Friday, February 5, 2016

Going, Going

AD ASTRA, ED:  The crew of Apollo 14 have now all left Earth for parts unknown. The last survivng crew member, Edgar Mitchell, died yesterday, at the age of 85.

Mitchell's death came just one day shy of the 45 year anniversary of his moon landing. 

Mitchell was one of my favorite astronauts because he was unabashedly an X-Files kind of guy. He had a keen interest in what or whom is "out there."  It wasn't uncommon to see headlines like "Peace-loving aliens tried to save America from nuclear war,' claims moon mission astronaut Edgar Mitchell," and Former astronaut: Man not alone in universe associated with him. Guess where Mitchell grew up ... Rosewell, New Mexico, of course!

Buzz Aldrin had this to day about Mitchell: "I first met Ed when I was at MIT as he was studying there at the same time. Ed was certainly involved in advanced mental (sensory) perceptions aka mind reading. Not my bailiwick but I respected him for his persistence and dedication to studying the unknown. I'm sorry to lose another of our Apollo Lunar Pioneers. RIP Ed."

TECHIES: As has become our habit, last night, the first Thursday of the month, we spent a couple of hours at Living Computer Museum, enjoying their free movie night. I'll let the kids tell you a bit more about it, starting with Annabelle ...
The Living Computer Museum is a place where you can see the history of computing evolve, and interact with it too! All of the vintage computers they have on display actually work, and you can do many things with them. They have a large section of computers that run games that are usually on floppy disks or large cartridges. They also have a punch-card machine where you can spell a sentence or phrase, and then take it home! There are many small mechanical typewriters scattered around as well. The machines are fun to look at and interact with, and it’s interesting to learn about the history behind some of them. On the first Thursday of every month, the museum has a movie night where admission is free, but you might want to reserve a seat because they’re usually full. February’s movie was “TechMan”, which is about how computers have- and will- revolutionize our world. We’ve already developed Google Glass, a pair of glasses that project images like directions, reminders, or the internet, directly onto your retina. You can also take pictures. If you don’t like having your picture taken, you can wear an “Obscura” which will shine a laser beam into any cameras it detects. So much technology has been invented to help us, we can start digitizing our lives and not have to remember anything! It will be interesting to see how much life changes because of technology.
And here's CJ's take, centered on the movie we saw. 
"Tech Man" is a documentary made by Films for the Humanities and Sciences about the increasing closeness of human beings to machines. One of the featured devices in the documentary is "Google Glass". Google Glass is a device made by Google that you wear on your head and can use to browse the internet and take pictures or videos. The film also talks about other devices bringing humans and machines closer together, such as a watch that can show you your temperature or a camera, worn around your neck, that records everything you do. One of the people featured in the movie is Gordon Bell, the author of a book called "Total Recall," and he decided that he would record everything in his life and put it on a computer. This does not just include his daily activities, it also includes things like his e-mail and browsing history. Gordon said that he loses strong emotions associated with something once it has been recorded.
Turns out you can watch TechMan in the comfort of your own home via Vimeo:

TechMan (50 minutes) from Bregtje van der Haak on Vimeo.

POSTER GIRL: We were recently asked to help with a poster for a Black History Month event. The organizer wanted something that would capture the feeling of a Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote about light and love, and she cited the song "I'm Gonna Let it Shine" as a potential inspiration, too. 

Those were plenty of great ideas to work with, so, we on the MPA design team started talking about ideas. We liked the idea of a lantern, because they were used to illuminate the way on the Underground Railroad. We also liked the idea of a heart prominently in the image. So, Annabelle drew up a great heart lantern and we worked hard to come up with the right kind of flare in the middle to have it look like a candle. She did a great job with shadows to give it depth, and we wanted a nighttime looking wooden fence as a background to put the text on. 

We were really pleased with the end result, and so were the event organizers. Hooray!
It looked really nice when we printed it out poster size (about 17 x 22 inches). I could tell Annabelle was really proud to see the poster on the wall for all to see.

INGENUITY: In the past couple of days, a great story from Skylab days has popped up in my social media feeds.

It's the story of saving Skylab, really, thanks to some good ol' Yankee ingenuity and a woman with an industrial strength sewing machine. Unfortunately, the off-planet outpost was damaged during its launch off Earth. Once it reached orbit, a solar array failed to deploy, and damaged shields left astronauts at risk. A couple years back, we heard firsthand accounts from a couple of Skylab astronauts, including Jerry Carr, Jack Lousma, and Owen Garriott, talk about the orbiting lab getting too toasty.

