Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

Theoretical Physics Tonight

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large hadron collider

 

Tonight I am taking my kids to see a lecture on The Higgs Boson and the Fate of the Universe at our local zoo. When I saw the event, I knew right away my kids would want to go–the boy says he is either going to be an engineer or a theoretical physicist when he grows up, and we are all huge Big Bang Theory fans. My good friend Billie and her adult son are going, too; it is fun for all ages.

I love that my kids are interested in this kind of thing, and that we have a great culture in this city that supports public learning for free. The lecture is co-sponsored by the St. Louis Zoo and the Academy of Science in St. Louis, which promotes the advancement and integration of science and technology into contemporary society. The Academy has a Junior Academy program that I think I will be suggesting to both kids. I would love to integrate more science activities into our free time, but I have not been as good about planning those as I would have hoped. This sounds perfect!

What do you do to encourage science learning for your kids or yourselves? Am I missing some great ideas?

How cool is this?

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Today’s Google doodle celebrates Rosalind Franklin, a British biophysicist who was the first person to successfully photograph DNA. I am sadly not surprised to read that Franklin was not given credit for this until much later, with a hostile fellow researcher passing the picture on to Watson and Crick, who subsequently got all the credit for discovering the structure of DNA. But it is good to see the credit where it belongs now!

Our first science activity

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Our first activity for our summer of science was not really an experiment, but it was definitely science-related, and we did learn things, so it totally counts, right? Well, I make the rules here, so, yes, it does.

I posted a bit on Tuesday about the transit of Venus across the sun. Tuesday was the last chance to see this until 2117, so it seemed like a perfect way to kick off our science learning for the summer. Plus, I thought the children would be very impressed by the pinhole camera.

We started off with the girl feeling sick, so she did not join us outside for our attempts at observation. It was just as well, since we couldn’t get the pinhole camera to work exactly. I mean, we saw poked the hole in the aluminum foil, and we saw the reflection of the sun on the white construction paper, but we couldn’t see Venus. I think it may have been too small to show up on our tiny reflection. Next, the boy suggested we take some digital pictures of the sun and try to see Venus that way. That seemed like a great idea, but my old cheap digital camera was not up to the task.

In the end, we watched the video about the event on NASA’s website and talked about it a bit, but we weren’t able to actually see it for ourselves. I still think it was a success, though, if only because we learned that we need to plan ahead for this sort of thing. We did learn some interesting things, though, mostly about the history of science, and how this was one of the first major world wide collaborations for the sake of science. And, come to think of it, their first effort was not successful, and they learned to plan better for the second transit, 8 years later. So, an interesting parallel.

Anyone else doing science activities with the family?

On Living in the Median

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U.S. Census Bureau

Over on msnbc.com, the Life Inc. section has a fascinating series of articles on living on a salary of around $50K/year, which is roughly the median income in the U.S. It is very interesting, because they have interviewed people from different parts of the country in different stages of life with differing family sizes, which creates a fuller picture of the complexity of this sort of measurement. $50K in Manhattan is not the same thing as $50K in rural Kansas, and supporting a single person on that salary is far different than supporting a family of 6 people.

There are several interesting things this series is making me think about, some about the people being profiled, and some about the commenters.

Many of the people interviewed are doing fairly well. None of them are claiming poverty, which is good, because this is clearly not a poverty level salary, even in New York City. The woman living in NYC is moving in with a friend temporarily, but she is also helping her son to pay for college. Overall, the people interviewed seem to think that this level of salary is doable and it is even possible to get ahead with careful planning.

However, most of the people interviewed couch their discussions in terms of the struggle and effort of living on their salaries. Many have debt, and not all are saving for the future. Even those that are doing well in terms of debt and savings describe the work they do to maintain their lowered bills. Many of the parents talk about not being able to afford another child, and lots of people are trying to pursue education to get a higher paying job. One family even mentions that they would love to have a dog, but can’t take on the extra expense.

In my mind, the worst part is the families that worry about medical bills. So many people are one major medical event away from poverty, which is really frightening. This sort of thing can happen to anyone, no matter how healthy their lifestyle is, or how careful they are. Cancer hits people who eat healthy food and don’t smoke and buses hit people who are careful drivers. Even a relatively minor illness like pneumonia or mononucleosis can be devastating for people who live from paycheck to paycheck with no paid sick days. Add on big medical bills, and savings aren’t much help, either. It is frightening to me to think how easy it is to lose a relatively modest lifestyle, even if you are doing the right things.

I find the comments interesting as well. I am a bit surprised at how many people think that moving away from an expensive place to live is a good option for everyone else. First of all, it is hard to leave a place where you know people and have family to move somewhere else, even if everything else were equal. Secondly, jobs aren’t easy to come by anywhere, so moving seems like a poor choice without a guaranteed job. And finally, moving is expensive! Most people don’t have the kind of money an out-of-state (or even out-of-town) move costs just sitting around.

