Monthly Archives: April 2014

Parent-Child Costumes

Most kids I’ve seen at cons absolutely love cosplay.  They love seeing the costumes, and they love dressing up in costumes.  It’s basically like an extra Halloween for them.  My kid is no exception – in fact, she has asked to wear a costume to the next con we go to.  She loves cosplay so much that the best way to get her to sit still through having her tangled hair brushed out in the morning is to watch youtube videos of awesome cosplay.  Current favorite is this one:


I’ve been slacking in my costume-making endeavors lately, mostly due to the lack of that one thing parents never have enough of: time.  My sewing pile has a bunch of mending items I need to get to before I can even consider finishing my Kaylee costume, and the first thing in line for the hot glue gun and spraypaint is the kiddo’s fairy wand in need of repair, not my never-finished steampunk rifle (formerly known as a super soaker).

I have a little time off coming up for wrist surgery, and I’m trying to think of some fun things I can make that are low-effort and can be done one-handed and without requiring a lot of coordination (naturally, I managed to injure my dominant hand).  I’ve seen some really awesome parent-child cosplays, and would love your input for even more ideas.  Also, this will probably end up being our Halloween costume this year – because time.

So here’s the list of possibilities, based on our interests, my limited sewing skills, and two-person costumes:

1) Kaylee/Serenity: me finally finishing my Kaylee costume (the coveralls outfit) and kiddo in a cardboard/spraypaint version of the ship

2) Steampunk Scout Leader/Girl Scout: based purely on the fact that I found a vintage scout leader uniform at Goodwill last year and we could make some really cool steampunk-ed merit badges

3) Leia/Ewok: because Ewoks.  And she’s about the right height for it.  The cool long-braid Leia hairdo would obviously require a wig.

4) Elsa/Olaf: like most of her age-mates, it’s her current favorite.  And she’s the right height for Olaf.  And because it would make me wear a dress for once…

5) Cyberman/Dalek: they’re robots, albeit super creepy ones.  She’s really into robots lately.  This one would be by far the most time-consuming/difficult, though.

What other cosplays would be good for an adult/kid combo?

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek crafts, Geek parenting resources, Geeking out

Phrases that drive my STEM-trained brain nuts

There are some phrases I hear on a routine basis that just drive me nuts.  Serious pet peeves.  I know these are seriously nit-picky, but after so many years of having things like physics and math beaten into my brain, they’re like fingernails on a chalkboard.

What are your scientifically-incorrect verbal pet peeves?  Or phrases that violate the laws of physics?   Here are my current ones.  I’m sure I’m missing a few and will stumble across more in the future, so will do another post later.  And yes, I fully acknowledge that I’m scraping the barrel for blog topics today.  It was this or a review of the Muppet Movie, and this is shorter and I want to go to bed, so laziness wins tonight!

First up, one I ran into today.  Every time I see a car with this label, I grit my teeth: “Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.”  Part of zero is still zero.  How do you have partial zero emissions?  Just say “low emissions” already.

“Zero gravity.”  The gravity doesn’t magically go away – you’re just in free fall.  In fact, you’re falling in that nice orbit around the Earth because of gravity.  This one came up a lot when I was teaching foundation physics.


ISS: still affected by gravity. Photo from NASA’s image of the day gallery:×323/public/s31-76-026.jpg?itok=99HqfxaX

“Killed my energy” (laws of thermodynamics, people).

“Nucular.”  Nuclear.  Nuke-lee-urr.  It’s just… really not that hard to pronounce.  Really.

“It’s not rocket science” or “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist.”  This one only bothers me when it’s grossly misused.  Rocket propulsion and orbital mechanics were two of the hardest classes I’ve taken.  Rocket science is, in fact, very difficult.  But when you say, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these scrambled eggs are cold and rubbery” it just doesn’t make sense.  Most rocket scientists may be smarter than the average bear, but it doesn’t give them magical powers of observation or omniscience.

So, what are your pet peeve phrases?


