Thursday, January 19, 2017

Juggling

BEEN A LITTLE BUSY: MPA is behind in posting this week, and what a week it has been. Busy, busy, busy.

A few highlights ...

Wednesday morning we made a field trip to a local kindergarten classroom to act as space ambassadors, of sorts.

We were invited to share a presentation on something space-related. I thought about it for a bit and I wound up settling on astronauts - how they're alike and how they're different and how each is an inspiration in their own way. And so, I spent some time putting together a PowerPoint to introduce 5-year-olds to a *whole* bunch of astronauts.
I got the kids' attention right away by talking about Buzz Lightyear, the animated astronaut of "Toy Story" fame. I asked them if they knew he was named after a real live astronaut. ...
And that Buzz is one of just 12 humans who have walked on the moon!
We noted that Buzz was not the first American astronaut. Here was the first group - the Mercury 7, from 1958.

I asked the kids to look at the photo. What did they notice about all these astronauts. There were comments about their different boots, their spacesuits ... then one child noticed that they were all men. I agreed, and noted that they were all white men.
I then introduced them to the newest astronaut class, named in 2013.

How the times have changed! Half the group is women, and "one has dark skin" as one student noticed.

From there, I noted that the U.S. isn't the only country with a space program, and told them about Valentina Tereshkova, the world's first female astronaut. She flew way back in 1963.
It wasn't until 20 years later, 1983, that America had its first female astronaut, Sally Ride.
We also talked about the first African Americans in space, Col. Guy Bluford. He has a doctorate in philosophy and studied laser physics before becoming an astronaut. He flew to the ISS in 1983.
And the amazing Mae Jemison was the first female African American in space. Here, she's seen on board the ISS in 1992. Jemison is a medical doctor who left her practice to join the Peace Corps. She is also an accomplished dancer and an actress.

We shared this awesome photo and gave the kids a chance to make guesses about where the astronaut was. (Answer: Doing a space walk outside the International Space Station.) It's a cool photo because you can see the blue line of the Earth's atmosphere, and the Soyuz capsule docked to the ISS, as well as the solar arrays.

I told them what you couldn't see in the photo was that the astronaut inside the suit was John Herrington, the first Native American NASA astronaut. Below is a photo of him we took when meeting him at The Museum of Flight a couple years back.
I let them know about other nations' space programs, including China and Japan. And I told them about the first Cuban astronaut in space, Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez. Mendez was the first Latin American, the first person of African descent, and the first Cuban to fly in space.
Another amazing astronaut we've had the chance to meet is South Korea’s one and only ever astronaut, - Yi So-yeon. She’s a biotechnologist and lives just outside of Seattle now.
And I told them that right now, as they sat there in that classroom, the man below, France's Thomas Pesquet was in space, living on the orbiting space laboratory.
And we told them that they could stand out in their own backyards and watch Pesquet and his 'room' mates fly over their home if they knew when and where to look, and they were given handouts for NASA's Spot the Station site.

Winding down, I told them about one of our favorite astronauts, Col. Chris Hadfield. In addition to being an accomplished test pilot and astronaut, Hadfield's a musician.

We shared his recording of "Major Tom" with the kids. They loved it!

I ended the presentation by noting that Hadfield is also an author, and read his children's book, "The Darkest Dark" to the kids. Before doing so, I asked the kids to think about some things these astronauts of varied ages, countries, races and interest have in common. We noted they all had to go to school, they were all determined and brave. But I pointed out each of them had some obstacles to overcome, and for Chris Hadfield, a fear of the dark was one.
The book really helped the talk come full circle, because ultimately, it's Hadfield watching Buzz Aldrin on the moon that propelled him to conquer his fear and pursue his dream of being an astronaut.

Pretty cool.



Monday, January 16, 2017

Neverland

SWEET SHOW:  Last night, on kind of short notice, we went to see "Finding Neverland" at the Paramount theater in Seattle.

