Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Newberry Honors a Book My Daughter Actually Liked

We just finished watching/listening to Neil Gaimen's The Graveyard Book. He posted recordings of book tour stops during each of which he read a chapter from his book. Hanover really enjoyed it. Neil Gaimen has another book being released as a movie soon: Coraline. He talks about his book on his blog. (via Joanne Jacobs)

Can Cloning Really Make Another 'You?'

The clone of you would have all of your DNA--so it should be just like you, right? Common sense would point out that a lot of what makes you 'you' are your experiences, which could not possibly be duplicated in enough detail to guarentee an exact copy of 'you.' But with more and more studies showing that nature is primarily in charge, sometimes in spite of your environment, this article explains why DNA is not the whole answer. This article answers some interesting questions I've had. When I was in elementary school, there were two identical twins that were hardly identical at all. They looked similar--but their hair color was slightly different, their noses were shaped differently, and they even had other differences facially and otherwise. Most remarkably, was their amazing difference in personality. One was very sporty and the other was very girly, with all of the stereotypical packaging--casual outfits with no extras for the first and jewelry, hair bands, and particular styles for the second.

So DNA is important, but it's not everything.

Sex Ed in Education

Stella at ReasonPharm has a great little post about what schools should do about teaching sex ed in school. In the continuing fight over whether your children should be taught abstinence only or birth control and STD avoidance, here's a glimpse of her post:

When it comes to government funding, the answer is: It doesn't matter.

Yes, that's right. It doesn't matter --

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Awesomeness of the Internet

The internet is great. It's already so second nature for me to use the web for everything, that having no access leaves me feeling fidgety and irritated. Sure, I could be addicted (you know, in the way that psychologists like to use addicted, not an actual addiction), but it could be that I throw out all of the phone books because it's easier to use Switchboard.

I like e-mail a lot. Now that I've discovered Facebook, though, e-mail seems a bit outdated. And I thought Twitter was like an RSS feed, but I'm discovering it can be more interactive. I have been able to find some people from high school and college on Facebook. You can even search your school by year of graduation, which makes it pretty interesting. Facebook is a fascinating application. I know! I'm preaching to the choir--everyone else has known about Facebook forever.

I've occasionally tried to find some old friends by searching their name in Google. This is really difficult because you can't be sure what state they are in, whether they are doing the same kind of work or are in the same company, and in the case of women if their names have changed. It never occurred to me that someone might even want to look for my name. So I did a vanity search on Google. Even if someone remembered how to spell my name, or even knew what state I currently live in, it would be difficult. I do not have any real entries that come up! Even though I've had this blog forever, I have not explicitly associated it with my first and last names and location enough for the search engines.

One really freaky site is They obviously have access to credit and/or government records like taxes and such. They will find you, your current and past addresses (which alerts me that somehow I got associated with a location I never lived in) and even close relatives. It's disconcerting. They even changed my age ON my birthday (today, by the way). That all comes with a cost, so it's not free--but if you are a private person and want to scare yourself, look yourself up there.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Homeschool Entrepreneurs

You love their videos, now show the world that you support Anti-Social Homeschoolers!

They have a Cafe Press store with merchandise so you can wear your unsocialized-homeschooler-heart on your sleeve, well chest, and mug, and tote bag!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Have a Love-Hate Relationship with Homeschooling

I love finding out how really neat my kids are.

I hate needing to take them with me wherever I go.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Homeschool Socialization is Moving Along

These videos are really being enjoyed! I just got an e-mail for the latest one. Here are the fifth and sixth!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Weekly Round Up

A weekly round up from bloggers with the unique perspective of Objectivism.

From The Ayn Rand Institute, Ayn Rand giving a brief description of her philosophy of Objectivism:

At a sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, one of the book salesmen asked me whether I could present the essence of my philosophy while standing on one foot. I did as follows:

1. Metaphysics Objective Reality
2. Epistemology Reason
3. Ethics Self-interest
4. Politics Capitalism

If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.” 2. “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” 3. “Man is an end in himself.” 4. “Give me liberty or give me death.”