The photo below shows Alyene Baker sewing an emergency, makeshift sunshield to keep Skylab from getting toasted. With her are, left to right, Dale Gentry, Elizabeth Gauldin, and James H. Barnet Jr.
          Credit: NASA
Before sending the thermal protection to low Earth orbit, NASA conducted experiments on the ground regarding its installation. Below, astronaut Russell Schweickart worked on a procedure for installation.
         Image credit: NASA
After a number of attempts, determined astronauts were able to manually make the damaged solar array deploy, and they installed the 'aftermarket' shield, stabilizing temperatures within the orbital workshop. 
The awesome NASA photo above shows Owen Garriott in extra-vehicular activity aboard Skylab.
It definitely looks like an add-on, doesn't it? But it worked!
     Image credit: NASA
The photo below, taken on June 22, 1973, shows the shield on the left side of Skylab, protecting it from micrometeroids and acting as a thermal shield. 
Thanks to the fix, Skylab went on to act as an international space lab for six years.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Past and Future

SHADY: We spent part of our evening at one of our favorite places, Living Computer Museum. We try to go every first Thursday for their movie presentations. Tonight we saw "Tech Man," but more about that tomorrow.

Of course, we always enjoy perusing the museum before and after the show. Tonight we appreciated some art made using vintage computer programming punch cards.  
A cute and clever use of part of our history, don't you think?!

WIDE WEBB: By now the Hubble telescope is world famous for the astounding images it has been providing to Earthings for years. In the not-too-distant future another amazing space telescope will be wowing us.

The James Webb Space Telescope is under construction, and recently workers in an enormous clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, used a robotic arm to install the last of the telescope's 18 mirrors onto its structure. Each of the hexagonal-shaped mirrors measure just over 4.2 feet (1.3 meters) across, and they weigh 88 pounds (40 kilograms). Together, the mirror segments will work as one large 21.3-foot diameter (6.5-meter) mirror.
          Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn
An international project led by NASA the European and Canadian space agencies as partners, Webb will be the biggest and most powerful space telescope ever launched when it catches a ride atop a Ariane rocket from French Guiana in 2018.
From time to time we watch the Webb telescope being built at Goddard via the "Webb-cam:"
Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn
BIOGRAPHICAL: While Annabelle was in art class today, CJ and I did some more research about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American United States Supreme Court justice. One of the things we learned is that his first first name was actually Thoroughgood, but he changed it in second grade, to simplify matters. 

Marhsall's father was a railroad porter, but he had an affinity for the law and used to go to the local courthouse and listen to lawyers argue cases.

After graduating from, Marshall wanted to attend the University of Maryland School of Law, but was denied entry because of his race. He went on to get his law degree from Howard. When he became a practicing attorney, one of the first cases he took was a discrimination suit against the U of Maryland on behalf of a young American American man.

In addition to reading articles, we watched a short cartoon with some biographical highlights.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Looking Back

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: A hundred years ago today, Seattle was in the grips of its worst recorded-time snowstorm ever. 

Granted, most of the town was in gridlock, but at the Ballard Locks, thing were in full swing. In fact, it was the first time the locks would 'swing' open!

In the photo above, taken just after noon on February 2, 1916, the water is coming from the filling tunnels at the floor of the lock. Make sure you look up at the guys standing on the (upstream) gate watching the water start to flow in past the snow. What an exciting moment it must have been for everyone working on the project!

And this snowy picture shows the historic moment the first boat moving through the locks. Cool, in more ways than one!
JUSTICE FOR ALL: We continued learning about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American United States Supreme Court Justice today.

I asked the kids if they thought it was better listening to someone else talk about Marshall, or if they'd rather listen to Marshall himself. They both agreed the original source was the best. (Right answer!)

And so we watched a rough, partial interview with Marshall, conducted by a young Mike Wallace (smoking like a chimney).

 We also continued learning about the legacy of Barbara Johns of Farmville, Virginia. 

