Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Museum Movie and More

   Photo: Vulcan Productions http://www.vulcanproductions.com/our-work/naledi/

BABY ELEPHANT WALK: This is a bit of a rewind, as we're finally getting around to reporting about our outing last Thursday night. It was the first Thursday of the month, and that meant it was movie night at Living Computers: Museum + Labs.  We went plenty early to have plenty of time to play in their amazing new space. Come 6 o'clock, it was time for the movie, which was screened in the museum's well appointed new lab space.

I'll let the kids tell you more about the remarkable documentary. CJ's up first. .. 

"When she loses everything, she'll win your heart."-Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale's tagline
Recently, my family went to the Living Computers Museum + Labs, a Paul Allen museum, for the fiftieth approximate time to see a documentary film made by Vulcan Productions, a film company founded by Paul Allen. The film in question is known as "Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale," which chronicles the story of Naledi from 2013 on and her story of survival throughout difficult times in central Africa, as well as a crew's efforts to find elephant herds throughout Africa (occasionally accompanied by graphic images of the desecrated corpses of elephants slain for their ivory).
Naledi was born in the Summer of 2013 in Abu Camp, an elephant research center and safari lodge in Botswana. For the first six weeks of her life, Naledi enjoyed an idyllic existence, where she partnered with her human caretakers and other female members of her herd. However, when her mother, Kiwi, unexpectedly died, taking care of Naledi suddenly went from a peaceful activity to a desperate struggle as Naledi's health began to fail. When Kiwi died, Naledi stopped eating, and she became very skinny and ill. Mike Chase, a biologist in Naledi's crew, worked with his colleagues to help save Naledi.
To help save Naledi from dying of malnutrition, the crew had to use a milk formula which was fed to Naledi through a bottle. In order to get Naledi to drink any of the formula, the crew had to put a black cover over the bottle, as Naledi refused to drink when she could see the bottle. If my memory is correct, eventually, Naledi drank milk from an adult elephant in her herd, even though that elephant did not have any children (normally, mammals only start producing milk once they have children).
Eventually, we are shown a clip of Naledi's first birthday celebration in 2014, where the crew actually made her a small birthday cake (I couldn't tell what it was made of, though). However, after this clip, the subject matter, while already pretty serious, suddenly takes a turn for the darker (and graphic). We see clips of the crew in helicopters, travelling across central Africa to look for elephant herds. While the crew do find some elephant herds across the continent, giving at least a little bit of hope, they also find multiple corpses of elephants, minus any tusks.
For quite a bit of time now, African elephants have been hunted and poached by humans attempting to harvest their tusks, usually to sell in the ivory trade. According to the film, on average, African elephants are killed by poachers at a rate of one per fifteen minutes, which can add up to thirty-thousand elephants slain every year. As a result of the hunting and poaching, elephant populations have been decreasing at an alarming rate. Myself, I find using ivory as a status symbol reprehensible, but I am glad to hear about people like the crew who help elephants like Naledi survive. Sources:http://www.vulcanproductions.com/our-work/naledi/http://www.vulcanproductions.com/assets/projects/NALEDI-Press-Kit-5-18.pdf
 And here is what Annabelle had to say ...
"Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale" is a movie about an elephant named Naledi born in Abu Camp, a rescue camp for elephants in Botswana. Only 6 weeks after birth, Naledi’s mother Kiti fell gravely ill and she was orphaned. Nadeli drank milk from another female in the herd, but that female wasn’t producing enough for Naledi, as she had never had her own calf. The handlers at the rescue camp attempted to feed her milk through a bottle, but as long as Naledi was with the herd, she would rather drink from a live elephant. So the only solution was to drive her away from the camp and feed her through the bottle in isolation. At first, she didn’t accept it, but eventually she was drinking from the bottle and could be brought back to camp.
After she was brought back, another tragedy happened: Naledi was suffering from severe constipation, and had to have surgery. The surgery was successful, and now Naledi lives a normal life as part of her herd.
The problem is, millions of elephants are orphaned because of poaching, and they can’t all be saved like Naledi. Their parents are killed in the wild for their ivory, and we don’t have researchers on hold everywhere to help them. In order to protect the elephants, we need to stop poaching of ivory. The elephant population is on the decline, and they need saving. It’s going to be nearly impossible to 100% get rid of poaching, but the best thing to do is at least try, for the sake of the elephants!
You can watch the movie's trailer here: https://vimeo.com/168811238