If you held these concepts with total consistency, as the base of your convictions, you would have a full philosophical system to guide the course of your life. But to hold them with total consistency—to understand, to define, to prove and to apply them—requires volumes of thought. Which is why philosophy cannot be discussed while standing on one foot—nor while standing on two feet on both sides of every fence. This last is the predominant philosophical position today, particularly in the field of politics.

My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.

3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.

4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

Some people mistakenly believe those principles advocate whim-worship (doing only what you feel like at the moment, damn the consequences) or hedonism (seeking only pleasure, again, without considering long-term effects). On the contrary, Ayn Rand's philosophy requires thinking in terms of one's entire life and considering the consequences of each of our actions in that light.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good Things Day After Day After Day

OK--I'm officially announcing that my family has been on the three good things track for a while now. Amy does blog posts, LB too, and Jen has talked about how much she likes the the idea along with a great description. More people jump on the bandwagon.

I first read about it after signing up for Jean Maroney's free Thinking Directions newsletter over a year ago. The newsletter is a gem of interesting books, ideas, and techniques. Jean Maroney talked about one of the techniques Martin Seligman presents. Martin Seligman wrote Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness. Once each 24 hours, take a small amount of time to journal three good things that happened. The technique is summarized here

I liked the idea, and thought it might work for the whole family. Hanover has a tendency to be a bit gloomy. I don't really know why. It could be that she listened to my husband and I talk about work a bit too much during the time when I decided to quit. She's got some ears on her. She can hear an adult conversation that has nothing to do with her from 50 paces. I didn't quit just because I wanted to spend more time with my kids--work went downhill at the same time. I thought this technique could help her have a more balanced perspective. Seligman also has a book about raising optimistic and resilient children. Hubby can also be a bit of a gloom-and-doomer. We needed a family pick-up!

So we use this technique at dinner. Everyone picks three (or more!) good things about the day. It's a great way to redirect my hubby when discussing his day in the office is heading into rant-land. Which I don't mind myself, but Hanover thinks those particularly bad events are daddy's whole work-life. Hubby thinks it's a bit silly (but he thinks anything 'soft', like catering to emotions, is not worthy), but goes along with it because he knows the kids and I like it. The kids enjoy picking their 'good things' a lot and we recently began including the Filthy Little Monkey. Of course, being 13 months he doesn't get to pick. Each of us picks something for him. We do it so regularly now that the kids remind me when we miss it.

It has been a lot of fun. The kids are always in a good mood by the time dinner is over. They want to remember everything they liked about the day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling


Oh my, is it big!

I like the link to Time4Writing. It includes an additional link that shows examples of essay writing from middle school to high school.

I also like this post from Small World. She plans to post a weekly creative writing project. Even though I think public schools kill kids with creative writing and do not touch enough on expository writing, there certainly is a place for creative writing in education (and fun).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Let the Liquidation Begin

My not-quite-really-local consignment store just sent out their e-mail sales alert. Guess what?

PLUS, our BIGGEST Toy sale ever....
50% OFF all gently used toys ...ALL
DAY 9:30am to 10pm
No coupon necessary Excludes new toys!
Valid at participating store(s) only. Not valid with any other specials, coupons or on previously purchased items. All sales final.

It's a one day sale, but note that nothing can be returned and the steep discount. The CSPIA deadline is getting close! I'll let you know if they have other big sale days. At the end of the e-mail they add this:
Due to the new lead law...we are no longer purchasing painted wood toys, painted metal toys or any toys which are questionable. Safety is our number one priority.

Which is very close to the wording used in the CPSC release about resellers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I am sure there are dozens of blog post titles like this with the news of Ricardo Montalban's death. I couldn't have been the only kid with a crush?

Khan is awesome (but Kirk is even better)

Kirk runs into Khan in space. Full episode here!

Check out his fake chest. I was so crushed when I heard it wasn't real. I should have known Khan wouldn't wear a necklace like that without a really good reason.

The object of the title of this post, the Wrath of Khan clip is here!

Cordoba with Corinthian Leather

Who can forget Fantasy Island? Full episodes on Hulu.

He sings!

He sings more!

He dances!

And dances more!

And dances some more!

And dances even more and sword fights!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

CSPIA Government Regulation Will Hit Hard

2/20/09: Leave it to Walter Olson, again! Great round up!