The other thing that commenters don’t seem to take into account is the idea of paying to live in a good neighborhood, with good public schools. I make a bit over the median, but I still feel like I am struggling at times, because I pay a lot for my mortgage. I am not complaining, because this is how I chose to spend my money. I want my kids to go to good schools, surrounded by kids who come from families that value education. I want to live near cultural opportunities, like the zoo, theaters and museums. I want to give my kids options in extracurricular activities like sports, music and art. I wish everyone could do these things. I don’t understand people who act like doing this sort of thing makes you an elitist that is spoiling your children.

One of the things that I find most interesting about these articles, though, is that these families seem so much more real than the hypothetical family that so many lifestyle articles are aimed at. When I read about all the latest technology gear, and vacations in exotic places, I wonder where all the people that can afford these things are. Even cheap room makeovers seem unrealistic. Who has $1000 sitting around to redo one room in the house? Obviously, there are people that do, and since they are spending more money, it isn’t surprising to see a lot of media directed at them. It is nice to see more normal families in the media, though, and a realistic depiction of what their lives are like.

Because I Love My Body

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Today is Love Your Body Day. As I have been going about my day, I have been thinking about what loving my body means to me. I dont always love everything about my body. It doesn’t always look the way I want it to look, and now that I am 41, it isn’t as reliable as it used to be. A few weeks ago, one of my knees just started hurting for no reason that I can think of, and I have had to take it easy for far longer than I would like to get it back to normal. When I sit for longer than an hour or so, it takes me a few seconds to get going again when I stand up. I have weird aches in bad weather.On the other hand, my body grew two entire new human beings, which is pretty damn awesome.So, I started thinking about what it means to love my body on a practical level. How does one treat a body that they love? Here is what I came up with.

Because I love my body:

  • I eat healthy foods. They make me feel good. I eat as many fruits and vegetables as I can, I try to make most of my grains whole grains, I usually avoid fried foods. This helps me stay healthy, and keeps my energy up throughout the day.
  • I do not diet. I eat when I am hungry. I keep my focus on health outcomes rather than appearance outcomes, because that is better for me. I know that starvation is just as unhealthy as binging.
  • I forgive myself when I have a day (or even a couple of days) when I don’t meet my usual standards of healthy eating. I don’t beat myself up over it and give up on ever eating healthy again because I am a failure at it, obviously. Not that I have done that in the past or anything. I, um, I hear that is something some people do. But I don’t. At least, I don’t now, and if I did in the past, well, I forgive myself for that, too.
  • I exercise regularly. Again, this makes me feel good. When I use my body, it becomes stronger, I have more energy in general, and, while I may not lose weight, at least the weight that I have rearranges itself in more pleasing ways. I put on muscle fairly easily, and I like that feeling of strength.
  • I teach my children that they should take care of their bodies. They should eat healthy foods and get regular exercise. They should limit treats. They only get one body, so they need to keep it in good enough shape to last them for as long as possible. I worked hard creating those bodies for them, with a healthy diet while I was pregnant, exercise, and regular medical care, not to mention all the cooking and chauffeuring to sports activities I have done since they were born, so they should respect their bodies.
  • I do not look in the mirror and complain about my weight. I don’t say (anymore), “I hate this big belly.” Sure, I’d love for it to be smaller, but hate is a pretty strong word. I am able to look at it now and think that it might be healthier if I didn’t have quite so much belly fat, but I realize the looseness of the skin and the layer of fat at the bottom of my belly, underneath my belly button–the looseness and fat that have been there since my second pregnancy–are probably never going away, and I don’t really care. I grew two whole entire people in there. A little fat and loose skin cannot remove the awesomeness of that.

What do you do to show your love for your body?

This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival

I am Moderating a Chat!

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Come join me on Twitter this Sunday, 10/16/11, from 2:00 ET/1:00 CT about two feminist cyberpunk stories:

If you have never done this before, it is a fun time. We get together on Twitter and do a chat using the hashtag #FeministSF. This past week, we did a chat on Cyberpunk and Feminism in general terms, and it was a big discussion, so we decided to continue this week with some specific stories.

Anyone that is interested in co-moderating with me is totally welcome, just let me know. But if you don’t want to moderate, just come and hang out. In theory, we chat for an hour, but it usually goes over, because this is an interesting group of people, :).

Also, you would never guess that I spend a lot of time online by the way I do these chats: I use regular Twitter windows, with one set on the #FeministSF hashtag search, one set on the page for @ me mentions (I have two monitors), and my phone nearby, because for some reason, @ replies come to me more quickly on the phone than the computer. I know that there are places you can go to make this easier (Tweetdeck? some kind of Tweet chat set up?), but I never have think to research this until the chat is starting, and then I don’t have time. So, if anyone wants to give me directions on how to do this better, they would be gratefully accepted.

Aside

People who say things like “Obviously it is wrong to set off bombs and murder children, but Breivik *did* have a point…” are evil people. I am sorry if that seems intolerant or stifling of debate or whatever, but there is no way to say that a mass murderer who deliberately murdered children is right in any way without sounding like an asshole.

Just getting it off my chest…