Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Fun

Image Credit: 

FALCON FLIES: Early afternoon we watched the launch of a SpaceX mission. Atop the Falcon rocket was a Dragon capsule, full of of cargo destined for the International Space Station.

Thankfully, this time, the launch went without a hitch (after having been delayed from Monday due to a helium leak). One thing making this launch interesting - it was a recyclable rocket with legs delivering legs to a robot on board the ISS!

I have to admit, watching the launch live, I thought something was terribly wrong at the moment of ignition. I'd never seen such dark/black clouds billow from beneath a rocket. I mentioned it to Christian after work and he said he thought the same thing! As I read comments online tonight from other launch nerds, we weren't alone in our observation. Some attribute it to the rocket kicking up dirty water when the engines ignited. Others suggested a more serious problem, saying the rocket should have had trenches under it. SpaceX's Elon Musk apparently called the mess 'embarrassing' at a post launch  press conference. 

All that aside, if you haven't seen it before, check out film from a test flight (and landing) of a Falcon 9 rocket. ...

And here's a great video from SpaceX about the importance of the resuability of rockets.

The Dragon capsule is set to connect with the ISS early Easter morning - around 7:30 a.m. East Coast time, before my upping Seattle time. ;)

UNDER THE KNIFE: Preparations for CJ's birthday continue. Yesterday I baked three layers of chocolate cake. Today, it was three layers of vanilla, and a couple dozen cookies. He has changed his mind about the Dora cake, opting instead for My Little Pony. Given that, today we made 17 different colors of fondant (yes, SEVENTEEN) for the ponies. 

Meanwhile, we're also working on a Barney the dinosaur pinata.  The pinata is Barney, becaue I explained to the kids, I've never understood why people get pinatas of something they love, and then beat the crap out of them. Instead, why not pick something that drives you nuts and beat that, right?

And so, we're building Barney. 
One his initial shell was complete, we could carve open his back and prepare to stuff him. 
The carving was easy. The kids were less thrilled with pulling his guts out (balloons we used to shape him). 
 Here, Annabelle looks like she's performing midwife duties!

REST IN PIECES: As planned, NASA's robotic moon explorer, LADEE, is toast. The  Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer was purposely crashed on the dark side of the moon. The dramatic end comes three days after LADEE survived a lunar eclipse - a period of dark and cold it wasn't designed to endure. So good on LADEE, going out like a champ! 
When LADEE crashed, it was going 3600 MPH. That'll leave a mark! 

Speaking of NASA constructs going above and beyond, how about that Opportunity rover? Launched in ***, and still going strong on the surface of Mars, *** YEARS after its planned end of mission.

A primary reason it's still running the on board solar panels powering the rover.

NASA just released this interesting side-by-side selfie of Opportunity, taken in late March of this year.  
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

On the left is a self portrait showing a coat of dust covering its panels in Jan. 2014. However, a windstorm cleared them off by the time the second selfie, on the right, was taken by the rover's panoramic camera (Pancam) in March. Per NASA, Opportunity now has cleaner solar arrays than it has had in any of the Martian winters it has endured. With clean panels, Opportunity's energy has been boosted, and it can do more work! So now on its 'to do' list is inspecting Murray Ridge, on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, to learn about wet environments on ancient Mars. Roll on, Opportunity!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: We watched a short video today featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about overcoming obstacles and stereotypes to become a scientist. Leave it to him to turn a STUPID question about 'chicks in science' into something so deep and meaningful.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


FROM THE ASHES: I picked up a TIME magazine yesterday, the cover photo drawing me in. It was a panoramic shot of New York City, taken from a pole atop the spire of One World Trace Center.  

There was a great article about the construction of the nation's tallest building, and the cover referred readers to an online, interactive version of the amazing panorama:

The resolution is incredible. You can zoom WAY in on NYC landmarks, and you can even make individual people out on ferry boats. "Wow! This is amazing! I love this! This thing zooms really far!" Annabelle marveled. 
Meanwhile, CJ groused, ""This is confusing me. I can't see One World Trade Center." I reminded him the camera was atop I WTC and that if he wanted to see that building, he had to look straight down. Once he got that straight, he was good to go.

