Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Trip to Scotland

A couple of weeks ago, from the third week of June to early July, my family and I took a two week vacation to Scotland.  I'll sum our trip up in one word:  Amazing!!!  Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing our experiences.

We started our trip flying into Edinburgh.  Edinburgh is not pronounced with a hard 'g' like Pittsburgh.  It's pronounced Ed-in-bur-ah.  We spent three nights in Edinburgh and then drove up to the Inverness area, staying in Beauly for three nights.  We then drove down along Loch Ness, kept going, and stayed in Dunoon for four nights before heading back to Edinburgh for a night before flying out.  Basically we made a big circle around a good chunk of Scotland.  

Along the way we saw several castles, including Inveraray Castle shown above.  We also toured a couple of whiskey distilleries/shops and came home with quite a few bottles of Scotch Whiskey.  LOL!    We also took a car on a boat ferry for the first time too.  I'll explain much more in future posts, but this Scotland trip was absolutely amazing!  I highly, highly encourage you to take your family to Scotland if at all possible.  There is NO WAY you will regret a vacation to Scotland!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Camping at CampQuest

This past weekend we picked our 10 year old daughter up from her week long camping trip at CampQuest.  She had an absolute blast at this camp.  It was about a 2.5 hour drive home for us from the camp and she talked for most of this time about the different things she was able to do at camp.  When I asked her to rate her experience on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, she responded with:  "Oh!  WAAAAYYYY more than a 10!  I rate it a 100!"  That's how much she loved it!  She immediately said she wants to return next year!

So what is CampQuest?  The mission of CampQuest is best described by CampQuest's own vision/mission statement as:

"Camp Quest envisions a world in which children grow up exploring, thinking for themselves, connecting with their communities, and acting to make the most of life for themselves and others. Camp Quest provides an educational adventure shaped by fun, friends and freethought, featuring science, natural wonder and humanist values."

The website goes on to say:

"Camp Quest is a place for fun, friends, and freethought for kids ages 8-17. Our camps provide a traditional sleepaway summer camp experience with a wide range of activities including sports, crafts, games, swimming, and campfires. In addition to our traditional summer camp activities, Camp Quest offers educational activities focused on critical thinking, ethics, scientific inquiry, philosophy, and comparative religion.
Camp Quest is open to all children and teenagers within the accepted age range, but it is particularly geared towards building a community for children from atheist, agnostic, humanist and other freethinking families. Our goal is to provide a place where children can explore their developing worldviews, ask questions, and make friends in an environment that is supportive of critical thinking and skepticism."

Too often this has been described by religious groups as a camp that teaches immoral, godless lessons to children.  This is so far off base as to be labeled as beyond ridiculous.  CampQuest is not anti-religion in any way.  In fact, both when we dropped off and picked up our daughter, there was a table of free books that contained a great deal of religious materials across several religions.  There were science books, a few books questioning aspects of religion, but many books with a pro-religion stance, including several children's books of biblical stories.  CampQuest promotes critical thinking in ALL areas.  If CampQuest takes any stance on religion, it is that it is each individual's choice to be religious or not, and they encourage everyone to investigate for themselves the different religions of the world.  In fact, CampQuest's response to religion on their FAQ is:


No. Campers at Camp Quest are encouraged to think for themselves and are not required to hold any particular view. We firmly believe that children should not be labeled with worldview labels by adults, and instead should be encouraged to ask questions and explore different worldviews as they grow. We do present atheism and humanism as valid and reasonable options for an ethical and fulfilling life.


Yes. Campers at Camp Quest explore different worldviews, and many children have not yet formed their beliefs on the existence of God. Campers who believe in God may get a lot of interested questions from their fellow campers, but the camp environment fosters asking these questions in a spirit of dialogue and mutual respect. Campers who have expressed belief in God have had fun, made friends, and had a great Camp Quest experience.

I asked my daughter if the camp counselors ever discussed religion and her answer was no, the topic never came up.  I asked her if any of the other campers discussed religion and again she said no.  In other words, the campers were way too busy having fun with other activities to worry about who was religious and who wasn't religious!

Now that I've made it clear religion was not a part of this camp, what was part of this camp?  At CampQuest my daughter reported canoeing (full day!), archery, swimming at the onsite pool everyday, soccer, 9-square (similar to 4 square but with 9 people), Ga-Ga (common game at schools, please don't ask me how to play because I don't know!), campfires, s'mores, Socrates' Cafe, arts/crafts, and science.  Just hearing all of this I am super jealous I'm an adult and can't attend CampQuest as a camper!  Socrates' Cafe is a round table discussion in which campers come up with deep thinking questions and provide responses/solutions.  This is one of the activities at CampQuest that goes a long way in showing campers that everyone has different opinions on different issues but that it is important to respect differences in opinions, even if you don't agree with them.  

