Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"Thing Explainer" - Big Ideas in Small Words

My children like reading reference books and encyclopedias (knowing lots of random and seemingly useless facts is a bona fide geek skill, after all). So I was thrilled to find a new kind of book just in time for the holidays.

Randall Munroe, author of "What if?" and the xkcd comics, took up the challenge to explain complicated concepts by only using the 1,000 most common English words. Sounds easy? Well, you try explaining baseball without the use of the words pitcher, catcher, bat, or strike then.

Going along with the fantastically simple explanations, "Thing Explainer" (a sample here) also contains wonderful blueprint-style drawings and diagrams for items such as the International Space Station, submarines, dishwashers and sports. So besides being a great reference book children can read themselves, it is also great for parents who struggle to explain technology or scientific concepts to smaller children, who still lack most of the vocabulary used in these fields.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Goldieblox goes Zip-Lining

Goldieblox, the toy company that combines my two favorite topics - reading and construction - has released several new toys since I first wrote about them.

A parade float and a dunk tank were sets 2 and 3 to be released. The dunk tank was a bit hard to put and keep together because the rods kept slipping a bit further into the cubes than they should. But it seems the engineers at Corporate are just as quick as the ones in my living room. Based on customer feedback they have already redesigned the blocks to have stoppers and sent us replacements free of charge. This works great now!

If you want to see the parade float in action, check out video's from the last two years' Macy's Thanksgiving Parades - Goldie was there with her own float!

Don't you dare call her a Doll. Goldie is a bona fide Action Figure!

But the biggest hit under last year's Christmas tree was the Goldieblox action figure. Just to show you how much Goldie sets herself apart from Barbie: this girl does not come with a change of clothes (what's more practical that overalls anyway?), but with a change of transportation - her very own zip line! At 11 feet long we had plenty of opportunities to build rides for her around the house.

This year, we are looking forward to the The Builder's Survival Kit, which will include over 190 additional parts and ideas to build bigger structures by combining all previous sets (something I had hoped for ever since set 2 came out).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Space Dogs - A mission for Captain Archer's Beagle

If you google "Space Dogs" you will find plenty of Disney books and movies that are mind-numbing rather than valuable contributions to Science Fiction for children. But when I accidentally stumbled across a new book with the same title at the library, it turned into the most hilarious bedtime reading we had in a while.

Remember Leika, the first dog in space? According to Wikipedia Leika died in space. But according to Justin Bell and Evan Croker, a SiFi writer duo from Down Under I hope to read more from in the future, Leika ended up flying through a wormhole and landed on the planet of Gersbach, populated by intelligent beings similar to humans, just a lot tinier. When the planet's structural integrity is threatened by a Disturbance of Gravity (D.o.G) originating from Earth, Gersbach Space command sends a space craft to Earth to establish contact and save their civilization.

Unfortunately, there are several flaws in the plan. For one, Gersbachians assumed that Leika was a representative of the dominant species on Earth, so they shaped the space craft like a dog. As a result, First Contact with Earth's life forms would have made Captain Archer's Beagle proud, but left the Gersbachian crew rather embarrassed. Looking like an adorable pet, they are soon adopted (against their will) by 6th grader Lucy, and are thrown into the struggles of daily family life. And second, a renegade former colonel stole a proto-type dog-craft with the objective to collect the D.o.G. and blackmail Gersbach.

What made the book such a good read for all of my kids was the alternating view points of the Gersbachian crew versus Lucy and her sister Amy. The crew's story reads like a Star Trek episode with technical commands, 23rd century technology integrated into dog anatomy in hilarious ways, and lots of action sequences with an evil adversary. The story of Lucy and Amy, on the other hand, tells of the anxiety to fit in at a new school, complicated family life after the father can't work anymore due to injury, and Amy's crush on the coolest boy in school.

The only thing this book left us wishing for was the movie-adaptation. Laser nose. Need I say more?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Top 10 Gifts for little Geeks

In case you wonder why there are no books on this list - books are so important, they will get their own list.

