On teaching teachers

Friday ends the second week of the two astronomy workshops we teach each summer. The first week I was the lead instructor, this week, I'm just a co-instructor. These workshops are the best part of my job -- I really like working with teachers. I found out two things this during this year's program:

  • I can intimidate a veteran teacher by talking about stars. She survived, but I think brain matter is still leaking out of her ears. I never knew I was so scary!

  • You can see the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory in Google Earth -- Tool around near Malargue, Argentina. At the North edge of the densest group of buildings, you can see their office with all of the yet to be deployed detectors. Pretty cool.


Not quite back from hiatus

Just wanted to let everyone know that I *do* intend to update -- I just haven't found much time these days because I've been working days and nights lately. I'll post about black dwarfs and coronal mass ejections (i.e., the highlights of the workshop I just taught) in a few days.


On Kindergarteners and the Kuiper Belt

Today I had another planetarium show scheduled for kindergarten kids. If you do planetarium shows for kindergarten kids, you need to have a position on the status of Pluto -- it comes up a lot. My personal opinion is that there are no compelling reasons to call Pluto a planet. Let's just call it a Kuiper Belt object and get it over with. I usually find some excuse to bring this up, and so I'll mention to kids that there are objects like Quaoar, Sedna, and now 2003 UB313 that are causing us to reconsider our classification of Pluto.

During this group that was visiting today, I did the same. I mentioned Quaoar and Sedna, and most of the kids started laughing. One of them raised his hand, and he said (and I am *NOT* joking) -- don't forget Ixion and Varuna.

Ok, so he probably went on the web and looked this up with his folks, but still, it's not every day that a random six year old sitting in our planetarium knows the names of the 1000 km scale KBOs.

It is days like this that somewhat lessens my fear for the future of science.


On blogging block

I've actually had some time to write entries, but have had a bit of blogging block. I've had some things I wanted to write about but haven't had the motivation to write a decent length entry. Still don't. So I figured I'd just write a few sentences about a few different things.

I haven't had much to say about the Spitz Model A. I really, really want to raise money to get this restored. I think I can do it, but won't have time to think about this until the Fall. One piece of news I can report is that when Steve Pielock visited to service our projector, he and I found the serial number. It is #9, and according to Steve, that makes it the third oldest known to still exist.

I mentioned that during my just finished camp, my students found good examples of micrometeorites. Here is a picture of one of the best candidates, seen at 400X, I believe. The local meteorite expert said he would have liked to analyze some of our candidates more, but unfortunately none were saved! I'm pretty disappointed about this -- I would have loved to have had better evidence about their nature.

I've been avoiding writing about politics. A few reasons are that I don't know that anyone should care about my opinions on politics, and also that I don't have time to get more than a superficial understanding of the issues, so I don't feel I know enough about many of the issues to debate them. Without getting too far into my personal politics I will say one thing that is likely to give away my leanings -- I am so flipping tired of hearing the phrase "cut and run", to me it is the epitome of what politics is about these days. Come up with some cutesy phrase that tars your opponent, whether it has any validity or not, and repeat it endlessly until "flip flopper" is the only thing you think about when you see that person's face. I don't live in Virginia anymore, so I have no real stake in the outcome of the race, but I absolutely loved this response by Senate candidate James Webb to an attack by his opponent. I think that someone should FAX a copy of this to Kerry. Can you imagine if Kerry had dealt with the Swift Boaters like this?

On to more important topics. I was really excited to see that Pearl Jam was going to be on Storytellers. N8ball and I are both big fans -- when we were undergrads, we waited in line together for 6 hours just to buy their second album at midnight the day it was released. We planned to get together, eat good food, and watch the show. I think all around we were disappointed. I was hoping to get some real insight from them about their history. Instead we got one story about Eddie being the subject of the song Alive, and the rest of the time they talked about politics. What a revelation! You mean the guy who wrote Bushleaguer is anti-Bush? I had no idea. I have no problem with musicians and actors giving their opinions on politics (although Link thinks I'm wrong to be angry about the Dixie Chicks saga), but in this case I was just hoping that they would balance some of their activism with some discussion of their art. Oh well.

Just a quick update on Roux, our sick cat. When we first saw the specialist in March, he prepared us for Roux maybe only hanging on for a month. Well, it is July and she is stable. We had a bit of a scare, the fluid in her eye looked a bit cloudy, so we took her to see the greatest vet in State College. He said that they were tears, so nothing to be worried about. We don't know what her future holds, but for now it looks like we get to spend more time with her.

Last topic in this particular core dump. Everyone knows that I'm a big fan of State College. I have no interest in moving -- as far as I'm concerned, we are settled here. The biggest downside to living here, though, is that it is a college town, and people don't stay here forever. One of my vball buddies, Steve, and his wife, Julie, are moving on to Shampoo-Banana -- Julie defended her thesis the other day, and is off to take a faculty job elsewhere. Steve is responsible for my right ring finger no longer straightening completely (dislocated it trying to block his kill attempt), but it is still sad that they are leaving us.

That's it for now, I suppose. Perhaps I'll be coherent next time. I do want to write about the High School Project controversy, but I don't know that I have an original opinion. This opinion piece pretty much sums up the way that I feel.

Clear skies...


On Trader Joe's

Just got back on Wed from doing a three day teacher's workshop in one of the suburbs of Philadelphia. Luckily, my hotel managed to be one of the few in the Fort Washington area that did not flood on Wednesday. We had one teacher unable to make it, all the rest of us were late after being detoured multiple times, but all in all nothing too bad happened.

On the contrary, something very good happened -- I found out that there is a Trader Joe's only 4 miles from the school where I was working! This is big, big news. Shan and I *love* TJs. There is no TJs in State College, but there are many of them within about 3 hours drive from central PA. There is a group of us TJs addicts at Penn State that usually announce to each other when we will be on the road and near enough to a TJs to make a stop, and we often bring back goodies for the others. There is one about 10 minutes from where my parents live, so whenever we visit, Shan and I usually buy about $100 worth of stuff to bring back to PA with us.

Trader Joe's is a great store -- they sell good, high quality food at very good prices. You can find some of the same brands at Wegman's (which we do have in State College), but where Wegman's will charge $4.99, TJs will have the same product for $2.99. Besides being inexpensive, their store brand products are all very good. We love their nut mixes / trail mixes, spreads and sauces, salsas, cookies, and just about everything else. While there this time, I discovered something new to me -- "Traderade". It's basically gatorade, but with 25% real juice. I tried the fruit punch and the lemon-lime, and both were really good and the real fruit juice was definitely noticeable. I usually drink a lot of gatorade, but I can say that if I could get to a TJs more often, I would definitely be buying more traderade.