Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spontaneous Show Of Affection Not Exactly So

What was initially considered a spontaneous show of affection turned out to be a calculated move to access a bowl of potato chips.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Our Friends The Slime Mold Become Life Of The Party

Dictyostelium disconideum start to explore their environment and find their oats.
These guys have found four oat flakes and are really starting to grow.

As the slime mold reproduces, it will aggregate and show behavior similar to a more complicated organism in the way it sources its food. But each cell is identical and none of them possess any distinguishing characteristics, yet somehow they form a colony that works together for the greater good.

The slime molds cells are "organizing from below." Sort of how humans formed early cities -- showing emergent adaptability to their environments. The veins of the mold above resemble a city seen from the air.

Steven Johnson commented on this pattern of nature in his book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. I highly recommend it.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Why Does The Slime Mold Hate Us? And Other Awesome Questions

Our friends, the small slime mold cells, arrived in a big box.
The sixth-grader got motivated by the anti-science president and decided to do something really sciency -- test the collective intelligence of a simple organism like the slime mold.

I say collective because this life form can operate independently on the cellular level, then, if need be, unify with the family for elaborate maneuvers.

With this lofty goal in mind we ordered the Slime Mold Starter Kit from a purveyor of biological supplies. We had to wait four days until the box arrived on our doorstep, giving the kid time to name one of the cells Jerry, and the rest of the cells Jerry's friends.

We set up the experiment as such:
kid builds two test areas out of cardboard and parchment paper.
In the first box is a petri dish of agar, a medium to grow cells, with a few oats, the slime mold's favorite food. Once the mold had grown, it would seek out additional oats outside the petri dish. The square pieces of paper have slime mold cells on them.

In the second box, a barrier separates the mold from additional oats. We hope to observe how the mold surmounts the barrier.
Yesterday we set everything up and after two hours were concerned something was wrong as in optimal conditions the mold can grow a centimeter in one hour. It turned out the starter cells had not been set in the agar, but rather just the lid of the petri dish.

Part of the fun would be to make a time-lapse video of the mold doing its thing, so we set up a Gopro to take a frame every 10 seconds. We went to bed last night with excitement brewing. This morning we got up and ran to the garage in pajamas, and...nothing.

No need to go into detail how the kid took things. I told my son that this was real science, in that we had to ask questions and try a new hypothesis, and if he wanted to get a good video he should have stuck with the baking soda and vinegar thing. The new thinking was that the light left on to film retarded growth. So the kid went to school and we turned off the light.

I just checked Jerry and the crew and things are starting. With the kid's input we've added a light misting of water to help things progress.

I will continue to update this story as it progresses.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Chrome Bag Comes Home To Broad Acclaim

This is the right bag at the right time. The kid picked out the colors and had a NASA and Trail Blazers patch stitched onto it.

Such an improvement over the generic roller backpack.

I'm proud the kid is stylin' -- middle school stoke!


Monday, April 24, 2017

Despite New Couch, "Couch Corner" Still A Thing

This is the coveted spot on the couch.

The new couch is excellent, and there is certainly no going back to the bad old days of a too-small couch.

Still, this new couch was purchased with the thought that placement upon it would matter not -- everyone would be comfortable. This is true to an extent, but owing to cosmic forces, feng shui, particle physics, and general craziness, "couch corner" is still a thing.

This means that the primo spot for watching TV or playing Xbox is the corner nearest the wall.

I realize that purchasing couches is like purchasing weapons, one is always hungry for more, better, bigger.  I will resist the temptation to "go nuclear," which would be to turn every flat space into a couch-like place. We still need the table!


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Political Protest: A Family Activity

Terry Shrunk Plaza was so packed we couldn't see who was doing the Chicken Dance.
Often it's difficult to find family activities beyond the dinner and a movie thing. Now that the kids are 15 and 12, independent people, the notion of mandated activities no longer exists.

We all agree on one thing, however, and that is the necessity of an engaged electorate expressing itself -- even if 50% of us can't yet vote.

Lucky for us we had nice weather for the Show US Your Taxes Rally a contrast to the Women's Rally in February where our Pussy Hats got drenched.

We passed an office building where accountants were fully energized.

A nice day with the added catharsis of being with thousands of people who would like a different government. The video


Monday, April 17, 2017

Skiing With Matzoh

All the essential gear.

When I ski at Mt. Hood Meadows I often note a run called Mazot, wondering if this is a misguided Passover thing -- like this run only comes alive in April after plenty of matzoh has been consumed.

This guy wouldn't go to the mountain unless lots of matzoh was packed in the car. Just kidding :)


Friday, April 14, 2017

Photo Essay: Portland, Oregon

Storefront art.

This is what a ski shop work space should look like. If your ski shop work space doesn't resemble this, phone the authorities immediately.

There is a requisite clutter to ski shop work spaces.