My daughter reported several science activities that were hands-on.  These included science experiments, as well as trips down to the on-site pond to observe and talk about nature.  My daughter was very big on this.  CampQuest had several activities going on at once so campers broke up into groups based on what they chose to do.  My daughter chose to do several of the science activities and skipped Scorates' Cafe a few of the days.  That's fine.  I can see Socrates' Cafe being a bit more challenging to the younger campers and more appealing to older campers.

Campers stayed in cabins divided by self-defined gender.  Girls' cabins were on one side of the camp and boys' cabins were on the other side.  My daughter's cabin had 5 campers and 3 counselors.  Each cabin had 3 counselors so there was plenty adult over-sight at this camp.  Each set of cabins had a separate shower facility.  Note I said self-defined gender above.  CampQuest is very LGBTQ friendly.  This camp is open to EVERYONE!  Well, anyone aged 8 to 17.  In fact, at the dining hall, there were signs over both of the bathroom doors, traditionally marked boys and girls.  One sign said "This is a bathroom."  The other sign on the second bathroom said "This is another bathroom."  I love this!  We focus far too much on gender in this country.  A bathroom is a bathroom.  As long as individual stalls are private, who cares who pees and poops in which bathroom!?!?!  

I honestly have no criticisms of CampQuest.  If I really thought about it, I suppose I could say that more pictures could have been posted to the private CampQuest families facebook page.  Pictures were posted on 3 or 4 days.  But the counselors are busy people during camp and downtime for them to post pictures is very limited!  Although there could have been more pictures, I was very pleased with their efforts to post some pictures and keep parents in the loop.  Communication prior to camp week was excellent as well.  There was a phone meeting for first time parents of campers prior to camp and there was a great deal of information sent out ahead of time to help prepare your camper for camp.

To conclude (okay, maybe not as I went another several paragraphs), this was an absolutely amazing experience for my daughter and one I have absolutely no regrets.  She really wants to go back next year.  She made some wonderful friends.  In fact, at pickup, I noticed several campers running around giving hugs to the friends they made and telling them they'll see them next year, prior to leaving.  At this point I'd say there's a 99% chance of my daughter returning next year.  I'll never say 100% as there are always things that could come up that prevent her from attending camp, but I do know this camp will be a scheduling priority for my daughter!

My 7 year old turns 8 next year and is eligible for camp as well.  Although she could go, I'd put the odds of her attending at 80/20 against.  At this point I really don't see her being ready to go away for a week, but you never know.  A few months can result in great changes for a growing child.  Unfortunately we don't have a full year to determine whether our youngest daughter will attend CampQuest next year.  Camp registration typically opens in January/February prior to the summer camps.  It all depends on camp location, but most of these camps fill up very quickly and have wait-lists.  The camp at the location we attended filled up and started a wait-list around March 2017.  I do know several of the kids on the wait-list made it, but it all depends on how many counselors a camp can secure and how many kids overall sign up.  My suggestion is to investigate CampQuest early, pay attention to the release of camp dates, starting in early January, and make a commitment early.  

For more information on camp locations, go here:

This site also lists the 2017 prices.  For a full week camp, prices range from $400-700.  Some locations have tiered pricing.  Some do not.  Some camps offer multiple weeks of camp.  Others offer just one week.  For a full week I feel the price to camp is very reasonable and on par with other week long camps.  There is financial assistance available for lower income families unable to afford the full cost of the camp.  CampQuest is also a growing camp.  It started out in 1996 with one week of camp at one location only.  It slowly grew over the next few years and then started to expand quickly, starting about 10 years ago.  I'm trying to remember the numbers presented to me when I dropped off my daughter, but I believe total camper numbers across the current 16 locations (spread across the U.S.) was around 1600 in 2015.  Numbers continue to go up, with projections of an increase in 100 campers each of the next few years.  

To conclude (for real this time!), my daughter loved CampQuest!  If you have any questions, please let me know through a comment.  We asked other parents of their experiences and this was a big help in deciding to allow our daughter to attend.  I am more than happy to share more of my experience or answer specific questions if you have them!

