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:

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
Part two: "Philae's Journey" by Vangelis
Part three: "Rosetta's Waltz" by Vangelis
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 does a great job of explaining what happened to Philae during its touchdowns. 
 Diagram shows Philae comet lander's bounces.
Source 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!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Comets, Dinosaurs, and Unicorns

The first comet panoramic from ESA's comet lander, Philae, taken by the lander's CIVA-P imaging system. It shows hows a 360ยบ view around the point of Philae's final touchdown. The lander is superimposed into the image. 
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

LATEST ON LANDING: Our morning started with a briefing from European Space Agency folks regarding what was new with Philae overnight. The press conference was about 45 minutes long, live from the ESA's Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. It featured updates from the Rosetta mission operations team, the Philae lander manager and scientists, and a presentation of initial images and data from the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

One thing we learned is that Philae actually landed three times! It bounced after first touch down, traveled kilometers, touched down again, had a smaller bounce, and then landed at its final resting spot.

Here is a photo Philae took as it was headed in for its first (and only planned/expected) landing. 

The red marks show the the first touchdown point of the Philae lander on Comet 67P/C-G,. The photo is from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera, taken from a distance of 50 km, back on September 2, 2014. 

However, here is a screen shot from the ESA broadcast showing Stephan Ulamec, DLR Philae lander manager, showing a graphic of where Philae first landed (red) and bounced to (blue - the rim of a crater).
Experts think Philae bounced up to a kilometer with the first bump, was airborne for over an hour, and then the second bump was much shorter, perhaps around 20 meters. 

The good news is the lander appears to have landed upright, based on photos so far, and indications are that the science instruments on board are working. 

The not as great news is that where it is, the spot gets less sunlight than the original targeted landing spot. Early estimates were that Philae will only have 50 to 55 hours of battery power remaining because of the lack of sunlight (as opposed to a bit over 60 hours as initially anticipated). We also read reports of suspected solar panel damage, which certainly wouldn't help Philae's cause. According to BBC news, the lander is receiving only 1.5 hours of sunlight for every 20 hour rotation of the comet, which is insufficient to keep its batteries charged beyond the weekend. 

We'll certainly be watching and waiting for another update tomorrow.

CURIOSITY KILLED THE DINOS?:  Dinovember continues, and last night our visitors spent some time surfing the 'net. Apparently they were trying to figure out why there aren't more dinosaurs roaming the Earth. Or at least our neighborhood. ...

They were probably none too pleased with what they found out. ...
Bummer, dino dudes. ... 

ARTSY:  I'm behind on posting pics of Annabelle's art projects. Of course, if I posted pics of ALL of her projects, it would take me hours!

Here's a 3D card she made in art class on Wednesday. Cute, and a fun way to make one's artwork truly pop off a page!
And this morning, Annabelle used a tutorial at the back of the "Phoebe and Her Unicorn" book she got at "The Last Unicorn" special screening on Monday. 

Annabelle's version looks very much like Marigold, the unicorn in the book by local artist Dana Simpson. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Cute cartoon above and below: European Apace Agency

IN FOR A LANDING: Last night while we slept, the folks at the European Space Agency was doing a science. :)

They had made a list (in fact, many lists, no doubt) and I'm sure they were checking them more than twice, as it was time for spacecraft Rosetta to release her lander, Philae!  The little lander would descend, unpowered, entirely relying on gravity, toward the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. 

The team encountered a couple of anomalies in the wee small hours of our morning, and things were tense. However, in the end, it was determined Philae would be released as scheduled.

Let the finger crossing and breath-holding begin ... 
The photo below is Philae’s parting image of Rosetta, taken shortly after separation.
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

And Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera captured this parting shot of the Philae lander after shortly after separation. 

And here, from the ESA and for our collective viewing pleasure, is the first image from the descent of Philae from ROLIS camera (3 m/pixel)! 
Doesn't look all that friendly down there ... 

The kids were *thrilled* when I pulled them out of bed about 6:30 to watch coverage of the comet landing, which mostly consisted of people staring at a computer screen. ;)

We watched NASA TV coverage during Philae's descent toward 67P. Then, as landing and signal reception became imminent, it switched to ESA coverage, which was mostly very nervous looking people in mission control, staring expectantly at monitors. We talked about the fine art of reading body language, and clearly there were many, protracted tense moments. 