1) Kiva Gift Card (ages 6+)

Available in denominations of $25, this is a multipurpose gift for a true Nerdfighter. Did you ever wish to be able to help a widow with 2 children in Senegal directly by lending her $300 for a sewing machine? is a microlending site that helps connect lenders that can spare a few dollars for a few months to borrowers that do not have access to bank loans due to where they live or being extremely poor. After the loan is repaid (and 98% of the millions of dollars lent out through Kiva are paid back), your gift card recipient can withdraw the money - or loan it out again. If you are interested in learning more and connecting with others, join John Green's Nerdfighter team in decreasing world suck, or one of the many other teams dedicated to specific countries or topics like colorful fabrics or education.

Use this link to sign up:

2) Goldieblox

Combining storytelling with construction and engineering projects is making girls more interested in STEM projects. Goldieblox - winner of a Parents' Choice Gold Award - combines these two elements. A colorful story book featuring a female engineer tells a story, and the construction materials are used to build a machine alongside that story. The first set, available at Amazon, and select retailers, featured a "spinning machine". In later sets Goldie and her friend Ruby build a parade float or a movie machine. But don't fall into the gender trap and think this is only for girls, little boys enjoy it just as much.

3) Calafant

The only thing better than getting a toy castle is building and decorating your own. Calafant makes cardboard houses, castles, ships and fortresses that are easy to assemble and can then be decorated and personalized. The size ranges from small individual toys to a crawl-in play-house and the 3 1/2 feet tall Calabot robot, big enough to be pimped out with some old mp3 players and speakers. Which geek wouldn't want a 3 feet tall robot!

4) The Settlers of Catan

A must have board game for every family. Sometime hailed as the "next monopoly", it actually does not have anything in common with monopoly at all. Instead of round after round watching the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and playing for hours until the obvious end, Catan requires a lot of communication and trading with the other players. It teaches basic market principles such as demand and supply setting the price, the value of cooperation, and the social implications of being too greedy (watch the family gang up against you if you hurt the most vulnerable player on purpose). Chance with the dice can level the playing field very quickly, and there is a lot of room for a surprise winner. The game board is arranged from scratch for every game, which ensures that the game dynamics are different each time you play. It never gets boring. And the absolute best thing? It also comes in a Star Trek edition. Got your dilithium drill ready?

5) A Magazine or Comic book Subscription

A magazine is a great way to spend reading in depth on a topic, and to encourage regular reading. Articles are often short enough to bridge the time of a car ride or before dinner. Magazines my kids enjoyed are National Geographic Kids, Ask, Dig, and Sports Illustrated Kids.

6) Snap circuits

Similar appeal as Lego, but with the added thrill of creating something that lights up, rings or moves. Physics class meets woodshop. Our personal experience will have to wait until December 26 (don't tell my kids).

7) Try The World

This food subscription service delivers a box with traditional foods from a new country every 2 months. The included culture guide helps plan a dinner and find a starting point to learn about music, history, and culture. My children look forward to every new box and carefully plan additional activities for virtual travel. The smallest subscription is for a single box, so this can fit small or large budgets.

Contents of our "Try the World" Japan box.

8) A Science Museum Family Membership

I am not kidding. An trip to a museum with three kids on tow can easily approach a three digit number in some museums. With a membership, it is worth to just stop by for an hour before closing, or three times in a row on a rainy weekend. Think of it as access to the coolest playground in town. Many museums also belong to lager networks and offer free or reduced entrance at other museums. For instance a membership to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia also gets us free entrance to major museums in NYC, like the Transit Museum, the Children's Museum and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum. There is a weekend trip where we only need to pay for gas.

Franklin Institute Special exhibit

9) Ticket to Ride 

Board game and geography lesson all in one, there are several different versions available with local maps and variations. If you want your kids to know where Luanda and Durban are, this is the game for you. For a detailed review read here.

10) Lego

You can't ever have enough Lego. Enough said. But if you really don't want to own any additional ones, rent them from

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How to watch Star Wars (can we skip "The Phantom Menace"?)

Best. Parenting Advice. Ever.

With Episode VII soon to be released in movie theaters, it is now urgent to decide if and how to show the first 6 movies to the young ones. 

