Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Center Fall

CENTERED: We had occasion to head to Seattle Center this afternoon to attend a play at Seattle Children's Theatre. While there, we checked out the seasonal sights. The Space Needle was shrouded by clouds and trees from our vista today. 

We enjoyed looking at the lovely Winterfest model train scene inside the Armory at Seattle Center.

Ironically, the only thing that was missing was the train, which wasn't running today when we were there. 

From the Armory, we made our way over to the theater, where we thoroughly enjoyed the performance of "Dick Whittington and His Cat." Stay tuned for reviews tomorrow.

PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY AND THYME:  We're pretty much in full-on Thanksgiving mode. We're looking forward to a houseful on Thursday - and the Seahawks are playing to boot - w00t!

Tonight we prepped the turkey, sliding sage under its skin and rubbing its in and outside with kosher salt to cure it. We baked some turkey (shaped not flavored!) cookies, and will decorate those tomorrow, plus a couple other things on the 'to do list' 

While working, I asked Christian to cue up "Scarborough Fair" by Simon & Garfunkel, given the herbs we were working with. Annabelle asked about the origins of the song. I used to play it all the time on the piano and sing it, but I never wondered about its origin. Go figure.

Anyway, we Googled it. Fascinating story, really. "Scarborough Fair" is an old English ballad about the Yorkshire town Scarborough. Its roots trace back to the 1600s, if not further.

The common theme in the versions of the song is someone listing a series of impossible tasks a lover dictates as conditions for him to take his former love back (for instance, washing a shirt in a dry well, or sewing a garment with no seams). So interesting! Glad Annabelle asked!

BLOWING THEIR TOPS: After doing some math, the kids tackled a "Time for Kids" magazine about volcanoes. Local hothead Mt. St. Helens was a big star. Per the TFK article, Mt. St. Helens is gearing up for another eruption, though scientists don't know if it's imminent or years and years down the road. Only time will tell. Reading the story, I guess I'm in a small percentage of people who has actually been rained down upon by volcanic ash and lived to tell about it. :)

FISH FACE: Every once in awhile, we come across a story that really hammers home the fact that there is so much still to explore here at home.

For instance, on Monday, November 17, news from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute captured the fancy of the Internet with photos of the super-scary-scifi-looking deep sea anglerfish they photographed 1,900 feet below the ocean surface. 

Apparently, their video of this creature is unprecedented. The female has a 'fishing pole' to act as a lure, with a spotlight atop it. Fascinating, really. 

You can read more on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute's Web site has more information  http://www.mbari.org/

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fun and Games

DAWG DAY: Saturday night, we headed for Husky Stadium to watch UW take on Oregon State University.  The kids hadn't been to a football game in a couple of years, so it was extra fun for them. 

We arrived via bus about an hour before kickoff. The stadium was practically empty, presumably everyone else was out tailgating.
It was the Huskies' last home game this year, and so it was time to say goodbye and thank you to the seniors in the football and band programs.

Our seats were in the very top row of the south side of the stadium, which gave us a nice view of the city lights and the whole field. 

We liked the clever way they 'raised' the flag before kickoff.
The Dawgs emerged from the tunnel, ready to play.
The game was entertaining, and, mercifully, the Huskies won this one. Wins have been hard to come by this season. 

The halftime show had a "Wizard of Oz" theme.
I love "The Wizard of Oz" and the Huskies marching band, but I can say unequivocally that the halftime show was my least favorite I've ever seen them perform. I found it awkward, in parts. Many parts. But what do I know?

BASICALLY:  CJ has been dabbling a little in Basic programming thanks to the Petit Computer program we downloaded on his Nintendo 3DS last week.  "I am satisfied with that purchase," says CJ. 

DINOS: The dinosaurs' antics continued this weekend. Saturday morning they tried to make some of the faux cookie dough the kids love for breakfast.  
The next night, they went after an annoying, over-sized pickle, much to CJ's delight. 

MEANWHILE, IN KAZAKHSTAN: On Sunday, just moments before the Seahawks' kick off, we tuned in to NASA TV to watch a Soyuz TMA-15M rocket launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. 
 Image Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

On board were Expedition 42 Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA, and Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA). The three will spend five and a half months on the the International Space Station. 

GARDEN START:  Though the vast majority of this year's gardening is now history, this weekend, the kids got a jump start on next spring by planting a couple of daffodil bulbs. 
We're sure looking forward to their debut in a few months!

