Saturday, July 26, 2008

Random thought

You know what would be really cool? A medieval restaurant. Not pseudo-medieval with a jousting show like Medieval Times; real medieval food and entertainment. The servers could wear garb and the dishes could be made to actual medieval recipes. Early music groups could play in the background and bards could recite from time to time. Seating and serving would be medieval-style and there could be pewter dishes. Also on "lean" days the restaurant would serve meatless dishes, and there would be feasts from time to time, with reserved spaces instead of open seating.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Third Horseman Of The Apocalypse Comes For Science

Science education in this country is over.

They're going to apply Title IX to science. You may remember Title IX as the gender-parity law that was supposed to enhance opportunities for women's sports, but ended up decimating men's sports instead. Well, there evidently aren't enough women in the sciences, so they're conducting Title IX investigations into science. Soon they'll require that science departments serve equal numbers of female students, which will mean that they will have to cut back departments like physics and engineering to half their current size.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: science is not the "world's oldest profession;" you should choose to go into it based on what's between your ears, not what's between your legs. But try telling that to the Third Horseman of the Apocalypse.

T.E.S.L.A. : Sundials

Continuing our Sun Month theme, today in T.E.S.L.A. we made sundials out of paper plates. I made the sundial faces in Microsoft Publisher and printed them out. If anyone wants the sundial face with the hour lines marked for Tooele's latitude (about 40 degrees), I've got it in PDF format and would happily email it to you.

We ran out of time to make the giant analemmatic sundial but I have a spreadsheet to do the calculations for it; if anyone wants to make a giant sundial just email me. They can be a bit intimidating for anyone who's been too long out of trigonometry. The spreadsheet also does the calculations for the hour lines for the paper plate sundial, so if you're at a different latitude you can make your own sundial face.

Oh, and don't forget to correct for magnetic declination when you're orienting your sundial to the north. Last time I did this, it was off by quite a bit because I forgot to make this correction.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

This week in T.E.S.L.A.

Last month I started a summer science club for kids ages 7-11 and called it T.E.S.L.A. (Totally Educational Science Learning Activities). We invited neighborhood kids, friends of my kids, and homeschoolers to come enjoy doing some hands-on science. The objective is to get the kids excited about doing science projects, instead of just learning from books. I thought it important because when my kids were at the local public elementary, they only did science from books. They never got their hands dirty, and every damn year they learned the water cycle again. If that was your only exposure to science, you'd think it was boring and run as far away from it as you could.

We declared last month "Properties of Matter Month" and we did experiments on density, acids and bases, and pressure. For the density lesson we explored whether objects would float in fresh water, in salt water, in oil, and in corn syrup, and then I let the kids go wild and create their own density experiment. They had a load of very oily and sticky fun. The acids and bases lesson included the classic vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano (each child made their own in a cup) and then everyone made a bath bomb (until Bagel turned the hose on the tray of drying bath bombs and they all went up in a cloud of fizz). The pressure lesson included experiments with cups and straws and water. The kids learned why it's hard to pull an upside-down cup out of the water and how to lift liquid using a straw, and then they made Cartesian divers out of water bottles and eyedroppers.

This month is Sun Month. We didn't have a lesson last week because we were busy with the 4th of July preparations, but this week we made parabolic-reflector solar ovens out of boxes and aluminum foil. I showed the kids how to make a parabola shape by folding paper, and we used that to shape a foil-covered cardboard reflector and cook a hot dog. We had our largest crowd ever this week-- there were maybe 20 kids in my yard, all making solar ovens.

Next week we are going to make sundials and learn about the sun's path through the sky, equinoxes, etc. The following week we are making pinhole cameras to observe the sun, and learning a bit about optics.

The parents are very enthused. I get a lot of "You're braver than I am" and "I'm so glad you're doing this because I never could". One mom told me that her girls said they hated science, but after they came to T.E.S.L.A. they said they loved science. That's the kind of thing I'm hoping to accomplish. You never know where the next great scientist is going to come from, but the odds are pretty poor that it'll be someone who thinks science is boring. Granted, there's not a strong likelihood that the next great scientist is going to come from Tooele, but if we use that as an excuse to give up on science education, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if everyone gives up, where can we expect the next generation of scientists come from?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Carnival of Recipes

The Carnival of Recipes is up!

I Wanna Be An "Uncle Tom"

The epithet "Uncle Tom" is usually used to describe a (black) race traitor, somebody who kowtows to the "massas". It is supposedly a reference to a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. After Professor Bob noted that plenty of people know about Uncle Tom's Cabin but have never read it, it occurred to me that all I knew about it I had either learned in history class or from watching "The King And I," so I decided to read it.

If you've used this epithet, have you actually read Uncle Tom's Cabin? Because Uncle Tom is decidedly not a lickspittle. Yes, at the beginning of the book he goes along with his master's decision to sell him down the river, but it's pretty clearly a choice for him to do so, since he is repeatedly urged to run away and he gives his reasons why he decides not to. Uncle Tom is in fact a principled Christian who stands up to evil even when it means he will come to harm. If you want a character in this book who's willing to sell out his race for his own benefit, you'll have to look at Sambo or Quimbo.

Frankly, I find Uncle Tom quite worthy of emulation.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Vive la Revolution

I'm doing my 4th of July post a day early, because tomorrow I'm going to be extraordinarily busy. Princess, Sonshine and I will be with the float for the new charter school, and later I'll be working the beanbag toss booth.

The charter school is very important to me because I am tired of the tyranny of unelected bureaucrats over the education of our children. I am tired of parents and students being tread upon, like the snake in the revolutionary flag. Well, school board, DON'T TREAD ON ME.

The charter school is, in my opinion, a sublimely American institution. It is the government of the school by the parents and for the parents. Like the Constitution, the charter lays out the school's founding principles. There are checks and balances so that no one parent or group of parents wields all the power. It inspires me. It makes me want to march in front of that float waving a big American flag, waving it in the faces of the school board, the feckless principals and PTA presidents. Sic Semper Tyrannis, bureaucrats! Your desk won't protect you when the charter school revolution comes!

And so like our country, the charter school is worth working for. It empowers people. It says not "let Mommy take care of you, now you run off and play" but "come with us, help build something worthwhile". It has the power to fire us up to enthusiasm about the next generation. It is truly revolutionary.

And so I call to the parents of Tooele the immortal words of Les Miserables:
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free!

May the principles of our republic stand immortal! Vive la Revolution!