The best news first: Yes you can (skip "The Phantom Menace"). If for no other reason that your child may decide it is the best movie of them all, giving you serious concerns that he was switched at birth.

For the best order and reasoning for it I have to refer to Geek Dad's article in Wired. So go read that, while I research who the birth mother of this Jar-Jar-Binks-loving alien in my house is.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Try The World

Before we had children, my husband and me traveled as often as we could. Now with less income, more expenses - and oh yes - 3 more airline tickets to pay for, traveling abroad won't happen for a while.

A box every 2 months gives a glimpse into another culture.

A German saying goes "love goes through the stomach", and with that in mind we recently signed up for the Try The World food subscription service. Food seems the perfect setting to encourage our kids to fall in love with a world they will hopefully get to travel one day. Every 2 months we receive a box with 6-7 foods from a new country. But we don't just use the recipes and tips on the Try The World website to plan a 3-course meal with a couple of new foods. Rather, we invite some friends and their kids, and each person contributes to an evening exploring the culture, stories and customs of the land from our box.

Our Japan box contained ingredients and recipes for a three course dinner.

Here some activities to enhance your virtual traveling:

Go to the library: To get everyone excited about our new country, we first get a couple of books from the library. Country guides, history books, or local folk tales are a good start. My kids were never interested in such books before, but with a country to focus on they really get into it. We have a few lay out during dinner to look at pictures and read out stories.

Color the flag: The Queen's favorite activity, since she cannot read on her own yet. But she likes learning what each part of the flag means.

Color traditional clothing: Another activity for pre-readers. An easy way to learn about gauchos, geishas or toreros.

Look up endemic animals: Flying squirrels, capybara, snow monkey ... Mr. Entropy likes animal non-fiction books (his words, not mine), so he looks up unusual (or just lesser known) animals in his encyclopedia or on Wikipedia.

Make a slide show of landmarks and historic sites: Wiki Commons can help you pretend you are showing our own vacation pictures.

Look up YouTube videos: Carnevale in Rio, a Sumo wrestler's diet, Run of the Bulls, La Tomatina - mini-documentaries with enough fun factor to keep the kids entertained and excited between courses.

Write a history timeline: Did you know that 100 years ago Argentina used to be the 7th richest economy in the world? That Southern Spain used to be ruled by Arab tribes? What's the difference between a ninja and a samurai? Time to find out!

Find weird facts: Weird for us anyway. In the Southern hemisphere it is perfectly normal to start your school year in February and your summer vacation in December.

Listen to the music: Try The World provides a Spotify playlist with traditional and contemporary music. Add the national anthem for extra flair.
No tables for Japanese-style dining.
Rearrange the dining room: Traditional Japanese housing does not include tables. So we ate on a picnic blanket on the floor and hung paper lanterns all around us.

Watch the movies: The Try The World cultural guide comes with a list of notable local movies. With some luck, Netflix has them in stock as DVD.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lego now comes Netflix-style

I will be the first person to tell you that you can't ever have too many Legos. Mr. Entropy will second that. However, the unfortunate truth is, unless you have a money tree growing in the backyard, you can't ever have them all.

But thanks to you can now have them all for a little while. We have not tried out this company (out of fear I would never see my middle child again outside his room), but the concept sounds intriguing.

Sing up for a monthly plan (the cheapest subscription starts at $15 per month), get a Lego set shipped, build it, play with it for as long as you like, ship it back and get the next set. Like Netflix for Lego! And if your children fall in love with the structures they have built, you can also buy and keep the set.

Author=[ Daniele Margaroli

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

10 geek-approved Series Books for Kids

I have spent ages researching good, interesting, funny and geeky books for children. But with 45 min reading time on the school bus every day, and another 30 if recess is rained out, I can hardly keep up with keeping enough reading material for the boys at hand. I treasure the extra-ordinary books that make the "Must Read" lists for children. But I also need series books where I can pre-order 5-8 at once at the library without having to review and think. Here the ones that got the thumbs up from the boys and/or me, roughly sorted by reading ability and age.
(The best series is listed last, so if you are not interested in books for smaller kids, at least scroll down and read #10!)