2/18/09: Overlawyered has been the go-to place for any and all recent information! Now that the New York Times (NYT) has finally weighed in with an incredible misinformation-filled editorial, many people have been pointing out their errors. Overlawyered is also first and foremost in collecting information about the CSPIA effect on older books and thrift shops or even yard sales as well as small business effects and motorcycles and dirtbikes.

1/30/09: From HSLDA, how they believe CSPIA will not be a big deal for resellers. Although they talk about 'knowingly' selling items that exceed the lead limit, I can't find any wording like that in the press release to which they refer. They are stepping up to try to help small businesses:

However, we are concerned about the effect that this legislation and the
proposed regulations will have on small family businesses. It appears that many
of these vital businesses could be forced to close due to the high costof
compliance with the CPSIA.
We will be meeting with the commissioners
of the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday, February 4.
CPSC comes out with another statement that initially sounds OK until you read the entire thing carefully. This letter now states that some certification testing will not be required--but look out:

However, all businesses, including, but not limited to, handmade toy and apparel makers, crafters and home-based small businesses, must still be sure that their products conform to all safety standards and similar requirements, including the lead and phthalates provisions of the CPSIA.

Handmade garment makers are cautioned to know whether the zippers, buttons and other fasteners they are using contain lead. Likewise, handmade toy manufacturers need to know whether their products, if using plastic or soft flexible vinyl, contain phthalates.

The stay of enforcement on testing and certification does not address thrift and second hand stores and small retailers because they are not required to test and certify products under the CPSIA. The products they sell, including those in
inventory on February 10, 2009, must not contain more than 600 ppm lead in any accessible part.
[emp added, 'accessible part' wording is new] The Commission is aware that it is difficult to know whether a product meets the lead standard without testing and has issued guidance for these companies that can be found on our web site.

Overlawyered (of course!) has more--especially talking about how the CPSC 'trusts' that State Attorneys General will also not enforce this requirement--though apparently they can if they want! Doesn't that make you feel great?

And more from Overlawyered about religious stores not receiving certification from many of their vendors. And even more from Overlawyered about youth motorcycles:

Yet another casualty of this destructive law: Honda has sent a letter to dealers announcing that it will withdraw youth motorcycles and ATVs from the U.S. market. It says lead figures as an intrinsic part of the alloys used in building the vehicles.

The irony, of course, is that of all the imaginable safety hazards posed by the existence of youth motorcycles and ATVs, the danger that kids will eat the darn things must rank at the very bottom.

Updated 1/19/09:

Overlawyered has much much more information and an editorial in Forbes about CSPIA.

An even newer post at Overlawyered with great link-love full of info! Good article at Christian Science Monitor, too.

End of Update 1/19/09

1/21/09: Local reseller trying to dump product before "National Bankruptcy Day?"

1/22/09: I have been anticipating Walter Olson's new op-ed in Forbes about CSPIA, and it's up now! Even though the issue is being ignored by the NY Times, Bloomberg has an article. Even more commentary at Overlawyered (where I found out about the articles).

1/26/09: Overlawyered again comes through with an updated link-fest HERE!

1/27/09: Joanne Jacobs touches on the topic here with a couple of links.

1/28/09: Another Overlwayered update here, here and here!

1/29/09: Here at Wired's blog GeekDad. It includes a link to this article by the publisher of Make and Craft magazines--the magazines on the leading edge of DIY. More from Overlawyered here. New York Post, too and again.

Etsy sellers, eBay craft sellers, in-home clothing designers/makers, people who make products for boutiques, or anyone else who may want to sell goods or produce things for children will all be negatively impacted by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). Craft sites that I frequent have been tracking this issue for a long time. The law targets items manufactured for children under 12 and it applies to every item even if made before the date the law takes effect, February 10th, 2009. Not to mention the rest of us who will not be able to become children's products entrepreneurs and now have to pay more for any item we do wish to buy for children.

Here the Wall Street Journal (finally) puts the spotlight on the CSPIA legislation.