We played around with the photo for awhile, and then I pointed the kids to another feature to go along with the story - a short documentary TIME (as "Red Border Films) made about One World Trade Center's construction.  The film focused on the ironworkers and what it meant to them to be involved in the project. 
I'm not going to get any more specific, because you really should watch it for yourselves.

We sat rapt, for 17 minutes, listening to the stories of the men and women. As I WTC's spire was lifted into place, making it the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, Annabelle softly said, You know what I just hope ..."

"I know," I said with a sigh. "It's what we're all thinking."

When it was all over, the kids spontaneously started clapping. It was *that* inspirational. I had them each write a paragraph about the structure, and a paragraph about the workers in the story. 

Here is Annabelle's report: 
The One World Trade Center stands at an astounding 1,776 feet (541 m), and has 104 floors! It is currently the tallest building in North America. The window-washing tracks will be named "floor 110" in a tribute to the 110 floors of the original twin towers. The building will also has many features that resemble other famous buildings in NYC, such as the Empire State Building.

The ironworkers who worked on the 1 WTC said that the unity of the team was great, as they worked together on most everything. The team was very dedicated to working on the tower, some even working 12 hours a day with a 2-hour commute! They worked very hard and should be proud!
 CJ's take:
I just watched a documentary about the One World Trade Center, made by Red Border Films.
The One World Trade Center is a building in New York City, the tallest building in North America, and the successor to the original World Trade Center, also known as the Twin Towers. One World Trade Center is (appropriately) located near the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, in New York City. One World Trade Center is the 3rd tallest building in the world, only topped by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Makkah Clock Royal Tower in Saudi Arabia. During initial casework, One World Trade Center was titled the "Freedom Tower".

Several people worked on One World Trade Center, having worked there for over 5 years. Many said that they felt uneasy working on the One World Trade Center. Overall, the One World Trade Center was a very difficult project that you had to be very dedicated to if you were working on it. During the documentary, I heard about a man who's father worked on the original World Trade Center, unfortunately, being paralyzed in a fall.
In the end, the project was successful, and there you have it, the One World Trade Center.
When we were in New York last September, workers were still loudly and furiously working away on the building. We stood and watched the ironworkers' sparks fly for awhile.
And while we were at the 9-11 Memorial next door, the sound of I WTC's construction created quite a din. But it was reassuring, rather than jarring. It was the sound of rebuilding.

THERE IS ANOTHER: Big news from the folks at NASA today. Using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the "habitable zone" -- the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. They have named this new-to-us planet Kepler-186f (catchy, no?). 
The artist's concept depicts Kepler-186f , the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone. Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Numerous other planets have been previously discovered in a habitable zone, but they're all less Earth-like (for instance, at least 40 percent larger in size than Earth). 

Unfortunately, we won't be checking out Kepler-186f any time soon. It's about 500 light years from us, in the Cygnus constellation. 

DRAGON ON DECK:  We hope to watch a rocket launch tomorrow afternoon. The same rocket we hoped to watch on Monday - a SpaceX cargo mission (CRS-3) to the ISS.  Monday's launch was postponed due to a helium leak. If successful, this will be the company's third commercial resupply mission and SpaceX's fourth visit to the space station. 
Launch is scheduled for 12:25pm Seattle time. The launch will be webcast live on SpaceX's site beginning at 11:45.

NASA TV will also have coverage beginning at 11:15 a.m.

As of Thursday night, the weather's not looking perfect for a launch, but we can hope. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday Round Up

TAKING SHAPE: CJ's birthday is coming (this Sunday!) and yesterday morning I woke with a start, remembering I'd promised him a pinata. Those take days to make (what with all the layers and drying time), so we had to get started. But first things first, I had to know what he wanted to beat the living stuffing out of. Turns out the answer to that is Barney the Dinosaur. Excellent choice, I must say.

