Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Geocaching Frustrations

Readers of this blog know that I'm a huge fan of geocaching.  I've been geocaching with my kids for several years now.  We typically hit it big in the spring and early summer and then our outings tail off when the temperature increases and school starts up in the late summer.  We've gone out a couple of times in 2017 while biking on a local bike trail.

When I first started geocaching in 2008 I purchased a Garmin Etrex Legend GPS unit.  Works great!  In 2014 I downloaded, and paid for, the full version of the official geocaching app on my smartphone.  Worked fantastically!  I was able to see all geocaches along with all user inputted information on the caches.  I started using the app on my phone exclusively when caching.  I paid either $7 or $10 for the app and it was money well spent.

In April 2017 I went to the app and discovered it was out of date and no longer supported.  I had to download the new version of the app.  No problem, until after downloading and installing it I realized the changes to the app are devastating to geocachers.  The GPS on the app is absolute crap on my phone.  This is the same phone I used last year, so it's not the phone's GPS causing the problem.  It is the app.  It takes 20-30 seconds between GPS updates in the app and that is simply unacceptable when geocaching.  On top of that, any cache rated 1.5 difficulty or above is now a 'premium' cache in the app.  Ug.  The lowest difficult is 1, so 1.5 and above is a huge number of caches that are now blacked out to phone app users.

Fortunately all of these apps are still view-able on the website.  It means I have to go back to the original GPS unit and away from the phone app.  The phone app itself is now free, but you have to pay $100/year for a premium membership to use it.  That's not going to happen for an app that doesn't do the job.  Reading through the app reviews, there are many who purchased the old phone app in February/March and are now extremely upset because now they can't use the old app.  Very understandable.

To conclude, we are still geocachers, but are now using a standard GPS unit and no longer our smartphones.  It's amazing to me how an amazing app that worked wonderfully was simply destroyed in the new version.  And for what purpose?  Greed as far as I can tell.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Karate Kid

We recently introduced our kids to the 1980s classic, The Karate Kid.  Such a good movie!  As a child in the 1980s I watched this movie several times but it has been several years, if not more than a decade, since I last saw it.  My 6 year old has just started dabbling in martial arts, taking her first lessons this spring so she was particularly interested in seeing the movie.  It's a movie, so yes, it's portrayal of karate is almost certainly way off base, but it's still a good movie!

As the movie concluded I was surprised at how quickly the movie came to an end.  I'd say a spoiler alert is coming, but this movie came out in 1984, so spoiler alerts don't apply.  :-)  There's the crane kick, and two seconds later credits are rolling!  LOL!  Gotta love the 1980s!

Fun fact one:  Pat Morita, who plays Mr. Miyagi, started his career as a stand up comedian!  If you pay attention this comes out in some of his lines.

Fun fact two:  William Zabka, who plays Johnny, the "bad guy" so to speak, had several cameos in the fantastic TV series How I Met Your Mother, in which he played himself. 

Fun fact three:  For all parents out there wanting to feel older, the 1984 release of The Karate Kid was closer in years to the end of the Korean War than present day is to the release of The Karate Kid.  Have fun with that one! 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Evolution Misconception #1: Why Are There Still Monkeys?

Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to write about a few of the many, many misconceptions regarding evolution.  The science of evolution is rock solid and there's no controversy.  Sure, there are some questions on some things, but that is science.  If there weren't questions, there'd be no science!!!  There is, however, no question whatsoever on evolution itself as to how humans and other species came to be.  NO QUESTION!  If scientists disagree on a few details, that doesn't throw under the bus the entire concept of evolution, nor does it give you a valid reason to declare the Earth is 6,000 years old and humans were created by a deity as is.  Today let's look at the following misconception.

Misconception #1:  If humans came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

Sigh.  This shows a complete lack of understanding on evolution and an unwillingness to learn.  Let me make this very simple.  Evolution does NOT say that humans came from monkeys.  That is a made up argument evolution deniers use to make themselves sound smart.  They don't sound smart.  They sound the exact opposite of smart because they made up an argument that doesn't exist.

So what does evolution say?  Evolution states, and is backed up by tons of actual evidence, that today's monkeys and today's humans evolved from a common ancestor.  A common ancestor.  Humans did not evolve from monkeys.  They evolved from a common ancestor.  Here's a great article from Scientific American on this very topic.

Why are there still monkeys?