Friday, July 21, 2017

This Blog's History: Solar Eclipse Misconception

There's a solar eclipse coming to the United States next month, so for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a misconception regarding this solar eclipse I found.

Solar Eclipse Misconception

Thursday, July 20, 2017

No Dumb Questions Podcast

Looking to add another podcast to your list?  I recently found the No Dumb Questions podcast.  This podcast is produced by Destin Sandlin and Matt Whitmann.  You may know Destin Sandlin from the Smarter Every Day Youtube channel.

No Dumb Questions Podcast

Destin and Matt produce a new episode about once every 2-3 weeks and the topics range from science topics to political topics to other random topics of their choosing.  It's a good podcast so I encourage you to check it out.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mobile App Tools to Help you Observe the Skies

Going back just a decade, it was much harder to find tools or obtain the information needed to do quality observing of the night skies.  It was harder to find objects in the sky.  It was harder to determine when viewing conditions were best.  It was harder to determine which locations were best for observing.  It was also harder to know when specific astronomical events were occurring.  Now it is much easier as all of this information is contained in a device that nearly all of us now own.  That device is your smartphone.

There are so many mobile apps that you can download for free or for low cost to assist you in observing that now anyone can do it with very little prior knowledge.  These mobile apps make it very easy for young kids to observe the night sky as well, so if you're uncomfortable using these apps or aren't sure how to use them, hand your phone over to your kid and let him/her teach you!

What are some of these apps?  There's the Clear Sky app which does an excellent job showing you the sky conditions at a given location.  It will provide details on cloud cover and future predicted cloud cover at your location.  I have this app on my phone and use it quite a bit.  There's also Sky Map which uses your phone's GPS to map out the sky for you.  Just point your phone at the sky and this app will show you a map of what you are currently viewing.  There's the Astronomy Tools Night Sky app that provides information on light pollution, sky conditions, and sends alerts of upcoming astronomical events.

There are many more as well and a few, including those above, are described in this article.

Turn Your Smartphone into an Astronomy Toolbox with Mobile Apps

Check out this article, download a few apps, and get started.  Turn that phone over to your kids or have them download these apps on their phone and get out there and observe!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Extreme Exoplanets

Astronomy is so cool!  There's no other way to describe it.  It is simply awesome!  I've written about exoplanets several times on this blog.  Every week or so it seems there is new exciting news regarding the discovery of new exoplanets or new information on previously discovered exoplanets.  An exoplanet is a planet outside of our Solar System orbiting another star.  The first exoplanet was discovered in the 1990s and as of this writing there are now 3,610 officially confirmed exoplanets discovered.  There are billions and billions of exoplanets in the Milk Way Galaxy, but just a few thousand that are officially known.  Those numbers have exploded in recent years and will continue to grow.  In addition to finding these exoplanets, astronomers are learning more and more about specific exoplanets.  One of the more recent discoveries is an exoplanet that is hotter than most stars!

Extreme exoplanet: Astronomers discover alien world hotter than most stars

This planet has a surface temperature of 4,600 Kelvin.  Wow!  The Sun's surface temperature is about 5,800 K.  This planet is cooler than the Sun, but the Sun is larger and hotter than most stars, so this planet is actually hotter than most stars.  Again, wow!  This planet is a few times the size of Jupiter and orbits a very hot star, which partly explains why the surface temperature is so hot.  The planet is also tidally locked to the star, meaning one side of the planet is always facing the star.  This contributes to the higher temperature.

What will astronomy discover next week?  Who knows, but it could be anything and that's what makes astronomy so exciting!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Evolution Misconception #5: Evolution Takes Place Over Long Time Periods Only

In this ongoing series on evolution misconceptions I bring you the misconception that evolution only takes place over long periods of time.  While it is true that much of evolution does take place over long periods of time, there is evolution that takes place in very short periods of time.  Remember, evolution is a process in which changes in genetic material are passed on from one generation to the next.  For species with long lifetimes, evolution will naturally be a slower process, but for shorter lived species, it can happen much quicker.  Here's a great article from Discover Magazine on male guppies evolving over just a few generations.

Rapid Evolution Changes Species in Real Time

Although I don't have enough information to know if it is an evolutionary process, scientists are finding that some coral are adapting to warmer ocean temperatures much better than others.  Coral reefs are experiencing great levels of bleaching, but some areas are found to have coral surviving at higher rates.  It's a big area of study right now.  If it is an evolutionary process, it is happening on short time periods as it is only relatively recently in the last couple of decades that ocean temperatures have risen as dramatically as they have.