The CPSIA bans lead (practically) and phthalates from children's products. Each product needs to be sent to a third party lab to tested for these items in order to obtain a certificate to sell them. The items must be tested as a completed unit (testing the same materials used to make it won't do), and no certification from the makers of the materials used in the product will be allowed to stand in place of the actual test. The test item itself is destroyed during testing and the tests are very expensive (could be thousands of dollars according to handmade-item, small-scale sellers that have checked it out). The manufacturer must implement a tracking system to ensure the manufactured product is the same, that the certification follows the product through testing to delivery to seller, and each individual product must be marked. The penalties are steep fines, and criminal charges. There are only four weeks until the law is implemented, and there are still items that have not been clarified and questions that lawyer-less people can't answer and experienced business men are grappling with.

Apparently the law may cover:

  • ATVs
  • hair accessories
  • bicycles
  • jewelry
  • board games
  • electronic games
  • craft kits
  • model kits
  • furniture
  • back packs
  • dance costumes
  • drugs (according to this)
  • CDs
  • DVDs
  • reusable packing (like the cases of CDs and DVDs)
  • cassettes
  • light bulbs (in microscopes as an example)
  • computer software (CDs and users manuals)
  • shoes (?)
  • bedding (?)
  • clothing (?)
  • baby items (no more baby clothes from the local church holiday fair)
  • musical instruments--including pianos
  • strollers (even the rivets)
  • stuffed animals
  • art supplies
  • pencils
  • ball point pens marketed to children
  • books--even libraries, magazines
  • thrift and consignment stores (which do not have to have a testing certificate, but are still iable for the penalties is they do sell something that violates the limits)
  • telescopes
  • school materials*
  • school science equipment*
  • they even have wording referring to yard sales(!!)
  • and I'm sure there are many more.
  • The same item in different colors (possibly different paint) needs to be tested separately.
*Some science/electronic/educational items may be allowed to contain lead as long as there are detailed instructions, the product is targeted to an age group that is reasonably old enough to take special instructions into account, and as long as there is not other option for the manufacturer to still have a working product except to include the lead. And they would still need to be tested.

On books (not yet exempted fro CSPIA, though they may be)

I keep waiting for the story to become front page news, but it is still mostly reported as an aside. I am surprised that I have not seen more outrage in the typical hot news spots. This is certainly an unjustified and additional cost applied to all manufacturers. But for those whose product lines are limited, especially for anyone selling one-of-a-kind items, the costs are truly prohibitive.

Could you imagine wanting a one-of-a-kind clothing item or toy for you child and then to have a multi-hundred dollar tax applied to it and, on top of that, have to pay to have two made? Many people have started calling February 10th National Bankruptcy Day (originated by the man in the videos below) for all of the cottage businesses that will have to shut their doors because the cost of complying is prohibitive.

Here is a business man, Rick Woldenberg of Learning Resources, in the educational industry talking at a CPSC panel regarding CSPI implementation:
Part 1 (testing costs)

Part 2 (effect on science items, products for disabled, existing inventory, same product for adults resold by this guy would need to be tested by him--like tape measures and aluminum foil, paper clips)

Part 3 (cannot test existing products so current inventory is a loss)

Here are some more links:
Washington Post
National Bankruptcy Day (collecting e-mails, stories, and testing quotes from affected parties)
Boing Boing
The Elmo Who Stole Christmas

Explanation of Types of Governments

From Beth at Wealth is Not the Problem (also LB at 3 Ring Binder) featured this video:

The video explains different types of government with some history thrown in (Beth isn't completely sure about the references to Ancient History). Appropriate for most older elementary or middle school kids.

Homeschool Showcase

Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers has a new name and is here.

Monochromatic Carnival of Homeschooling


Monday, January 12, 2009

Unsocialized Homeschoolers

These kids are making a whole series. There are more planned!

Science is Fun(ny)

If you don't understand why this guy (here, too)is absolutely hilarious, it's time to go back to school for some science education. (via Geekdad)

I remember telling my old boss a joke:

An ion walks into a bar. The bartender asks why he's so sad. The ion says, "I lost an electron." The bartender says, "Are you sure?" The ion says, "I'm positive."*

My boss agreed it was a good joke and lamented that so few people would get it.

*An ion is a particle that has a positive charge because it has too few electrons, which have a negative charge, to balance the positively-charged protons in the nucleus.