So let's be clear one more time.  Evolution is real.  There is a ton of evidence for evolution.  Yes, there are still questions.  No, those questions don't give you free reign to make up your own explanation for humans that has no evidence.  Do humans come from modern monkeys?  No.  To say otherwise is to completely ignore what evolution says.  It shows that you have no interest in understanding the basics of evolution and frankly, it makes you look silly.

Friday, May 26, 2017

This Blog's History: The Bayesian Trap

In case you missed it a few weeks ago, for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to the post I wrote on a very cool video I watched regarding the Bayesian Trap.  Watch it.  It will really open your eyes to statistics and the chance of something happening.

The Bayesian Trap

Thursday, May 25, 2017

9th Doctor, First Season, Third Episode

Yesterday I shared our experience of watching the modern reboot of Doctor Who.  Today I have a few things to share regarding the third episode of the first season of the ninth Doctor.  In this episode the Doctor takes Rose, his traveling companion, 5 billion years into the future when the Sun is ready to expand into a red giant and destroy the Earth.  So far the science on this is correct.  In about 5 billion years the Sun will expand into a red giant.  It will grow in size and potentially swallow the Earth.  The Earth will most certainly move out of the habitable zone in which liquid water on the surface is possible.  (Earth actually moves out of the habitable zone in about 0.5-1.0 billion years.) But it is mentioned in the episode that humans left Earth long ago.

In the episode, the very, very rich of different species gather on a space station to witness the destruction of Earth.  There's even a clock, down to the second, of when the Sun will grow and destroy the Earth.  Wait a second?  The red giant process takes several million to several tens of millions of years.  You can't narrow it down to an exact second.  This is what I'm thinking in my head as the episode continues.  Ah, but the Doctor saved the day by explaining a shielding device was used to contain the Sun until the gathering of the very rich could arrive.  The shield contained the pent up energy from the Sun and released it at a pre-determined moment in time.  Excellent!  Technology has saved the day keeping me from arguing that faulty science was used.  :-)

Yes, I'm a nerd.  Yes, I love Doctor Who.  You should too.  Doctor Who is cool.  Go watch it now!  Watch it with your kids!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Doctor Who Introduction

Recently I introduced my daughters to Doctor Who.  I started watching old classic episodes of Doctor Who, that started in the early 1960s, a few years ago.  I'm currently on on the last season of the third Doctor.  We had a rainy weekend a few weekends ago, so my kids and I decided to watch the first season of modern Doctor Who, starting with the 9th Doctor in the 2005 reboot of the series.  LOVED IT!  We are only a couple of episodes in to the first season of the reboot, but my kids absolutely loved it and so did I.  My 6 year old had so many questions about the Doctor that it was hard to keep a straight face.  Explaining how the TARDIS works to them wasn't exactly easy either.  Of course it's bigger in the inside than the outside!!!

We'll keep watching the series and I encourage you to do so as well.  If you are a Amazon Prime member, you can stream them for free on Amazon Video...for now.  Contracts change all the time, so hard to tell if/when it leaves Amazon Prime and switches to Netflix, Hulu, or something else.  Watch it now while you can!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Coffee Mug Science

Each morning before heading to work I brew a pot of coffee for my wife and I and pour my serving into a travel mug and take it into the office with me.  When washing the mugs in the sink, if they soak for too long, water is sucked up into the lining between the outer edge and the actual cup the coffee rests in.  No big deal.  What's interesting, however, is that the water doesn't directly drain out.  It stays in the lining until I pour the hot coffee in.  Once the hot coffee hits the inside of the mug, the water in the lining comes pouring out the bottom!  The picture below doesn't do it justice.  It shows water on the counter, but it is always interesting to me when I see it in action.

I suspect this is result of the metal lining expanding when the hot coffee hits it.  The metal will expand due to a temperature increase, resulting in less room for the water in the lining, pushing the water out the bottom of the cup.  Interesting.  Moral of this story?  I'm a nerd.  :-)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Growing List of Planets

Finding new planets in our galaxy is no longer a rarity.  It seems every day brings a new discovery of a few planets.  The first planet outside our Solar System, also called exoplanets, was discovered in the mid 1990s.  In just a bit over 20 years, the number of known exoplanets has grown to 3,607 (as of April 1, 2017).  WOW!  But what is even more exciting is that we are finding more and more Earth sized exoplanets which brings in to question the possibility of life.  We also find Earth sized planets in conditions very different from our own.  Take this very recent discovery of a very cold Earth sized planet in another Solar System.