After the movie, Ted Schmitt, a member of Vulcan Productions' technical team gave a talk. He gave more detail about the Great Elephant Census, which took place in 2014. The final results from the census counted 352,271 African savanna elephants in 18 countries, which is down 30% over the last seven years.  The census was done by flying small planes over the savanna. The speaker said that the total distance flown was more miles than if they had gone to the moon and back. (He noted that in the future, cube or nano satellites might be used to help with tracking.) You can read an article by Schmitt on the topic on the Great Elephant Census: http://www.greatelephantcensus.com/blog/2014/7/28/developing-new-technology-to-enhance-accuracy.  The Great Elephant Census Web site is a treasure trove of information about African elephants. Check it out here: http://www.greatelephantcensus.com/

MEANWHILE, IN FLORIDA:  I received a short email from Jeff Bezos this morning. He's the Amazon guru and founder of Blue Origin, an aerospace company with its headquarters  in Kent, Washington, just south of Seattle.   Bezos said the email was to update us on the 750,000 square-foot New Glenn rocket factory that's currently under construction at Florida's Space Coast. 

Here's a photo Bezos shared of the first steel going up. 
He also shared a drawing of what the building should look like by the end of 2017. Pretty cool - and quick, if they meet that deadline.
If you want to receive email from Jeff Bezos about Blue Origin updates, go to blueorigin.com/interested and sign up!

I couldn't help but notice Bezos concluded his email with Gradatim Ferociter!  I didn't know what that meant, so naturally, I had to Google it. Turns out it means “step by step, ferociously,” and it's the Blue Origin company motto.

Speaking of spaceflight, we braved some chilly temps to watch a four minute flyover of the ISS a little before 5 tonight. One good thing about the days being so short is you get to see early ISS flyovers!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Holiday Hawks

PRIME TIME: Anyone who reads our blog regularly knows, we head to the stadium district all the time for games. While Mariners games are a regular event for us, a Seahawks' game is a whole different deal. 

Compared to Mariners' games, Seahawks' tickets are hard to come by, and they're expensive. Christian and I were lucky to be gifted a pair for the Dec. 4 game for our birthdays (thanks Rick and Rachel). As soon as CJ heard talk of us going to the game, he extrapolated that to mean we four. Oh dear ... 

We'd kept our eyes on prices for weeks and it came down to the day before the game. I posted a kind of 'pity me' ask on Craigslist for a pair of 'cheap' tickets to take my two youngest kids to their first game, and lo and behold, a lovely young man who has had season tickets in the family for years gave us a call and sold us two seats at face value. We were in!
It was a prime time, Sunday Night Football game, and temps were predicted to be about the freezing mark. We dressed accordingly, the kids in ski suits. We stashed a car down by the stadium the night before (for a quick post-game get away), and rode the bus down to the game on Sunday.

It was a party atmosphere heading in, complete with live music (band on stage beneath the awning).
Our tickets were two pair, so CJ and Christian sat in the NE endzone corner, while Bee and I were in the SW corner. 
This mega fan was close to our seats in the SW. :) 
It was a phenomenal game, if you're a Seahawks' fan. On the first play from scrimmage, the Panthers' QB tossed an interception, which was returned to the Red Zone, and the Seahawks' scoring over and over and over started. Final scoreboard: 40 to 7, 'Hawks. Sweet!

The lights outside added to the post game party atmosphere.
SLEIGHING IT:  Almost every year since we've lived here, we have headed to Swansons Nursery, a couple of miles north of our home, to check out their holiday display. There's always a nice model railroad set up. This year's theme was interesting. It was a mix of Seuss stuff ... 

 And then this, to us, had "Nightmare Before Christmas" elements. ... 
And then there was this church-y looking model, but wait ... what's that lurking around the corner?!
So yeah, a mixed bag. ... 

A new addition to Swansons' mix this year was an apatosauras display!
 Apologies for the kinda crappy photo, but it was sleeting at the moment ... 
Swansons has had a pair of living reindeer since our ten years of visits commenced. This year, Dasher was a little lopsided. 
 But Blitzen's antlers were more impressive than ever!
There was a new Santa cut out to pose with.
One must-do was sitting in the red sleigh. It has been a tradition for the kids for years now. 
Their first sit was in 2007.
 And here's 2007 with a Photoshop background.
 This shot is from 2010.
 And the one below is 2011.
 And here is 2013.
 And 2014.
 We didn't make it out to Swansons last year, but here's the 2016 edition. 
It might be the last year they both fit in the sled!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ring Ring

SLOW DECLINE: It's the beginning of the end for Cassini.