QUEEN FOR A DAY:  This evening, we went up to Lynnwood to see "Queen Rock Montreal," a special, one-night only event.  It was fun, three generations of us sitting there watching Freddie, Roger, Brian and John make musical magic. So much talent, and so sad that Freddie has been gone 23 years today.

Long live the Queen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Finally Friday

TOWERING: The dinos were in construction mode last night, building a colorful Jenga tower. The little guys hid in voids, while the big boys helped steady the structure.

PROGRAMMING:  CJ managed to talk me into helping fund a new download for his Nintendo 3DS today, a program called Petit Computer. It allows DS users to make computer games for their DS using the BASIC programming language. It also allows him to play programs others have made using Petit Computer. 

My hope is that it's more than a passing fancy for him, and the CJ actually uses the program to do some of his own programming. There are a number of tutorials on YouTube to help him get started. 

FRENZIED:  We made the mistake of going to Winco today, thinking it would be a good day to do our pre-Thanksgiving shopping. Turns out, seemingly everyone thought today would be a good day to go to Winco. It was a madhouse. It felt like we were in there three days, and when we were finally ready to check out, of COURSE I chose the lane where the poor cashier had apparently never operated a register before. Good times. 

ON DECK:  Today, the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft was rolled out to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan via train. 
Image Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Launch is scheduled for 1:01 p.m. Pac Coast time on Sunday, Nov. 23.  NASA TV will begin live coverage of launch activities begins at noon that day. 

On board the Soyuz will be Expedition 42 Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA, and Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency 

Thursday, November 20, 2014


HAPPY HAPPY:  The dinos were ready to party first thing this morning. Apparently they've had Christian's birthday circled on their calendar for awhile now! :)  Party animals, they are. :)
SALTY: Our language arts and social studies reading today included reading a "Time for Kids" article about Israel. That meant the kids learned about the super salty Dead Sea. The extracurricular tips suggested I teach the kids about the buoyancy of salt water. OK, will do!
First, we dropped an egg in one cup of regular water. It sank. :)
Then, we added two tablespoons of salt.

That changed things. While the egg was denser than the unsalted water, once we added all that salt, the situation flip flopped. 

Though the water is cloudy, you can see the egg has not bottomed out like it did before. Interesting, no?!
AUTUMN SONGS: While the kids were working through "Time for Kids" issues about Israel and invasive animals, I played some seasonal background music for them. We started with Vivaldi's "Autumn" and moved onto "The Autumn Leaves" (sung by Frank Sinatra) and then "Falling," - a bit of a stretch but a favorite from "Twin Peaks."
 I used to play thematic music like that all the time while we were working. Definitely need to get back to that.

TICK TOCK:  Yesterday, NASA's iconic countdown clock was shut down for the last time. 
First used to tick down the seconds to Apollo 12's moon launch in December 1969, the years and Florida weather took their toll on the timepiece. 
I was so thrilled to see the clock up close and personal when I had the rare opportunity to attend the Mars Science Laboratory launch in November of 2011 as a NASA guest. 
I was so excited the night before the launch, I couldn't sleep, of course. I arrived on site more than three hours before the early morning liftoff, and here's one of the photos I took.
See that thing glowing in the distance to the right of the clock?! It's Curiosity/Mars Science Laboratory getting ready to fly to Mars! And it's still there now, roving the Red Planet! How cool is that?!
A new clock, complete with audio and video (think stadium jumbotron!) will be in its place for he December 4 test flight of the new Orion capsule. (We'll talk more about that later!)

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, the clock has been moved to Cape Kennedy's visitor center now. I hope to see it again someday soon. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


ENTANGLEMENTS: #Dinovember continues, of course. Last night the Dinos decided to try their hands (feet?) (paws?) on a Rainbow Loom device.  Turns out they're NOT very good at it. 

JUNIOR GARDENERS: We spent part of our lunch break from our Shoreline classes today at lovely Skye Nursery. Such a pretty place, I could spend hours there. Today we had just one objective, however - it was to collect the rewards of the kids being in their Junior Gardeners' club. They each got a free indoor plant (tis the season!). 
Annabelle chose the type of plant on the left, CJ chose the type on the right. 

THESE GUYS:  Everyone remembers Apollo 11 - Buzz and Neil bouncing around the moon. The Eagle landed, one small step, one giant leap. Amazing mission! And everyone remembers Apollo 13 - the harrowing tale of three astronauts who never made it to the moon, but miraculously made it back to Earth after a disaster on board.  