Smallest Planet Ever Observed by Microlensing

It's not that the planet is cold that makes it interesting, but that it is the smallest planet discovered using the technique of microlensing.  For a good discussion on microlensing, go here:

Gravitational Microlensing

This is super cool!  It adds to the tools we have to discover new planets.  It won't be long and I am convinced we'll have evidence of an Earth sized planet with water on the surface or oxygen in the atmosphere.  After that it is only a matter of time before we discover life elsewhere in our galaxy and that will be the ultimate scientific discovery!

Friday, May 19, 2017

This Blog's History: It's Okay to Say I Don't Know

I posted this a few weeks ago but it always remains true.  For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to the post I wrote on how important it is to say "I Don't Know" when you really don't know.  It's not a sign of weakness.  It is a strength to recognize and willingly say "I Don't Know!"

It's Okay to Say I Don't Know

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Why do Giraffes have Long Necks?

Why do giraffes have long necks?  Let's start with the misconception.  The misconception states that giraffes reach high for leaves to eat and therefore their necks stretch during adulthood.  It states that a single giraffe played a great role in giving giraffes as a whole long necks.  Not true.  The true answer is natural selection.

Giraffes have long necks due to natural selection.  Over time, giraffes with longer necks had an advantage over giraffes of shorter necks.  During times of food shortages, giraffes with longer necks are able to reach leaves (food) higher up.  As a result, giraffes with shorter necks had a greater likelihood of dying before reproducing.  Thus those giraffes that do survive and reproduce are more likely to have longer necks.  The "long-neck" gene, if I may call it that, is passed to the offspring, making it more likely the offspring will have longer necks.  Over several generations of giraffes, the number of short-necked giraffes decreased and the number of long-necked giraffes increased.  A single giraffe is not stretching its neck and producing long-necked giraffes.  It's natural selection at work effecting an entire species over many generations.

Natural selection isn't goal driven.  Natural selection didn't have the goal of producing long-necked giraffes.  As a result of environmental conditions, natural selection resulted in more long-necked giraffes as these giraffes were more likely to survive, reproduce, and more likely to have offspring with longer necks.  There you you know why giraffes have long necks.  :-)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dear Hank and John Podcast

As you know, I'm a big listener of podcasts.  I'm constantly updating my must listen to list.  I can no longer keep adding podcasts.  For each new one I add I have to remove one, or cut down on the number of episodes from one I listen to.  I've added a new science podcast to my list, the Dear Hank and John Podcast.

Dear Hank and John Podcast

Hank and John are brothers with a love for science.  Hank (Green), you may know as the producer of the excellent SciShow YouTube series.  If you love science, check out their podcast.  It has made it on my must listen to list, bumping another excellent science podcast!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Recently we received a free movie rental code to rent a movie from FandangoNow.  Having never used FandangoNow before, I was pleased with how easy it was to setup, use the code, and watch a free movie.  The movie we watched was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

An excellent, excellent movie!  After the movie my 10 year old looked over at me and, with a smile on her face, said "that was an awesome movie!"  It was an awesome movie indeed.  If you like Harry Potter, you'll love Fantastic Beasts.  This isn't a prequel to Harry Potter, but is set within the Harry Potter wizarding universe.  You won't hear mention of Harry Potter since the movie is set in a time well before Harry was born.  You will, however, hear a few names, such as Albus Dumbledore, that any Harry Potter fan is familiar.  

Take a moment, okay, 2 hours and 13 minutes of moments, to watch Fantastic Beasts.  You won't be disappointed!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Skeptic's Guide to the Universe

If you are in the mood for an excellent science podcast that is also kid-friendly for middle school and high school students, I highly, highly recommend the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe Podcast.

Skeptic's Guide to the Universe Podcast

In fact, if you only have time to listen to one science podcast per week, I would put this one at the top of the list.  There are other excellent ones out there, but if I had to choose just one, this would be my choice.

The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe is a weekly podcast hosted by Steve Novella, Jay Novella, Cara Santa Maria, Robert Novella, and Evan Bernstein.  Past hosts include Rebecca Watson and Perry DeAngelis (deceased).  I've been an avid listener for about four years and look forward to new show each week.  Episodes are approximately an hour and half in length and have recurring series such as Forgotten Heroes of Science, Who's That Noisy, What's The Word, and Science or Fiction.

I particularly enjoy the Science or Fiction segment which takes place at the end of each episode.  Four science news items are given and you have to figure out which three are science and which one is the fiction.  It really gets you thinking!

