Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Geek's Guide to Food Prep

So how can a Geek blog get into the spirit of a week centered around making, eating and praising food? Well, you are not going to find any recipes or pictures of homemade easy-over upside-down blueberry-peach crumble, based on an ancient family recipe smuggled into the country in the lining of my great-grandmother's underclothes. Martha Steward - I got nothing for you. I am too busy building Lego planes with the kids to even plan a meal that is more than a standard deviation above average meal prep time (currently at 28.6 minutes).

By Chef Sean Christopher

So instead, our geek way to join the food frenzy will be picking up a roast chicken from a chain store, and then just watching how foods are made on TV. Sorry, still no Martha Steward worthy material. We are talking the big, industrial, mass-produced way foods are made in giant facilities without a human in sight. The Science channel prepared this sumptuous feast for us with perogies, hot dogs and veggies burgers, lasagna; topped with bacon and hot sauce; apple pie and chocolates for dessert; and some rum for the adults. These wonderful educational videos are best consumed after the Thanksgiving feast. They will make going on a diet so much easier, because you might just have discovered that you really don't want to eat any food ever again that you have not grown and prepared yourself (and who has time for that).

But just in case you now really want to do that food thing by yourself, start with the world's best Chicken Sherry, from my blogger friend The Frazzled Foodie.

Do you have other geeky links your kids loved? Leave a comment!

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Monday, November 18, 2013 - The geek way to help the Philippines

On November 8, 2013 a powerful typhoon swept right through the center of the Philippines. By current count, it left 1.9 million people homeless and killed over 3,000, and the international community is enabling professional non-profits like Doctors without Borders, Shelterbox or the Red Cross to provide disaster relief and emergency response via donations. But once immediate survival is taken care of, it is really hard for someone on the other side of the globe to give a supporting hand.

Unless you are a lender on Kiva attempts to fix the bug in the saying "Teach a man to fish ...". The people in the Philippines who lost everything, do know how to "fish". What they are missing though is boats, nets, buckets, fishing poles, bait, coolers, knives ... in short they need capital and assets to not only fish to eat, but to earn enough additional money to rebuild their homes and lives, and send their kids back to school.

So how does Kiva help? Kiva is a micro-lending platform that allows anyone anywhere to loan amounts as small as $25 directly to another person. Launched in 2005 with loans to 7 farmers in Uganda, it quickly grew to fame. In 2007 the founders were featured on the Ophra Show in a special segment with Bill Clinton on "How to make a difference". TIME magazine named Kiva one of the "Best 50 Websites of 2008", and Charity Navigator gave Kiva its highest ratings. Today, more than 1 million lenders have made a loan through the Kiva website.

So in a few weeks, when the news teams have left Cebu, but the reconstruction is just starting, we will be lending to the fishermen and food cart vendors and retail shop owners that have lost everything in the storm. We hope you will, too.

To geek out your experience on Kiva, I'd suggest you join a team. My favorite team are the Nerdfighters, one of the top 10 lending teams. They pick a theme each month and try to join loans fitting that theme. In October, they honored Malala Yousafzai by focusing on loans supporting education for girls. This month, they are celebrating the 50th Birthday of Dr. Who, by unearthing loans with Tardis-blue items, phone booths, screwdrivers or similar items visible in the picture. Just because you are helping others, this does not mean you are not allowed to have fun!

And here three of my personal favorite loans so far:

A family in Mexico purchasing a solar home lighting system, so their children can do home work in proper lighting, and they can save money on candles.

A group of female peanut farmers in Mali, a country with one of the lowest per capita income in the world.

A loan to an elder from Thailand to start a hammock weaving business. "Kue has faced challenges as she grows older in a changing society. Hard work is an important Hmong value - everyone is expected to contribute to the family, from their childhood to old age. Traditionally, less physically demanding jobs were reserved for elders. Older women would cook and make clothing while young adults worked in the fields. Now that factory-made textiles and food have replaced the homemade, Kue and many elders face a quandary. Many of them go out and work in the backbreaking fields to try to bring value to their families and maintain their dignity, often falling into debt-slavery as a result.

For Kue, hammock weaving is a way to maintain her pride and self-worth. She feels confident in her ability to contribute to her family and tribe without taxing her health. This loan will help Kue plan her workload for the coming year and ensure that she maintains her independence."

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Geeks hatch from Bookworms

I have been thinking for quite a while about what is the most important thing to ensure your child is a geek. Crazy coding skills? Knowing all Star Trek characters by heart? Knowing more about spiders than about personal hygiene? No, none of these.

The answer I keep coming back to is reading. Being able to read, but more importantly enjoying to read, and making it a passion.

I keep telling my kids, once you can read, you can be anything. You can learn about and become an expert in anything you want. The mating rituals of hunting spiders, the technical specifications of matter-antimatter reactions, the best technique to make the perfect cookie icing. Because isn't that what true geeks are, innately passionate and knowledgeable about the detailed working of their chosen field? If you want to hatch a geek, you need to start by growing a bookworm. To quote Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors, raising your kids as bookworms "that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them".

