Category Archives: Science

Project Hail Mary

I don’t to think of myself as any author’s shill but…..

Spent pretty much all of three days doing not much besides reading Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.  I’d say I couldn’t put it down but was listening to it on CD so not physically holding it.  I don’t want to give much of a recap because there are about a million spoiler alerts but suffice it to say, here is a list of why you might like it if:

  • You liked The Martian
  • You like science fiction
  • You like stories about space
  • You like science explained in a way you can understand it
  • You like humor mixed in with your science
  • You like a main character who is flawed but still very likeable
  • You like books that draw direct comparisons to current issues without bludgeoning you with them
  • You like stories that draw out a little of your emotion

I sent an email to Andy Weir telling him how much I liked it (and he emailed me back within a couple of hours!).  If there were an Andy Weir Fan Club, I suppose I would now officially be a member.  With today’s social media, are there even fan clubs anymore?

What’s the last book you couldn’t put down?

Parental Psychology

I never took any Psychology classes during any of my college years.  I have nothing against Psychology (and have benefited from it greatly during my life) but I just wanted to get my science requirements out of the way and Psych wasn’t offered when I needed a science class.  Most of my psychology education comes from various Scientific American articles I’ve read over the years.

I think it’s safe to say that as a parent, one REALLY needs psychology.  You just can’t make it through parenthood without figuring out your kids AND figuring out how to get your kids motivated to do what they need to get done.   YA is almost 28 and I still struggle with this occasionally.

One of the things I have figured out is that sometimes you have to come at her sideways.  She is too cool to get enthusiastic over some of my projects; when I brought home the haunted house kit (see photo above), she turned up her nose at it a bit.  If she had been with me when I purchased it, she would have indicated it was not a good idea.  But a few days ago I said “I’m going to do the haunted house tonight if you want to help”.  She responded with a non-committal grunt but when I got everything set up on the dining room table, she showed up.  And she did most of the decorating herself.   This works pretty much all of the time… Easter egg dying, jigsaw puzzles, yardwork, cookie decorating.  It even worked once on a snorkel sail when she was crabby and I said “Fine, you don’t have to go… I’ll see you later.”

If you take this route though, you have to be prepared to do the project by yourself; I think you really have to believe this or they hear it in your voice and then you’re sunk!

How to you talk your loved ones into things?


On Sunday, I texted a friend to see if I could drop off a book for her.  I knew she’d be there but figured I should give her a heads’ up anyway.  She returned my text and asked if I would mind helping her with a quick project when I stopped by.  I said “sure” because any time she does ask me for assistance, it’s not usually much assistance.  And, of course, my schedule is now “fluid”….

The project was changing the lightbulb in an outdoor light fixture.  Sounds easy enough but the light fixture is above the side door, which is itself at the top of four stairs.  We needed the tall ladder for this.  Opened up the ladder didn’t fit on the top step.  It didn’t fit over the steps either.  Leaning the ladder up right under the light fixture didn’t seem like a good idea since its full weight would be on the glass of the side door; we ended up shifting half of the weight to the left door lintel (is that the right word?). 

My friend was nervous about this procedure and although I volunteered (it wasn’t quite high enough up to trigger my fear of heights) she insisted.  Unfortunately it did frighten her and her hands shook enough that she dropped the screw a couple of times.  After the second drop we decided we’d better test the light before trying again.  She came down the ladder and I swiveled it out of the way so she could go inside to flip the light switch.  It was then that I got a very hard and painful thump on the head – she had left the screwdriver on the top of the ladder and it tumbled right off onto me. 

It broke the skin and my friend was really worried that I’d been stabbed with the business end of screwdriver (it was a Phillips).  We applied a paper towel and a small ice pack.   I was sure I’d been thumped by the handle.  There wasn’t all that much blood and a good stab would have bled more.  The physics were also on my side.  It was about a 4 foot drop from the top of the ladder to my head and the weight of the handle was enough that, like a cat, it would have righted itself and hit me handle first.

After a few minutes we finished up the job.  Fourth time was a charm; I tried again to take over the ladder climbing but after I’d been injured helping with her project, she was adamant that I stay off the ladder. 

No headache, no pain, no other symptoms.  I do have a scab now that I’m trying to avoid with the comb and the shampooing but my brush with the screwdriver doesn’t seem to have damaged me permanently. 

What hand tool would make the best weapon if you needed to protect yourself?


Photo credit: Fernhern A/S

I see in the news that they are building what will be the world’s longest immersed tunnel.  Linking Germany and Denmark under the waters of the Baltic, construction actually began in 2020 and is expected to be complete by 2029

I’m sure lots of folks are excited about this but not me.  I don’t even like driving through the I94 tunnel downtown and last month when folks got stuck in The Chunnel for several hours, I almost had a panic attack just reading the news story about it. 