We knew next to nothing going in, other than it was about the author of "Peter Pan," J.M. Barrie. In about two hours we learned a lot about Barrie, and came home and read a whole lot more.
I'll let CJ tell you more about the play. ...
Occasionally, my family visits the Paramount Theatre, a historic theater located in downtown Seattle. We usually visit to attend live plays, and this time, we attended the final Seattle performance of Finding Neverland (the last performance on the last day).
According to the program distributed at the event, Finding Neverland tells the true story of playwright J.M. Barrie, who befriends a widow (Sylvia Davies) and her four young sons (Jack, George, Michael, and Peter), and, through those friendships, finds the inspiration and courage to become the writer - and the man - he longs to be.
In the real world, J.M. Barrie is most well known as the author of Peter Pan, a legendary story, adapted into countless forms, about a boy named Peter Pan who lives in Neverland, a magical place where children never grow up. On a darker note, Barrie conceived of Neverland when his older brother, David, died in an ice skating accident. J.M. Barrie imagined Neverland as a place where David could live an idyllic afterlife where he never grew up.
Throughout Finding Neverland, J.M. Barrie entertains the imaginations of Davies' children by playing pretend with them (less creepy than it sounds), helping re-spark a sense of joy in Peter, the namesake of Peter Pan and the oldest son of Ms. Davies.
Late before the premiere of the Peter Pan play, Ms. Davies suddenly begins suffering from a "chest cold" (a euphemism for a cancer in the chest), creating a foregone conclusion where her children are going to be orphaned. Barrie promised to Ms. Davies that he would take care of her children, and she managed to see the  debut of Peter Pan's play, alongside her children.
Finding Neverland, in contrast to the last stage play I reviewed (George Takei's Allegiance), has very good choreography and music. The visual effects, physical and digital, are beautiful, even when you are sitting hundreds of feet away from the stage. Nearly every actor delivered an excellent performance, getting (me at least) wrapped in and interested.
Finding Neverland is a fantastic theatrical production, but I am curious of how historically accurate it is.
And here is Annabelle's summary. ...
Finding Neverland is a play about the life of J.M. Barrie and how he made friends with a widow and her 4 boys , found inspiration for Peter Pan. It all starts on a sunny day in London, where Barrie meets Peter, George, Jack, and Michael when they attempt to make him walk the plank off the bench. He meets them time and time again, and learns to play again, like he did as a child. He brings this to the theatre and is initially shooed away, but eventually they see the spirit in “playing” and the show is Barrie’s most successful yet! The story really shows how, even in hard times, a little fun can make a big difference. Life doesn’t have to be elegant and serious all the time, as was believed back when the play is set. The play is really beautiful, and the music is great. Fair warning, though- as this is a musical, there is a lot of singing and it can be a bit hard to understand at times. Luckily, there was an open captioning board in the corner to help deaf or hearing-impaired people enjoy the play just the same.  I loved the play and would highly recommend it. It can be sad at times, but it really sends the message that a little fun isn’t all hat bad.
My impressions of the musical? I thought it was lovely. I don't know that I've ever seen a more beautifully staged touring production. The lighting and simple but striking sets were terrific. And the choreography ... this wasn't a big ol' dance number show, but within the first two minutes of the production, I was struck by the thoughtful, artistic movements of the people on the stage. After the show, at home, reading Mia Michaels was the choreographer explained that. I know her work from "So You Think You Can Dance," and she is phenomenal.

I left the show wanting to read biographies about Barrie. I think that's a good sign. Leave the people wanting more!

AD ASTRA, ASTRONAUT:  Super sad news today. Astronaut Gene Cernan, the last human to walk on our moon, has departed Earth.
Several years back, we went to the San Diego Air and Space Museum during a special exhibit several years ago. There was a wall with this graphic and quote. I took a photo (below). For whatever reason, it actually made me tear up on the spot.
Awhile back, we watched a biopic movie about Cernan. "The Last Man on the Moon." It's a compelling portrait, and highly recommended.  https://vimeo.com/92046183

REVEREND KING: Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day.  Now, as much, if not more, than ever, his words ring true.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Overdue

     
(Photo: National Museum of African American History and Culture - the banner, from 1924, featured the motto of the Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women's Clubs)

CULTURAL CELEBRATION: Earlier today, a former co-worker texted me to let me know about a broadcast tonight on TV, "Taking the Stage."

I didn't know what it was about at all, but I know my friend, and if she told me to watch it, it would be worth it!

I searched the Internet and found out that show was on ABC at 9 p.m. our time, so we tuned in. It turns out the show was in honor of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
             

When I told the kids what the celebration was about, Annabelle was aghast, asking why in the world it took until NOW to have a national museum showcasing African Americans' contributions and stories.

Good question. LONG overdue, IMHO.