Good Thing Someone Remembers How to Research

Captain Capitalism has a copy of a New York Times article about Fannie Mae decreasing its requirements for mortgage loans under pressure from the Clinton administration from 1999.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Loss

My paternal grandmother died on Friday. It's the first loss I've experienced in my family as an adult. She was having a really hard time breathing because of COPD that had recently gotten much worse.

She raised four kids in Philadelphia and Brigantine. She did not know her own family until my father tracked them down in her late 70s. She had been put in a foster care home when her mother abandoned her and her father. Her father remarried and had other children and she got to meet her half-siblings. She made herself a family when she married my bricklayer grandfather. She lost a son when he was a teenager in a violent incident and lost my grandfather when he was 62 to heart disease.

She used to work in the cafeteria at the Children's Seashore House in Atlantic City, NJ. When my brother and I were kids and living on the island, we used to take a jitney or ride our bikes on the boardwalk to go visit her. She would always give us a snack and money. We always enjoyed being able to enjoy the Brigantine beach when we visited her there. She always had little dogs she enjoyed like crazy. She loved everyone in her family and never got rid of anything anyone gave her. Her house was always full of pictures. She loved recounting the numbers of grandchildren and great-grandchildren she had.

She made a life for herself, working her whole life, and always tried to do for her family as much as she could. The children and I visited her before Christmas. Although the real test will be the services we attend this week, the children and I have been OK. I think it hasn't hit me yet, but when I see all of the cousins, and my aunts and my dad, it is going to be hard.

Great Writing Help

Nation Novel Writing Month, which encourages people to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, has an excellent resource for kids to plan out a novel of their own. It walks the kids through character development, plotting, and gives hints on using dialog and description. I like the concrete steps it recommends, like an unofficial outline. I know my daughter would want more instruction, but I think a parent could figure it out pretty well. Many kids could, too. It does not cover editing, but I think what it does cover is really useful.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Can't We All Just Get Along?

If you enjoyed the videos I linked to before, here's #3 in the series. The guys love comments, so you can let them know what you thought by heading over to YouTube.

History Help for High School Homeschoolers!

Scott Powell has just introduced his History at Our House high school program. It looks very serious.

The Environmentalist Dilemma

I know that there are people who feel this way:

As environmentalism continues to grow in prominence, more and more of us are trying to live a "greener" lifestyle. But the more "eco-friendly" you try to become, likely the more you find yourself confused and frustrated by the green message.


Why is it that no matter what sacrifices you make to try to reduce your environmental footprint," it never seems to be enough?

For those trying to be 'green,' this op-ed from the Ayn Rand Institute goes on to explain why you may never feel like you are being a good shepherd of the Earth. Very likely to challenge your assumptions, and/or make you really angry.

Objectivism Carnival

A weekly round up of supporters of individual rights is here again.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Another Handicraft Book On-Line

Here is a link to The Boy Mechanic: Things for Boys to Do. It was published by Popular Mechanics in 1913. There is also The Boy Mechanic Book 2: 1000 Things for Boys to Do. I like that they are specifically for children. It cuts the time required to scour the archives.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Doing Gravity

I have enjoyed presenting the science class so far. We covered why science started in Ancient Greece, the first scientific thinker, how the Ancient Greeks knew the world was round long before Columbus attempted to sail to Asia, and spent time covering Archimedes' discoveries in bouyancy and the lever.

The format of the course has left a bit to be desired for me and the kids also. Teaching elementary science to varied ages and skill levels necessitates skipping a lot of math. I also feel that with the lecture format will be more difficult to keep them listening and not distracted as we delve into the modern era of science. I wrote that last sentence prior to actually having class today. Running the class without a lecture to prepare the kids for the vocabulary or flow of the discoveries was probably more confusing for the kids. They did love the demonstrations they could help with.