So yesterday, Barney started taking shape on our kitchen island, with a lot of balloons and some painter's tape. 
Today, we continued the process, adding arms along with another layer on the head and body. He'll get legs tomorrow, along with another layer on his body and head.

I asked CJ what kind of cake he wanted and without hesitation he said he wanted to recreate what is clearly the finest moment in Food Network history, and perhaps the best moment in television history. ;) history.

Guess he's officially a tween, as his birthday is all about bashing bastions of childhood, eh?

This morning while wading through a pile of junk email, one message popped out at me. It was a from a Portland theater consortium announcing pre-sale tickets for an appearance by none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson!!

I figured if NdGT was appearing in Portland, he most certainly had to be coming to Seattle, too. I took to the Google and it took me a few minutes to hunt down a date and place. Turns out he'll be at the historic Paramount theater on Monday, Sept. 15. Today was a presale with code-only event, but a little more research and I was able to run that down. So now we've got our tix in hands. Can't wait!

UP NORTH:  As of today, we are now spending an extra hour a week up in Shoreline because Annabelle is now enrolled in a weekly art class there, which she's very happy about. Today, she got to dabble in watercolors. She completed the class project, a vase of daffodils, and then had extra time, during which she created a dandelion-themed pony. 

While the kids were in math today, I went to a presentation about an Internet-based curriculum called Odysseyware. I'm trying to sound not too negative, because it was as pretty brief overview, but let's just say it wasn't a game changer, at least for us.

I appreciate what the company appears to be trying to do - offer "Common Core" compliant classes for students in grades 3-12 students. However, I found the interface overly cluttered, clunky and the video portions of classes we saw were (IMHO) cheesy, not dynamic and not compelling compared to classes we've taken online via Coursera, edX, etc.  It also sounds relatively expensive, given all the free, excellent resources there are out there. 

Speaking of EXCELLENT free resources, I'm thrilled to learn awesome math educator Jo Boaler is offering
a class for math students of all ages. From Dr. Boaler's email announcing registration is now open, she explains the class "is FREE and is designed for any learners of math (all ages, all levels), to give them a positive relationship with math. The course has 3 goals
To instill a growth mindset, especially in math
To teach a range of mathematical strategies, such as representing, and seeking big ideas
To show math as a connected, living subject with videos of math in soccer, dance, art, nature and many more applications."
What's not to like?!

The class will consist of 6 course sessions that take 15-20 minutes each, and it will be open at the end of May/beginning of June.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Boys 'n' Girls

BOYS TOYS: We almost never go to McDonalds because, well, ick. It's like a three-times-a-year destination, max. But we found ourselves in a McD's drive through line at around 11
today because of the Ponies. Slaves to the ponies ... how many times I've said that. ;)

So, I order a couple of Chicken Nuggets Happy Meals and am immediately asked, "Do you want girl toys or boy toys."


Recently on the Support for Grayson page on Facebook, borne out of a boy who was horribly discriminated against by his public school district for carrying a My Little Pony backpack to school, I'd seen a poster about the longstanding policy of asking 'boys' or 'girls'? (I rememberthat's the way it has been all the way back to Rick and Ken's tender years, and I'm guessing beyond.)

I thought that was dumb then, and I think it's dumb now, and so I was happy to see it supposedly had moved beyond this when someone shared a note from some McDonald's management to its employees.

Well, clearly that wasn't the Ballard McDonald's. ... Heavy sigh.

And so, the kids' writing assignment of the day became writing a couple paragraphs on where, per our receipt, they supposedly really value feedback. We shall see. ...

It's not like this is a 'little' deal. Truth of the matter is, McDonalds is the largest toy distributor in the world. So if they're stereotyping who receives which toys, that's literally a big darn deal.

At the very least, per our receipt, they 'won' a free Quarter Pounder for logging in and registering their feedback.

JUNGLE IN HERE: This morning an alert popped up in my Facebook feed from the National Weather Service. It had a thumbnail of a tornado next to it.

Curious (of course!) I followed the link. Imagine my relief when it was only an update about when it's safe to move planting outside.

