Let’s catch up

19 12 2010

I haven’t posted anything in a while, which seems to be the one type of post found on 98.3% of blogs (a number I didn’t just totally make up).

So since we’ve last chatted:

  • Turned 39.  I’ve been telling everyone I’m 40 so that when I actually do turn 40 it won’t feel like anything’s changed.  I’ll let you know how that strategy works out for me.
  • Halloween was great.  I wanted the clan to dress with a group theme and go as characters from Harry Potter.  I, of course, would be Professor Snape.  …oh, how I’ve longed to portray Alan Rickman in *something*!  (y’know, sometimes I think he really *is* the voice of God)  Alas, even though Geneva thought this was a great idea and created a killer Professor McGonagall costume, every one of the boys wanted to be Harry.  So the idea was abandoned.
  • Broke my tractor.  I was having some problems with the clutch sticking, so I tried a trick to pop it out of gear.  Well, it’s out of gear!  Totally broke the drive shaft to the back wheels.  Fortunately, it’s a four-wheel drive so I can still drive it around (and up on the trailer) by using the two front wheels (so I can get it to an actual mechanic).
  • the Leonid shower was a wash with the bright moon.
  • Had hernia surgery.
  • Thanksgiving was pretty fantastic.  –except for the whole ‘recovering from surgery’ thing.  My parents left for the week, so instead of doing our usual Thanksgiving Day bit, my family just stayed home and had our own dinner for a change.  As I said, it was pretty fantastic.
  • Back to the hernia stuff — the doc set me up with some very powerful pain killers, for my very powerful pain you see, but they made me itchy.  So, if you can imagine it, everytime I felt bad enough to take one I would spend the next four hours scratching my arms and neck until they were red and sore.  And they made me really grouchy (when the pain-reliever part wore off) so I got no sympathy from *anyone*!  (okay, not entirely true — my wife was actually incredibly nice to me during this whole ordeal, and I can never thank her enough for it.)  [And I’d like to take this moment to apologize to anyone I texted during this time.  I promise, in my mind I thought I was funny.]
  • I figured out how to set up a nifty HTPC.  I didn’t build it, I just sorta had the stuff I needed laying around my office.  So that means for the first time since buying my 1080P flatscreen, I finally had the chance to push every pixel.  First thing we watched?  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Not a bad flick.  12GB avi, though!
  • Re-read Contact.  I had forgotten how it ended, so I was surprised all over again.  For those who haven’t read the book, it is considerably different from the movie.
  • Watched The Venture Bros. seasons 1 and 2.  Okay, here’s a secret about me.  I didn’t get into this series when it began in 2004 because I didn’t like the first few episodes.  Then I watched maybe one or two episodes each season, if I just happened to be looking toward the TV while they were on.  This past season, though, I’ve really gotten into it.  Upon re-watching, I discovered I *still* don’t like the first season.  But there’s this point in the second season (2nd episode, actually — Hate Floats) where the series becomes awesome.  I’ve watched the first 3 minutes of that episode a half dozen times, and laughed out loud each time!
  • Geminids.  Good show this year.  Didn’t catch it.  Just heard about it.  The temps dropped to around 20F and I’m just getting too old to dress up and do that stuff anymore.
  • Found an old copy of Sid Meier’s Pirates on a hard drive and started playing it again.  Too.  Addictive.  I knew better.
  • Christmas break is coming next week, and I so need it.
  • Grades came out for my kids and, once again, they’re all above average.  Maybe we should move to Lake Wobegon, huh?
  • I found a cover album of the Finn Brothers by various Australian artists that I am just wearing out.  Oh, why can’t we here in America get awesome music like that on our radios?

So that’s pretty much it.  Looking back over the last couple of months it appears that my life has been pretty blah, but what’s not mentioned here is that for the most part I’ve been fairly happy, I’m getting along really well with my folks,  and my kids are doing great and keeping me busy.

I’m still working through the whole Twitter thing.  Not really sure what the etiquette is.  I want to tweet more, but at what point do my texts become really boring (okay, I know you yucksters are all ready to tell me “From the first tweet!” but I’m serious here.  I feel like I either need to get better at it or just lay it down.