Niece of civil rights activist Rev. Vernon Johns, as a 16-year-old, Barbara boldly led her high school, Robert Moton, in a walk out to protest the separate and very-not-equal conditions at her school. (She and her school mates were educated in leaky, over-crowded, tar-paper roofed shacks while their white peers were schooled in relatively palatial buildings.) We loved hearing the story of her masterfully led protest, and the lengths she went to to make sure it was a secret up until the moment it happened, right down to having a couple of friends call the school principal to trick him to leave the building because she knew if he'd been there it would have been hard to pull off. 

In fact, it was such a surprise, as Barbara addressed assembled students at her school, her own sister was shocked by what was going down! Johns led her classmates in a march to the school superintendent's office. He threatened them all with hellfire and brimstone, told them their parents would all be fired from their jobs, and that their parents would all be jailed. At that, one student wondered aloud how big the jail was. A turning point, they all deduced that their movement could not be contained.

The Farmville case morphed into part of the "Brown v. Board of Education" case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court, forever finally setting schools on an equal for all trajectory. 
We watched a short documentary from PBS about Barbara Johns and Farmville, Virginia's role in the Supreme Court case "Brown v. Board of Education" on PBS: 

PATCHWORK:  Yesterday, we read (via a Reading Rainbow episode) a book called "Follow the Drinking Gourd" that introduced us to the tradition of a storytelling quilt with patches that served as a road map to freedom for slaves. 

Today, we read two more books on the same topic. One was "The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom." By author Bettye Stroud (illustrator: Erin Susanne Bennett and publisher: Candlewick Press), it's a story of a young girl named Hannah who makes a run for freedom with her papa. A patchwork quilt from Hannah's deceased mother holds a series of hidden clues that guides them along the Underground Railroad all the way to Canada. We enjoyed this story via the Tumblebooks feature on Seattle Public Libraries' Web site.

The other story we discovered today was "Show Way" by Jacqueline WoodsonLike the other books, it's about patchwork pieces put together to form a map to freedom for slaves. But this story was so distinctive in tone, and it was especially memorable, because it was told by an author who traced her family's history from slave to present times. If you have a Seattle Public Libraries' card or another way to access BookFlix, you should certainly check it out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Me and My Shadow

     Photo courtesy: PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection, Museum of History & Industry

SHADOWY FIGURE: This morning, we awoke to the news that good ol' Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog in Pennsylvania, didn't see his shadow. That means (with almost absolute certainty) that winter is not going to be prolonged, thank goodness. 

We could see our shadows in Seattle today, as we had blue skies and sunshine. The same was not the case 100 years ago on February 2, the day of the Blizzard of 1916.

Back then, the city's many hilly neighborhoods and outlying areas were virtually isolated from the downtown area as snow clogged the streets. In the photo above, the driver and passengers of a "jitney bus" try to dig the rig out. (Jitneys were car-like buses which carried paying passengers, long before Uber arrived on the scene.) 

And here's a great old photo (part of the PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection at the Museum of History & Industry) showing the Coliseum Theatre. At the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Pike Street, The Coliseum was the world's first theater designed just for the movies. The landmark didn't even have a stage - a huge departure for theaters of that era.  
Some of the most dramatic photos from that day came from the St. James Cathedral. Its dome collapsed under 15 tons of snow. Check out the photo gallery here: 

CUBISM: In Annabelle's art class this morning, the kids had a party since it's the last class of the semester. They celebrated by building pyramids out of sugar cubes. ...
And they also ate Greek food as a nod to the Greek-themed drawings they completed (which were used as a backdrop for the Greek myth play CJ was in). We brought some hummus and ... wait for it ... spanakopita to school (because we haven't made quite enough of that yet this year, ha ha).

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: February is here, and that means it's Black History Month. 

Today, we watched an old "Reading Rainbow" episode (season 11, episode 6), called "Follow the Drinking Gourd" that was all about the African American experience. The episode gets its name from a children's picture book of the same title about an old song slaves used to sing. "Follow the Drinking Gourd" was an exhortation to escape slavery by connecting with the Underground Railroad by following the Big Dipper in the sky.

The episode also included a reading of "Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt." It's the story of a young slave girl separated from her mother. She longs to be reunited, and sews a quilt that is actually a map to freedom, which she shares with others.