1) "Henry and Mudge" / "Annie and Snowball" by Cynthia Rylant
28 / 12 books
A series for beginning readers with heart-warming stories describing the joys of being alive and having a best friend, who happens to be a dog. Problems are solved in a logical manner, like finding a perfect pet for Annie (not too wet, not too big ... "Henry and Mudge and Annie's Perfect Pet") or figuring out how to attract hummingbirds ("Annie and Snowball and the Pink Surprise"). Some stories are clearly geeky, like making a pineapple couch or a sweet potato shoe for Mother's Day ("Henry and Mudge and the Funny Lunch"). A prequel series "Puppy Mudge" is written for entry-level readers.

Top row from left: "Henry and Mudge", the first "Calendar Mysteries" book; bottom row: "Choose your own adventure books with outline of possible story paths on the back

2) " Mr. Putter and Tabby" by Cynthia Rylant
21 books
I know, another series by Cynthia Rylant, but read them and you will understand why. This one is about the world seen through the eyes of a senior and his cat. As an adult, he goes on different adventures than children typically do in those type of books, and his age-related challenges are also not the usual fare. Especially when he employs MacGyver-style problem solving skills, like making a slingshot out of spare underwear ("Mr. Putter and Tabby pick the Pears"). A great series to increase awareness that some people have different needs or desires than a typical child, and that you are never too old to try something new.

3) "The Magic Treehouse" by Mary Pope Osborne
49 books
The two protagonists in this series travel across history in the Magic Treehouse, using the books they bring along and some quick wit to solve mysteries. I would recommend to read the books in order, since every 4 of them form a set in which a larger mystery is solved. Also, reading level and complexity increases book by book, and there is a small storyline overarching an even larger part of the series. At children can decorate their own tree house and earn passport stamps by answering reading comprehension questions for each book. Several books also come with a fact tracker companion book with more detail on the historic period.

4) A-Z Mysteries / The Calendar Mysteries / The Capital Mysteries by Ron Roy
26 / 10 (3 more releasing in fall 2014) / 14 books
Child detectives are solving cases by hypothesizing together and verifying through collecting clues. My son was elated every time he was able to guess who the criminal was before it was revealed in the book.

5) "Captain Underpants" / " Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot" by Dav Pilkey
10 (2 more planned) / 11 books
Comics, action, potty humor, hypnotized principal as superhero in underpants ... if these books don't get your children to read or laugh, then they must be Vulcan. Read here for more.

6) "My Weird School" by Dan Gutman
53 books
Situated at Ella Mentry School, these laugh out loud stories (unpractical when you snuck up your book to your room to read waaaay past bedtime, right Evel?), are told by a second grader. Apparently the only sane people in the school are the children, and together with his friends A.J. must devise plans to keep the teachers from going completely over the edge of reasons, or sometimes the roof of the school building. Each book is a rescue mission for a different teacher.

7) "Choose your own adventure" books, several authors
over 200 books
These books, situated in locations like the Himalayan for a Yeti search or in the Deep Sea, have multiple possible story lines and endings. Every few pages when a decision has to be made, the reader can choose how the story should continue. Routed to different pages based on the path that was chosen, you might find the Yeti, go home unsuccessful, or freeze to death on the mountain. There are several sub-series for different age groups.

8) "Nathan Abercrombie, accidental Zombie" by David Lubar
5 books
A 5th grader turns Zombie, which isn't as exhilarating as one might think. For one there are lots of gross bodily changes when one is sort of dead. But of course there are also advantages like not needing sleep or being stronger than before. Only 5 books, but they are longer and more complex, so hopefully they last longer for reading, too.

9) The 39 Clues, several authors
21 books, more releasing fall 2014
Indiana Jones turns 21st century for fast paced action, requiring deep knowledge of history and state of the art cryptology skills to follow the clues to an ancient family riddle - read here for more.