The release had a list of average last frost dates (the average date that the last frost of the season occurs using weather statistics over a number of years):




MOON SHADOWS: Of course, we didn't get to see the lunar eclipse/blood moon last night. Boo, hiss! It had been mostly clear all day, and come 10 p.m., the moon slipped behind a quilt of clouds, not to be seen again for the night.

The Internet was full of pretty blood moon photos this morning. Here's one from our friends at NASA. Lookie how close Mars is to the moon in this shot. Neat-o!

Image Credit: NASA Ames Research Center/Brian Day

STRATEGERY: This afternoon we engaged in an epic chess match.
Chess is taxing enough, but when your pieces are all Nintendo gaming characters, it's exponentially harder.Before every move you have to figure out who's who and plot accordingly.

Our match lasted a whopping 90 minutes. In the end, Christian and CJ beat Annabelle and me. We girls were vexed most of the game by the menfolks' blasted Birdos (knights).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sun, Moon & Diamonds

EYES ON SKIES: We had lovely weather all weekend, and it spilled over into Monday, hooray! We took the opportunity to wash all three of our cars this morning. While out in the alley working, I looked up at one point and noticed a big, thin ring around the sun.

"Look! Look!" I cried, running in the house to get the kids and grab the camera.  After we checked it out (carefully, as staring into the sun isn't the best idea, and my cameras didn't like it, either), we went back in the house to use the Internet to find out what we'd just seen.  "Our" ring was so big, I couldn't fit the whole thing in my camera's field of view.

Turns out it's called aptly named a halo. (There are also moon halos.) I asked the kids to do a little research, and find out how halos are formed.

I ended up reading an article about them on the EarthSky Web site. Turns out the halos can form when thin cirrus clouds are overhead. The clouds have millions of tiny ice crystals, and light is both refracted and reflected by them. In order for the halo to be visible, these crystals have to be positioned just right with respect to your eye. 

For whatever reason, I unfortunately started reading the comments on the article. They quickly devolved into a ridiculous debate about religion after some woman posted, "Jesus said in Luke 21 pertaining to the end of the age that there will be signs in the sun the moon and the stars. We are seeing these things more then (sic) ever before."

Sigh. I wonder how the poster determined "we are seeing these things more then ever before." Of course, then people started chiming in from all angles on the topic. Way to run a science article, people. 

Anyway, reading some of the comments, I was inspired to suggest CJ and Annabelle take a stab at writing a folk take about how/why these halos formed. 

Annabelle's story ... 
   Once upon a time, there was an angel named Wraina, who helped in controlling rainbows and sometimes ice crystals. One day when Wraina was moving the ice crystals, she spread them near the sun. A rainbow simultaneously appeared. She moved the crystals away. The rainbow disappeared. She then moved the ice crystals in front of the sun again, and the halo reappeared. Now, Wraina will occasionally use the ice crystal to make a rainbow again and again.
CJ's story ...
There once was a wizard. If records were available from the time he wasn't anonymous, I would tell you his name. Hoping Sun Dogs couldn't get traced back to him, he destroyed every surviving record. Here's the story:
   There once was a wizard. Now, before you start thinking "Oh, he must be a good guy, right?", I'm here to tell you that he couldn't be any more selfish and attention-seeking; he constantly "warned" people that one day, the apocalypse would come, and the primary signs would be that the sun would get a halo, and the moon would turn blood red, soon after, disappearing. Supposedly, the only way you could survive is if you believed in him.
   Several centuries later, by the time that this wizard was long dead,the only thing people remembered about him was what he said about the apocalypse. However, there did come a day in which the sun had a halo, and the moon turned blood red, disappearing soon after. People started to panic, pray, and perform strange (not to mention, politically incorrect) rituals. However, the apocalypse did not come, and people started getting confused. They eventually realized that the wizard was just looking for attention, and that there was nothing to worry about.
Moral number 1: don't make up lies just for attention.Moral number 2: don't believe in everything you hear.
SUNDAY FUN DAY: We spent a sunny Sunday afternoon at Safeco Field, enjoying the return of baseball. 