Finally, there was good news to report!!! Philae had touched down ... anchored on ... eventually sent a signal back to Earth!!! Here's a link to BBC's coverage of confirmation:

An ESA mission, Rosetta is a multi-national project. NASA technology is on board, in the instruments ALICEMIRO, and IESand part of the electronics package for the Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer - one of two detectors on the Swiss ROSINA instrument. NASA is also providing science investigators for selected non-U.S. instruments and NASA's Deep Space Network provides support for ESA's Ground Station Network for spacecraft tracking and navigation.

Little lander Philae only has sixty some hours of power to work with down on the surface of the comet. Here's hoping it's able to make the most of its time and we can't wait to read about its findings! What a great day for spaceflight!

MAGICAL MOVIE:  Yesterday evening we had a rare opportunity to see a cult classic animated movie and meet its author/screenwriter.
Based on a 1968 novel by Peter S. Beagle, the movie "The Last Unicorn" was released in 1982. Animated by the Rankin/Bass group, with voice talent including Angela Landsbury, Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, Mia Farrow, and Christopher Lee, it quickly earned a devoted fan base which has grown over the years.

An email from Central Cinema in Seattle's Central District let us know about the special screening of the movie, featuring a pre-screening reading by the author and a meet and greet afterward. Count us in!

We got to the theater early enough to score front row seats. Vintage cartoons were shown before the movie, including the Smurfs (to my chagrin).
We all did enjoy a 1936 short called "A Coach for Cinderella," in Technicolor, no less! It was actually a promotional movie by the Chevrolet motor company. The cartoon is pretty entertaining, and it's in the public domain now, so I can post it here!

At about 3:30, Mr. Beagle took the stage, much to the delight of the crowd.
He told a fanciful tale supposedly about the 'true' genesis of "The Last Unicorn," and then opened it up for questions. CJ's hand shot up first.

He (very politely) asked, "Mr. Beagle, what would you do if you met a unicorn in real life?"

The author seemed taken aback. (See the photo below, taken right after CJ asked the question.) I'm not sure he'd ever been asked that question before.
Mr. Beagle stood silently for a moment, contemplating, and then somewhat haltingly answered, "I'd kneel before it. ... and ask, 'What can I do for you?' "
Here's CJ's summation of the evening's events. ... 
Yesterday, I went to a place called Central Cinema where we got to see The Last Unicorn, a 1982 animated film directed by Rankin/Bass with a screenplay written by Peter S. Beagle, who was also the author of the 1968 book The Last Unicorn. Peter S. Beagle was at Central Cinema to sign copies of his books and respond to questions!
The plot of both the book and the movie The Last Unicorn goes like this: A unicorn living in a lilac wood discovers that she is the last of her kind after hearing some hunters talking about unicorns and how, according to the hunters, are all gone, and so the unicorn goes out to search for more of her kind outside of her forest.
The audience in Central Cinema got to ask Peter S. Beagle certain questions, most of them being what my mom called generic, like "What inspired you to make the protagonist of your story a unicorn?" or "Why did you make the forest that your unicorn lives in a lilac one?" I asked Peter S. Beagle the question "If you met face-to-face with a unicorn in real life, what would you do with her?" Peter S. Beagle responded to that question by saying that he would probably kneel down and say "What may I do for you?" to the unicorn.
After the show, there was also merchandise available to purchase. The merchandise available included stuff like T-shirts (with one that had a picture of the unicorn in The Last Unicorn (which had a subtle surprise that the black background was actually composed of the entire novel of The Last Unicorn!), other books by Peter S. Beagle (including one called Sleight of Hand, a collection of short stories by Peter S. Beagle, featuring one that was a prequel to The Last Unicorn), and even some film reels from the original 1982 screenings of The Last Unicorn!
We got our copy of the books The Last Unicorn and Sleight of Hand signed by Peter S. Beagle (he signed out copy of The Last Unicorn with the line "Have a taco", probably the most memetic line from both the book and the movie), and my sister, Annabelle, got a book called "Phoebe and her Unicorn" signed by the author of the Heavenly Nostrils book series, in which "Phoebe and Her Unicorn" is a part of, signed by the book's author, Dana Simpson.
After the movie, we went to the cafe portion of the theater, where we met Mr. Beagle. He signed a couple of books for us (as CJ noted above). 
We also had a chance to meet a local author/illustrator, Dana Simpson, and pick up her book, "Phoebe and her Unicorn," a graphic novel. We even talked a little "My Little Pony" with her for a bit. Fun!