The two-hour special we watched tonight was   taped last September 
at Washington DC's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, paid homage to African Americans' cultural impact through dance, spoken word and musical performances. The show was fantastic, and prompted us to want to learn about the new museum.                     
From what we've read, the museum has 40,000 objects in its collection, 4,000 of which will live in the museum. 

The artifacts are varied. They include everything from Michael Jackson's iconic fedora (think "Billie Jean") ...
to an 80-plus-ton segregation-era Southern Railway car, which was so big, that the museum had to be built around it.                      

 One of the more touching moments of the "Taking the Stage" broadcast was when the seven surviving Tuskegee Airmen came on stage. The group of African-American military pilots fought in World War II, officially forming the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces.  One of their planes is on display at the new museum.


I'd love to visit this museum in person some day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Take these Broken Wings and Learn to Fly


BLACKBIRD: The kids keep plugging away on guitar, and what they're plucking out these days is The Beatles' "Blackbird."

It's a big challenge. 

The kids have been lucky enough to see Paul McCartney play that song live (twice!), and each time he has asked the audience how many of them tried to learn to play guitar so they could play that song.

Thousands of hands went up in response. 

But no doubt many of those same hands failed to master the song. It's tough!

Here's Paul singing the song at Safeco Field in 2013 in one of the most amazing concerts I've ever seen. By the way, until that night, I'd never known Blackbird was a song about the Civil Right struggle in Americahttps://youtu.be/nbqyUWrHOzQ


Given all this, we've turned to YouTube for some help. 

We've had luck with "Marty Music" lessons before. Interesting that he notes in his intro that he, too has seen Paul live recently, and that Paul has mentioned that most of the YouTube video tutorials get it wrong. 
https://youtu.be/5TnySn2KqD4


Hopefully within a couple of weeks, they have a version ready for posting here. (Not only is it hard to play, the timing of singing it is also tricky.)

Monday, January 9, 2017

HIDDEN NO MORE: Last night, Annabelle and I were super fortunate to get to see a (free!) sneak preview of the movie "Hidden Figures" at The Museum of Flight. Annabelle's membership in their awesome Amelia's Aero Club was our ticket in. :)

Following is a short review of the movie by Annabelle:
Hidden Figures is a movie about three African-American women who worked for NASA on the Apollo missions. Back in the day, blacks were still discriminated against, and the black women worked as computers, meaning they did all the calculations. Hidden Figures focuses on Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, and their quiet rise to the top of NASA. Katherine and her friends started as computers in the segregated West Computing Room. They only had the “colored” restrooms but they were happy to be working at NASA nonetheless. In the computing rooms they had large, typewriter-like calculators and they did math all day to calculate trajectories and such. Katherine was a genius, so much so that she got into high school at 10 years old. She quickly rose to being accepted into flight operations. She was making the calculations for launch and landing at record speed, and she and her friends helped bring down the segregation in NASA. Their accomplishments allowed John Glenn to complete his orbit and gave hope to the USA. They were truly remarkable women, even if their story was hidden until now.
I'd highly encourage any and all to see the movie. These women were remarkable, and their stories remained "hidden" until now.  Imagine being the only woman in a man's world. And imagine being the only person of color in a white world. Then imagine being a black woman rising to the top in a white man's world, and that's what these heroes did. So inspirational!
https://youtu.be/aVda_e4qs2o

After the movie, a Museum of Flight rep let students in the crowd know they, too, had pathways to aerospace careers.  


MEANWHILE, IN SPACE:
It's only fitting that a woman made history in space on the day we saw "Hidden Figures." Specifically Peggy Whitson.

This is Whitson's third mission on the space station; she'll soon become its commander for the second time. Age 56, she's spent more than a year of her life in space.

In the screen shot from NASA TV below, Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson are shown during their six-hour and 32-minute spacewalk. During their Extra Vehicular Activity, the two NASA astronauts successfully installed three new adapter plates and hooked up electrical connections for three of the six new lithium-ion batteries on the International Space Station. They also accomplished several get-ahead tasks, including a photo survey of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

KING CAKE: Saturday evening, a friend came over and she came bearing home baked cake. And not just any cake, a King Cake!

She has lived in New Orleans for years and knows all about the Mardi Gras traditions. The colorful cake (doughtnut shaped, and topped with colorful granulated sugar), is associated with pre-Lenten celebrations during carnival time.