Filed under Geeking out

The Balancing Act

It’s no secret, if you know me or have been reading this blog for a while, that my husband and I detest the pink aisle and princess culture.  We’ve asked all along for ‘no pink frilly princess-type things’ from the relatives, a request most people  have followed.  But we also agreed that once she was older and making her own choices, we wouldn’t try to stop her from liking the pink aisle if it turned out to be something she truly wanted.

Now that my daughter is old enough to be picking up princess culture at preschool (since there are definitely no princess things in our house, unless you count Leia), she is picking it up like crazy.  Most of her pretend play these days involves her being a princess.  Second choice?  Ballerina.  She also insists on wearing a skirt or dress to school every day, which gets difficult because we just don’t have many of them, and she freaks out when I haven’t washed her favorite skirt.  And I’ll admit, I cringe every time she tells me she wants to be a princess.

She mixes it up, though.  She reminds me daily that she is both her own person, and perfectly able to balance her multiple interests.  The other day she decorated a cardboard box, and informed me it was her astronaut princess helmet.  She wore it proudly around the house.  For her Easter outfit, she picked an astronaut t-shirt, pink tutu, red leggings, and her red Chuck Taylors.  She was equally excited over the new blue dinosaur and the hot pink bouncy ball found in some of her easter eggs.

I’m glad she’s still at the age where her favorite color changes every 20 minutes, because I’m dreading her settling on one.  Even if it’s not pink, the riot of colors in her room shifting towards monochrome would be boring.  I love that her enthusiasm is for things that are new and different.

The princess culture is impossible to avoid, even if it’s not ever-present in our house.  Last Halloween, all but two of the girls in her preschool class were princesses.  The outliers?  My daughter’s Gir costume (she asked to be a robot so I went with the funniest one I know), and one other girl who was Cleopatra.

I have to remind myself every so often that in addition to trains and legos and books I also had Barbies.  And My Little Ponies, Rainbow Brite, dolls, and all the girly trappings.  I turned out ok.  Well, other than some rather serious body image issues that I still struggle with.  So maybe Barbie and teen magazines will stay out of the picture no matter how much my daughter may beg for them.

But I don’t think having girly stuff made me any less successful in life – I’m a real live rocket scientist now, after all.  I was a bit of a tomboy growing up, and have shifted much farther over on the feminist spectrum the older I get, but I clean up ok when I want to.  So I try not to panic when she wants to play princess.  After all, she has other interests as well.

For the last few months she’s wanted to be a firefighter, which I think is awesome.  It gives us openings to talk about things she’d need to do to get there, like exercise (firefighters are strong!), study hard (fighting fires is a science, after all), and work well with others (firefighters are part of a team!).  I know she’ll change her mind at least twelve hundred more times, but I’m glad she has big goals for herself already.

My goals?  To do the best I can to help her navigate growing up in a country still rife with gender issues, inequality, double standards, pay gaps, and stereotypes.  To balance what she wants with what we as her parents believe to be what she needs.  To see her grow up to be a healthy, happy, productive member of society.  To see her chasing dreams but also with her feet firmly on the ground.  I want to manage the very delicate balancing act of raising a daughter  in this crazy world without screwing any of it up too badly.

Leave a comment

Filed under Equality, Geek parenting resources, Opinion pieces

Product Review: the LuminAid

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the brilliant young ladies who invented the LuminAid to help disaster victims as part of a grad school project after the Haiti earthquake.  It sparked my interest in their product, and happened to coincide with a time when I, like the good old paranoid person I am, was working on upgrading my own family’s disaster kits.

While I had already made a handy, affordable, and oh-so-easy batch of homemade jar candles (a post on making those later), I wanted to add something that would not require flame or batteries or hand cranking to produce light.  We have a little solar-powered lantern in our camping gear, but the LuminAid sounded even better.

So I ordered two – one for the emergency kit in each of our cars.  I figure if a disaster hits at home, we have two dozen flashlights… somewhere… around the house.  Geez, I know there’s at least one in every room, if only I could find them.  They’re there, really!  Plus I think I have at least three dozen scented candles at any given time.  So yeah, wanted the LuminAids for the cars and possibly for use on camping trips as tent lights.