I started talking about why it was hard to convince people that the Earth was round even with all of the observed evidence--how would people on the otherside not fall off? Aristotle figured that things were attracted to the center of the Earth. I dropped a piece of paper and a ball at the same time, showing that the ball hit first. I then crumpled the paper and dropped them and they hit at the same time. We talked about air resistance and how the ancients didn't realize that gravity would pull on them both the same and weight didn't matter. We rolled spheres of various materials across a smooth floor to demonstrate momentum (top picture). We allowed the spheres to roll down a wrapping paper tube to show how the speed of the marble varied with height. Then we discussed velocity and what constant velocity would look like--traveling the same distance in the same amount of time. Then we rolled the ball down a ramp (an old church pew that's about 10 feet long) with ribbon placed at even distances. The set up is shown in the middle two pictures. After asking the kids to count each 'bump' as the steel sphere jumped the ribbon, it was obvious that the velocity was increasing. I talked about acceleration and force. We then used the handy-dandy nerf dart gun (bottom) to show that horizontal motion and the vertical pull of gravity operated independently of each other. I shot the dart gun and dropped a metal sphere at the same time. The kids watched the dart and could hear the metal ball hit the ground at the same time.

It was fast-paced and packed with demonstrations, but I really missed the lecture. I like making sure they know what's coming. I especially prefer being able to present concepts and vocabulary that they are seeing, perhaps for the first time, when they are not distracted by gadgets or set ups. Perhaps the issues with the lectures are related to trying to get elementary-age homeschool kids to sit and listen when they haven't been in a class before. I should be very clear on my expectations of their behavior.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Learn Something New in 10 Minutes

Mariposario has a great video featuring John Demme of Math-U-See teaching you to memorize the Greek alphabet in 10 minutes. It works! Great prep for anyone who will be taking higher level classes--lots of the upper level math or science variables use the Greek alphabet. Hubby and I just used alpha last night in an exercise of trying to remember college freshman physics.

Carnival of Homeschooling

At Why Homeschool! It's big and juicy!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Book for Boys

I recently purchased Handicraft for Handy Boys at a library sale (online text at the link). My favorite part of this book was the instructions for turning an attic space into a room, including a closet, desk, and work out station. I was also enthralled by the instructions for making your own telegraph. I like how the book encourages the boys to become entrepreneurs.

Marconi's experiments from 1895 to 1899 to devise instruments for the transmitting and recording of messages without the use of wires, resulted in a number of successes which astonished the scientific world, but when he so perfected the apparatus that he was enabled on December 12, 1901, to transmit across the Atlantic Ocean from Newfoundland to England, this crowning success was accepted by one and all as one of the greatest achievements of modern times.

Though wireless telegraphy was looked upon by many as depending upon a mysterious phenomena, far too deep for the amateur to understand, it was not long after articles treating at length upon the subject began to appear in the newspapers and technical journals that boys started to study into it.

It sounds a lot like CB radio or ham radio. Of course I wouldn't expect kids to make this today to really communicate across a city, given a telephone or cell phone would be convenient. But it would be fun to make just to understand how it works and see if they can transmit.

Here's a nice example of the type of error that you need to watch for when using older texts for reference:
The Fundamental Principles of Wireless Telegraphy.
Throughout all space a substance is supposed to exist,
though nothing definite is known about it, and this substance,
which is colorless, odorless, and without weight,
and called ether, is supposed to have remarkable qualities
for transmitting vibrations through space.

Of course we know now that the energy is not transmitted through an ether of any sort.

Encouraging the Budding Engineer

Christine had great questions about a middle schooler who is interested in pursuing engineering as a profession.

I graduated as a mechanical engineer from Rutgers in 1993. I worked as a software programmer for a few years and then moved to Connecticut to be a manufacturing engineer. That lead to quite a lot of robotics work. I lead the specification writing and purchase team for a number of new robotic machines we purchased. When they were ready to be delivered, I developed a test plan and then tested them and finally wrote procedures for the technicians to follow so they were used correctly. I got to trouble shoot them on the manufacturing floor when they started acting up and wrote a maintenance plan for them. The rest of the time, I was preparing the parts that would go on them and the programs (not programming language, more like a series of steps to run which was automatically generated by software after I input the desired parameters) the robots would run in order to finish the parts. In addition, I would try to find ways to eliminate steps and speed up anything I was working with.

There were a number of factors that I think were very important in becoming an engineer. Of course, you need to get a bachelor's of science degree in engineering (I have a BSME). Math and science skills need to be strong. Those are the most important academic areas. There is no doubt that an engineer is up to their ears in numbers and facts. I had a natural talent for math, so engineering seemed like a good fit. A natural talent helps, but if a kid needs to do hard work to understand their math well--and they do understand it well--then they will be even better off, because engineering college is hard work.