Sixth grade homework: note the sloth pic.

My mind drifts to times of pizza during this matzoh party.

Still life with asparagus.

Friendly activist.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

When Kids Learn Tech

I found this postcard on my computer desktop. The kid did some tech as he has not yet visited the Grand Canyon.

I am happy for this digital treat!


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Kid Catches Dad In Practical Joke

I use a cordless optical mouse. When I went to my computer the mouse wasn't working. I assumed the battery had worn out. When I turned the mouse over to change the battery the above is what I found.

Well done!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Chrome Wins Out Over Timbuk2 With Kids

Order form for the son's custom Chrome messenger bag.

One of Portland's oldest and most revered traditions is the presentation of the messenger bag to one who is on the path to becoming an adult (a kid).

I gave my daughter a Chrome messenger bag -- so she didn't really have a choice -- but she later said she liked the buckle and other flashy attributes over the more conventional Timbuk2 bag.

This past weekend I took the son to look at bags in both the Chrome and Timbuk2 stores. He carefully weighed the styles of each, then opted for a Chrome bag.

The bag I have used for close to two decades is the standard Timbuk2 messenger bag, so perhaps the kids need to assert their independence by aligning with Chrome.

For the record I have actually used the bag on my bike and find the trademark Chrome buckle a pain. Everyone in this city is such a fashionista! Especially me.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Daughter Learns Driving Means One Potentially Can Drive To Nice Places

The quest continues for the daughter to learn how to drive. The requirement is 50 hours of driving practice now that she has her learners permit.

Last Saturday we broke out of our neighborhood and began experiments with speeds in excess of 20 mph. Things went well and we ended up driving to Sauvie Island, a beautiful spot full of natural spaces and farms near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

The daughter was elated with the freedom of the car, as well as the reduced stress of driving on country roads. The spring weather, with dramatic clouds and sun breaks, the verdant countryside, and lack of vehicular catastrophe had put me in a good mood as well.

Looking forward to a summer of more practice and beautiful vistas.


Monday, April 3, 2017

6th Grader's Book Report: The Boy Who Dared

The following is the sixth grader's book report.

Imagine you are living in economic crisis. You are poor, tired, and humiliated. Imagine someone comes along and promises that they will get rid of your poverty and despair. That’s how Hitler got into power.

The Boy Who Dared starts off in 1933, where Germany isn’t at its greatest. They are suffering from the Great Depression, and the Versailles treaty has weakened Germany’s military. Helmuth is excited that Hitler has been elected, because he has heard his promises, and has listened to enough propaganda to see Hitler as a war hero who will save Germany.

In The Boy Who Dared, Susan Bartoletti does an amazing job writing the story of Helmuth Hubener, the youngest person to be put on Nazi death row.

Bartoletti uses skillful techniques to develop Helmuth as a character. In the beginning of the book he is sad that he isn’t going to Hitler’s victory parade, and at the end he is on death row for distributing pamphlets criticizing every part of the Nazi government from unnecessary air raids, to Hitler Youth, to the Gestapo.

Bartoletti’s use of rich language and memorable quotes wonderfully document Helmuth’s courage to stand up for what’s right.

“On the RRG Helmuth hears how the advancing Germans capture or kill great numbers of Russian soldiers. But the RRG never lists German losses. And so, for the truth, Helmuth tunes in to the BBC. Late each night, he opens the hall closet and takes out the Rola radio. He locks the flat door, and then hears a different story: about German planes destroyed by the Russians, sunken transport ships, and soldiers killed or captured. The Russians are fighting bitterly and bravely, but only Helmuth seems to know.”

This part of the book particularly struck a chord with me, as a new president is coming into the White House. While I don’t think we’ll become Nazi Germany, I am tired of being lied to by him and his surrogates. We need to make sure that he is held accountable for his actions, and be careful not to make the same mistakes the people of Germany did.

While the story itself is great, I had a problem with it. From the very beginning of the book, there are little excerpts from the end of the book; so we know that he is going to get executed from the very first chapter. As I kept reading, I did not find a meaningful reason to put the snippets of text throughout the book. It’s not like I didn’t think they were good, it’s that they ruined any suspense the book would’ve built up. That being said, I could enjoy the story, but I couldn’t feel immersed in the book, because every chapter started with an excerpt from when he is on death row, so I couldn’t feel the emotions as they were happening as well as I could have.

The Boy Who Dared left me with the chills. I can relate to being silenced, but thankfully I can’t relate to having the entire government against you (at least not yet). What amazed me most about this novel was Helmuth’s courage. It seems as if the entire government wanted to silence the voices of the citizens and not allow free thought, most people would curl up and wait it out. But not Helmuth. I absolutely LOVED how he wouldn’t stand for the Nazi government, even if it cost him his life. He was smart enough to know the consequences for distributing the facts, yet he still did because it was right.