This misconception is probably used much less by creationists to debunk evolution than the previous misconceptions I've discussed, but I have seen it used.  The truth, however, is that evolution takes place over both long and short time periods.  Short time periods changes in a species is not a check mark against evolution.

Friday, July 14, 2017

This Blog's History: Gift to a Soccer Coach

In case you missed it, for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you to a post I wrote on the joys of coaching youth soccer.  You never know what six and seven year old soccer players will tell you or give you!

Best Gift to a Soccer Coach

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Karate Kid III

As a family we've been working through the Karate Kid movies.  Most recently we watched Karate Kid III.  Just like Karate Kid II, Karate Kid III begins immediately after the previous movie.  And I mean immediately!  Karate Kid III starts with Daniel and Mr. Miyagi stepping off the plane on their return trip from Japan to the U.S.

Karate Kid III tries to bring back the magic of the original.  Through a series of events Daniel finds himself back in the tournament he won the previous year, in an attempt to defend his title.  The villains in the movie are classic 1980s villains.  In other words, they are WAY over the top in their villain ways!  Why do I say that?  Listen to the laugh of the main villain.  It is a way over the top, crazy, insane laugh that only a 1980s villain could pull off.  :-)  My 6 year old thought this was funny.

Both kids enjoyed the movie.  I vaguely remember a few parts of this movie, but I'm not sure I ever watched this movie from start to finish.  I simply did not remember much of it if I did.  Next up to watch is The Next Karate Kid which stars Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi and a young Hillary Swank.  Karate Kid III was the last with Ralph Macchio.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

West Virginia Trip Post #12: Tim Horton's

On our drive home from West Virginia I spotted a sign for Tim Horton's and it was lunch time.  I radioed ahead to my colleague driving the other vehicle and we stopped.  Here was my lunch:

Grilled cheese and a doughnut.  Yummy!  That's really all I have to share today.  If you see a Tim Horton's while driving, make sure to stop and have a doughnut.  Good stuff.  :-)

This post concludes this series on the high school trip I chaperoned to West Virginia.  We had a fantastic time and learned much about the history of coal mining in West Virginia.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

West Virginia Trip Post #11: Out for a Hike

On our last full day in West Virginia we went on a couple of hikes in Chief Logan State Park, totaling about 7 miles.  It started raining lightly near the end, but that kept the temperature down so it was actually a positive.

Along the way we saw this guy.

I'm told this was a copperhead so we kept our distance!  In the end it was a good day in West Virginia.  Later, after leaving from the restaurant we ate at, I ended up doing one of those 20 point turn arounds in the parking lot in the big SUV we were driving.  Big SUV plus narrow parking lot equals me creating quite the scene turning around.  :-)

Monday, July 10, 2017

West Virginia Trip Post #10: The New River Gorge Bridge

Our last stop before heading home on a day in which we also visited Coalwood, WV and Bluefield, WV, was the New  River Gorge Bridge in Victor, WV.  This added a couple of hours to our drive on this day, but WOW was it worth it!  The bridge was built in 1974 and sits 876 feet above the river below.  Here are a few of the pictures I took.

Very cool!  This is a National Historic Park site so if you have a National Historic Park book, you can get it stamped here.  From the parking lot of the park there's a short, but somewhat step (very well maintained staircase) to walk down and get a closer look at the bridge.  An engineering marvel!  Definitely worth a visit even if it means extra driving time.

Friday, July 7, 2017

This Blog's History: Growing List of Planets

A couple of months ago I wrote a post on the quickly growing number of known planets outside our own Solar System.  For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to that post.

Growing List of Planets

At that time there were 3,607 confirmed planets outside our Solar System.  I bet that number has grown since I wrote that post.  Let's find out.  Yep!  As of June 1 (the latest update) there are 3,610 planets, an increase of 3 since I wrote that post.  Astronomy...discovering whole new worlds...literally!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Evolution Misconception #4: Evolution States An Individual Evolves in a Lifetime

In the fourth installment of this series on evolution misconceptions I present the evolution misconception that states an individual evolves in a single lifetime.  In other words, this misconception states that you or I will evolve during our lifetime or that your dog will evolve in its lifetime.  That's simply not true.  You or I do not evolve in our lifetime.  We grow and developmentally change and there are environmental factors that can come into play, but these are not evolutionary processes.

