movie, although be prepared to cry...several times!  I won't give anything away, but it's a nice feel-good movie kids and adults will enjoy.  

Also, if your kids like the movie, there's a book series you can point them to to encourage reading!

Friday, March 24, 2017

This Blog's History: 7 New Earth Like Planets

ICYMI and I'm not sure how you did given the big news, let me point you back to a post I wrote on the discovery of 7 new Earth like planets in a nearby solar system only 39 light years away.

7 New Earth Like Planets

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Model Solar House That Works!

The other week my 6 and 10 year old opened up their Solar Powered Eco House.  With some help from me putting together the trickier parts, they built the house relatively quickly.  The cool thing about the house is that it shows both how a solar cell can power different components, but also the circuitry.

In the image above you can see a red and black wire sticking out on the right side of the image.  This is the wiring to the on/off switch.  Underneath is the circuitry for the solar powered fan, LED light, and horn.  It's a small solar cell on the roof, so it can only power one device at a time.  As a result, you have to disconnect and connect the different wires underneath.  It's a great way to show the basics of circuitry to kids.

Also, inside is a battery powered pack, but we didn't put the batteries in.  Who needs batteries when you have solar power?  :-)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Do Kids Grow Faster in the Spring?

The other day my 10 year old was reading from a "science fact book" she picked up at the local library.  One of the facts stated in the book is that kids grow faster in the spring/summer than they do in the fall/winter.  Is this really true?  I was immediately skeptical as nothing immediately came to mind that would cause this.  I've spent a bit of time searching on the web and sure enough, there are several sites stating this 'fact'.  One of the first to pop up in my search is:

Unfortunately this site doesn't say why or point to any research studies looking into it.  This fact site below says the same thing and fortunately has a citation.

43 Stirring Facts about Spring

You can see the citation on the website, but can't access the actual article to verify or see whether the citation is reputable.  I also saw several forums of people trying to explain why this is true, but no actual research was cited as far as I could find.

To conclude, I simply don't know.  Kids go through growth spurts, but are they related to seasons.  Despite several websites saying yes, I find no research supporting this.  On the other side I find no research refuted this either.  In fact, I find no research at all looking at children's growth versus the season.  Maybe this 'fact' is true.  Maybe it isn't.  Then there's the question of causation vs. correlation.  If there was a link, is a direct result of seasons or something else that just happens to coincide with seasons?  For now, I remain skeptical and have no reason to believe it is true until further research suggests otherwise.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)

In the last couple of months we've had a couple of family movie nights in which we watched the first two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies from the early 1990s.  Good stuff!  Most recently we watched the 3rd in the series, released in 1993.  

Both of my kids liked it, and I enjoyed it too, but it didn't have the same entertainment value as the first two in the series.  That might explain why the TMNT movie series ended before being re-launched 14 years later.  Why was this one not as good as the first two?  I see several possibilities.

  • It's tough to reclaim the magic of the original.  And yes, the original was magical and don't you say otherwise!  :-)
  • They killed off Shredder in the second movie.  The lack of a powerful villain takes away some of the suspense.
  • No Vanilla Ice.  Yeah, you read that right.  They should have brought Vanilla Ice back for the third movie!  :-)
Regardless of what I think about this movie, it's a good movie for a family movie night if you have elementary aged kids.  

Up next:  The rebooted TMNT movie from 2007.  I hear it's horrible but it earned higher ratings on IMDB (6.3/10) than the third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies from 1993 (4.8/10).  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

My oldest daughter recently turned 10 and instead of a standard birthday party she requested to invite a few of her closest friends to the opening showing of Beauty and the Beast.  We bought tickets early and went to the very first showing at the theater in our area.  Fortunately she was on Spring Break so even though it was a week night, it wasn't a school night.  We let our younger daughter invite a friend too so she she had a friend to sit with.  In total it was my wife, myself, 8 girls ranging in age from six to ten years, and a couple of our friends.  Yikes!  The good news is they all had fun, no one was hurt (popcorn machine malfunction???), and we didn't lose anyone!

The movie itself was AWESOME!!!  A must-see!  I'm a huge Emma Watson fan.  I first saw her acting in the Harry Potter movies, but as an adult Watson has become an activist in the area of equal rights for women.  She's using the platform she has as an actor to promote greater good in this world.  I see her as an excellent role model for my daughters to look up to.  

Anyways, go see Beauty and the Beast.  Excellent movie.  You won't be disappointed!  Unless you have a problem with LeFou being gay in the movie.  If you do, get over it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

This Blog's History: Nickipedia YouTube Science Channel

For this week's This Blog's History edition I point you back to a post I wrote on Nickipedia, a very cool science themed YouTube channel.  I showed it to my kids and they love it!

Nickipedia YouTube Science Channel

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Blurry Photos Podcast

If you're in the market for a skeptically based podcast, look no further than Blurry Photos.

