What was it like to go to school 100 years ago? The people of Oklahoma City have a pretty good idea after discovering chalkboards dating from 1917, hidden behind newer chalkboards.

When contractors removed the newer, and as far as anyone knew, the only chalkboards, they were stunned to discover an older chalkboard beneath the newer one.

Here’s the full article with lots of pictures. It is just so cool to see this.13

These boards were drawn on in 1917, 98 years ago.

Probably, everyone who taught from them, drew or wrote on them, learned history, math or music from them, have all passed away.

Formula 409 has new packaging. It’s understandable if you’re thinking, “What the heck is he ranting about now?” Truth be told, this is a bit of a rant.

Formula 409 is our kitchen cleaner of choice. We don’t even glance at the competition as we whisk down the cleaning aisle at Market Basket plucking our trusty 409 off the shelf as we go.

But now, It reminds me of New Coke. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember what an unmitigated disaster that was.

The Formula 409 packaging includes a new kind of squirt mechanism. They pitch it as “Now you can get 100% of the product out of the bottle.” I never felt I had trouble getting all the liquid out of the old packaging, but maybe that’s just me. I suspect this new packaging is cheaper for them to use, so it’s an easy way to increase their profits.

And, I have no problem with that at all. The owner of the 409 brand is The Clorox Company. They are a for-profit enterprise and that’s great.

What’s not great is the new squirt mechanism. It doesn’t work consistently. I mean sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it just hisses air at me.

I’ve developed a fair amount of patience over the years, so I bought four bottles of the stuff in the new packaging over the past couple of months before I went absolutely stark raving mad in frustration.

Note, the crushed and tortured appearance of the bottle in the picture. That is a direct result of me smashing the bottle onto the counter in a vain attempt to get some cleaning solution out of the “new & improved” bottle.IMG_0458

Get 100% out of the bottle? I’d be happy with just getting some out of the stupid bottle.

I actually took the time to write to the fine folks at 409. I’m not sure what I wanted to come out of my complaint but I came away dissatisfied with their response.

They sent me a video.

A freakin’ video about how to use the new squirt bottle.

Look, 409 folks, if you have to retrain me on how to use a squirt bottle….you’ve probably overthought this. You’ve invented the New Coke of the cleaning aisle.

I have to say, the squirt mechanism on your competitor’s bottle might be low-tech and old-fashioned, but it works Fantastik!

This week the Perseid meteor shower peaks and, fingers crossed, conditions will be ideal for viewing. The morning of the 13th should provide the best viewing.9503689466_727f436982_b The Perseids are probably the best known of all meteor showers. They occur in warm, comfortable August, people are more likely to be off from work and/or on vacation so getting up early or staying up late is easier. They have the potential to put on quite a show.

This year, there will be no moon to spoil the darkness of the night sky. So, as long as the weather holds and we get clear skies, we should see a nice display of “shooting stars.”

They are called the Perseid meteor shower because they seem to originate in a constellation called Perseus. Perseus is not the most well known constellation in the sky, but it is right below one that’s easy to find – Cassiopeia – It’s the “W” in the sky and it’s opposite the Big Dipper.

You are going to want to get yourself to a dark location, away from city lights. The darker your sky, the more meteors you will see. Here’s all the equipment you will need: Lawn chair or blanket Bug repellent Yeah, that’s it. No binoculars, no fancy telescope, no sky charts. Just your eyes, darkness, and probably an alarm clock. Sit back in your chair and look up at the sky. Be patient, it takes 10 to 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness.

What you’ll actually be seeing are tiny particles from the comet Swift-Tuttle that last visited the inner part of the solar system in 1992 and won’t be back until 2126. Earth is passing through the debris left in it’s wake and those tiny particles are streaking into the atmosphere at over 100,000mph.

You’ll probably want to get up early to see the best part of the show…sometime between 2am and dawn. At it’s peak, you can expect to see about 50 meteors an hour – about one a minute – but they’re not that regular. You might see three in a span of a minute, then nothing for five minutes. There’s no pattern, no rhyme or reason.

Just look up…and enjoy.

