Thursday, February 23, 2017

Dragon Docked

         Photo: SpaceX

CAPTURED: First thing this morning, we checked out the status of the SpaceX cargo re-supply mission. We were happy to learn that after a one-day delay due to trouble with its navigation system, Dragon did, indeed, link up with the International Space Station this morning. 

We wound up watching an hour or so of NASA TV programming today, including a half hour show about the total solar eclipse coming up this August. The area just south of Portland and Boise is in the path of totality, so we are already making plans to check it out.

Another show we watched was all about nutrition on the ISS, and part of it was about what they send up on cargo resupply missions like the one Dragon completed today. The woman packing the food noted that only three whole apples were going up for a crew of six, so some rationing would take place up there. Fresh apples aren't great for spaceflight, as they have a lot of mass and weight, compared to the nutrition they provide. 

HOW IT'S MADE: We also watched about 20 minutes of "How It's Made" today. The kids love that show, where they can find out how various processed food products are made.

Today, the episode included a segment on Funyuns, which are faux onion rings. 

Frito Lay has shared the process on their YouTube site.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Photo: Ben Cooper
WAYWARD DRAGON: Sunday morning, we watched coverage of SpaceX's historic launch. For the first time, using the iconic former Mercury and Apollo launch pad 39A, SpaceX sent a Dragon capsule to space, destination International Space Station, for a cargo re-supply mission. 

The launch went like clockwork - as did the landing! Once again, SpaceX managed to land the first stage of their rocket back on Earth. It's just so remarkable to watch!
One of the first things we checked this morning was how the docking of SpaceX's resupply mission to the ISS went.

Turns out, it didn't. :/

I expected the ISS crew to be snacking on fresh fruit for breakfast our time, but Dragon was having some trouble navigating, unfortunately. And if there's one thing you don't want, it's a big spaceship traveling toward the ISS not 100 percent in control.

It turns out an incorrect data point that had been entered in the capsule's computer caused the problem, per NASA. SpaceX will try again Thursday morning. Hopefully the fresh produce will be just as tasty tomorrow. ;)

WHAT'S NEW: This morning, the kids and I tuned in for what was billed as a Really Big Deal press conference from NASA, about new findings on planets that orbit stars other than our sun (also known as exoplanets).

We knew that the news had to be about Goldilocks worlds - planets that were places our science deems to be 'habitable zones.'  The news was exciting, indeed.

It turns out that NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these seven planets are located within the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.  That's a pretty darn big deal in the 'are we alone/is there other life out there' area of stargazing. 
This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Scientists using the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes have discovered that there are seven Earth-size planets in the system.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The artists' renditions of the Trappist system are compelling. 

Too bad it's 36 light years away. We really need to get on that 'folding space' concept, a la "Dune."

We love this NASA travel poster. 
I just love the fact that this is the #1 trending video on YouTube tonight.

For more information on exoplanets, check out this NASA site:
NASA NEEDS YOU: A new citizen science project has been announced by our friends at NASA. The agency is inviting the public to help search for possible undiscovered worlds in the outer reaches of our solar system and in neighboring interstellar space.

To get involved, go to their new website, called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. It lets everyone participate in the search by viewing brief movies made from images captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission.

The website uses the data to search for unknown objects in and beyond our own solar system. "AIn 2016, astronomers at Caltech in Pasadena, California, showed that several distant solar system objects possessed orbital features indicating they were affected by the gravity of an as-yet-undetected planet, which the researchers nicknamed "Planet Nine." If Planet Nine — also known as Planet X — exists and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in WISE data," NASA explained in a press release.

WISE scanned the entire sky between 2010 and 2011, producing the most comprehensive survey at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. Interestingly, after it completed its primary mission, WISE was shut down in 2011. However, it was reactivated in 2013 and given a new mission assisting NASA's efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs), such as asteroids and comets on orbits that bring them into the vicinity of Earth’s orbit. The mission was renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE).

