Time For Some TV – Cosmos

Time For Some TV – Cosmos

I don’t watch a lot of television. When I do, it’s usually a New England local sports event. On the rare occasion I do find myself getting into a series, I am always late to the game: The Big Bang Theory, Parks and Recreation, Game of Thrones… I have been in catch up mode with all of these series when I first discover them. This also includes probably one of the best science series to be on television in a long, long time… Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

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Cosmos is an updated version of the TV series done in the 1980s by Carl Sagan, author of the book Cosmos. I have had a strong interest in astronomy going back to my childhood, and my late uncle John “loaned” me his copy of the book (which when I asked when he’d like it back some time later, he basically said that it was mine now). I have his copy to this day.

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Hosted by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the updated Cosmos series explores multiple scientific concepts of our cosmos in the “Ship of the Imagination”. From the largest scale of the universe itself, down to the tiniest micro scale, the series explains these concepts in a way that both folks not from a science background, as well as those knowledgeable in science can appreciate. The fact that my wife (who generally isn’t into physics or astronomy) found the portions she watched very interesting is a testament to this. My son’s favorite part so far of those he watched was about the tardigrades.

This is one of the series’ appeal. That it can take concepts that can be hard to really appreciate at full scale, and put them in terms that can make it a bit easier to contemplate; e.g. taking the 13.8 billion years of the universe and condensing it into a single calendar “year”, and that all we know of human history takes place on December 31 of this cosmic calendar “year”.

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I plan on finally investing in a Blu-Ray player, and this will likely be the first title I get on Blu-Ray. It’s that good.

This is a series you can watch with your family. While the youngest of children may not grasp everything, depending on the particular child, I think age 10-12 is a great age where they can get a good understanding of the series. This is a series that I really believe helps start an interest of science in kids, and perhaps, hopefully reignites an interest in adults to become more scientifically literate. Not everyone can be a scientist, but everyone should attempt to become as scientifically literate as possible. This literacy can mean more knowledge you can bring to a family hike in the forest that you pass along to your kids; or to the voting booth or correspondence with our elected officials when important policy questions are being debated that involve technology and science.

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Benoit Mandelbrot – RIP

Benoit Mandelbrot passed away at age 85. RIP

For those familiar with Jonathan Coulton’s song Mandelbrot Set, his thoughts are posted here.

And if you’re not familiar with the song, listen below.

Jonathan Coulton – ‘Mandelbrot Set’ from Best. Concert. Ever.

(Parental note: There is some language in this song)

Borax Crystal Snowflakes!

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Well it’s Christmas Season again. And I thought I would repost the instructions on how to make Borax Crystal Snowflakes. Our weather has been swinging from 50s to 30s back to 50s again – so no snow here.

So, what do you need?

  • string
  • wide mouth pint jar
  • white, or maybe blue pipe cleaners
  • blue food coloring (optional)
  • boiling water (with adult help)
  • borax (available at grocery stores in the laundry soap section)
  • pencil

Now what you’ll want to do is to shape a snowflake frame from the pipe cleaners, such that one of the pipe cleaners is vertical, and the other two cross in the middle, twisting them together in the middle so that all of the points are equally apart from each other. Next tie the string to one of the points and string along to each pipe cleaner point to make the snowflake shape.

After this tie a length of string from the top point of the snowflake to the pencil, so that the flake will be entirely in the jar, but not touching the bottom.

Now pour the boiling water into the jar and begin adding the Borax into it, stirring in one tablespoon at a time, until you begin to see a little no longer dissolving into the water (now its supersaturated). If you want to use the food coloring, add it in at this point.

Now place the snowflake frame into the solution, using the pencil to hang at the top of the jar and let sit overnight. By the next day, you should have crystals growing on the snowflake!

Merry Christmas!

christmas-tree-snow.jpgIn thinking of what I should write about as a “Christmastime blog”, I thought of things such as the science behind the Christmas Star (and how much the jury is still out on what exactly it could be, should it be some astronomical event), how Mars is particularly close to Earth today and therefore brighter than usual, so you could tell your young kids that it could be Rudolph leading Santa’s team, or perhaps breaking down how does Santa exactly get to all those kids houses in one night? (This link provides some curious animations of how things would look at near light speed travel.)