We spent some pre-game time out at the bullpen.
We had good seats - just nine rows from the field, up the first base line.
The sights and sounds of the ballpark were entertaining and colorful, as always.

We brought lots of snacks from home with us. CJ got a CJ catcher in his Cracker Jack.
Unfortunately, the Mariners (once again) couldn't put anything but zeros up on the board. 
After the game, we stopped for a light dinner at the very-fun-and-tasty Lunchbox Laboratory in the South Lake Union neighborhood. 

Afterward, we checked out the nearby P-Patch/community garden and playground.
On the playground, in the shadows of my paternal grandma's church, we found an angel bear. 

SCRUBBED: We were all set to watch a SpaceX launch this afternoon, but a couple hours before lift off, an anomaly was discovered, which meant a no go for today. The trouble was a helium leak in the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage.

A SpaceX spokesperson says they expect the issue to be fixed in time for a launch attempt Friday, but the weather outlook calls for marginal conditions then (there is a 60 percent chance weather will violate weather constraints for Friday's launch opportunity). Should conditions with the rocket and the weather be OK come Friday, the launch is expected to take place at 12:25 p.m. West Coast US time.

Guess Robonaut 2 is going to have to wait a few more days to get his legs!
                Image Credit: NASA
The upper-body only robot 'lives' on the ISS. With working legs, R2 "will have the mobility it needs to help with regular and repetitive tasks inside and outside the space station," per a NASA press release. Eventually, the goal is for the robotic crew member to take on mundane tasks, freeing the crew up to perform more critical work,

STUFFED: We had a little fun with dinner tonight. Last time we visited the family in Siletz, we were treated to stuffed burgers made with the help of a nifty little kitchen device. Incredibly, we happened across that same tool when we stopped at a Fry's store on the way home. 

I asked the kids what they wanted stuffed in their burgers. They replied "macaroni and cheese" in stereo.
So, made up a batch, smooshed the ground beef in the too, filled it up, and grilled it.

They were a hit! 
Christian and I had jalapeno rings, mini sweet peppers, and jalapeno cheese in our burger centers. 

Not exactly health food, I suppose. Do we get some kind of credit for having kale chips on the side, though?

LUNAR ECLIPSE: We've been watching the clouds come and go all day, hoping they are NOT around about midnight, during the total lunar eclipse. We'll have our alarms set and hope to see the blood moon. Fingers crossed. ... 
Image: JPL

Friday, April 11, 2014


CENTERED: This afternoon we headed to Seattle Center in search of a gift item, which we didn't find. Nevermind that, though. It's always a wonderful time at the Center!

We ran around EMP, enjoying the reflected sunlight oh-so-much. I swear, it was 10 degrees hotter next to the shiny building.
On the pavement outside, there's a labyrinth, which the kids always enjoy solving. It's actually quite a workout running the entire path from start to finish.
I happened to be standing under the monorail tracks, camera in hand, when a train came overhead.
You can see the pink tones of EMP reflected on the front of the monorail.

SPACE TREE: With great interest, we read a story online this morning about cherry trees in Japan which are defying Earth norms. Perhaps no wonder, as their 'roots,' you might say, are in space. Check out the story here:

KALE CONQUERS ALL: Our kitchen adventures continued today. Determined to introduce more greens into our diet, yesterday at Winco I loaded up on kale and today it was Operation Kale Chips.

I checked out recipes online and they were remarkably similar. Cut kale into chip-sized pieces, coat in olive oil, salt, bake for about 8 minutes, and EAT! We followed this recipe - - doing different batches with Maladon sea salt, garlic salt and jalapeno cheddar dustings.

Not gonna lie, the kids were skeptical at first.
However, one thing I've found is that if the kids have a hand in preparing something, they're waaaaaay more likely to try it. That certainly was the case today. I had them do the cutting ...
and the coating (with olive oil) ...
and they spread them out on the cookie sheets. They also did the dusting with the seasonings, then into the oven the kale went.
A short eight minutes later, out it came. To say they were a hit with the kids would be an understatement.
Annabelle declared kale chips her New Favorite Food, surpassing even riblets. :) She declared any parent with a child who "is a picky eater" should make kale chips and BAM! vegetable intake problem solved!