So check it out.  Science lovers will LOVE this podcast!

Friday, May 12, 2017

This Blog's History

In case you missed it last month, here's the post I wrote on the truth of the "pink moon" you likely heard about in April.  Hint:  The moon was NOT pink.

The Pink Moon - The Truth

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Power of Kinetic Sand

Last month the kids and I went to a science event hosted by the local university.  It was in a gym with 40+ tables set up with science demos, often hands-on, at each table.  We started at the beginning and worked our way through each table.  We almost hit them all.  I think we were on table 38 when the event ended and cleanup started.  Along the way we found a table with kinetic sand.

This stuff always makes me stop and I end up playing with it well after my kids have moved on!  I'm not sure what it is, but I find myself mesmerized by kinetic sand.  The texture and way it moves through your hands leaves me amazed!  I told my kids, give me a box of kinetic sand and I'm happy for the day.  LOL!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hornet Attack!

Last month, as the temperatures started to increase, we quickly noticed an increasingly growing number of hornets/wasps flying around our backyard.  We took a look around the house and sprayed where we saw a few small nests, but these were also nests I was positive I sprayed last year and never got around to knocking down.  Later that day it was obvious these were old nests as the number of hornets/wasps had not decreased at all.  We next started watching the hornets/wasps and found them congregating around the deck and a wooden structure in the backyard play area.  We lifted up the wooden structure and found two large, active nests.  Then I took apart a small area of the deck I couldn't access without taking apart, and found another large, active nest.  Three large nests in total, shown below next to my finger.

That took care of a good number of the hornets/wasps, but several hours later we kept seeing them flying around.  The house next to us is currently empty and has a shed in the backyard, adjacent to our backyard.  I went around the the shed and noticed several hornets/wasps coming out of the shed.  Fortunately the shed was unlocked and I opened it up and found five more nests of similar size.  Yikes!  

I think we've taken care of the problem now as I don't see any flying around our backyard now.  It was an interesting adventure.  My 6 year old was particularly interested in the nests, which admittedly are very cool in the absence of hornets/wasps!  She was so interested that she wanted to be part of finding them in the shed, but I had to put my foot down and tell her no on that one!  Too risky!  In the end we knocked out eight nests of similarly large size and no one in the family was stung!  Now that is a success story!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Talent Show - Science!

For the better part of this academic year, my 10 year old and her close friend in the same grade have been carefully planning an entry into the school's end of the year talent show.  Their chosen topic/theme is science!  Each skit is only allowed 5 minutes, so these are not overly elaborate skits, but they've put quite a bit of time into their chosen science skit.  They are dressing up as scientists (lab coats and safety goggles) and have plans of "popping" a balloon.  I'm not exactly sure what their plans are to play out the theatrics of the skit, but their goal is to convince the audience the balloon popping will make a loud noise.  Then they have plans of poking the balloon, but using tape or glue to trick the audience into thinking the balloon will pop but it won't actually pop.  Honestly, I'm not quite sure what they are doing here.

It's a simple skit, to be honest, but that's not the point.  The point is the excitement they have to do a skit for a talent show that involves science!  Evidence that if you immerse your child in science opportunities, they'll seek out even more science opportunities in their life, often without your influence.

More to come later after they complete the talent show.  Then I'll have a better idea of exactly what they have planned.  They are keeping things a bit hush hush right now to keep it a surprise for everyone, including me!  :-)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Science Discoveries in 2016

We are now in the 5th month of 2016, but I just ran across this article and it was a good reminder of how great science was in 2016.  There were a number of very cool, very meaningful discoveries!  These included gravitational waves, strong evidence for a 9th planet in the Solar System, and the discovery of a planet in the closest star system to us, at only 4.2 light years away.  The article I ran across lists the top ten discoveries of 2016.

The 10 Most Mind-Blowing Scientific Discoveries of 2016

Take a look at them and see if there's anything you missed!  Now let's look at 2017.  This year has taken a huge hit as a result of the current U.S. White House administration's push to ignore climate change despite the overwhelmingly evidence in support of a warming planet.  Morale at government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, is at an all time low and budget proposals, if pushed into action, will devastate the progress of science in the United States.

Fortunately these budget cuts have yet to take place and there has still been some good science this year.  The discovery of a solar system 39 light years away with an Earth like planet in a habitable zone is a HUGE discovery.  There will be more!  Tune in at the start of 2018 to see what were considered the top science discoveries in 2017.

