Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chemistry Sets

I'm sorry that it has been so long since I have posted.  I have been meaning to do a review of the book Cloud Atlas (by David Mitchell), which I loved, but I missed my chance at seeing the movie in the theater and I have been waiting on the DVD so I could watch the film before I do my review.

Anyway, on to the purpose of this post.  I just read an article in the NY Times about the history and and current status of my favorite toy growing up, The Chemistry Set.  After spending some time scouring the internet, I found a picture my first chemistry set.

I was 8 years old when my parents finally gave in to all my incessant nagging, and bought me the only toy I had wanted for for the entire previous year.  I fondly remember the years of joy that it brought to me, and the terror that it brought to my parents. It had fun and dangerous chemicals like Sodium FerroCyanide, Cobalt Chloride and Ferric Ammonium Sulfate, that, if you followed the directions, you could mix up and get blue and green stuff in your test tubes, or you could just mix stuff together and get weird (probably toxic) smells and you could give your parents nightmares about exploding houses.  It even had a dried up frog that you could dissect with the razor sharp scalpel that came in the kit (Yeah, I was a bit of a scary little girl).

Well, anyway, go to a toy store today and try to find a chemistry set to give to your precocious daughter or son.

While I have to admit, that making slime sounds like fun, the modern-day attitude that puts safety (really liability) ahead of everything else has produced a pretty watered down version of what I got to play with then I was a girl.  I just find it hard to believe that the scientific minds of the next generation will be inspired to greatness by "Spa-Science".  

But fear-not, real chemistry sets do still exist, they are just expensive and generally need to be bought on-line.

I am actually tempted to buy one of these and save it until the offspring is old enough, just in-case it is not available anymore when I am certainly hoping an interest in science is expressed.

If anybody actually reads these posts, please let me know in the comments what kind of dangerous toys you got to play with when you were growing up.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Banned Book Week. Part 3

So banned book week was from September 30 - October 6, and my plan was to read three banned books during that week.  The first two books  (here and here) written for teenagers and were read in about 3 days, the last one was serious adult literature and took me two weeks, which is why this post is arriving so late.

The third book that I read for this series was Song of Solomon, by Toni Morison.  

This novel tells the story of Macon Dead (III), a young black man born and raised in Michigan.  Throughout the early part of his life, he is defined almost entirely by the people around him.  As the story progresses he is is driven to take control of the direction of his own life, as he searches for the origin of his family roots, which are shrouded in mystery throughout the story.  

I posted a tweet, a week or so ago, about why High School makes you hate reading.  I think this novel is a case in point.  It is the sort of book that literary critics love because it is full of complex themes, and symbolic imagery, that makes some people feel smart.  The problem is that it's also the sort of book that can bore the rest of us to tears.  Now I'm not against any of those literary tools, provided they are not used at the expense of storytelling.  The story told in this book is not bad, in-fact, it is pretty good in some places.  The problem is that it's not great and at times the book meanders along at a pretty slow pace.  I feel a little more scholarly having read it, but I cannot say that it was particularly enjoyable.

Since this book was read in celebration of Banned Book Week, I suppose I should comment on how I feel about attempts to restrict the readership of this novel.  First and foremost, this is a novel for adults.  I don't care how many Nobel Prizes Toni Morrison has, this novel is not appropriate for kids under the age of about 15, it doesn't belong in Middle School Libraries, and I wouldn't be comfortable if it was assigned reading even for a High School student.  Nevertheless I think that any teenager mature enough to get through the first few chapters, could handle this book.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Diet and Exercise

If anyone is wondering why I don't post photos of anything besides my hands, its because I'm definitely a plus-size girl and I really don't like how I look in photos.  Nevertheless, I have been dieting and exercising pretty religiously for the past couple of months (I'm down 18lbs...Yea Me!).  I bought a pedometer application for my I-Phone, and it has been really helpful in keeping track of the miles I have walked.

As you can see, since Aug 23 I have logged 57.2 miles of walking.

So, here is the thing, diets are very hard for me.  I'm a girl who lives to eat, not eats to live.  I can't help it, I just love food.  However, I don't like the idea of "cheat days" on my diet, because they always seem to start a slippery slope right back to my old lifestyle.

That's when I came up with a great idea, rather than "cheat days"  I have "Earned Days".  So every time I log 25 miles on my pedometer, I get a day off from my diet.  The great thing about this is, if I exercise more, I get more days to eat the foods I love, exercise less, and I gotta stick with the diet longer.   Also because I earned my days off, I don't have to feel guilty enjoying desert.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Banned Book Week, Part 2

So the first  Banned Book in this series of posts was about a teenage girl, noq this one is about teenage boys.

The second book that I read for Banned Book Week (September 30- October 6) was The Chocolate War By Robert Cormier.