They really were wonderful, especially warm out of the oven. I am TOTALLY going to make kale chips our #1 go to vegetable side dish for dinnertime.

THANK YOUS: Today, we took a little time out to write thank you notes to Dr. John Covach, professor for our "The Music of The Beatles" class.
We'll send them, along with a few pages of Annabelle's Beatles doodles, to his office at the University of Rochester. It's just so generous of Covach and other professors to make the tremendous effort to offer their courses online, for a worldwide audience, for free. The least we can do is send him a thank you.

FORGOTTEN GENIUS: Perhaps you saw the Google doodle today? It paid tribute to Percy Julian. I'd never heard of him before today, unfortunately.

So, I started Googling his name, read a few articles, and eventually came across a great PBS program about him. I wanted to find something to share with the kids beyond a couple of paragraphs. Happily, I found a WONDERFUL PBS documentary titled "Forgotten Genius," about the brilliant African American chemist.

At two hours long, it's certainly more than a cursory couple of paragraphs, which is great! It's wonderfully written/produced and completely compelling. We watched the first hour today, and we can't wait to watch the rest.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Trekking Along

KITCHEN ADVENTURE:  Yesterday during the kids' science class, their teacher slipped a magazine at me and asked me, "Do you think this would work?" 

The page showed what looked exactly liked chocolate chip cookie dough, but it was actually a hummus-like dip. 

"I'm trying it tomorrow," I told her. And that, we did.

The recipe called for 1.5 cups of chickpeas (we used a can of garbanzo beans, rinsed), 1/4 cup of peanut butter (we used all natural/no sugar added), 6 tablespoons of brown sugar,3 tablespoons of oats, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda.
Puree all that in a food processor, fold in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips, and you've got cookie dough, er, I mean hummus dip. Or something in between. 

I tasted it first and did my best not to let the kids see my face/reaction.
I expected them to do a mild gag. Imagine my pleasant surprise when they loved it!
Here's CJ flashing a blurry thumbs up! Go figure.

To me, my brain was having a hard time making it taste OK. I wanted (DESPERATELY WANTED) it to be chocolate chip cookie dough, and it wasn't, LOL.

I think the fact that that the kids made it had a big part of their liking it. They had a vested interest. :)

SPRING CLEANING: There's a never-ending campaign to keep the MPA campus clean. Today, we worked on some upholstery. 
As Annabelle fervently scrubbed a seat she said, "This is a great stress reliever, if you have any stress, which I don't!" 

Must be nice!

ENGAGE THE WARP DRIVES: This afternoon, we engaged our brains big time by playing Star Trek Catan

It had been a couple months or more since we'd played, so we kind of had to relearn it. 
Once we got going, it was the usual fun and bickering. ;)  

When we quit (after about 1.25 hours), CJ and I were tied for the lead, with 4 points apiece (10 were required to win, per regulations). 

BOOKED: We recently returned a stack of books to the library. Titles included "The Giant Book of Questions and Answers," a multi-hundred-paged tome chock full o' facts.

We also returned "Golem," a retelling of a Jewish folktale, by David Wisniewski, and "The Higher Power of Lucky," a novel that won a 2007 Newberry Medal. 

We also returned "Can You Survive Antarctica?" an "interactive survival adventure." CJ chose to Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, in part at my urging, as I reminded him or his heritage on my paternal side of the family. 

Perhaps it was a bad choice. He reported his crew left him in a remote area and he froze to death. Oh well, better luck next time!

Clearly, the book CJ was reading was fictionalized, as in real life, Amundsen successfully led the first expedition to the South Pole. He and four others arrived at the pole on 14 December 1911, five weeks ahead of Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova Expedition. While Amundsen and his team were successful, Scott and four of his crew died on their return journey.