This week they finally arrived, and now I get to play with the new toys.  First impression, these really are nice and small.  First pictures shows the LuminAid in the package, with a standard black pen for size reference.

photo 5

First strike was the packaging.  It’s that godawful cardboard-sandwiched-around-plastic-with-too-much-glue thing.  Basically you end up having to destroy the thick cardboard part to get the darn thing out – peeling was not gonna happen.

Second strike was the overwhelming plastic chemical spill when I took it out.  Think of the worst cheap plastic inflatable toy you’ve ever taken out of a dollar store package.  That smell.  The plastic feels fairly thin/flimsy, but only time will tell how that will hold up, and the small size/weight wouldn’t be possible without the plastic being so thin.

photo 4

Once I let it outgas for a few, though, things drastically improved.  Reading the packaging (from the one I didn’t destroy opening it), I followed the directions for charging and inflating.  It’s super easy to inflate – took me two deep breaths to get it filled all the way up.  It’s extremely lightweight (just a few ounces) and you can hang it somewhere by the handle to free up your hands.  It also has a little loop you could use to clip it up with a carabiner or something similar.

photo 3

I charged it for the full seven hours in sunlight, and then went to put to the test their assertion that it will run on that charge for up to 16 hours on the low setting.  Unfortunately, I forgot to tell my husband to leave it on.  So I turned it on after dinner last night, and he turned it off first thing this morning.  So we know it will go for at least 12 hours but didn’t find the limit.  I’ll post an update when I get to try round #2 of that experiment!  I will also be testing out the 8 hour max at the high setting.

The low/high settings are 15 and 30 lumens respectively.  To give some reference, my mini maglite LED flashlight is 84 lumens.  So the LuminAid’s not terribly bright, but would be sufficient in a tent, shelter, or other small space – and remember it’s fairly diffuse light.  You’re probably not going to do your homework or sew or perform surgery by this light, but it’s fine for most routine tasks.

The 'high' setting in our bathroom (the easiest place to make dark during the day)

The ‘high’ setting in our bathroom (the easiest place to make dark during the day)

I’m not going to actually test the waterproof assertion this week (I’ve always had back luck breaking my new toys when trying to verify that one), so whenever my kid manages to submerge it or spill something on it, which she inevitably will at some point, I’ll post an update on that result, too.

It also deflates fairly easily – have to do a little extra rolling/folding to get all the air out, but overall not too bad.  Then it folds up and snaps shut with a little strap, to a little bigger than your average smartphone.

Overall, it’s awfully neat, but only time will tell how well it holds up.  More to follow on that whenever a member of my family manages to break it!

Leave a comment

Filed under Product Review

STEM Female Role Model Spotlight: Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

First off, please don’t ask me to attempt to pronounce this one.  But don’t let my complete lack of French ability keep you from reading about this Nobel Prize-winning virologist!

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a native of Paris, earned her PhD at the University of Paris in 1974.  Beginning in her early childhood days, she always displayed a passion for science.  It was both her favorite and best subject in school.  This, combined with her love of research discovered as an undergraduate, drove her to a scientific research career that has been primarily with the Pasteur Institute (yes, that Pasteur, the guy who gave us long-lasting dairy foods) but also included the National Institute of Health and National Cancer Institute in the U.S.

In the late 1970s she joined Luc Montagnier’s group at the Pasteur Institute to work on retroviruses.  In 1982, a virologist at a hospital in Paris asked their group to look into the possibility of a retrovirus being the problem causing an epidemic disease that was on the rise and beginning to make headlines: the disease that would eventually be named AIDS.

1983 was the first year she worked full time on AIDS research.  That was the year her group was able to isolate, describe, and even photograph the HIV virus.  She was first author on the paper that reported the discovery of the virus behind the AIDS epidemic.  In 1992 she moved up to head of the Biology of Retroviruses unit at the Pasteur Institute.

A great lover of nature, she ventured from the laboratory whenever possible.  She frequently traveled to the places where AIDS was widespread or having the most devastating effects, including the Central African Republic and Vietnam.  She visited patients dying of the disease in hospitals from Paris to San Francisco.  She did not let the disease remain just a thing to be studied in a laboratory, but saw its very real and devastating impacts in person.  It is very unusual for disease researchers to actually interact with patients.