 So why the need for human eyes when computers can scan images? It turns out "machines are often overwhelmed by image artifacts, especially in crowded parts of the sky," explans NASA. This includes brightness spikes associated with star images and blurry blobs caused by light scattered inside WISE's instruments. And unlike more distant objects, those in or closer to the solar system appear to move across the sky at different rates. Therefore, the best way to discover them is through a systematic search of moving objects in WISE images, and humans can do a good job of that "because we easily recognize the important moving objects while ignoring the artifacts," per NASA. That same skill is what allowed astronomer Clyde Tombaugh to find Pluto in 1930, a discovery made 87 years ago this week.
Here's what  lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has to say in a NASA press release about the citizen scientist project. "There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored. Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed."

It's hoped the search also may discover more distant objects like brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, in nearby interstellar space.

So check it out! On the website, you can work your way through millions of "flipbooks," which are brief animations showing how small patches of the sky changed over several years. Participants can flag moving objects. Those objects will be prioritized by the science team for follow-up observations by professional astronomers. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that result from the project. Pretty cool!

Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet.

For more information about Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, visit:
For more information about NASA's WISE mission, visit:

Monday, February 20, 2017

Building and Remembering

ENGINEERED: Sunday morning we headed to Pacific Science Center to check out their weekend event: Engineer It!

I'll let Annabelle tell you a bit more about it. ...
Engineer It! Was an event at Pacific Science Center featuring engineering students from the University of Washington, setting up multiple booths for education about all kinds of engineering. There was a spot where you could work with others to build a free-standing arch out of foam blocks. A free-standing arch is one without adhesives or anything but physics holding it together. Another booth was much larger, and there were Lego robotics fighting a la the TV show “BattleBots”. The robots had sensors to look for the other bot, and a sensor on the bottom to determine when they hit the edge of the arena.
We also visited a station where some Bioengineering students had an ultrasound machine to look at your muscles, and a second table where they explained microparticles in medicine. The microparticles can slowly release medcine, and then they just fade away and the medicine is dispersed throughout your bloodstream. Engineer It! Was super cool, but I wonder if they’re going to make it an annual event.
End of Annabelle's summary. ;)  

To clarify, not all of the booths or stations were manned, and of the ones that were, they weren't all UW students or profs. Many seemed to be staffed by young PacSci volunteers. But many were DIY, including the one below about television signals.  
 And the 'gear factory' was a spot on the floor for self-directed fun.
 Annabelle worked with a young stranger to build this arch. Their teamwork worked!
The self-serve hand battery was cool.
There were UW biomed students demonstrating an ultra sound. The kids each got to see some tendons in their wrists and found their carotid arteries.
NEVER FORGET: While we were at Engineer It! a reminder popped up on my phone letting me know that A Day of Remembrance event was starting at 2 p.m., at Fisher Pavilion. That's just footsteps away from PacSci.

We had planned to go grocery shopping after Engineer It! but when I saw that reminder and knew the event was so close, we quickly switched gears. Obviously, learning about the internment camps during WWII was more important than getting some groceries. 

"Never Forget" was the message this afternoon at Fisher Pavilion where a Day of Remembrance was held marking the 75th anniversary of the President of the United States authorizing our government to incarcerate Americans simply because they looked like the enemy.

We walked into Fisher Pavilion at about 1:50 and every seat in the big hall was already filled. Fine by me/us - I was happy there was such a great turnout! More than 1,300 people turned out for the standing-room-only event.

One of the first stops we made was at a banner. It will be carried at future civil rights marches. We were happy to have a chance to sign it.

The event started promptly at 2. Michele Storms, deputy director of the ACLU of Washington, was the afternoon's emcee. 
The first speaker was poet Troy Asaki. He shared a compelling story about his family and his heritage. It starts at about the 12 minute mark in the video I've shared below. 

While the event's speakers included Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. However, the most poignant speech came from Tom Ikeda. His grandparents, and their six children, were incarcerated in Idaho.
One of his uncles volunteered for military service. He was killed in action. Ikeda said one of the hardest moments of the horrible ordeal was his grandparents having to hold their soldier son's funeral in the indignity of the internment camp. 
During World War II, more than 120,000 American citizens and immigrants of Japanese ancestry were rounded up, forced to give up their homes, businesses, and ways of life. They were herded into inhospitable internment camps, forced to endure years of incarceration.