…and as far as this blog goes, I actually do have some good stuff to put up over the next week.  And I’m going to make the time to do it as well.  What I have noticed from reviewing the stats from wordpress is that it would appear that people don’t want me spouting my opinions on education and politics.  People seem to be drawn to cool science stuff and pretty astro pictures.  Duly noted!  So hopefully, some of the folks who used to frequent these pages will have some cause to come back.  ‘Til then…


Luck of the Fry-ish!

11 04 2010

So yesterday I discovered a few hundred feet from my house a patch of four-leaf clovers.  You read that right… an entire patch of four-leaf clovers!  Don’t believe me?  How about this?  Those may not look all multi-leafed, but they are.

Better?  Good.  Now — here comes the exciting part! — overall we found several dozen five-leaf clovers, and maybe 15 or so six-leaf clovers,

and then THIS!

Count ’em, suckers!  That’s seven leaves …all on the same stem! And from what I understand about leprechaun magic, one of my kids will have a son who gets to go to Mars.  Sha-pow!

There’s one leaf that’s been chewed up a bit by some bug, but other than that all the leaves are fairly congruent.  That means that they’re almost too big for all of them to be seen at once.  In fact, I had to count them three times before I was sure I wasn’t counting one leaf twice.

Now to figure out how to preserve this thing in a necklace or something.

Time In A Bottle

29 03 2010

So my 4-year-old came up to me tonight with this in his hand:

And pointing at the top half he said, “Know what I’ve got?  I’ve got time!  It’s in the top!”

I watched him as he stared at the last bit of sand running down into the bottom.  “Aww, I ran out.”  I laughed and started to send him on to play with his brothers.  Then he turned it over and his face lit up.  “It’s okay, daddy.  I found some more for us!  It was right there!”

I spent the entire spring break with my family.  We didn’t stay home, but we didn’t go sightseeing, either.  We went off to a condo for the week and spent the whole time just relaxing and being together.  There were a ton of things that needed taken care of at home, but those things were there before the break, and they’re still there now.  Spending a week with my family away from all other responsibilities just seemed so much more important.  I’m really glad we did it, and I think we all got a little closer because of it.

Sometimes it seems like there’s no time for the things you want, but time is always right there if you make it happen.

Giants They Might Be

4 01 2009

So my older boys got MP3 players this Christmas.  I did not give them.  I’ve been reluctant to give them mobile players for the simple reason that I don’t want them to feel I’m influencing their musical interests.  ‘Cause everyone knows that if *I* give them players then I’m also going to put music on them that *I* think is good, thus making me the controlling force in their musical leanings.  I don’t want that.  They need to find the good stuff on their own.

See, here’s the gist:  You ask any 10 people which Twilight Zone episode is their favorite, and one of them is bound to say Time Enough At Last, the really awesome episode where an O/C bookworm played by Burgess Merideth survives nuclear devastation and is overjoyed to find that he can now lose himself in books without ever being bound to responsibilities and, more to the point, reality again.  This episode is awesome on so many levels, and I put it at the top of my favorites.  But I actually discovered the episode on my own through syndication when I was maybe 11 or 12.

There’s an emotional tie in discovering something you find special that makes it yours.  Everyone’s done it.  You read an author who blows your mind, you watch an old B&W movie one night and fall in love with it, you stand in an art exhibit and one of the pieces strikes you as inspired.  If you found these things on your own without someone else forcing them upon you, then you refer to them as things you ‘love’.  And they can fill you with a special kind of joy all your own.  Only later, when you discover the object of your affection doesn’t just talk to you but is considered a work of art by the masses do you feel completely comfortable  to share your feelings with others.  But be careful!  Do you want others to like it just because it’s good, or would you rather them discover it’s awesomeness the way you did?

C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter Fonda’s 12 Angry Men, John Lennon’s Imagine, the Lagoon Nebula… these are all things that I ‘discovered’ on my own that no one had ever talked to me about until after my exposure.  I wasn’t surprised when I later found out how popular these things are.  Of course, I’ve discovered a ton of other things I think are great that no one else seems to know about that I wish could be more popular, but I guess they’ll just have to remain my secrets.

So the Sci-fi Network was running the annual Twilight Zone marathon on New Year’s and I was watching my favorite episode when Garrett walked into the room.