Follow me on twitter @Science_186000

A Pluto Primer


A Pluto Primer

In about 9 days, when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft zips past Pluto, everyone’s going to be a Pluto expert. Everybody’s favorite dwarf planet is going to the top news story for a few days. We’ll learn more about Pluto in the 85 hours around July 14th than we’ve learned in the 85 years since it’s discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930.91786935.0

And, in about two weeks, everyone will be sick to death of Pluto. Well, not everyone, but a lot of people will be Pluto-ed out.

Here’s the basic information you need to know about this little ball of rock at the edge of the solar system.

•  is smaller than Earth’s moon – about two-thirds the size;
•  was named for the ruler of the underworld in Greek mythology;
•  has five of its own moons – Charon, Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos and they are all named after characters of the underworld in Greek and Roman mythology;
•  the Disney dog was named for the planet;
•  is really cold. It’s surface temperature is around minus 380 degrees Fahrenheit.

For a moment, let’s think about what’s about to happen. Scientists began to seriously conceive of a mission to Pluto in the 1980s and, after several false starts – New Horizons actually launched in 2006.

A funny thing happened on the way to the ninth planet. It got downgraded from planet to dwarf planet. The International Astronomical Union (IAU )decided on a definition of “planet” that Pluto did not meet. As a result, it was reclassified as a dwarf planet.

Nonetheless, Pluto was still out there and New Horizons was well on it’s way by the time the IAU voted Pluto out of the planet club.

Fast forward about 10 years, and New Horizons is still out there – speeding along at nine miles per second. Thanks, in part, to a gravity assist by Jupiter, New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched.

The problem with Pluto is that it’s far away. Very far away.

The moon is our nearest neighbor at about 240,000 miles. Suppose you could drive a car to the moon (Let’s ignore all the things that make that impossible and focus on just distance and time) at 65mph. How long would it take?

About 150 days.

That’s five months driving 24 hours a day at 65mph. No stops at the Vince Lombardi Service Area. No visits to the largest ball of twine or the house made entirely of newsprint. So, it’s a haul.

If you could drive to Pluto the same way – 65 miles per hour, 24 hours a day – it would take about 6,500 years.

So, Pluto is really out there. It’s about 30 times as far from the sun as Earth. It’s so far out there that the Hubble Space Telescope can’t get a decent picture of it and that’s the reason we sent New Horizons. Pluto is so far away, the only way to learn about it, was to send a robot.

Pluto isn’t just a dwarf planet, it’s actually a really complicated system of celestial objects. Pluto has five moons. Its largest, Charon, is so large that it doesn’t even orbit Pluto. Charon and Pluto orbit a common center of gravity between the two objects and the other four moons orbit that point as well. nh-7-3-15_color_rotation_movie_nasa-jhuapl-swri

Pluto and Charon are a binary system with the other moons orbiting the two “dwarf planets” in the middle. The two bodies are what’s called tidally locked which means they keep the same face toward each other at all times. If you could stand on Pluto, Charon would seem to forever hover over you. Aren’t you glad you paid attention in geometry, now?

Included with its suite of cameras and scientific instruments are nine very human objects. These include two US flags, a CD-ROM of over 400,000 names of people who wanted to participate in this voyage of discovery and another CD-ROM with pictures of the team that conceived, devised and built the spacecraft.

There is a small piece of Spaceship One – the first privately funded manned spacecraft to fly in space. There are state quarters from Florida (where New Horizons was launched) and Maryland (where the spacecraft was built), there is a 1991 US postage stamp declaring “Pluto: Not Yet Explored,”

Finally, there is a small canister containing some of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh containing the inscription:

“Interned herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system’s ‘third zone’ Adelle and Muron’s boy, Patricia’s husband, Annette and Alden’s father, astronomer, teacher, punster, and friend: Clyde W. Tombaugh (1906-1997).”


If you enjoy science, follow me on Twitter @Science_186000

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. It is a day to honor our fallen men and women.

While it’s never a mistake to thank a vet for his service, today is not about our veterans. Today is the one day each year when we honor the men who died in the service of our nation.

The United States has lost men in three dozen conflicts dating from the Revolutionary War to the war in Iraq. Americans have died fighting for their country and their country’s political/military goals in every corner of the map. Our servicemen have died on the beaches of Normandy, the rolling fields of Virginia, the jungles of Vietnam, the mountains of Afghanistan and the shores of Tripoli.