This book has the distinction of being one of the most frequently challenged books in the past 20 years.  It is written in subjective 3rd person, and tells the stories of several teenage boys who attend the all-boys Trinity Catholic School. Although the teachers are officially in charge of the school, the real power lies with a secret society of students called the Vigils.  The Vigils are effectively controlled by the officer known as the "assigner" which is held by Archie Costello, an intelligent,  manipulative sociopath whose thrives on risk and a lust for power.  I basically imagined him as a teenage version of Lex Luthor.

The primary challenges to this book appear to be mostly on sexual ground, although the only really sexual issues that we discover is that teenage boys masturbate a lot, something pretty much everyone knows already.  Nevertheless, I found this book to be pretty disturbing to me since overall it tended to glorify the villain and in some sense exculpate his actions.  The author, and many fans of the book, claim that the purpose of this is that it reflects the true reality of life.  Be that as it may, as a victim of bullying as a teenager I found the story (and particularly the ending) very disturbing.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Banned Book Week. Part 1

So, I went to the bookstore yesterday and bought three books to celebrate Banned Book Week.  I found it a little difficult to select the books from this list and this list, since I have read most of them already.

The first banned book that I read was What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones.

This is a book written for teenage girls that tells the story of Sophie, a smart gifted teenage artist, who completely respects herself and her body, and discovers what it means to love someone in that innocent teenage sort of way.  

The book is obviously banned because this is definitely the sort of thing we don't want our kids reading.  Yes it talks about how she likes making out with boys (what 15 year old girl doesn't) and sneaks off sometimes to do it, but she respects herself enough to never let it go any further than that (good for her).  Apparently the part that offends the most people is the following section:

Ice Capades

on chilly nights
I stand close to my bedroom window,
unbutton my nightgown
and press my breasts 
against the cold glass
just so I can see
the amazing trick
that my nipples can do.

Really, you are going to ban a book for that.  What girl hasn't done that.....ok, I admit I've never done that, but I probably would have if I read this book when I was a teenager, and do you know what, it would have been pretty awesome.  I'm sure I would have still turned out just fine. 

The book is pretty short, it only takes an hour or so to read, but I found myself feeling a bit like a teenage girl again when I read it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Arduino Board

Look at my new Arduino Board.

Me holding my Arduino boaard

So, this little Arduino circuit board is an open source microcontroller.  For all you non-engineers out there, it is a circuit board that you can program really easily, and hook up any number of electronic devices and sensors to.  It is really easy to program, just by plugging it into your computer with a USB cable (get started here). There are lots of books and websites that are full of fun projects that use these little devices (Like this, and this, and this), that you can pick up at Radio Shack (or any number of other electronics distributors).  My boss' 15 year old daughter is using one to measure a bunch of temperature sensors for her science fair project.  So, there is no reason all for you nerdy ladies (and gentlemen) should not get one of these to play with.  

I plan on posting some of the fun projects that I plan on building with this little toy.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale

So, I just finished reading The Handmaid's Tale, by Margret Attwood.  It tells the story of a theocratic society that rises from a revolution which occurred in a fictional near future of the former United States.  In this near future vision, industrial and nuclear pollution has rendered the majority of women infertile.  Because of this epidemic of infertility the upper ranks of society utilize a select group of still fertile women to act as "Handmaids".

The title of the book is inspired by the titles from the Canterbury Tales (by Geoffrey Chaucer), and the inspiration for the role of the "Handmaid" comes from a verse in the book of Genisis (30:1-3) 

"When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, Give me children or I shall die! Then she said, Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees, and even I may have children through her.'"

Although I consider myself a  religious person,  the novel presents a vision of what could happen if all of the Christian zealots in the United States got everything they wanted.  It is not a rosy future.

There were a few things in the book (originally published in 1985) that were very forward thinking, and not a little bit scary.  In particular, it is mentioned that the use of electronic money transfer was one of the key elements in allowing the revolutionary group seize control of the former US population.  Because cash had become obsolete and not used, the revolutionaries were able to freeze the bank accounts of all the women in the country as well as (presumably) any political opponents.  In doing so, they were able to completely subjugate all the women in the country with one swift move.  The most foreboding aspect of this is that in today's society cash is becoming more and more obsolete, which is consolidating a tremendous amount of power in the hands of the people who control the electronic transfer of money.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the book an I highly recommend it.  Don't forget to read the final section titled "Historical Notes on The Handmaid's Tale", it is a clever epilog, written as an academic conference lecture set in the far future (approx 150 years after the events in the novel), that put a lot of the ambiguous parts of the story in perspective.   A movie was made in the early 1990s based on the book, which was pretty lousy. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

I'm back

Check out my cute nails. 

I guess I haven't posted in forever, so I'm going to try this blogging thing again.  I have recently discovered the Joys of Arduino and I think I might start posting some of my ideas and designs on here for the rest of the nerd world to see.  I'm going to intersperse the science and science fiction stuff with some fun fashion and style ideas too.  Hence the cute manicure I just needed to share a picture of. 

OK, so TTFN, expect much more on this blog in the coming weeks.