Mayor Murray and Congresswoman Jayapal noted how here and now have eerie parallels to conditions that led to the awful internment camps. 

Following is CJ's report on the event:
On February 19, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt, then-President of the United States, signed Executive Order 9066 into law, which forced approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration camps located across the country.
Seventy five years later, some of the racist sentiments present in WWII-era America are echoed in Donald Trump's Executive Order 13769, which was an attempt to bar travelers from 7 different (predominantly Muslim) countries from entering the United States.
Yesterday, my family visited Seattle Center's Fisher Pavilion for the "Never Again: Japanese American WWII History and American Muslim Rights Today" event. According to the ACLU of Washington's website, Never Again was a presentation and conversation examining Japanese American incarceration during World War II and how it relates to racism today.
To my knowledge, three different organizations sponsored Never Again. The first of them, Densho, is a group seeking to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished. The second of them, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), seeks to to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding. The third group, the ACLU of Washington, is dedicated to protecting and advocating civil rights in the State of Washington.
There were multiple speakers at Never Again. One of them was Pramila Jayapal, who represents Washington's 7th District in the federal House of Representatives. Prior to entering politics, in 2001, Jayapal founded Hate Free Zone (now OneAmerica), which builds power within immigrant communities in collaboration with key allies. At Never Again, Jayapal referred to Seattle as the "moral conscience of America", presumably referring to the stance several Seattlites (myself included) and the Seattle City Government has taken in response to Donald Trump's racism. Additionally, Jayapal said that her offices had received over 14,000 pieces of mail/email so far, likely urging her to take action against Donald Trump. This caught my attention because I had actually sent her a letter encouraging her to take action against Donald Trump, and I think I know why I haven't heard anything back yet.
If you are so inclined, you can watch the entire program we saw, you can check it out via YouTube:

ON AIR: After the Day of Remembrance event, we walked across the Seattle Center campus to where independent radio station KEXP's cool new digs are. The station's lobby is a busy coffee shop.
You can watch the DJs broadcast live, there's a record store on site, and some cool art.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Starry, Starry Night

Photo: Tacoma News Tribune maybe. The link was dead when I tried to source it. 

BOLDLY GOING: Tonight was one Annabelle had been awaiting for months now. It was the night she got to spend the night at The Museum of Flight, a perk of her membership in Amelia's Aero Club.

This same awesome club membership granted us sneak preview (for free!) status to see the wonderful movie "Hidden Figures" a few weeks back. 

Naturally, she's been busy this evening, but she did message me a few photos from her activities, including something about a Peeps drop.
It sounds like some Peeps were casualties, but some survived.

The best photo was where her sleeping bag is parked. She gets to sleep in the cargo bay of the space shuttle trainer!
We're looking forward to hearing all about her adventure tomorrow!

MEANWHILE: We people who did NOT get to spend the night in the Space Shuttle trainer were just plugging through our everyday lives. 

CJ's spirits were buoyed a bit by spying this oddity on a shelf at a convenience store, a 'fancy,' old school Pepsi.
 It's actually a very new-school Pepsi, introduced in May of last year. The soda play homage to Pepsi's founding year. The 1893 cola is meant to appeal to a source-conscious mindset. Ingredients include kola nut extract, certified fair trade sugar, and sparkling water. 

"I'd drink it again," says CJ.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Giving and Taking

A SWEET CAUSE: Recently, CJ and Annabelle have been studying social issues related to inequalities women and minorities experience in education. 

In that vein, this week, we've worked to help raise funds for The Malala Fund. The organization advocates at local, national and international levels for resources and policy changes needed to ensure all girls complete 12 years of school. Its namesake is Nobel Peace prize winning Malala Yousafzai, Per the foundation's Web site, in 2009, as the Taliban’s military hold on Swat intensified, Malala began writing a blog for the BBC Urdu service under a pseudonym. Eventually, her identity was revealed. 