By Stewart Butterfield (flickr)

I try to guide, but not to judge the literature they choose, after all they are the ones who need to enjoy it. Evel Knievel is currently inhaling the Captain Underpants series. (Yes, exactly what it sounds like, a super hero in Underpants. You must be 6 to find that funny.) He even forgoes recess for these books, which if you'd know him is usually only caused by severe fever and illness. Well, I read every Discworld book ever published, so who am I to judge.

We encourage reading by having a few fixed time slots a day for reading. Every morning in the car on the way to the daycare, Mr Entropy reads a book aloud to me and his sister. After lunch on weekends, what used to be nap time is now reading time, and the boys curl up in different corners of the living room to read on their own.

Reading corner in our kitchen for a quick read between breakfast and the school bus.

Then before bed we read aloud together, and we imagine worlds together. In a recent speech, Neil Gaiman phrased this much more eloquently that I ever could.

"And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You're being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you're going to be slightly changed."

Reading corner in Evel's bedroom.

You know you are on a good track to raise a geek, when the lady in the library greets your child with "Oh, you again!" :-)

By Craig Conley from Durham, NC, US (Rainbow Bookshelf)

What my children like to read:
- The Magic Treehouse
- A-Z Mysteries and other books by Ron Roy
- Captain Underpants and other books by Dav Pilkin
- The Boxcar Children
- Children's history encyclopedia (not making this up)
- Leveled science and history books at This is a subscription website. You get 20 free downloads per day during a free 7-day trial period. Very targeted to the child's reading level. Younger readers can color in the books after you printed them on paper.

How do you encourage reading in your home? Please share and leave a comment!

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Friday, November 1, 2013

The Paper Bag Princess

I hope my daughter grows up being a princess.

However, looking at her crazy curls and frown with attitude, I am sure she won't follow the Disney ideal. Being in constant need of rescuing or esthetically pleasing even when it is impractical (or just inconvenient for her) isn't really her thing.

Rather, my daughter seems to come after Robert Munsch's Paper Bag Princess, a practical gal that does not lose confidence into her own abilities as long as there is a paper bag to wear, and who does the rescuing all by herself, thankyouverymuch. And when the prince insists on gender stereotypes a la Disney, she decides that "happily ever after" does not necessarily have to include this particular prince. A truly geeky princess, you see.

A good read for girls AND boys, after all you don't want your little prince to behave like Prince Ronald.

Geek Factor: 3 out of 5
Fun Factor: 5 out of 5

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

An Apple a Day - Scientific Method Part 3 - Experiment Design

"Red Delicious are the best apples ever!" proclaimed my oldest. If you make such a claim, you better make sure it is accurate. Ever so helpful I asked him what other apples he had tried and compared. "Uh, those yellow ones you buy? Of the two kinds of apples Red Delicious is the best".

MAJOR parental oversight. How is he ever going to win in Jeopardy without knowing at least 27 varieties of apple. So I decided it was time to teach useless trivia to the kids by the means of an experiment. It's what scientists do! We were going to have an apple tasting. So off to the grocery store with the mission to buy one apple of each kind we could find. Ignorant about apples that I am, I thought that would mean about 6 or 7 apples. The kids enthusiastically guessed 16-20. We found 15. Had we agreed on "The Price is Right" scoring rules, I'd have won this one.

Evel Knievel was still insisting that Red Delicious are the best apples, and said he would give them the highest scores. The statistician in me raised an eyebrow and took up the challenge. So we put the experiment on hold and talked about objective data collection and cherry-picking (with a little unplanned excursion on why it isn't called apple picking) . Finding the best tasting apple we need to assess taste only. No favoritism! It is a small step from favoritism to profiling, and from there to discrimination. You have probably come across the countless studies how essays or resumes get graded or viewed very differently based on the gender or race associated with the name in the first line. Lesson of the day, collect the data that IS there, not the data you EXPECT to be there. Never assume.

So after writing number cards for a true blind tasting, we continued. While I cut and peeled 15 apples (what was I thinking?!), the boys designed our scoring sheet. Credits for illustration go to Evel Knievel.

And then we ate and scored and settled once and for all which apples to buy for the family.

The outcome? Evel Knievel prefers Paula Red, Pink Lady and Red Delicious. Although I think he cheated when he recognized Red Delicious by taste. Mr Entropy likes Honey Crisp and Pink Lady, but he made it only half way through the sample, so incomplete data here. The Queen stated her favorites are the ones without the crust, which then triggered a lecture by Evel on the difference between crust and peel. Then we forgot to ask her again. I preferred Sweet Tango and Gala. Finding the best apple choice for the family turned out to be a lot more complex than expected. So we wrapped up the experiment by baking 4 apple cakes with the 15 three-quarters of an apple that were left over after the tasting. Like the space shuttle program bringing you the Teflon pan, science sometimes has unintended benefits.

With the apple conundrum solved by creating just more disagreement on what's the best apple, my husband delivered the final lesson on science - that any great findings without a clear implementation plan are doomed. He simply keeps buying the apples that are on sale.

Other things to sample and score:
- Ice Cream!
- Yogurts
- Cheeses
- Breads
- Canned beans (be ready to cook chili)
- Lemonades or juices
- Tropical fruit you have never eaten before

Geek factor: 3 out of 5
Fun Factor: 5 out of 5 (if you aren't the one peeling the apples)

How do you teach the scientific method to your children? Leave a comment!

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