In 2008 she and Luc Montagnier were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for that initial discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).  The discovery and isolation of the virus was a tremendous first step in the ongoing fight against AIDS, and she is currently still working to achieve both things that could defeat AIDS: a vaccine, and a functional cure.  She wouldn’t be satisfied with that, though – she also insists on continuing searching for a total cure once those first two are achieved.

She was often discouraged on her path to her chosen career by men who thought such scientific research was not the place for a woman.  Thirty years later, the world is incredibly fortunate that such a driven person followed her passion and is still, in her late 60s, working to combat one of the most frightening and devastating diseases of our lifetimes.



Filed under Role Models

Shameless Plug for SeaPerch

This program is run/sponsored by the Navy (Office of Naval Research, to be exact), which makes this post just a little bit of a shameless plug.  Just sayin’ that up front.

I am extremely bummed out that, due to wrist surgery, I can’t participate in the local program this year.  Since, you know, unmanned-underwater-vehicle-building with kids tends to take both hands and a mind clear of painkillers.  There’s always next year, though!

Now onto the good part – it’s a really, really awesome STEM outreach program.  I’ve participated in the program in various capacities before, and both the kids and their adult advisors loved it.  Or at least they did as far as I could tell.

The fifth graders were unabashedly enthusiastic about it, whereas the high schoolers were a bit more subdued, in that “I think this is cool, but I can’t let anyone know I think this is cool, so I’m gonna shrug a lot and doodle circles on the ground with my big toe” kind of way.

The idea is that each team builds a remote-controlled mini-submarine from a kit.  There is some leeway allowed in the design, so they can experiment a little to see what works best.  Then they can take their creation to a competition, where they are judged on how well it performs on an underwater obstacle course (usually in a local swimming pool).

Teams can be individuals or up to a whole class in size, but generally it works best with around four kids per kit.  Kits can be purchased for under $200 and a toolkit is recommended but can be shared among groups.  There is often grant money available.

A portion of the competition is also an interview segment, where judges ask questions to see how well the kids understand what they’ve built (how does the motor work, why did you place that piece there, etc.).  Points are also given for teamwork, team spirit, and how they present a record of their work – usually a log of some sort describing their efforts, and maybe a science fair type poster, depending on the team.

The competition part goes all the way up to the national level.  Teams can come from schools, church youth groups, Boys & Girls clubs, scouting organizations, JROTC units, a couple of kids from the neighborhood, you name it.

The SeaPerch challenge is adaptable to age ranges from 5th grade through college freshmen, and various size groups.  It helps develop fundamental skills in areas including physics, electronics, mechanics, engineering, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, fluid dynamics, buoyancy, robotics, and – most importantly – how to glue PVC pipe together.  Seriously, it really is both fun and educational.

For more information or to find a competition near you, check out the SeaPerch Website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek parenting resources, STEM outreach

You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

Really, really rough week at work. Lots of people problems, and lots of big projects leading to very long hours. Today I just barely managed to make myself go work my aggression out at the gym for a bit instead of through a bottle of wine and a bunch of chocolate.

The wrist injury is putting a real damper on my workout style. My favorite workouts are swimming, kettlebells, yoga, going for a bike ride, and lifting weights. All of which are things I can’t do with a wrist injury.  Well, I can do kickboard work in the pool (boring) and limited yoga (also pretty boring and not terribly effective).

My knees don’t handle running too well anymore, but I’ve walked up to half marathon distance. Unfortunately, my little geekling has outgrown the stroller. We still go on our walks together, but at a more… leisurely pace with her walking.  It’s a pace that involves an obsessive need to try sitting on every bench we pass, and collecting every leaf and a water break every quarter mile.

So with all that in mind, does anyone have suggestions for good workouts that don’t need a healthy wrist and/or knees?  Especially looking for things that I can do with a small child along (or just watching and laughing, which is what she usually does during yoga).