This evening, while CJ researched Thurgood Marshall, the first African American judge on the United States Supreme Court, Annabelle and I worked on a poster for a Black History Month event.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Mariners and Astronauts

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL PARK:  We had a fun couple of hours Sunday wishing it was baseball season. Here is Annabelle's narrative of our off-season visit to Safeco Field.
On the January 31, I went to the Mariners FanFest at Safeco Field. The FanFest includes activities on and off the field. The largest activity, and my favorite by far, is the large zip-line in right field. They strap you into a harness and send you down all the way into center field. I felt like I was really good at it because I didn’t stumble when I landed!

They also had inflatable slides and a hitting practice where the ball you were swinging at was elevated by a stream of air.

 Another activity I did was run around the bases. ...

They also had face painting and balloon animals, neither of which I did. I did get signed up for the Kids’ Club, however, and got a backpack and a Wiffle ball. FanFest was fun and I look forward to going next year!
And that's the end of Annabelle's review. I guess holding a 'boomstick' by a larger than life Nelson Cruz wasn't as memorable for her.  

 And there was a pitching photo opp.
They met a virtual reality Mariners Moose ...
and listened to Mariners' broadcaster Rick Rizzs interview some Mariners' players.
We stopped at the memorial for Dave "Hendu" Henderson, a Mariners favorite who died just a few weeks ago.
And a FanFest first for us was getting to see the control room, where the rolling roof is retracted and extended, and fireworks are set off.
 I wanted to push those buttons so bad, but controlled myself. ;)
Baseball season can't come soon enough.

KHAN-VENTION: We had a Trek-fest type of weekend. More specifically, it was all about one specific episode dating back to the original Star Trek series. I'll let CJ tell you a bit more ...
On January 30th, a group called Outdoor Trek, themed around performing versions of "Star Trek: The Original Series" episodes outside* performed at the Seattle Public Library's Central Building. For their act at the library, they were showcasing different scenes from "Space Seed," an episode in which the crew of the Enterprise discovers a ship called the Botany Bay and brings its cryogenically frozen passengers aboard the ship, with less-than-desirable results. Outdoor Trek had three very different actors play Khan, a ruthless superhuman frozen on the Botany Bay ship.
When we got home, we were able to watch the actual episode "Space Seed" by purchasing it from CBS' YouTube channel. In "Space Seed," the crew of the Enterprise finds an abandoned spaceship called the Botany Bay, launched in the 1990s, and picks it up for investigation. Upon further examination, they realize that the inhabitants of the Botany Bay are still alive, but frozen in cryogenic storage. The crew of the Enterprise wakes up Botany Bay's crew, with disastrous results, as Khan and his followers are warriors with nasty  intentions.
The next day, we saw "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," a movie set after Space Seed. The film starts with a training exercise called the "Kobayashi Maru": An unwinnable simulated test where you have to decide whether to save a ship (but violate space treaty in the process), or abandon it, which will destroy the ship and kill everybody aboard except you. In the movie, agents from the Enterprise discover the shipwreck of the Botany Bay on a harsh, desert planet, and are hunted down by Khan and his followers. We also learn of a project called "Genesis," which will recreate the process of Earth's environment forming.
          It can be said that Khan is a well-known and very important villain in science fiction history,
          because he was very powerful, and the audience of "Space Seed" and "Wrath of Khan" was                 genuinely afraid of who was going to win. However, Khan's thirst for power and insistence on
          killing his enemies ultimately led to his downfall.
*This time, it wasn't outdoors.

ORION ON THE MOVE: One of our favorite airplanes on Earth had a big job this morning.
 Super Guppy had the Orion spacecraft loaded into its cargo bay, destination Kennedy Space Center.
We can't wait to see it atop a rocket, headed beyond Earth's orbit!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Spreading Stardust

FINISHING TOUCHES: Annabelle finished a days-long art project this afternoon, putting the final (of about 2,423) plastic beads into place on Ziggy Stardust's face. Below, you can see she's closing in on being done.

Once all of the beads are in place, you cover the pattern with parchment paper and then use an iron to slightly melt or fuse the beads together. 
That process is always a little dicey, because you don't want to over melt them and lose the pixel effect, but if you under-iron them, the whole darn thing falls apart. Also, while you're ironing, invariably some of the beads flip sideways - especially on a big project like this - and then things get tense. 

Mercifully, in the end Ziggy came together fabulously. Long live Bowie. Gone but never forgotten. No doubt he'll be inspiring all kinds of art projects for generations to come.