"In 2011, she received Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize and was nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children's Peace Prize. In response to her rising popularity and national recognition, Taliban leaders voted to kill her," reports the foundation. On  October 9, 2012, while taking a bus to school, Malala was shot in the head by masked gunman.She was hospitalized for months and very nearly died. However, the heroine persisted and, in 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She contributed her entire prize money of more than $500,000 to financing the creation of a secondary school for girls in Pakistan.

Remarkable, to say the least. 

So, obviously, the least we could do was bake some cookies and make some Rice Krispies treats for the cause! 

It's funny, many people failed to recognize the crispy treats for what they were. Instead of standard squares with no toppings, we made shaped ones with mini chocolate chips, cream cheese frosting and little embellishments atop.
A nice, gluten free alternative to a cupcake. 

Wanting to offer a not-sugary treat, we also took in some little chicks deviled eggs today. I neglected to take a picture, so here's a borrowed one from the magic of the Internet. 

HAPPY HUNTING: Wednesday is our Doberman day down south. We visit our Dobie friend in Burien and take him for a midday walk. 

After that outing, we decided to swing down to my favorite Value Village, the Burien store. 

In the very first aisle, we found these. ... 
That's right, all five Spice Girls in their original boxes, unopened. Relics from the 90s were these treasures. 

Not gonna lie, I am not a Spice Girls fan. But I understand that a bajillion other people are, so I had CJ Google what these dolls might be worth. Meanwhile, we loaded them into our cart, so they could take a stroll with us, keeping our options open. I also posted the photo to Facebook, asking my friends to talk me out of buying them. Not a single naysayer popped up. Rather, everyone was an enthusiastic "YES!!!" regarding buying them.

So, now I have five Spice Girls dolls. We'll see what becomes of them. We did a quick Amazon and eBay check while still in the store, and the girls seem to be going for a lot more than that these days, so we figured it was a good 'investment.'

We spent about 90 minutes in that store somehow. There was so much to look at! One thing that caught our eyes was this NERF (yes, like the foam darted guns) body wash and soap. 

I don't get it. Who wants to smell like NERF?
Toward the end of our browsing, I spied a true dinosaur - the Sony MEGA Watchman. 
A portable cassette player and a black and white TV. What's not to love. 

CJ immediately fell in love with it.
So, yes, we rehomed it as well, for $12.99.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


VALENTINE-Y:  February 14th. Also known as Valentine's Day. Here in America, this day often involves the exchange of cards or gifts with classmates, and often tokens of love or appreciation are exchanged among adults. 

Though they don't go to a traditional school, CJ and Annabelle are lucky to be part of a learning community that celebrates special occasions in a big way. The myriad of decorated boxes was amazing, and they got so many super cute valentines. 

CJ and Annabelle spent probably three to four hours building and decorating their valentines receptacles. 

Annabelle went with a unicorn motif. 
 CJ opted for a dragon.
As super poor planning would have it, I don't have any finished photos of the handmade valentines the kids made for their friends. Oops. 

Annabelle designed a graphic for her Valentine's cards. She went with a teacup theme, and cut a slit in each cup top. Through it, she stuck a tea bag's string and tag, and then the teabag was on the backside in a tiny sealed bag.
CJ worked hard folding over 50 'cootie catchers' (also known as fortune tellers) for his Valentine's cards. He folded them from Boise to about Hood River on our trip back from Idaho last Thursday. (And yes, I consider that a parenting win that we were organized enough to have them all printed out and ready to fold on the trip, putting that down time to good use!)

Here's a link to the mini gifts CJ produced:

Monday, February 13, 2017

Back to Boise

ABOUT BOISE: So, last week we had a bit of an adventure. Specifically, an 1,100-mile round trip over the snow mountains and through an icy gorge to Boise and back in the span of three days.

We headed to Boise Tuesday morning, leaving about 6:30 a.m. and arriving about 12 hours later, give or take. Our slow down that day was a freeway - the freeway - being closed for about 4-5 hours.

We slept well Tuesday night and Wednesday morning having a few hours to kill, I declared I simply *had* to see the "Smurf turf," or the blue football field that Boise State University plays on.
We pointed our car in that direction and soon found ourselves outside of Albertson's Stadium. The kids stopped to say 'hi' to Lyle Smith,  a former American football and basketball player, coach, and college athletics administrator. He was Boise State's head football coach from 1947 to 1967.

