Thursday, February 24, 2011

Europa in Your Yard

As February winds to an end this snowy winter, and nights are still frosty in much of the country while days are warming, and the hearts of the young in the northeast turn towards drilling holes in the trunks of maple trees for the collection of sap, those who have left kiddie pools out in the snow all winter in the hope of a sunny warm day can simulate the surface of the moon Europa!

Ice rafts on Europa (photo from JPL)

If you are not so careless about your kiddie pool, or if your kids have outgrown the small wading pool stage, you can use any shallow basin.  Fill it with the remnants of the latest snow storm, and let it melt a bit in the shade and freeze again overnight.  It should be a bit bumpy on the surface, and may be still unfrozen below the surface.  Toss a small stone onto the surface.  If nothing happens, try a larger stone, until the impact breaks the surface and the stone falls through the ice.  Watch the water well up from beneath the ice, and check it the next day (after a decent overnight freeze), and you ought to see a similarity to the young surface of Europa.  (Compare with our moon:  A young surface on our moon is smooth from relatively recent lava flow.)

If the temperature conditions are just right, you might even get a fine crater-shaped hole in the ice, complete with a ridge and ejecta debris.  As long as the cycle of freezing and thawing continues, you can continue to experiment.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What Makes a Toy?

There in the supermarket--you've seen them before--was that harbinger of spring: the giant rack of inflatable, colorful, 99 cent balls.  And there, staring up in awe, was a very tiny person of about three years, craning her neck, trying to decide which one would be hers to take home .  I recalled the hours of fun, the imaginary play, the simply joy, that comes from owning one of those balls, as I once did.  Remember the joy of that new ball smell?  A ball can be kicked in a game of backyard soccer, thrown in a game of dodgeball, and tossed in the air just for fun.  They don't sink in the pool, so they make great floats for those shipwrecked in mock battle.  Ah, but that was when a simple ball was all one needed. And we ought to remember that even a supermarket ball is merely a prettified version of a goat bladder, after all.

 Lenore Skenazy's reflections on the New York Toy Show (hey, there's a show for everything in NYC) remind us of a time when "a ball was just a ball."  If it ever was just a ball, it seems it is no longer.  She writes on her experience in the WSJ:

Now [a ball] is a tactile stimulating sensory aid that helps develop gross motor skills.
Hand-eye coordination, I quickly discovered, is the go-to claim for any product that can't find anything else to say for itself. ("Develops spatial awareness" is a distant second.)
At one booth I asked the salesman if there's anything on earth that doesn't promote hand-eye coordination: "Like, if you're a baby and you grab something, even a toe, aren't you developing hand-eye coordination automatically?"
"Would you rather we not create toys?" he huffed back.
Hm.  Perhaps.  Are those our only choices?

A contrasting view of the Toy Show came into my inbox today from the School Library Journal:
This year, there were plenty of kid lit characters to be found among the 1,100 exhibitors. Ludwig Bemelmans's Madeline was well represented at the Briarpatch booth, where she and characters Fancy Nancy and Frog and Toad have been translated into assorted games and puzzles.

So this gets me thinking outside the ball.  Is a stuffed literary tie-in character like Pooh or Paddington better than, let's say, Big Bird?  How does a licensed character compare with some crazy nightmare of an educational infant toy when it comes to encouraging imagination, creativity, growth, goodness, college admission, success in life, a strong marriage...?   
I must admit, I do enjoy visiting my niece and nephew and trying out all the new toys they have.  Buttons to press, lights and sounds to hear and see, and all the colors you can imagine are great fun.  And some of them even have that new ball smell.  But that's bad, isn't it?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Liberal Arts for Broadcasters and College Professors

I just heard a broadcaster complain that she had taken courses in her field in college (communications, political science) but missed taking classes in the liberal arts.  What a shame.  Liberal arts classes ought to be required.  I suspect that a good grounding in the liberal arts would make her a better broadcaster for one simple reason:  her grammar would be better.  It often requires two hands to count the number of subject/object errors made by this particular online hostess in a single one hour broadcast.  Local columnists in our print media make the same error as frequently.  Are there no grammar books?  Are there no copy editors?

Perhaps a class in grammar, specifically, should be required for those majoring in communications and journalism. Now that the SAT includes a writing component (I hear that many colleges don't consider this section) grammatical weaknesses ought to be obvious to colleges, and ought to be addressed immediately.

Speaking of colleges, this same radio program interviewed a college professor who also struggled with grammar as he was speaking.  He, too, complained that he had not been required to study the liberal arts.  His errors made me reconsider sending my child to that college.  Are my standards too high, or should all college professors, no matter the field, be required to have mastered basic English grammar?

Friday, February 18, 2011

On Ramen and Responsibility

So representative Gwen Moore thinks one is better off aborted than eating ramen noodles.

As an animal welfare advocate, I once interned at a wildlife refuge and rehabilitation center, which provided workers with housing, but not food.  My parents gave me $25 for the month-long internship.  I survived on ramen noodles and cranberry juice concentrate.  Sometimes, a local bakery would deliver day-old bread for the animals, and we interns would share a loaf.  Thus we did not starve, and we kept the animals in our care well fed and clean.  There were days--12 hour work days--when we were tired and cranky, and felt the responsibility of all those animals was just too much.  Sometimes the young animals cried all night.  Sometimes they refused to eat.  Some of them tried to bite us, or peck out our eyes.  We were scarred from the scratches of sharp talons, and we smelled as though we had been mucking out cages and compounds...because we had.  There were flies and maggots and wounds and death and other horrors to deal with.

And every day, after work, there was a steamy bowl of ramen noodles.  Yum.
Ms. Moore doesn't think much or ramen, or unborn babies.  Yet, she is big on accepting responsibility.  From Wiki  (emphasis mine):

Moore's son, Sowande Ajumoke Omokunde, aged 26, was arrested in connection with the November 2, 2004, (election day), tire-slashing of Republican party vehicles in Milwaukee; he was charged with a felony in connection with the event on January 24, 2005, but agreed, on January 20, 2006, to plead no contest in exchange for a sentencing recommendation ofrestitution and probation.[3] However, on April 26, 2006, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Michael Brennan threw out the plea deal and sentenced Omokunde to serve four months in prison and to pay $2,305 in fines and restitution. In response, Moore said, "I love my son very much. I'm very proud of him. He's accepted responsibility." 

An ongoing theme here, on the subject of abortion, has been one of young men and responsibility.  It's easy to take responsibility for something you've done that's wrong, as long as that's the end of it.  Fathering a child presents a life-long responsibility, and that's just too much for some young men to bear.  For women also, especially politicians like Ms. Moore, responsibility seems to have its limits.  An unplanned pregnancy, with all the consequences, including feeding a child for 18 years on a limited budget, is just too much responsibility.    Better to abort than ever risk the possibility of feeding a child a 20 cent bowl of noodles.  

Really, Ms. Moore?  Really?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Dad Died Last Month

And that was all I was going to write about that.  Day after day, I thought I might just post that and let it sit.

Then I thought I'd post Milne's King John's Christmas, but it's quite long (thus, I chose a link instead) as a sort of tribute to my father.  Like the king in the poem, my father had an odd relationship with people, but loved toys.

I keep thinking of things I'd like to tell him.

I keep recalling very funny things we enjoyed together.  My dad was an animal lover, and, since we were not allowed pets in Boston, he often acquired animals for my cousins.  My favorite were the two small alligators he bought and kept in the bathtub overnight.  He told tales of the snapping turtle he kept as a kid, and was eventually forced to release in the Neponset River.

We had German shepherds when I was a teen.  I loved going to dog shows with him.

RIP Dad.