There are some areas that are less academic and yet still important. Logical thinking will serve an engineer well. Enjoying the challenge of finding solutions is really helpful. A skill that I wish I had was more hands-on experience. An eye for detail and follow-through are useful as well. I really enjoyed solving all kinds of logic puzzles when I was a kid. Some of the Critical Thinking Company books are very similar. Crossword puzzles, can help develop some good skills, like eliminating words based on word length and using letters already filled-in for clues. Word finds can help with pattern recognition and spatial skills. Another great way to develop spatial skills is to make paper models--seeing 2-dimensional shapes become 3-dimensions and sketching objects from multiple angles--the reverse. One of the techniques used on IQ tests is to show a drawing of a cube that has each side decorated a different way and the student is then asked to pick which flat representation matches the drawing (below). Building is another great way to increase spatial reasoning. Working with tangrams comes to mind as well, but only for two-dimensions.

Other talents are not usually associated with engineering, but are often needed. Creative thinking, though not what most people would think of in engineering, suits the field well. After all, engineering usually involves coming up with a solution that fits into an existing framework. One skill which is in demand in all fields is interpersonal communication and, for engineering in specific, an ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds and skill levels--in other words, the guys and gals working the machines as well as managers and senior level employees. All jobs require listening to your boss to get your assignments and making sure you have the information you need to complete your work. Engineering also involves talking to people you work with to make sure what you are working on will satisfy what they need and work with the things they design or use. This would be like working on a team where each of the members has an individual or two-person project that needs to meld into a whole.

There is also an important component in being positive about manufacturing, technology, and progress. Whenever I can, I point out how inventions, ingenuity, science, engineering, and progress have advanced our knowledge, standard of living, or leisure time. For instance, I talk to Hanover about how much humans have accomplished: space travel, satellites, computers, sky scrapers, mechanisms, robotic machines, even kitchen appliances. When Hanover was heading to a large arena, I told her to just look at the immensity of it and realize that some person came up with that idea and other people helped make it reality. Another way to help encourage children's ability to understand engineering's importance and possibility for impact in the world is through science fiction. And I don't mean malevolent science fiction like Time Machine, Frankenstein, or War of the Worlds. I mean science fiction that has a good story that happens to take place in a future filled with technology.

There are many traits that a good engineer may need to rely on. Not every skill needs to be matured by the time one begins as an engineer, but having an inclination to some while others are strong will help your child be a good engineer right out of the gate.

A kid that likes to tinker, who comes up with ideas that would make life easier, jobs quicker, eliminate tasks altogether, or would be like nothing developed so far, who loves technology and new ideas, who likes to organize things, who enjoys puzzles, who wants to improve the lives of people through technology, who wants a job that involves an office and field or floor work, who wants to earn a decent salary, who doesn't mind getting his or her hands dirty, who works on their own projects in their spare time without parental guidance would probably enjoy being an engineer.

While I see value in the kits that are prepackaged to include everything one needs to complete the tasks, I think it is more advanced to follow directions to make things from materials that need to be adapted or purchased, and then, with enough experience, move on to trying to work within those projects to modify them by changing small parts and see the effect--whether it still works, how it changes, what would need to be changed to accomplish a different goal. Parents can encourage this by asking "I wonder what would happen if you change the length of that rod?" Help your child be self-motivated by allowing them to work on their own projects with minimal help from you. Let them build a fort, make their own furniture, build a boat (which I saw in a great book for boys from 1911), build mechanistic contraptions, model rockets or potato guns don't appeal to me much, but would to some kids, work on cars eventually. This seems like a good start, and check out the links underneath too.

Get to the tinkering:
Back issues of popular mechanics online!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Homeschool Boys Get the Girls

I absolutely have to pass on these funny videos done by my friend's son. He's successfully navigated the homeschool process and recently graduated high school. His, and his mother's, diligent work have landed him with a scholarship to college and a great sense of humor! Jonathon Mullen and his two friends Grant and Gary Gasse have produced these videos poking fun at the unsocialized homeschooler meme. For all of those who fear your kids might grow up without socialization, take a look at these great tongue-in-cheek videos.

Please take a visit over to You Tube to leave a comment if you liked them.