According to NASA, today their spacecraft that traveled from Earth to Saturn "entered its first phase of the mission's dramatic endgame, diving diving through the unexplored region at the outer edge of Saturn's main rings."

Nothing lasts forever. Diving through Saturn's rings sounds like a pretty cool way to go!

Launched on my birthday (Oct. 15) in 1997, Cassini arrived to Saturn in 2004. Watching the video below, our Annabelle noted that's the same year she arrived on the (Earth) scene.

On this JPL Web site, you can watch the countdown to Ring-Grazing Orbit #1: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/2970/nasa-saturn-mission-prepares-for-ring-grazing-orbits/

One of the hallmarks of the Cassini mission was that it also launched a probe, Huygens, which landed on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, in 2005. 

Under parachute, it landed in a frigid floodplain, making history as humanity's first landing on a moon in the outer solar system.

Below are a few of Huygens' photos. Pretty cool, aren't they?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

More Merriment

CITY SPARKLING: Yesterday, our holiday junket through downtown Seattle included a few rounds on the holiday carousel at Westlake park.
I have to say, it is the shortest carousel ride I've ever seen - it seems like they only went around about four times. 
But a short spin is better than no spin! And the ticket fees go to a charity.
The merry-go-round is kitty corner from the downtown Macy's, which was adorned with a seasonal star, as usual.
Afterward, we walked a few blocks south along Fourth the the Fairmont hotel. It was our first visit there.
 A pretty, fancy-schmancy place, that's for sure.

We were quite interested to see this plaque as we approached the front doors.
How 'bout that? Go Huskies! I knew that UW started downtown before moving to its present location by Lake Washington. But now we can say we've seen where it all started. Neat-o.

There was also a plaque honoring this gentleman. 
According to his page on HistoryLink.org, Kerry was a Northwest lumberman and astute businessman. Kerry was also responsible for overseeing construction of the Olympic Hotel (now named the Fairmont Olympic Hotel).

We just learned today that the famous Kerry Park, on the south bluff of Queen Anne hill, with the best views in town, was named after him. How 'bout that?  Albert Kerry and his wife Katherine donated the park site to the City in 1927, so that everyone could enjoy the same view they had from their home. Kerry lived at 419 W Highland Drive ; Highland is the street the park is on. His place still stands today, a magnificent mansion.

Once inside the Fairmont, we were greeted by Santa, straightaway.
The hotel hosts a forest of holiday trees up for purchase, with funds going to Seattle Children's Hospital.

This Dr. Seuss-themed tree was a favorite.
And Annabelle loved this colors of this upside down tree.
We headed to the upper lobby, where we found more decorations - and an enormous pine tree decorated to the hilt!

 Up on the second floor of the hotel was a sweet little Teddy Bear Suite.
One focal point was a big ol' bed full of teddy bears.
Back outside of the Fairmont, we walked out to find ourselves nearly under this architectural marvel. Rainier Tower was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the World Trade Center in New York City. The 41-story building has an 11-story pedestal base.

ROBOTS!: With Black Friday and Cyber Monday barely in our rearview mirrors, there have been a whole lot of Amazon.com boxes showing up 'round here. I thought the kids would enjoy this GeekWire piece about one of Amazon's fulfillment centers. It's a high tech marvel.


WORK IT: This afternoon, the kids enjoyed a flashback to the '90s. 

OK, I know that they weren't even around in the '90s, but Billy Blanks sure was. Creator of the Tae Bo exercise phenomenon, Blanks is still around, doing his thing, now on a YouTube channel.  The kids thought it was fun for about a minute, then they thought Billy Blanks a cruel taskmaster!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Holiday Potter

MONDAY, FUNDAY: We had a lovely Thanksgiving or two this past weekend. Turkey aplenty with all the amazing sides.

Now that that holiday has passed, it is on to ho-ho-ho and holly jolly!

We decided to do the downtown festivities today, thinking since it's early in the season it wouldn't be too busy. It was a good call.