To get to the playing field, you have to go through BSU's athletic hall of fame.
There were a number of impressive awards on display, and we would have liked to have lingered, but we were illegally parked and had to breeze through.

The blue turf was quite something to see!
It's not the biggest stadium, to be sure, but the venue is in a really pretty setting. 
 And that turf is even more vibrant in person than it is on tv!
 The field had been cleared of snow. I found it amusing that even the pile of 'snow' was blue at BSU!
On the way out, we noticed some semi-trucks heading into the parking lot. They were carrying the gear for twentyone pilots, the band we were going to see Wednesday night at Taco Bell Arena.
CAPITOL IDEA:  When we arrived in Boise Tuesday night, as luck would have it, we found ourselves right outside the state capitol building. We all wanted to tour it if possible on Wednesday, and that we did.
 I'll let CJ tell you a bit more about it. 
Very recently, I wrote a report about the Twenty One Pilots concert in Boise, Idaho. Earlier on February 8, when I saw the concert, my family visited the Idaho State Capitol building, also located in Boise. The Idaho State Capitol is home to the conference rooms of the Idaho State House of Representatives and Senate, as well as Butch Otter (the incumbent Governor of Idaho)'s office.
We were able to take a self-guided tour of 3 of the State Capitol's 4 floors, not going to the bottom floor that appeared to be in use for an event. From the second floor, we were able to see up, and get very good looks at the beautiful architecture. According to Wikipedia, the State Capitol spent 15 years in construction, from 1905 to 1920. The building holds up today, and is probably regularly cleaned.
On the third floor, we were able to actually visit the conference room for both the State House of Representatives and Senate. Noticeably, there was little security for entering both halves of the State Legislature: If men were willing to remove their hats (unless for religious purposes), and you were willing to leave your bags to be searched at the entrance, you were able to spectate in the conference room. In contrast, even Safeco Field, a politically irrelevant building in Seattle, has more security precautions.
In one of the halves of the State Legislature (the House of Representatives if I remember correctly), we were able to see a meeting in session. From what I remember, the House was told that Idaho's school report cards were contrary to those of the federal government's school report card template. From there, the House voted near-unanimously to adopt the federal template. Only one representative did otherwise, choosing to abstain from the vote. Presumably, because the House voted unanimously to adopt the federal template, the change will have a positive effect.

Out in front of the building, we found a big ol' bell. 
 Turns out it is a replica of the Liberty Bell.
The sign on the bell's display told us that it was displayed all over the state before being installed at the capitol building, and that its dimensions and tone are the same as the original Liberty Bell.
 It had a lovely sound when we rapped on it, I must say.
The rotunda of the capitol was gorgeous. 
Although, we all wondered why the box kite seemingly randomly hanging overhead. ... 

We all noticed a spiral staircase on high, as well.
And the capitol had a basement. There was an education event going on down there while we visited.
The place wasn't too terribly busy over all. We walked all over! 
 As CJ noted, we entered the House and Senate (pictured below) chambers.
 Below is the Senate's 'to do' list on the day we visited.
The whole building was a spectacle in and of itself, but there were also art installations to check out, including this George Washington statue carved out of Idaho wood. It dates back to 1869.
In a park across the street from the capitol building, we came across this statue. It's of Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg. He was the fourth Governor of the State of Idaho, serving from 1897 until 1901.
The plaque on the statue noted Steunenberg restored order to Idaho during a period of lawlessness, and that he was assassinated in 1905.  We later found out that Steunenberg was killed outside his house at 1602 Dearborn Street in Caldwell by a bomb rigged to the side gate. Harry Orchard, a former miner from the Western Federation of Miners was arrested and imprisoned for the murder. During the trial, Orchard testified that he had served as a mercenary for the Western Federation of Miners. 

ART WALK: After the capitol visit, we had the pleasure of connecting with family for lunch nearby. On the way, we checked out "Freak Alley," where a number of buildings are painted in a big, bold way.

Though the travel was trying, all in all, it was a super fun trip and we're so glad we went!