10) The Discworld by Terry Pratchett
40 books
While the series started out as adults books, 5 of the later entries are specifically for young adults and have received several awards (The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight). They provide a gentle introduction to move into the adult fantasy genre and the rest of the Discworld novels - a world on four elephants on the back of a turtle resembling medieval society, where string theory connects all libraries in all universes, DEATH reads books to kill the time during near-death experiences that prevent him from fulfilling his purpose, where time can be stretched and bent by time monks, and computers are run by ants ... nothing is impossible here. These books are insanely funny, and you will never again look at footnotes quite the same way. They also impart witty analogies to history, current events and trends in society, and capture the true essence of ethical problems in a few, snarky sentences. True geek form! I highly recommend to read the young adult as well as the general novels in order. Even though each book is self-sufficient, having the back stories from the previous novels and following the character development is very enjoyable.

Monday, October 20, 2014

DIY "Star Trek: Enterprise" Costume: Lt. Malcolm Reed

Suffering the injustice of having the last installment of the Star Trek franchise cut short after 4 seasons is apparently not bad enough, turns out it is also impossible to buy NX-01 costumes for children. You'd think blue jumpsuits are easy to come by!

So rather out of desperation than eager anticipation to open the super glue, we ended up making our own "Star Trek: Enterprise" Halloween costume. Mr Entropy is fascinated by Lt. Malcolm Reed, the man with the power over the Red Alert button.

This is what Google and Amazon found for us:

1) WorkWear King navy Boilersuit (Ships from the UK. How fitting, seeing that Lt. Reed is British.)
2) Plain navy baseball hat
3) Red duct tape (and a really sharp new box cutter)
4) Enterprise iron on mission patch
5) NX-01 iron on logo
6) Two pieces of cardboard (cereal box) and silver paint to make your own rank pins (we could not find anything of the right size and shape in our local craft store)
7) Super glue and plastic wrap

DIY "Star Trek: Enterprise" Costume: Lt. Malcolm Reed


A) Ironing the NX-01 logo onto the baseball hat is hard, since the baseball hat does not flatten out enough. I ended up ironing on the middle part, and super-gluing all the edges. Make sure to cover the inside of the hat with plastic wrap while applying glue, otherwise it will stick to your fingers while pressing through the hat.

B) Cut long stripes of red duct tape. Have your child wear the jumpsuit and tape the shoulder markings. Be careful to watch for symmetry.

C) Iron on the mission patch (without the child in it ... just saying, this is the US after all ...)  Like with the NX-01 logo, I only ironed until it mostly stuck on its own, then used super glue (plastic wrap inside the sleeve!) to glue all edges. The logo is rather large and stiff compared to the arm of a small child. The iron on started to peel off when my son tried on the costume before I had applied the glue.

D) Cut two rectangular pieces of cardboard from an empty cereal box or similar. Paint with silver paint (we used acrylic metallic paint). Super glue to uniform (plastic wrap on the inside!).

Simply vary the number of rank pins or color of duct tape for all the other NX-01 uniforms.

Geek Factor: 5 out of 5

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pass on the Torch - Alan Alda's Flame Challenge

When I grew up the dominant philosophy for teaching science to children was "if you can't understand the scientific explanation, then you are still too young for that topic". Explaining inheritable genetic traits or nuclear fusion to a 6-year old - crazy, right? So I thought as well, until my own 6-year old asked why his eyes don't have the same color as mine. I hate leaving questions like this with an "it's too complicated for you". And I discovered that the real challenge of passing down geekdom is not being stumped by a question I might not know the answer to (there is always Google), but how to take that answer, extract the most important mechanisms and fit them into the world of a 6-year old. I ended up waving piles of Lego instruction booklets - one for building, and a similar second one as a safety copy.

I realized that once your kids are beyond being fascinated by the fact that there are more than 4 colors, it is not that easy to come by content that explains complex scientific facts to children. There are only so many episodes of Bill Nye or the Magic School Bus, after all.

One entity that tries to fill the void is the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. (Yes, THAT Alan Alda of M.A.S.H. fame!). The center's mission is a real challenge - helping scientists to communicate with the public (I was not aware we were allowed to do that ...).