None of the four of us had ever had King Cake before, so it was a treat. One of the traditions is that a baby (signifying the Christ child) is hidden in the cake. Of course, both of the kids were eager to be the one to find it. 

CJ found the baby this go round. There are different stories regarding what that means. Some say it means a year of good luck, others say it means you have to host the party next year. 
Our friend tells us that a dry/raw bean used to be used before plastic baby Jesus dolls were mass produced.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Game Board & Double Bill

ON BOARD: For the past couple of months, we've helped create a bulletin board birthdays at the kids' learning center. Last month we had a Sasquatch skiing, the month before it was a scarecrow scene. This month, we struggled to come up with an idea, and finally hit upon basing it on the iconic Candy Land game.

I worked on making the game path (a whole bunch of colored squares), while Annabelle worked on characters. CJ did a lot of cutting out for us.

Below is a slightly blurry photo of the finished product. It measures about 6 by 4 feet, I think.
People's birthdays are listed on lollipops and fudge pops and the game playing pieces. 

DOUBLE FEATURE: Thursday evening, the four of us went to two movies. 

Initially, we were all going to go to Living Computer: Museum + Labs for their first Thursday documentary. However, a few days ago, I received an email letting us know Annabelle and a chaperone were invited to The Museum of Flight that same night for a free screening of "Hidden Figures," a story about women of color who worked for NASA as "human computers" back during the Mercury and Apollo era.  

So, Christian and CJ went to LCM, and Bee and I went to MoF.

I'll let CJ tell you about the movie they saw
 C♀DE: Debugging the Gender Gap is a 78-minute long documentary that, according to a press kit from the documentary's website, exposes the dearth of American female and minority software engineers and explores the reasons for this gender gap and digital divide. To put it in Layman's terms, C♀DE is a documentary about women and minorities in the software and coding industry, and many of the problems they face in their work environment.
I went with my dad to see the film on what was probably my gazillionth visit to the Living Computers Museum + Labs. Before seeing the film, I was told that it would be about women in the software industry, but I was not prepared to be as inspired or offended as I was by the end of the film.
In the film, we are told that coding is all around us, in our cell phones, our transit systems, our computers, and even in things like pacemakers (C♀DE does not specifically list those devices. Those are just what comes to mind when I think of important things that use coding in the modern day). According to the press kit, by 2020, there will be one million unfilled software engineering jobs in the USA. However, a disproportionately large number of software engineers in the modern day are men. Several cultural stereotypes, mindsets, misconceptions, and plain bigotry have all gotten in the way of countless women and people of color who want to get in to the software industry.
One thing I learned while watching C♀DE is that during the 1980s, many girls in American schools developed a mindset that being proficient at math (and more specifically, computer science) made you unattractive, and that only being "okay" at math and computer science (somehow) made you more attractive. If I remember correctly, this dealt a significant blow to the role of women in the software and coding industry, the effects of which can be seen to this day.
Also, it is very, *very* easy to get offended by some of the things seen in C♀DE (assuming you are not a misogynistic person). For example, at the 2013 TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon in San Diego, attendees were told a misogynistic "joke" in the form of TitStare, a fictional app revolving around looking at creepy pictures of women's breasts. Perceiving ideas and concepts like TitStare to be funny is probably a result of misogynism in programming culture, which had just reared its ugly head to the public view.
C♀DE is definitely worth a watch, and, assuming the link is not dead, can be watched online at http://www.codedoc.co/watch-the-film/ (Possibly NSFW. Contains strong language and sexual references).
 You can also watch the trailer: https://youtu.be/8VVb6M8pTvE
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8VVb6M8pTvE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

I'll have Annabelle submit a review of "Hidden Figures" for tomorrow's blog post. I can predict with confidence that it will be a glowing review!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Mysterious

IT'S ELEMENTARY:  Yesterday we headed to the Pacific Science Center to see the ending-soon "International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes."

We bought our tickets, headed over to the area of the exhibit, and turned back around, in search of a refund. There was an hour-long line outside, in the (literally) freezing cold. We weren't expecting or dressed for that, so it was a no go.

What a difference a day makes. Many, MANY people had yesterday off due to New Year's Day falling on a Sunday, and apparently they all went to Pacific Science Center. Today ... crickets! We practically had the place to ourselves. Hooray!