Blurry Photos Podcast

I discovered this podcast a couple of months ago.  It's produced by a couple of guys who discuss some of the crazy conspiracy out there and educate listeners to the truth of what happened or didn't happen.  In addition they mix a good does of humor into their discussions, making this a very enjoyable podcast to listen to.

They typically produce a new posts once a week and I look forward to it each time.  I appreciate that they spend time finding less well known conspiracy theories.  It's great to discuss the major conspiracy theories, but it's also good to hear about the lesser known ones as they can often be as damaging to society as the more well known ones.  Check it out and take a listen!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rewire - Investigative Reporting

Last week I shared my thoughts on the demise of investigative reporting among the mainstream media.  Thus I've shifted from getting my news from mainstream media sources to more independent sources that focus on true investigative reporting and not click bait headlines and sensationalism.  I encouraged you to visit ProPublica last week and this week I encourage you to visit Rewire.


The focus of is on human rights, and in particular women's reproductive rights.  They say it best on their website:

"We seek to foster public knowledge and enlightenment through high-quality evidence-based news, analysis, commentary, and investigative reporting on issues of sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice."

At a time when women's reproductive health rights are continually attacked by politicians, primarily older, white men, Rewire is a breath of fresh air and gives hope that women will one day be viewed equal as men.  Rewire does a fantastic job showing the science of health and reproduction, informs readers of which rights are at stake and which bills the states and federal government is trying to push through, and informs readers of what they can do to fight back.

I spoken quite a bit about the attack on science and within that attack is the attack on women's rights.  To me science and women's rights go hand in hand as much of the argument against women's reproductive health rights is filled with a heavy dose of anti-science.

Take a few moments to browse through this online publication.  Like ProPublica, Rewire doesn't publish tens to hundreds of articles a day.  You can expect 3-5 articles each day, making it very manageable to keep up with all they publish.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Amazon Prime

Okay, I did it.  I finally succumbed and signed up for Amazon Prime.  There are several good TV series I'm wanting to see that are Amazon only.  Combine that with free 2 day shipping on everything without needing a minimum purchase and Prime Reading for the Kindle and I couldn't hold back any longer.

I'm particularly interested in the Prime Reading benefit.  With Amazon Prime you get Prime Reading which allows you to read from many books and magazine.  There are about 35 different magazine offers, including two I've been wanting to read, but not pay directly for, Smithsonian and The New Yorker.  There are about 1000 book options in different categories and book choices change on a regular basis from what I can tell.  As a big reader, I'm really liking this benefit.

Among the Prime Reading options are several children's books.  The library is still a much better option with a much larger selection of books to check out for free, but if you're traveling and don't have access to a library, Prime Reading is a good option to check out books for free.

Please note, however, that Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited are NOT the same.  Kindle Unlimited is a separate subscription service at $10/month that gives you a much larger selection of books to check out from the Kindle store.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Making Your Own Chewing Gum

As part of my 9 year old's science fair at school, the school put on a science event night with several different science activities set up in different rooms.  It was an excellent idea by the school to promote science beyond just the science fair and welcome the entire school, instead of just the select few who did science fair projects.  One of the science activities setup allowed students to make their own flavored chewing gum.

The above picture shows my 6 year old making chewing gum.  The process to make chewing gum basically involves mixing powdered sugar, flavoring of choice, and a gum base.  Here are a couple of websites I found that have more specific instructions.

My daughters had fun making their own gum and then trying it out.  They seemed to like it.  My wife and I tried it.  It was okay for about the first 5 seconds and then the flavor was completely gone and I have to admit it tasted a bit disgusting.  LOL!  That doesn't, however, mean you shouldn't try to make your own gum at home with your kids.  There are many different ways to make gum, so try out a few to see which method works best.

Friday, March 10, 2017

This Blog's History: Sawbones Pocast

ICYMI the first time, today's This Blog's History post takes you back to my original post on the Sawbones podcast, an excellent podcast to learn about medical science history.

Sawbones Podcast

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Quarter Phase Moon

There's a relatively common misconception that a quarter phase moon (First or Third Quarter) is 25% illuminated.  After all, a quarter means one-fourth or 25% of something.  In this case, however, quarter does not refer to how much of the moon is illuminated.  Consider the first quarter moon shown below.

It looks like half the moon is illuminated, not 25%, and to our eyes, half of the moon's surface facing us is illuminated.  How much of the moon's entire surface is illuminated?  

Regardless of what we see in the sky, exactly one half (50%) of the moon's surface is illuminated at all times.  What we see depends on the positioning of the moon relative to the earth and the sun.  Consider the full moon below.

To our eyes, 100% of the side of the moon facing us is illuminated.  Yet only 50% of the moon's entire surface is illuminated.  The moon is positioned relative the the earth and the sun in such a way that we see all of that 50%.  

