Monday, August 29, 2005

Grandad and the Internet

My father-in-law was visiting for the last 2 and a half weeks. Since he had a stroke four years ago, negotiating things like the internet can be difficult. Either the print is too small to read, or it is too hard to type. Working with him as we tried to find interesting things on the internet (mostly concerning model airplanes!) we discovered a number of interesting sites and tools.

I stumbled across a number of interesting audio resources. The BBC has live streaming audio and archived shows for the past week. You can listen to NPR like shows on Radio Scotland, or the BBC World Service, Celtic Music, shows in the Gaelic language. Want the latest music and news from a bagpipers festival? Well, if you did, it is there. We found a German station (my FIL is a retired German prof) with very interesting content (according to him, I didn't understand more than five words). All this is free. If you can pay a bit ($9.95 a year) you can get a subscription to Radio Naxos and choose from 60 channels of nearly every type of classical music. Very cool!

If you know of someone who has limited accessibility to the internet due to vision problems, you might want to check out the Opera web browser for Windows. It has many accessibility features built it. You can set a personal stylesheet that will override the html of the webpage. "Bye, bye" annoying fancy and small fonts; Times Roman 16 pt. all the time. Push a button or say "Opera speak" into a microphone and it will read the webpage or your emails to you! It's free if you don't mind some ads at the top of the browsers. $39 if you want to get rid of the ads.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

In yesterday's post I forgot to include this great quote from Bill Kuhn's page on why do model aeronautics.

"An excerpt from the 124-page report of the National Science Board Commission on Pre-college Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology

Informal Education

A great deal of education takes place outside the classroom. The most fortunate students receive experiences in museums, clubs, and independent activities. All children are strongly conditioned and motivated by their early experiences and impressions. The child who has regularly visited zoos, plantaria, and science museums, hiked along nature trails, and built model airplanes and telescopes is infinitely better prepared for, and more receptive to, the mathematics and science of the classroom." (emphasis mine)

That pretty much sums up the whole idea behind "Field Learning". I didn't generate a 124 page report or spend thousands of dollars in research, but maybe it is a good thing they did, now I have official evidence, a scholarly opinion. Seems like common sense, don't you think?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Free Flight

Well, I've discovered what our science focus will be for my soon to be 8 year old son this year. My father-in-law is visiting for a couple of weeks. He brought a model airplane to make with Julius. Problem is, the kit was quite old and the directions were missing. (I found the manufacturer on line and they are sending directions.) But, his interest was stirred; we had to build a plane, today!
"What about those planes I built with Granddad before? Are they still in the basement?"

So, I spent the next 2 hours helping him build the AMA Cub. Bill a.k.a. Granddad had bought a package of 40 five or six years ago. Although Julius didn't help build the plane at that time, it stayed with him. This time he actually did a fair amount of the work himself receiving pointers and cautions from Granddad and physical assistance from me. In about 3 days we had as many planes; only one had been lost to the street (car + balsa = no plane). After breakfast on Saturday, we headed out to the model airplane field at Valley Forge.

It took some patience on the part of all the children (okay and me too) to trim the planes, that is, get them so that they actually fly for more than 3 seconds. Put on a little clay, take off a little clay. Wind it up for 100 turns, not enough, try 150. There were several successful flights, successful enough that Dad had to take the kids out for more flights in the evening. These planes will circle upward and are quite facinating to watch. If you really build it well, you could have a plane up for a couple of minutes - our longest may have been 25-30 seconds.

Like all hobbyists I've met, modelers are a friendly bunch, ready to share their wisdom, knowledge and love of their hobby. The Valley Forge Signal Seekers (they fly R/C planes at Valley Forge) were out today and let me know about an event on September 10. "Fun Fly", a kind of community demonstration day run by their club with activities for the kids.

So, now I find myself surfing the web, in search of more rubber power models to build, how to optimize performance of the AMA Cub and where there might be free flight modelers to watch in our area. I know it is just a matter of time before Julius has built all 40 models or tries to think of ways to fancy it up - I've got to stay one step ahead or find someone who already is; Granddad is only here for another week!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Reciprocal Membership Deal

Being fond of learning by doing, observing, etc. We tend to do a lot of visiting of museums, gardens, zoos; you get the picture. Well, after tooling around a bit on the internet, I found a really great deal. Join the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and get into AZA affiliated zoos AND National Horticultural Society affiliated gardens and arboretums.  I haven't found any other membership that features reciprocal membership to two organizations! The family membership is $45. Check this webpage to see which of your local zoos and gardens you will get free or reduced admission to. If you live in a major metro area this may be a real boon. Of course, joining your local institution supports their programs and will get you reduced prices to classes and special programs, not just free admission. 

There are some caveats of course; member lists of these affiliations change and some affiliates may not honor a full family membership if it is large family. It is always best to call the place you plan to visit to learn of their policies.  I live in the Philly area so two visits to affiliates will save me more than the cost of membership and there are almost ten affiliates in my area to chose from.

Anyone else know of good reciprocal deals?


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Fossil Hunting

On a lark, inspired by a post from the Trailblazers of SEPA Yahoo group, last Wednesday we headed out to Swatara State Park near Lebanon. Now, I grew up about 30 minutes south of there and was headed home to visit my dad anyway, so it wasn't totally out of my way...but of course I couldn't go the route I knew. I mapquested to find a shorter less congested route. It would've been shorter, execpt I missed an exit and drove almost all the way to Allentown before getting off Rt 222. The kids were very patient however as the prospect of banging on rocks with a hammer and discovering fossils intriqued them. (We even had safety goggles.) Okay, so we arrive around 1:30 pm and it is 97 degrees. I don't expect anyone else to be there in this heat. There are however a whole van load of people and a truck. Well, I figure, at least if they are friendly we might catch a pointer or two.

They were from a geology class at Millersville University in Lancaster. One of the men came up to us (he knew we needed help) and told us to "ask the lady over there to show us what to do...she knows everything". Maybe not everything, but she was very helpful. She has two children 5 and 7 and teaches Earth Science at a local high school. She demonstrates how to crumble the rock (you really don't need a hammer) and shows us what the fossils look like. The kids were off, crumbling and running back to her - "Is this one?" "Yep, that's a trilobyte." "No, that one looks like a clay pigeon, keep looking though." After about an hour we were hot and I was ready to head over to dad's. The kids would have kept going; I promised them another visit.

The pics on this page are what some of what we found. I can't stress how easy this was, although it may not be as easy at other places. Of course, what real collectors are looking for - whole fossils - we didn't find many. (A few shell molds were complete) The fossil guy has some great pics from his visit last fall, if you want to see what the real rock hounds can find. The important thing my kids took away was that this was an enjoyable activity that they are able to do and adults choose to do. There are plenty of sites to search in the NJ, PA, DE, MD area. Check out my geology resources page for some links.