The first part of the exhibit was about the author of the series. It featured some original ink-on-paper penned pages from early Sherlock Holmes mysteries written by Conan Doyle.
When we entered the exhibit, we were given mystery 'passports' of sorts. There were tasks to complete along the way, all of which (if you completed them properly) helped you solve a mystery.
Below, CJ and Annabelle listen to a message from Sherlock Holmes instructing them about what to look for as they toured various evidence and crime scenes.
This scene prepared visitors to hone their observation skills. Sometimes things are hiding in plain sight.
From there, it was on to the crime scene. There were clues aplenty, but some extraordinarily subtle.
The exhibition was super interactive and educational. We learned about everything from bullet trajectory to blood splatters.
Elaborate displays let us analyze footprint and drag marks.
And piecing back together a busted up bust of Napoleon helped offer more clues.
Following is Annabelle's review ...
Sherlock Holmes is having part of it’s international exhibition at the Pacific Science Center. The exhibit is about how Conan Doyle’s stories affected science and culture. The main part of the exhibit was meant to feel like Victorian London, which they achieved by making the exhibit pretty dark. It was very interactive, with a huge display for the “crime scene”. They had stations where you made a rubbing of a plant found at the scene, a stamp so you can compare the blood splatter to the type of wound it would have come from, and a cool contraption with rotating “shoe wheels” to see what the tracks leading away from the scene would have been caused by. It’s fun to try and figure out what’s wrong with the police’s report and what they actually got right (and, as in any good detective story, the police are usually wrong). It’s pretty fun to figure out what really happened, and it makes you feel like part of the story. It can be pretty dark (as in the plot, not the surroundings), so I wouldn’t recommend it to young kids, but it’s still fun. I would recommend it to anyone who likes mysteries or is a big fan of Sherlock, because there are some easter eggs for fans of the originals, such as a character’s hat from one of his stories. It’s a great exhibit and I’m excited to see what Pacific Science Center has in store next.
And here's what CJ had to say ...
My family very frequently visits the Pacific Science Center, a scientific museum close to our house. Today, we visited PacSci (a common nickname for the Science Center) for their current exhibit, The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes. In case you do not know, Sherlock Holmes is a character created in 1886 by Arthur Conan Doyle, an author and physician from Scotland. Conan Doyle was growing tired of clichéd crime stories found in "penny dreadfuls" and such, which were often cheaply produced and purchased, but usually extremely predictable and often following a formula. If I remember correctly, when Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes for his stories, he wanted to make something more original (for example: Having cases be different than what they first seem to be, having the criminal do something seemingly impossible, etc). Sherlock Holmes, in Conan Doyle's stories, is a private detective with an uncanny ability to infer several details about someone's past. What Conan didn't know is that over a century later, Sherlock Holmes would be, as the exhibit's website puts it, one of the most inspiring and influential characters of all time. At the exhibit, visitors go through a newly-made "case" where they must help Sherlock Holmes solve a case involving, among other things, a seedpod, a shattered bust of Napoleon, and a man who supposedly murdered his wife and daughter.
More specifically, a man from Richmond named "Mr. Persano", after inhaling poisonous fumes from a burning seedpod, allegedly murdered his family and proceeded to try and bury them at the river near his house. While the police department is reaching their presumptive conclusion, you have to help Sherlock Holmes get a better look into the scene, and from there, reach an informed conclusion.
For example, you can go to a nearby (fake, of course) slaughterhouse to get a look at various types of blood stains. You must determine which stain matches the spatter present at the crime scene. Afterwards, you can get a rubbing of a seedpod present at the scene, and try and match it up with seeds from other poisonous plants at a nearby garden. There is an odd track in the sand from Mr. Persano's house to the river, which the police determine to be his tracks from allegedly dragging corpses in the sand to the river. Strangely, Sherlock built a "stepping machine" composed of a wheel with several shoes attached to it, so you can make a track in the sand similar to the track in the sand at Mr. Persano's house. At the end of the museum, you discover that Mr. Persano actually did not kill his wife and daughter, and broke open the Napoleon bust at the scene using a garden tool. If I remember correctly, Persano was trying to get a badge inside the bust to prove something, and he sent his family to hide in the shed nearby, creating the tracks in the sand. As it turns out, the police's conclusion is incorrect. SOURCES: http://sherlockholmesexhibition.com/
Below is a link to a podcast all about the exhibition. 

While at Seattle Center, I had to take some photos of the Space Needle, of course.
Iconic eye candy.