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek parenting resources, Uncategorized

What’s the best geek-parent-mobile?

Our old car is nearing the end of its life – that awful point where the cost of maintaining it is more than the car is worth.  Especially when you bought a bit of a lemon off the used lot to begin with.  Naturally, this happens right after it’s paid off.  Sigh.

So we have embarked on one of my husband’s favorite rituals: car shopping.  He pretty much makes a hobby of car shopping anyway, but when we are actually considering buying one, he goes to town.  The process involves spreadsheets, with rankings for all the must-haves and nice-to-have’s, and disqualifying factors.  He has minimums for acceleration, combined MPG, storage space, leg room, etc.  He has criteria for grading comfort of seats, ‘fun to drive’ level, quality of the interior, you name it.

He test drives.  He does that some more.  Then he has to go drive a bunch in the same day on the same course to ‘get a feel for comparing them.’  Did I mention he’s a little OCD about cars?  Hours are spent on Edmunds, Car & Driver, Consumer Reports, CNET, you name it.  My criteria?  I like it to have four wheels and run.  The cheaper the better.  My nice-to-have’s are good mileage, a hatchback with flat area for changing squirmy children when necessary, and butt warmers.  Oh, and I don’t particularly want a minivan.

The one big splurge I’ll usually go for on a car is leather/leatherette, because… well, kids.  Kids with juice boxes and goldfish crumbs and melting crayons.  Leather is soooo much easier to clean up.  And it’s usually part of the trim level that gets me my butt warmers – which I actually use more as a heating pad for my old lower back injury, but also because I am a sissy in winter.

When he has narrowed it down to the top 3, I’ll grudgingly let him drag me along for test drives.  I get excited about a lot of machines and electronics, but cars are just not among them.  Unfortunately, all his front-runners so far are well above the budget I gave him. Now I am appealing to my fellow parents of geeklings: can you give me the selling points of your best, most affordable geek-parent-mobiles?  Preferably ones with fancy electronics systems and enough shiny bells and whistles to satisfy a big techie, without totally breaking the bank.

So far only one test drive has successfully ended with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face, and it was one so far out of our budget range it was supposed to be a ‘just looking’ moment.  Yikes.  So I’m looking for good recommendations that will still let us make our mortgage payment and have the occasional steak.

And at least he hasn’t driven a Tesla yet…

1 Comment

Filed under Geeking out

STEM Female Role Model Spotlight: Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke was born on a farm in rural Maryland in 1883.  After earning her undergraduate degrees in math and astronomy from Vassar (Phi Beta Kappa), she went on to teach math and physics at a girls’ school for a few years.

She also worked as a computor – literally a human who performed mathematical calculations before our modern-day computers and calculators were invented.  During WWI, she managed a group of women computors who performed calculations for the Transmission and Protection Engineering Department.

In 1918 she became the first woman to graduate from MIT with a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, and went on the next year to work for General Electric (GE) until 1945.  During this time she patented a ‘graphical calculator’ and several other devices.  She became the first woman to present a paper before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE, now the IEEE), as well as first to become a voting member and fellow of that group.

Working primarily as a computor at GE because they would not employ a woman engineer, she also pursued other interests.  She wrote or co-authored 19 technical papers over several decades, and won a tennis championship.

She took a leave of absence from GE to travel around Europe and teach at a women’s university in Turkey for a year.  Upon her return, she was finally assigned to work as an engineer for GE at their Central Station Engineering Department, which made her the first U.S. woman to be professionally employed as an electrical engineer.

Two years after retiring from GE, she took a teaching position at the University of Texas, Austin, and was their first female professor of engineering.  She was one of those rare, talented people who could break down complicated mathematics into simpler forms and teach it as well as work with it.

In 1954 she earned the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Achievement Award, and retired in 1956.  She died a few years later, at the age of 76.  Her other awards include a spot in the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

Edith Clarke paved the way for many female engineers to follow in her footsteps, and showed great tenacity in her pursuit of full-time engineering work instead of the ‘usual’ jobs allowed women of her time.


Leave a comment

Filed under Role Models, Uncategorized