So why a quarter moon?  Nowhere in the discussion above does 25% come into play!  A quarter moon has nothing to do with seeing 25% of the moon's surface illuminated or the moon's surface being 25% illuminated.  The moon's surface is ALWAYS 50% illuminated.  The phrase 'quarter moon' has to do with where in the lunar cycle the moon is.  The start of a lunar cycle occurs when the moon is in its new phase.  Next comes waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full, waning gibbous, third quarter, and finally waning crescent before heading back to a new moon.  A first quarter is one quarter of the way through this cycle and a third quarter is three quartesr of the way through the cycle.  This is where the quarter phases come from, not the % observed to be illuminated or the % of actual illumination.  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sixty Symbols YouTube Channel

Today feels like a good day to share another excellent science themed YouTube channel with you.  If you haven't seen it already, please check out the Sixty Symbols YouTube channel.

Sixty Symbols YouTube Channel

Sixty Symbols posts new videos about once or twice per month that focus on physics and astronomy.  Recent videos have focused on the second law of thermodynamics, dipping bird experiments, and moon trees.

If the state of politics in the U.S. is putting you in a bad mood, take a break and watch a few cool science videos at Sixty Symbols!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

NASA's Earth Now App

This is not a new phone app, but one new to me as I recently discovered it a couple of week's ago.  NASA's Earth Now phone app is a wonderful app that gives you a TON of information on the Earth.

Earth Now Phone App

With a tap of the screen I have at my hands information on the current air temperature all over the Earth, carbon dioxide levels, ozone levels, sea levels, water vapor levels, etc.  All of this is displayed in the form of a map on your phone screen.  With a swipe left or right you can rotate the Earth and see how these levels change in different geographic areas.  On top of that NASA provides facts on each of these.  This is an amazing tool that is cool, yet very informative.  Definitely check it out and download it to your device.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Bill Nye Saves the World - Netflix

I'm a big fan of Bill Nye.  I was unaware of his TV show, Bill Nye the Science Guy, in the mid 1990s when I was a middle schooler, so I never watched it when it aired on TV.  I have, however, watched a couple of episodes on Netflix with my kids.  They are pretty cool!  He's coming back to Netflix this year with a new show titled Bill Nye Saves the World!

The show releases on Netflix on April 21, 2017 and includes 13 episodes.  His show from the 1990s was a feel good show in which he discussed basic science concepts in an entertaining and fun way.  It was geared toward introducing kids to science.  This new series still focuses on science, but the goal is to discuss various anti-science topics and debunk them.  It looks like he'll be debunking alternative medicine and climate change conspiracy theories to name just two.

Having watched, read, and listened to Bill Nye on a number of occasions, I fully expect this to be an awesome show packed with science knowledge.  I'm definitely marking it on my calendar and making the time to watch it with my kids! 

Friday, March 3, 2017

This Blog's History: Climate Change Conspiracy Theories are Ludicrous

It's Friday and time for another post in this This Blog's History series.  Today's post links to a post I wrote on climate change conspiracy theories being ludicrous.  Why?  Because they are!  If you're interested, check out the original post below.

Climate Change Conspiracy Theories are Ludicrous

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Rogue NASA Shirts - Last Day to Buy!!!

If you're looking to get your official "Rogue NASA" shirt, today is the last day to order!!!  These shirts are produced by a group calling themselves "Rogue NASA" that started out as individuals within NASA sharing to social media their resistance to the anti-science administration currently running this country (U.S.).  This is their statement on the purchasing site for these shirts.

"Science is under attack in America, and we're here to lead the resistance (into outer space, if need be). All of Rogue NASA's proceeds from this sale will be split between Girls Who Code and the National Math + Science Initiative."

You can get your shirt here:

Rogue NASA Shirts

The organizations to which all proceeds go are "Girls Who Code" and "National Math + Science Initiative", two fantastic groups promoting science.  As I write this, over 1200 shirts have been sold!  That's fantastic!  I'm still debating whether to buy a shirt.  It's a great shirt and a great cause, but I've already purchased a March for Science shirt and there's only so many shirts I can afford and put in my closet!  If you need a shirt for the upcoming March for Science on April 22, 2017, you can't go wrong with these!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Solar Eclipse Glasses

The solar eclipse of 2017, the first total solar eclipse in the United States (mainland) since 1970 (and this one barely touched the east coast), will occur this year on August 21, 2017.  There's still plenty of time to plan your trip to within the path of totality (see the map below), but get started now.  I need to get started myself!

One thing you need before August 21, is a set of solar viewing glasses.  Do not use sunglasses and do not look at the Sun!!!  NASA has a great page for getting started on getting the correct pair of eye protection to view the eclipse.

You don't need super expensive glasses as it's unlikely you'll use them much after the eclipse.  I found what appear to be a sufficient set on Amazon for just a few dollars per pair.

They look cheap, and they are, but they'll do the job.  Just make sure you are viewing the Sun through the filter and not off to the side.  I plan on getting myself some of these.  

I highly encourage you to find a way to get into the path of this eclipse.  This is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity!!!  There's another in the U.S. in 2024, but you never know about clouds or where you'll be at that time, so if you have the opportunity this year, take advantage!!!