Friday, May 5, 2017

This Blog's History: Fidget Cube

In case you missed it last time, here's the original post I wrote about a Fidget Cube, a neat little gadget you need for your home or office.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2007)

My kids and I are on a quest to watch all of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies.  We started with the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie that came out in 1990 and then watched the sequel and the sequel to the sequel.  They each slipped in quality from the previous movie.  The first two are decent movies in my opinion, but the third movie is definitely a step down.  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from 2007 is a bit different.  It's not part of the original sequence and its not live action.  It's a computer animated action film.

I thought it was a decent movie in the TMNT franchise.  I'd rank it third best out of the first four movies in the franchise.  TMNT III is still the worst, a significant step below this computer animated film.  I'm a big comic book geek so I typically enjoy comic book themed movies.  My kids enjoyed it too and we are now set to watch the first of the re-booted TMNT movies, released in 2014.  Can't wait!

Side note:  My favorite TMNT scene in any of the movies is the Vanilla Ice cameo in the second movie.  Go Ninja Go Ninja Go!  :-)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

It took nearly a year, but we finally finished reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as a family.  It's a long book when you are reading it out loud!  A few days later we watched the movie.  Naturally the kids loved the book and the movie.

In my opinion this is a turning point in the series in which the story becomes a bit darker.  This makes sense as the characters are a year older in the book and closer to adulthood.  The actors too are a year older and their voices have changed as have their appearances as they are another year through puberty.  It's also the first movie in the series to be rated PG-13.  The first three were rated PG.  

Despite the change in movie rating I was fine with my kids watching it.  Next up:  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Hopefully it won't be another year before I write about this book/movie, but it very well could be given we are reading a different book first before starting the next Harry Potter book.  :-)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Bayesian Trap - Veritasium

The other day I watched a very cool video produced by Veritasium that highlighted a problem with false-positives in medical testing and how easy it is to over-simply test results.  The video is called The Bayesian Trap.

I highly encourage you to watch it yourself but to fill you in, the video focuses on a hypothetical situation in which you've gone to the doctor to determine what is wrong with you.  The doctor runs a test and discovers you tested positive for a pretty horrible disease that effects 1 in 1,000 people.  The test has a 99% accuracy rate.  So what are the odds you have this disease?  99%, right?  That's what common sense tells us, but in this case common sense is very wrong.

The video walks you through the steps to determine the correct odds you have the disease.  You may have tested positive, but a test with a 99% accuracy rate has a 1% false-positive rate.  This means that 1% of individuals testing positive for the disease will in fact not have the disease!  Take 1,000 people.  Of those 1,000, one will have the disease, but 1% will falsely test positive.  Out of the 1,000, 10 will test falsely test positive in addition to the person who correctly tests positive.  There are now 11 people testing positive, only one of which actually has the disease.  Therefore your odds of having the disease after testing positive are 1 in 11 or 9.1%.  That's it!

This is why medical professionals are very concerned at the number of false positives out there in which people test positive for a disease and are then treated for a disease they don't have.  In many cases, treatment may come with serious side effects.  Thus it is important to avoid as many false positives as possible.  One way to remove false positives is to run multiple tests.  In the example above, if the test is ran twice, the odds of a false positive drop dramatically and your odds of correctly testing positive (incorrectly testing positive twice) jump to around 91%.

If you haven't already seen this video, please watch it.  It's a great example of how common sense leads us to an often very incorrect assumption.

Monday, May 1, 2017

March for Science Recap

On April 22, 2017, my wife, my 6 year old, and I attended the March for Science in Indianapolis.  My 10 year old would have joined us but she had travel soccer games.  It was a blast!  It was so great to be surrounded by so many forward thinking individuals who understand the importance of promoting science.  We congregated around the Indiana statehouse, heard a few speakers, and then marched a few blocks down to the park.  Great times!  Prior to attending we made signs at home as you can see below.

There were so many witty signs that it was fun simply looking around and reading the signs of others.  Despite the fun we had, I must say that it is absolutely ridiculous our country has come to a point in which a March for Science is needed.  Science isn't a hobby.  Science saves lives.  This isn't a joke, but the current Republican part in the U.S. treats it as a joke.  I don't know what the future holds for science in the U.S., but this family will not go down without a fight.  We must stand up and fight as the very existence of humans on this planet depends on science.  You too can stand up and fight.  For information on how to do so, go to the March for Science website posted below.