“Whatcha watchin’?”

“Twilight Zone”

“So why’s that guy hiding a book?”

That’s when it struck my that I was about to ruin an opportunity for him to discover this episode on his own.  Typing that makes the whole idea seem really stupid in retrospect, but I just hated taking that away from him.  I told him that he couldn’t watch it because it wasn’t for kids.  (That’ll make him want to watch it a billion times more now!  hehe!)  And then we watched Monk instead.  Later we watched several other good TZ episodes and he seemed to like them.  Maybe he’ll watch a few on his own during the next marathon.  Or maybe he’ll start watching Star Trek.  Or Cosmos.  Or MASH. He’s a few years away from dad letting him watch Futurama, though.

Back to the MP3 players…   Both Miles and Garrett immediately wanted me to fill them with whatever excellent audio I had readily available, so I went to my audio folder and gave them some random samples.  What they selected:  Sting.  U2.  Evanessence.  Moby.  Weezer.  The Chipmunks (shutup!).  and then They Might Be Giants! I know what you’re thinking.  “You’re still influencing them because that was just stuff you had sitting right there!  They didn’t have a choice!”  Not true.  I have a couple hundred CDs and well over 3000 music files for them to sort through.  They made those picks with nary any influence from the old guy.  I was blessed with getting to hear my boys singing Particle Man all afternoon the next day!

…And they discovered it on their own.

When Planets Align – The Good

15 07 2008

So my oldest son is now ten. When he was six he asked me “why is the sky blue?” He’s been asking really good questions ever since. Now anyone who knows me knows that I’m not going to give him some lame answer. I’m going to tell him the truth as best my science understanding, and his education level, will allow. (The following year he asked an even better question: “Daddy, can I watch Star Wars?” I answered with “Son, I’ve been waiting for you to ask that your whole life. Let me show you the collection.” I almost cried.)

Last night we were outside naming the stars as they came out and he asked why Jupiter is so bright and Mars so dim. What an awesome question! There’s a lot going on with disparate distances and sizes and surface color and angular separation from the sun…

He’s learned about the scale of the solar system, and he understands that Jupiter is a lot farther away from us than Mars, but it’s quite a different thing when you’re standing outside and you can actually see both of these objects above you and discuss their relation to the sun with someone. I taught a lot of good science in a short amount of time because I didn’t have to rely on models and tables… we were looking right at the objects we were discussing.

My son loves to hear me tell stories, and he has an incredibly curious mind, but that doesn’t always mean he’s listening to what I’m saying. To give you a visual of what this is like, click on the About Me tab at the top of this page! I had to teach him with hand gestures and scaling exercises three times before he could repeat it back to me, but he never broke his attention away. He really wanted to understand it all.

There was a moment when I pointed to the sun (which had set) and I pointed to Jupiter (directly opposite in the East) and asked him, “So where’s the Earth right now?” Then we turned our attention to Mars and Saturn, which were near the sun in the sky.

Me:  If the Earth is closer to the sun than Mars, could Mars be between us and the sun?

Garrett:  No.

Me:  Then where does Mars have to be?

Garrett:  On the other side of the sun…

And suddenly he had an understanding that many college grads never obtain. He can see at age ten our place in the solar system in more than a rote fashion. It isn’t just a drawing in a textbook or dots of light on a planetarium dome. He knows that the knowledge isn’t abstract or understandable only to an elite few – it’s perfectly logical and can be figured out by the common Joe with a little scientific thinking and direct observation. And most importantly, he sees the alignment of a few celestial objects for what they truly are, beautiful to look at but even more beautiful to understand.

Since Saturn was right above just to the right of Mars in the west, the fact they were obviously close to the same brightness was not lost on him. He started with a brilliant observation (no prompting from me!): “Mars and Saturn look like they’re right next to each other, but they’re not really close at all.” Awesome. Then he asked, “All that stuff you said about Jupiter should be the same for Saturn. So why is it so dim?” Really Awesome.

Before the evening was through he asked other questions about Polaris and Vega and Eta Carinae. Geneva called us inside because it was past his bedtime. I used to stand out under the stars until my mom had to come get me, too.

I’m so proud.