Any phobias you’ll admit to?

Soak It In

I am a Neil deGrasse Tyson buff.  I’ve read several of his books, follow his current podcast (Star Talk) and own a t-shirt with a NdGT quote and a bracelet that I saw on his website of the planets in order.  (I actually made my own bracelet based on his design and I added Pluto – he may be smart, but Pluto will always be one of my planets!)

One of the things that I admire most is his ability to take difficult concepts and to distill them down so that most of us can understand them.  I was re-listening to his description of how the tides actually work/exist and wondered what it would be like to take a class from him (an entry-level class of course – I’ve encountered some of his work that is NOT distilled down and it is way over my head).

My favorite classes in college were always lectures.  I don’t need any small discussion groups or multi-student projects – just let me sit in the presence of great professors while I soak up their knowledge.  Between Carleton and Metro State I took five Shakespeare courses from two different professors – fabulous.  There was a spellbinding Chinese Middle Kingdom class and the professor who taught my King Arthur in English and American Literature (yes, a real class for which I got credit) held my attention like no other.

But based on YA’s master’s program experience, the current trend in education is all about self-teaching, small group projects and collaboration (I detest this word).  Her description of every single class she took for her MBA made my skin crawl, so I guess I probably won’t be going back to school in my retirement.  I’ll have to remain self-taught in the areas that appeal to me.  I’m still doing my online Italian class; I’m almost at 900 days straight.  I’m still working my way through biographies of the English monarchs as well as the American presidents.  Banned books are high on my list of interests as well as reading on Black Lives Matter.  Science is also a love of mine although I would say I have a broad science curiosity  as opposed to a deep curiosity. 

If I were to take any classes, my first choice would be anything taught by Tyson; it’s possible he could do wonders from my understanding of physics.  Add a course covering the history plays of Shakespeare.  I’d like an economics class that specializes in the real world and does not discuss guns or butter.  Literature courses of just about any kind.  No math (I got through trigonometry by the skin of my teeth) and no classes where anything has to be cut up!  

What were your favorite and least favorite classes in school?   


I like to read the historical events that happened on particular days, and one of today’s I found very silly indeed.

On this day in 1889, the Second International Electrical Congress adopted the joule as a unit of energy, after James Joule, the watt as a unit of power, after James Watt, and the quadrant as a unit of electrical inductance. Inductance is the tendency of an electrical conductor to oppose a change in the electric current flowing through it. The flow of electric current creates a magnetic field around the conductor.  What I found so silly is that the name “quadrant” was later changed to henry. The henry (symbolized H) is the Standard International unit of inductance . One henry is the equivalent of one kilogram meter squared per second squared per ampere squared (kg m 2 s -2 A -2 ).

Henry? Why not Flora or Sylvester? This got me started renaming things. “Yep, husband drove 90 Biancas to Bismarck last night. ” Or “I lost 10 Elliots with my new diet.”

Come up with some silly names for units of measurement.

Puppy Physics

Our Cesky Terrier clearly has never heard of the Pauli exclusion principle, which states that two objects cannot occupy the same space simultaneously.

Try as he might, Kyrill can’t fit two of his favorite small tennis balls in his mouth at the same time. He loves his balls and runs all over the house with them. Much of the time he looks like a soccer player, one ball in his mouth, the other getting pushed down the hall and around the room with his front paws. He seems to experiment at times with both on the floor in front of him, picking up one and trying to pick up the other, as though he thinks the rules might have changed and he can have both in mouth.

Cesky Terriers are some what different in temperament from other terriers, in that they prefer (in fact, they insist) on being with their people instead of running off and exploring. Kyrill is very conflicted when we are both outside with him, as he wants to be with both of us simultaneously, even when we are in different corners of the yard. He has, apparently, heard of the superposition principle of quantum mechanics, which essentially states that one object can exist in two places at the same time. I have no idea how that possibly could be true, but it appears to be an actual proven principle. Kyrill hasn’t figured out how to make it work for him when husband and I aren’t together in the same room.

What natural laws do you wish you could suspend? What is your experience with animal devotion or loathing?

Half a Giraffe

You’re giving a announcement to the press about a small asteroid that has managed to get through our atmosphere without completely burning up.  The small space rock is named 2022 EB5 and hit above Iceland last Friday causing a boom and a flash of light as it whizzed across the sky.

You haven’t found any evidence of the asteroid actually making it all the way to the ground, but you want to make folks feel secure about how little damage it would have caused.  So you describe the size of the asteroid as small, 10 feet/3 meters across, “half the size of a giraffe”.