PONDERING PLANETS: We're working hard on the picture book project. And though we're in the homestretch, we keep coming across "little" things that need changing or fixing or updating or altering, and so the finish line seems to keep getting pushed further away. Sigh. But we shall persevere!

Today's research for the book involved making sure we were well-versed in how Pluto is different than the eight inner solar system planets. To that end, we read the article "What Is Pluto?" part of the NASA Knows! (Grades K-4) series.

We also had to research how big the equator of Jupiter is. According to's article "How Big is Jupiter?Jupiter has a mean radius of 43,440.7 miles (69,911 kilometers), which is about one-tenth the mean radius of the sun. Interestingly, Jupiter's rapid rotation causes it to bulge at the equator. Isn't that interesting? (In case you're wondering, Jupiter's diameter is 88,846 miles, and it spins once every 9.8 hours. That's a short day!

And our book research also had us calculating the distance from the Ohio/Indiana border to Washington DC.
Turns out it's about 525 miles, and would supposedly take about nine hours to drive, per our Mapquest query this morning.

Meanwhile, on Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory rover keeps on rollin.' We loved this selfie it took, which NASA shared today.

The photo shows Curiosity at "Namib Dune," where the rover's activities included scuffing into the dune with a wheel and scooping samples of sand for laboratory analysis.
            Image: NASA/JPL
We couldn't help but notice the big holes in MSL's wheels. Hope they are good for many more miles. ...

A DATE WITH THE BARD: One of the items we knocked off our 'to do' list today was getting reservations to see William Shakespeare's First Folio when it comes to down this spring. It will be on display at the main branch of the Seattle Public Library. 

Published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, the First Folio is the first and most comprehensive collection of the plays of William Shakespeare. It's considered one of the most important books ever published, as without it, his masterpieces including Julius Caesar, Macbeth, As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew might have been lost to the ages. 
According to the British Library, it is estimated around 750 First Folios were printed, of which 233 are currently known to survive worldwide. The folios contain manuscripts of 36 plays. More:
As part of the event, Seattle Public Library will have lots of special Shakespeare-related programming. You can learn more about it here:

MPA will definitely be reading up on Shakespeare before we go see the precious artifact.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


DAY OF REMEMBRANCE: Not gonna lie. I dread this day. 

I have dreaded January 28th ever since 1986.

In the wee small hours of January 28, 1986, I was holding a colicky baby overnight for hours, passing the time watching CNN. There was wall-to-wall coverage of the launch of space shuttle Challenger since one of the astronauts on board this mission was a school teacher, Christa McAulliffe. Overnight, I watched all the pre-flight prep, and felt a growing uneasiness, for whatever reason.

The spacecraft launched at 8:39 a.m our time. When it the spacecraft cleared the tower, I shrugged and chalked my terrible misgivings up to fatigue. I put baby Rick down in a bassinet and headed for the shower. Guess everything was fine. 

I emerged from the shower to see my worst fears realized. Faces of loved ones onboard Challenger searching the sky, bewildered.

Challenger was lost.

Thirty years ago today.

Fast forward to 2016, we started our morning watching live coverage of the memorial service being held at Kennedy Space Center on NASA's Day of Remembrance.

I just love the photo up top, of a worker at Rockwell painting the spaceship's name on the orbiter. Bet he was proud to be working on that project.

By comparison, the photo below is heart-wrenching. It's a piece of what was left of Challenger.
This 9.5 by 16-foot segment is part of Challenger's right wing. It was discovered by Navy divers about 12 nautical miles northeast of Cape Canaveral in 70 feet of water, on April 18, 1986.

NASA uses today, the anniversary of the Challenger disaster, to remember all of those who lost their lives as part of their space program. Here's a short video about the remembrance.

When we visited Kennedy Space Center for the launch of STS-132, the second to last flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis, we visited the astronauts' memorial. Heart wrenching then and now.
FRIDAY MORNING: Tomorrow morning (Jan. 29, 2016), a 45-minute webcast on the NASA DLiNfo Channel starting at 8 a.m. Pacific time will be all about the Synthetic Muscle™ experiment on the International Space Station. A polymer chemist from Ras Labs will be on hand, talking about about the investigation to test radiation resistance of an electroactive polymer. Sounds cool, doesn't it?  The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, manages the U.S. National Laboratory on board the ISS, and sponsors this experiment. During the event, the public can ask questions via Twitter using #askDLN or via email to

For more info, visit