Evolution is a change to the genes, or genetic material, of a species that passes from generation to generation over time.  Note that this is not changes in genetic material to an individual, but a population of individuals over time.  Often this is a long period of time, but it doesn't have to be, as we'll see in a future evolution misconception discussion.  In an individual's lifetime, changes to the genetic material may or may not be hereditary.  Somatic mutations that occur in some, but not all cells, are not passed to the next generation.  Hereditary mutations that are present in the sperm and egg cells do pass to the next generation.

A good example of a somatic mutation not passed on to the offspring is exposure to ultraviolet radiation that results in skin cancer.  The individual's genetic makeup has changed, but this change is not passed to the next generation.  Lung cancer due to smoking is another example.  A parent who smokes and contracts lung cancer does not pass this genetic material on to the child.  The child can be affected through second hand smoke, but this is not an evolutionary process.

An example of a hereditary mutation in which the genetic material is passed along to the offspring  is hemophilia, a disorder in which blood does not clot.  The chances of having hemophilia depend on your parents.
  • No sons of a man with hemophilia will have hemophilia.
  • All daughters of a man with hemophilia will be carriers (called obligate carriers).
  • If a carrier has a son, the son has a 50% chance of having hemophilia.
  • If a carrier has a daughter, the daughter has a 50% chance of being a carrier.
I've pulled the above list from How Hemophilia is Inherited.

The point in all of this is that an individual does not evolve.  It's a population of individuals that evolve over time.  You are not suddenly going to evolve a third arm.  Your failure to grow a third arm is not a failure in the Theory of Evolution.  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

West Virginia Trip Post #9: Eastern Regional Coal Archives

After driving through Coalwood, WV and seeing the Homer Hickman boyhood home we drove to Bluefield, WV to visit the Eastern Regional Coal Archives.  There was a stop in between to have what the outdoor sign said "The Best Milkshakes in West Virginia!"  They were good, but the best?  Hard to say.  :-)

The Eastern Regional Coal Archives are located in the Craft Memorial Library in Bluefield, WV.  I learned later that the high school students we were driving around were not all that excited about the visit to these archives.  That all changed once they arrived.  We were taken into a room and items from the archives were brought out for the students to browse through.  There were high school year books from the 1920s, old baseball uniforms, newspaper articles on the coal mine wars, etc.  The students spent more time at the archives than anticipated, primarily because they dug into this material and were excited to learn more.

The high school yearbooks were quite interesting, and horrifying, given what was contained inside.  There were several comments printed in the yearbook calling girls "fatties".  What?!?!  Under the item 'most likely to be...' there were references to 'a bum', 'homeless', and 'a hooker'.  The word 'hooker' wasn't used, but something else I don't quite remember that had the same meaning.  WOW!  Printed in high school yearbooks!  Yikes!

At the end of our visit I think everyone was glad we stopped at these archives.  We all learned quite a bit!  After this visit we drove to the New River Gorge Bridge, but you'll have to wait for the next post to see my pictures.  For more on the Eastern Regional Coal Archives, go here:

Eastern Regional Coal Archives

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Teaching my Kids Risk

At the start of this summer I purchased a couple of strategy based board games to play with the kids during summer break.  The first we played is a classic, Risk.  If you are unfamiliar, Risk is a board game in which each player stakes out geographical ground and then must attempt to defeat the armies of all other players and obtain world domination.  I've played Risk before, although it has been many years.  We started by placing our armies as shown below.

I quickly laid claim to Australia.  :-)  Check out my troops in Southeast Asia protecting Australia.  :-)

I ended up winning the game but my 6 year old was holding her own for quite some time!  They had a lot of fun playing and that was my goal.  Risk requires much strategy and critical thinking skills and my hope is playing games such as these, they'll have fun and develop those critical thinking skills at the same time.  Up next?  Settlers of Catan!

Monday, July 3, 2017

West Virginia Trip Post #8: Homer Hickman House

On our third full day in West Virginia we took a drive through parts of West Virginia that took us through Coalwood, WV, the boyhood home of Homer Hickman.  Homer Hickman authored the book 'Rocket Boys' from which the movie October Sky was based on.  As with many old coal towns in West Virginia, there's not much left in Coalwood.  The Homer Hickman boyhood home is still there, owned and lived in by someone else.

We also took a look at a few of the old buildings owned by the coal mining company, all of which are now in disrepair.

The picture above with all of the broken windows is the building in which Hickman used machinery owned by the coal company to build the rockets. 

Coalwood, WV was a very interesting stop given the history behind it, but yet very depressing given that there is not much left of this town.  Many abandoned buildings in disrepair.