As part of that mission it sets an annual "Flame Challenge", named after the first year's topic. The Flame Challenge picks a challenge question every year and asks scientist from around the world to submit written or graphic explanations that can be understood by an 11-year old. But now here is the best thing: children are involved in every part of the process. 10-12 year olds are invited to submit their own "burning questions". 5th and 6th graders from around the globe are then invited to vote on their favorite challenge question. And finally, students get to review, grade and vote on the submissions. What better way to get kids involved into science than taking their opinions seriously and letting them vote? 10 schools will even be so lucky to be picked for a world-wide video conference to discuss the entries. So email your kid's science teacher today and ask them to sign up their classroom!

And last but not least - the amazing winner of the 2012 Challenge, Ben Ames, explaining what a flame is (I dare you to resists singing along):

Friday, June 27, 2014

Free geeky summer reading for kids - light in style, solid content

School is finally out, and that means summer vacation and more downtime. There will be car travel and air plane rides or hanging out in the backyard until the friends come over. It would be a good habit to use those "I am bored" moments and fill them with some quick, light summer reading. And with light I mean in weight, not in content.

Evel and Mr Entropy have been reading "Ask" since last fall, a great magazine covering scientific topics for children age 6-9. Each issue follows a theme, "Stuck on you" in the latest. Good photography and cartoons explored the world of microbes, lichens and fungi. The articles are just the right length to keep a child's curiosity alive while imparting a good deal of scientific knowledge. And the best thing - for this summer "Ask" and all its siblings from publisher Cricket (10 different magazines) are free for download on iTunes or Google Play. Download them all and you hopefully won't run out of reading material.

Comics and infographics help illustrate scientific content

If what's keeping your kids from reading more in summer is the worry that they will misplace the library books at the vacation destination, or that water, sand and sun screen will damage the books or your tablet, offers a great solution. Over 1,000 leveled reading books for elementary school children (grades K-5) are available as pdf downloads which you print at home. You won't have to worry about pizza sauce or ripped pages, and the books can double-function as coloring books. About half of the books are non-fiction covering science, technology or history, adjusted to the exact reading ability of your child. And with the free trial offered right now you can download 20 books per day for 14 days. 280 books - that should cover your summer and the individual interests of all your children!

Happy Reading!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Donate yourself to Research - Scientific Method Part 4 - Data Collection

First published on

"People’s belief that math ability can’t change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy".

Playing board games can raise a child's IQ.

At age 2, girls start to prefer the color pink, while boys start to avoid it.

Have you ever wondered where those gems of insight into human learning and behavior come from? Well, or course, from scientific research, but where are these studies conducted and who are these children who's color preference had been tested, or who got to play board games? For a multi-year CDC study looking for risk factors for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities the answer is - my child and me. We donated ourselves to research.

When thinking about being a research test subject, most people probably think of clinical trials for new drugs, where you wager your health and maybe even life for a handsome payout. But not all research requires you to put yourself in harm's way in order to advance science. There are plenty of opportunities to be part of new research while only risking a paper cut from all the forms you need to fill out.

You do not have to part with body parts in order to participate in research.

We had a few reasons to participate. The first one is rather selfish. The CDC study collected genetic, health and developmental data on 10,000 children and their parents. The anonymized data set will be made available to other researchers as well to check for links or causes for diabetes, heart disease, asthma, allergies or other ailments. To have any hope that someone one day will figure out how to avoid some of the annoying health issues running in the family, we need to make sure our data is in that data set.

But it was also a great opportunity for my son to see science at work. A few months ago we designed our own experiment to find the best-tasting apple. I explained to him that this time the researchers designed the experiment - and we are the apples about which to collect data. Being a proper Golden Delicious he dressed in yellow, and was very excited to see that real scientists use the same type of clipboard he has at home. Finally some role models who are less controversial than Dr. Doofenshmirtz.

Mr Entropy completing a handwriting test for the SEED study.

If you are interested in supporting the advancement of science with a little bit of your own time, you can sign up with one of the volunteer databases listed below. If you know of other local programs looking for volunteers, please leave a link in the comments section.