Our first stop today was the Sheraton Hotel, where their annual gingerbread extravaganza is on display. This year's theme: Harry Potter!
I'll let Annabelle tell you a bit more about it ... 
The Sheraton Gingerbread Village is an event held every December at the Seattle Sheraton hotel. The Gingerbread Village is a fundraiser for JDRF Northwest, a foundation dedicated to research of juvenile diabetes. This year the theme was the “Harry Potter” series, in honor of the new movie “Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them.” They had 6 huge gingerbread and candy sculptures, each one based on a different book in the Harry Potter series, from the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, depending on where you live) to the Half-blood Prince.
You can really see how much work and care went into each sculpture, all for charity. My favorite sculptures where the one representing book 4, The Goblet of Fire, featuring a huge dragon with candy melt scales and glowing eyes, and book 5, The Order of the Phoenix, where the sculpture was a larger-than-life Dumbledore with his pet phoenix, Fawkes, above his head.
The gingerbread displays were truly breathtaking. The icing on the cake, so to speak, is the huge silver Christmas tree with huge harry potter glasses on the front and multiple ornaments featuring the Hogwarts Express, a Golden Snitch, and more. I can’t wait to see the theme for next year!

The display below represents the first Harry Potter book, "The Sorcerer's Stone." 
Below is Hagrid, outside the front of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The second sculpure was another interpretation of Hogwarts, the theme being book 2's "The Chamber of Secrets."
The main building was covered in green foil wrapped Andes mints, while smaller towers were covered in other candies.
The backside of the main tower revealed a moving staircase - literally. It allows people to move all over Hogwarts. This one was made with pretzels and crackers.
Another view of the book 2 scene, complete with a Christmas tree.

And here is a peek at the Chamber of Secrets scene.
The third book, "Prisoner of Azkaban," featured a clock tower and a triple decker bus prominently.

Here, Harry Potter's Patronus spell takes on a festive reindeer. Not pictured are a few floating Dementors in Santa hats.
"Goblet of Fire" is the fourth book. Below, a mermaid takes on challengers seeking the goblet.
The horn-tailed dragon, another challenge in the story, was amazing covered in colored candy melts here. 
Below, some House Elves hang on for a sleigh ride.
"The Order of the Phoenix" is the fifth book. This sculpture was amazing! Having made sugar for the first time ourselves this month, we have an appreciation for how much work went into this!
The flames were amazing and Dumbledore's face was so well done!
Up next, Book 6, "The Half Blood Prince."
Cinnamon sticks featured prominently in this display. Below, Harry battles Voldemort.

This ssssssnake was the backside of the Book 1 display. When you pushed the red button on its head, it told you which Hogwarts' house you belonged to. Annabelle was declared to be a Gryffindor (like Harry). CJ was the Slytherin (like Snape), and I was deemed a Ravenclaw.

Following is CJ's summary of the show ... 

Since 1993, the Sheraton Seattle Hotel has been the home to an annual art exhibit known as the Gingerbread Village. According to their website, the Gingerbread Village exhibit is a fundraiser for the JDRF, which used to be an acronym for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF is now the organization's official name). According to Wikipedia, JDRF is major charitable organization dedicated to funding type 1 diabetes research.
At the event, to my knowledge, there are usually six large and elaborate sculptures, made out of gingerbread and various other edible materials (for example: I think the second gingerbread house had multi-colored Goldfish crackers on the roofs of one of the buildings). At every different Gingerbread Village exhibition, there is a different theme that the various houses are built around. For example, at last year's Gingerbread Village, the theme was Star Wars, likely to celebrate the release of the then-newest film, The Force Awakens. At that Gingerbread Village, all six gingerbread houses were based around a different Star Wars film released up to that point. For this year's Gingerbread Village, the theme was Harry Potter, presumably to celebrate the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the newest major installment in the Harry Potter film series. At this event, every book in the main series got a different gingerbread sculpture (with the exception of Deathly Hallows and The Cursed Child).
The sculptures are all very visually appealing, and sugarwork and fondant are often used in creative ways (for example, on the gingerbread house for Order of the Phoenix, sugar is used to make fire cast by powerful wizard Dumbledore). The houses all displayed edible renditions of various scenes from the particular installments they were based on, and often have subtle details that you likely won't notice unless you get up close to the houses. The houses that had moving parts (such as one with a building that could open up to reveal another section of the building, or one with a pendulum) were very interesting to look at, and I would like to know how they built the moving sections.