What?  I think a lot of people have probably seen a giraffe in a zoo and have a fairly good idea of how big a giraffe is but it’s certainly not the first thing I would think of when trying to tell someone the size of something.  Especially when 10 feet or 3 meters isn’t that hard to imagine.  But a giraffe…. actually HALF a giraffe?

Isn’t half a giraffe the same as a baby elephant?  Or six dolphins?  Are we picking on animals?  Should we say the asteroid is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle?  And even if we stay with giraffes are we talking half a male giraffe, a female giraffe, a dwarf giraffe?  Are we talking head to halfway through the torso or halfway through the torso to the feet?

Possibilities are endless.

What do you think is a measure of size that the world is missing out on?

Dinosaurs to the Moon

I wasn’t on the trail much over the weekend; I was following a livestream on YouTube.  (I can’t even imagine what I would have thought if I had read that sentence 20 years ago!)

15 years ago, after reading a book by John Green (I think it was Looking for Alaska), I started following him and his brother, Hank, on their YouTube channel called VlogBrothers.  Hank is the brainchild behind SciShow, another fabulous channel and together the brother have created multiple other channels and platforms.  They manage and ship creations by a variety of artists, from their DFTBA (Don’t Forget to be Awesome) warehouse, among many other things.  Their following is called Nerdfighteria and I have to say that they were a big factor in my finally being able to own my nerdiness and feel that it was OK to admit to my smarts.  I say it calmly but it was actually a fairly big turning point in my life.

Both John and Hank are thoughtful, kind and generous – the year I started following their vlog, they decided to do a weekend event on YouTube to raise money for good works.  They invited people to send in videos to the channel to support charities; we would watch and vote on the videos and, if we could, send in money.  At the end of the weekend, they split up the money among the top voted groups.  And they did a livestream the entire weekend to encourage folks to watch the videos, vote and donate.  They called this Project for Awesome. 

And 15 years later, it is still awesome although a little more cohesive these days.  The first 24 hours of donations go to a couple of specific organizations that Nerdfighteria have supported for many years and then the second 24 hours of donations gets split up among the top groups whose video have been voted on.  Lots and lots of perks donated by various online creators.  The livestream is a little surreal… YouTubers setting up goals and challenges.  My favorite is Destin whose vlog “Smarter Every Day” I have watched for years.  Donations during his 2-hour stint get you a plastic dinosaur magnet with your name on it that gets sent to the moon on an electronic pulley system. Honestly I don’t even know how to describe it.  Suffice it to say it’s just hysterical and the donations just blast in during his time.

Anyway, I watched quite a bit of the livestream, including staying up too late both nights and then watching early in the morning.  As the project rolled toward its end, donations again ramped up as John and Hank finished up the livestream with a lot of thanks and champagne poppers and confetti.  About 15 minutes before the end, the counter clicked over the $3 million dollar mark.  I have to say I got a little verklempt.

The happiness that I get from being part of the nerdfighter community makes me think a lot about the Trail and my baboon companions there.  I am not a serious member of the group and I only know one other nerdfighter personally but as a group they follow their leaders… they are kind and thoughtful and generous as a whole, exactly like those I know on the Trail.  No nastiness, no name calling, no mud slinging.  Wish I could spread that feeling out to the whole world.

Tell me about some other nice, thoughtful, kind folks you know!

Too Late?

Asteroid 1994 PC1 whizzed past us yesterday at 43,000+ miles per hour.  Apparently compared to the asteroids that swing by almost every day, 1994PC1 is fairly large to be so far outside the asteroid belt.  NASA has been watching it for years (I’m guessing from it’s name, since 1994) and since none of us got warnings about impending asteroid/earth collisions the last few days, they are quite aware that relatively speaking while it’s coming close to us, its closest pass will be five times the distance between us and the moon.  According to scientists “if you aren’t worried about the moon crashing into your house this week, you shouldn’t be worried about this either”.

I guess we might have a closer call with a much larger asteroid in 2028.  That news actually hit the stands back in 1997, just a year after a big scare when 1996 JA1, an asteroid the length of two football fields, passed by at only 300,000 miles with not much warning.  This might account for a bunch of the asteroid movies that came out in the next couple of years (Deep Impact, Armageddon, Asteroid, Judgment Day to name a few). 

I’m not a big disaster film buff (although technically if they divert the asteroid, it’s not really a disaster flick, is it?) but I did see a couple of these.  It’s an interesting concept – pushing off an object that is traveling 43K miles an hour.  And I don’t really follow this stuff closely so I don’t know if there is an object that NASA is actually worried about.  And I wonder, would they tell us if there were?  Not sure what in heck we, as citizens of the planet could actually do to prepare.  I mean, I assume we’re smarter than the dinosaurs, but there sure wasn’t anything they could have done differently.

Which do you worry about more – asteroids or a zombie apocalypse?