In Philadelphia:

CDC SEED Study, conducted at CHoP

Online: Joint project of the University of Virginia, the University of California (Irvine), and the University of Southern California, conducting studies on morals, emotions and believes

New England
Harvard University / Boston Children's Hospital, MA:

Johns Hopkins University, MD:
University of Maryland, MD:
Penn State University, PA:
Georgetown University, DC:


Emory University, GA:
Vanderbilt University, TN:

Northwestern University, IL:

University of Chicago, IL:

Friday, June 13, 2014

"I love Science!" - The Song

Read this also on

For almost 4 years I have successfully claimed that the CD with "Wheels on the bus" won't play in my car. But they are on to me, so I am switching to Plan B: diversion. The Beatles, R.E.M and the entire Star Trek Universe soundtrack are so far holding their ground, and are now getting reinforcements from "Hank Green and The Perfect Strangers", in what might be a secret Geek Anthem - "I love Science" from their new album "Incongruent".

The album comes in two versions - clean to sing with the kids on the way to school, and uncensored for the way back. It fills a gaping hole of geeky content on our playlist that is becoming more and more apparent now that my oldest (7) has outgrown the toddler hits. There is no shortage of science songs for small children. Through song and rhymes they learn about the colors of the rainbow, the cycle of seasons and changing weather patterns, the letters of the alphabet, which way the wheels on a bus go (just not in my car), and practice counting with the ants. And then all of a sudden when they turn 8 or 9 they are listening to One Direction and Justin Bieber who sings about ... well, I am not certain. All electronic devices in our house are allergic to his music, so unfortunately (hopefully) we'll never find out what exactly he enriches the universe with. But it is a safe bet that he is not singing about photosynthesis or tectonic plate movements. The children who were excited to have music helping them understand and explore the world around them are suddenly limited to lyrics that (self-)center on human relationships of various sort. The last song I remember that was actually teaching something was "We didn't start the Fire", and that song is 25 years old now.

With that in mind you can hopefully understand my excitement about "Strange Charm: A song about Quarks", or a song explaining Fermi's Paradox, some of the earlier work of Hank Green:

Think about it, the 5 year old who remembers all 47 verses about the Fire Truck can easily turn into an 8 year old who sings along to "I love Science", and later into a full-grown geek memorizing the lyrics to "The Universe is weird" (also on the new CD). Because in days when it is becoming fashionable for everyone and their dog to proclaim geek status, the true geek needs to do one better, and an album named "Incongruent" sounds like just the right thing for that. I am no music expert, but the beats surely can compete with other rock music, they are a good company to the rest of my playlist.

And just imagine about how impressed your roommate/date/spouse will be when you help him/her cleaning up the breakfast table singing "This is how you load a Dishwasher" (also double functions as passive-aggressive reminder).

PS: Don't forget to check out the VlogBrother's YouTube channel for more songs by Hank Green.

Geek Factor: 5 out of 5
Fun Factor: 4 out of 5
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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fun with Flags - VĂ¡ Brasil!

I apologize in advance that my writing will not be as fun, energetic and entertaining as the video episodes from the most hilarious PhD on television. There won't be any Star Trek actors stopping by either.

Can you name these four flags? Answers are in the bottom of this post.

For reasons I do not fully comprehend, it is very easy to fascinate little children about flags. I intend to make the best use of it while it lasts, because I have always considered it good manners to at least know the flags of your neighbors and allies. If only so you won't end up as a sound bite at a late night talk show for not recognizing the flag of Canada.

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and the Guanabara Bay
Nothing better than the upcoming Soccer World Cup to start learning about the big players as well as some exotic countries. A Google image search for "flags coloring pages" yields (luckily labeled) print out versions. Great for wait time at the restaurant or time to kill while traveling (it takes forever to color an entire 8x11 page with crayons ...). has an easy to use alphabetical listing, or click here for a poster of "all flags of the world".

Or if flags on their own are not exciting enough, then cook and eat them.

Bon Appetit!

Geek Factor: 5 out of 5

Four Flags - from top left clockwise: Belgium, Canada, Estonia, Puerto Rico

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