But what about Apollo 12? Launched just four months after Apollo 11, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean did the moonwalking, while Richard Gordon remained in lunar orbit. It was on this day in 1969 that Conrad and Bean walked on the moon.  
Love this NASA shot of their lunar module!
Interesting factoid from the mission: Apollo 12 had the first color television camera to the lunar surface, but transmission was lost after Bean accidentally destroyed the camera by pointing it at the sun. Doh!

BUILDING BLOCKS: Yes, the European Space Agency's Little Lander Who Could, Philae, is asleep at the moment, but that thing did an amazing amount of work in the few dozen hours of life it had. For instance, the lander's 'sniffers' apparently detected organic molecules. As in, potentially, the building blocks of life. No big deal. ;)

In other Philae news, here's a neat photo taken by Rosetta's OSIRIS. It shows Philae drifting across the comet in its series of landing 'skips.' 

67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 12 November 2014. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Weekend Catch Up

FISH TALES:  This weekend, we made a trek out to a local park hoping to see something remarkable - salmon heading home to spawn.  Lucky for us, there were lots of chums to check out!

We parked at the south entrance of Carkeek Park and walked along a cold, frozen trail toward Piper's Creek. I'd read that salmon had been spotted there, and in all our years here, we've somehow never made it down there to watch nature take its course.

There were volunteer naturalists down by the creek, happy to share information about what we were watching. 
The fish had all made their way home, from the saltwater of Puget Sound to the fresh water of Piper's Creek. One guide told us these fish were relatively lucky, in that their journey home was much shorter than many salmon.

Once home, the fish would pair off. The females (easy to spot with a horizontal black band on their body) would try to find the perfect spot and then use their tails dig a nest to deposit their eggs in. Seconds later, the male would swoop in and fertilize the eggs. 
I don't pretend to know the habits of chum salmon, but to me, these poor fish looked very fatigued as they fought their way up to their final resting spot. 
The adult males and females we saw would be dead within a couple of days (if not sooner). Their offspring, if they're fortunate enough to survive, will start making their way out toward Puget Sound this spring. 

If you're so inclined, you can read more about the chum salmon of Piper's Creek on this Department of Fish & Wildlife Web page: http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/chum/viewing/pipers_crk.html

SPACEY SOUNDTRACK: We're still very tuned into the European Space Agency's Rosetta Mission, eagerly awaiting more news of what its lander Philae found on comet 67P last week. 

Meanwhile, the ESA has released a trio of music videos to celebrate the first ever soft landing on a comet, the Rosetta Mission. The soundtracks' composer is Vangelis, composer of the Academy Award-winning "Chariots of Fire" theme, as well as scores for the films "Antarctica," "Blade Runner," and "1492: Conquest of Paradise." Vengelis' music was also used in Carl Sagan's "Cosmos."

Per the ESA, composer Vangelis said, "Mythology, science and space exploration are subjects that have fascinated me since my early childhood. And they were always connected somehow with the music I write."

Here are links to the YouTube trio of videos
Part one: "Arrival" by Vangelis http://youtu.be/FJrUnzLsmZk
Part two: "Philae's Journey" by Vangelis http://youtu.be/W8bVOGN9jSg
Part three: "Rosetta's Waltz" by Vangelis http://youtu.be/PUpSVxoCcik
And here's an embed of my favorite one, "Philae's Journey"

Video copyright: ESA/Vangelis

MIND GAMES:  Yesterday, we played a couple of rounds of a really fun game we've played once before, "30-Second Mysteries" by University Games.

It's a little hard to explain without using my hands or drawing pictures, but you work in teams, each team having to solve an aspect of the mystery. For instance, one team might need to figure out the place it happened, and the other might have to figure out the perpetrator.

Partners get to ask the opposing team one question per round, to which the answer is 'yes,' 'no,' or some variation of "I don't know/we can't be sure," basing these answers on the clues that are revealed one at a time, one per round. 

The game is very cleverly done and the mysteries are well written. Once in awhile the obvious answer is the answer, but usually, it's a bit more tricky.  Here, for example, is a bad photo of one of the sides of a mystery card. Imagine only having the scenario and once clue at a time to solve it.
Annabelle and I successfully solved the mystery of who the lawyer was, but not until the very last clue. Christian and CJ were trying to figure out what the lawyer deserved. Fun stuff!

RUNNING ERRANDS: Today, we had some errands to run, one of which took us to Seattle Center for a brief spell. While there, the kids took a whirl on the painted-on-pavement maze outside of Experience Music Project. It's always more work than they think it's going to be!