But in the end though, I thought it would be cool to do something nice and simple. Something that you could do with your kids over the Christmas break – grow some Borax crystal snowflakes!

So, what do you need?

  • string
  • wide mouth pint jar
  • white, or maybe blue pipe cleaners
  • blue food coloring (optional)
  • boiling water (with adult help)
  • borax (available at grocery stores in the laundry soap section)
  • pencil

Now what you’ll want to do is to shape a snowflake frame from the pipe cleaners, such that one of the pipe cleaners is vertical, and the other two cross in the middle, twisting them together in the middle so that all of the points are equally apart from each other. Next tie the string to one of the points and string along to each pipe cleaner point to make the snowflake shape.

After this tie a length of string from the top point of the snowflake to the pencil, so that the flake will be entirely in the jar, but not touching the bottom.

Now pour the boiling water into the jar and begin adding the Borax into it, stirring in one tablespoon at a time, until you begin to see a little no longer dissolving into the water (now its supersaturated). If you want to use the food coloring, add it in at this point.

Now place the snowflake frame into the solution, using the pencil to hang at the top of the jar and let sit overnight. By the next day, you should have crystals growing on the snowflake!

And if you wanted to get the more scientific details about Borax, you can go here.

Wishing everyone a Happy, Healthy, and Safe Christmas and Holiday Season!

Thank You, Mr. Wizard

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Making science accessible to kids with regular household items, Mr. Wizard’s World was one of the great shows I was a fan of as a kid in the 80s, airing on the then fairly new Nickelodeon network. Mr. Wizard, Don Herbert, has passed away today.

So thank you, Mr. Wizard, for your part in bringing science appreciation to this kid… and as I also found from the article below, your service to this country.

TV’s ‘Mr. Wizard’ Don Herbert Dies at 89
Jun 12, 6:41 PM EST

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Don Herbert, who as television’s “Mr. Wizard” introduced generations of young viewers to the joys of science, died Tuesday. He was 89. Herbert, who had bone cancer, died at his suburban Bell Canyon home, said his son-in-law, Tom Nikosey.

“He really taught kids how to use the thinking skills of a scientist,” said former colleague Steve Jacobs. He worked with Herbert on a 1980s show that echoed the original 1950s “Watch Mr. Wizard” series, which became a fond baby boomer memory.

In “Watch Mr. Wizard,” which was produced from 1951 to 1964 and received a Peabody Award in 1954, Herbert turned TV into an entertaining classroom. On a simple, workshop-like set, he demonstrated experiments using household items.

“He modeled how to predict and measure and analyze. … The show today might seem slow but it was in-depth and forced you to think along,” Jacobs said. “You were learning about the forces of nature.”

Herbert encouraged children to duplicate experiments at home, said Jacobs, who recounted serving as a behind-the-scenes “science sidekick” to Herbert on the ’80s “Mr. Wizard’s World” that aired on the Nickelodeon channel.

When Jacobs would reach for beakers and flasks, Herbert would remind him that science didn’t require special tools.

“‘You could use a mayonnaise jar for that,'” Jacobs recalled being chided by Herbert. “He tried to bust the image of scientists and that science wasn’t just for special people and places.”

Herbert’s place in TV history was acknowledged by later stars. When “Late Night with David Letterman” debuted in 1982, Herbert was among the first-night guests.

Born in Waconia, Minn., Herbert was a 1940 graduate of LaCrosse State Teachers College and served as a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot during World War II. He worked as an actor, model and radio writer before starting “Watch Mr. Wizard” in Chicago on NBC.

The show moved to New York after several years.

He is survived by six children and stepchildren and by his second wife, Norma, his son-in-law said. A private funeral service was planned.

Don’t Toss Those 3-D Glasses Just Yet

bluecusunsm.jpgIn case you had started spring cleaning and came across some old 3-D glasses, hold on to them for now. NASA just published pictures of the sun. While the sun is no stranger to the photo shoot, this is the first done in 3-D by STEREO – a spacecraft based binocular vision. In case you had already thrown out those old glasses, you can make your own here. This would make a great project for kids in science class as part of their study of the sun – that big flaming ball that is incredibly average amongst its peers, yet does a great job of playing its role of keeping things going here. I admit that I no longer own a pair. Perhaps a trip to A.C. Moore is in order…