INTERSTELLAR SCIENCE: A friend of mine posted a link to a great TED-Ed blog with the headline "The science of Interstellar: 5 TED-Ed Lessons to help you understand the film." Intrigued, we checked it out, and found out it was a series of short (5 minutes or so) videos about various aspects of the movie.

We watched an animation about time dilation, entitled "Is time travel possible?" Written and narrated by Colin Stuart, it actually made us reflect fondly on our Eisensteinian physics class we completed months and months ago.

We also watched a video about four dimensional lifeforms, by Alex Rosenthal and George Zaiden. One of the things the video referenced was Edwin Abbott's 1884 novella "Flatland," about a two-dimensional world. Intriguing! Understanding three dimensions was simple enough, but when they pushed things to the fourth dimension, it was a mind bender!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Racing the Clock

ESA / AOES Medialab

WHAT A DAY:  So much to report on the #CometLander front, news both good and bad.

This infographic from Space.com does a great job of explaining what happened to Philae during its touchdowns. 
 Diagram shows Philae comet lander's bounces.
Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.


Despite Philae being stuck at the foot of an icy cliff, the Little Lander that Could got down to business. 

Around 4 p.m. this afternoon Seattle time, an ESA Facebook post read: "HAAA!! ‪#‎Armageddon‬? The Rosetta Mission just made comet drilling fact! Hopefully catching the first comet sample EVER. Go Philae!"

The screen shot below accompanied the post. 

But try as she might, Philae was fighting an uphill battle. It was a race against the clock. Best case scenario, Philae was supposed to have about 60 hours of power, but its unexpected landing spot, coupled with some solar panel troubles, cut that working time by nearly 20 percent. 

While news of Philae hard at work was exciting, it was very quickly followed by reports of its failing power. 

Battery voltage is approaching limit soon now. Tough little Philae still hanging in there, exploring to the end!

And then around 5:50 our time, this Facebook post: 
Time to say good-bye

And then this ...
Great job with all the data, Philae, and sleep tight on Comet 67P/C-G!
Loss of signal at 01:36 CET. No more comms with Philae. All science data from First Science Sequence was successfully downloaded.
Aw. Philae, gone too soon ... From the Tweets and Facebook posts I read, people were downright bereft that Philae had slipped into the Big Sleep. I read one Tweet today that noted it was probably a bad thing that the ESA anthropomorphosized the lander. Just look at the little thing bravely ready to jump down off Rosetta and onto a comet!
Tonight, from the Rosetta b
log, was a more detailed report about Philae's waning moments.
With its batteries depleted and not enough sunlight available to recharge, Philae has fallen into 'idle mode' for a potentially long silence. In this mode, all instruments and most systems on board are shut down.
"Prior to falling silent, the lander was able to transmit all science data gathered during the First Science Sequence," says DLR's Stephan Ulamec, Lander Manager, who was in the Main Control Room at ESOC tonight.
"This machine performed magnificently under tough conditions, and we can be fully proud of the incredible scientific success Philae has delivered."
Contact was lost at 00:36 UTC / 01:36 CET, not long before the scheduled communication loss that would have happened anyway as Rosetta orbited below the horizon.
From now on, no contact would be possible unless sufficient sunlight falls on the solar panels to generate enough power to wake it up.
The possibility that this may happen was boosted this evening when mission controllers sent commands to rotate the lander's main body, to which the solar panels are fixed. This may have exposed more panel area to sunlight.
The next possible communication slot begins on 15 November at about 10:00 UTC / 11:00 CET. The orbiter will listen for a signal, and will continue doing so when its orbit enables communication visibility in the future.
The hugely successful Rosetta mission will continue, as the spacecraft tracks comet 67P/C-G on its journey to the Sun. Rosetta is the first spacecraft to rendezvous with and orbit a comet and has already returned incredible scientific data.
Is this the end for Philae? Maybe ... but maybe not. Only time will tell. 

ON A WING AND A PRAYER:  Apparently overnight, our resident Dinovember merrymakers got the crazy notion that they could fly. 

Problem is, none of them are pterodactyls. 
They managed to board the wings, but wound up on the ground within seconds of the kids stirring this morning. 

MUSIC: The kids are still plugging away on guitar. Today they worked on a happy ditty,
"Best Day of My Life" by American Authors.  They've been without formal guitar lessons for a couple months or more now, but between what they already know, what I know, and the magic of YouTube tutorials, we're able to work our way through most any song. 

After looking at a couple online lessons, I settled on one by by PapastachePop. After a couple of watches and run throughs, they were able to play something that sounded mostly like the song. Nice!