More than a million Americans have died in the service of our country. Each one a very personal tragedy for the men and their families.

Begun as a way to honor those who died fighting the Civil War, Memorial Day evolved to honor Americans who died fighting in any war. The original date May 30th was chosen because it did not fall on the anniversary of any specific battle. In 1971, Memorial Day (along with several other federal holidays) was moved to the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend.65

In retrospect, the creation of the three-day Memorial Day weekend seems to have diluted the importance of the holiday.

According to Veterans of Foreign Wars organization “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”

And, I might add, misunderstanding of the holiday. In November we honor the service of all our men and women. Today we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice and didn’t come home.

Before his passing, Senator Daniel Inouye, A World War II veteran, filed legislation to change the observance of Memorial Day back to May 30th. Others continue working to restore the traditional date to honor our war dead.

Today, take a moment out of your shopping, barbecuing and sports-watching to pause and honor all the people who died for our country. Today is their day, let us not forget them.us-military-cemetery-normandy-france-2

So Finished


It’s over. I’m done. I said I’d never do it again, but I did and now I’ve finished it.

I went back to school for my masters in education. I’m glad I did, but I have zero interest in going further. I’m never doing this again. I meant it when I said it before, but now I really, really mean it.

I went one night per week for two years. That one night was a very long night – 4:30 to 9:15 and I tried to arrive by 4pm. It made teaching the next day seem super-long because I started the day tired. Couple that with my stupidly long commute and I was a zombie by bedtime.

It was a ton of work and the work got absolutely ridiculous at the end. I’m just trying to catch my breath as I catch up on all the things I deferred while I was finishing my program. Little things like grading student work, home maintenance, spending quality time with my uber-supportive wife.

Was it worth it?

Well, yes but I didn’t really have a choice. I went because I had too – it’s a requirement of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Education.

But, I did get a lot out of it. I learned a lot about teaching and learning. I learned about teaching reading, special ed, and english language learners. I feel like I just scratched the surface for most of the subject matter but, at least I have an idea of what I don’t know and where to go when I need to learn more.

I owe a lot of thank yous to a lot of people. Thanks to my friends and my kids for being so supportive. I appreciate all the encouragement.000004407014_Large

Thank you to the men and women in my cohort at AIC. We were a good group and I hope we stay in touch. I learned as much from you than I did our professors (and in some cases a LOT more).

I am thankful that my current and former schools were supportive of my classwork. They let me leave early to attend class, and use my students as guinea pigs. Thank you to Ed Crowley for taking my crew every Tuesday.

Most importantly, I owe a debt of gratitude to my wife who put up with my stressed-out face, early bed times and long hours locked in my office doing papers, projects, sample lessons and a seemingly unending list of other homeworkie things.

Thank you all – I could not have done it alone.

Today is my graduation day. Time to celebrate

Flip the tassel, I’m done!

Well, to be accurate the International Astronomical Union (IAU) needs your help, but it’s about Pluto.

This is a great way people can get involved in planetary science without an advance degree, powerful telescope or even leaving the comfort of their homes: Help the IAU put together a list of potential names for features on Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

Why now?

This summer, the New Horizons spacecraft is going to fly past these two mysterious celestial objects. The IAU wants a ready list of names for the craters, plains, mountains, valleys, rifts and whatever else we see on Pluto and Charon.

The Hubble Space Telescope – the magical window to the universe that has brought us breath-taking images of galaxies, nebula, star clusters and more – is unable to provide a detailed image of distant Pluto. Pluto is too small, too far away and too dimly lit.

NASA's best image of Pluto taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA’s best image(s) of Pluto taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

That’s where New Horizons comes into play. Launched in 2006, New Horizons has been sailing through space towards a rendezvous with Pluto since before Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status.

After a gravity assist by Jupiter, the spacecraft is zipping along at 9,000 miles per hour. Pluto is a long way from Earth so, even at that rate, it’s taken over ten years to get there.

The spacecraft will pass within 8,000 miles of Pluto and should provide an array of detailed high-resolution images.

The IAU would like your help in developing a list of potential names for the features of Pluto and Charon that are about to be discovered. They have a list of nominees that people can vote on broken down by categories and sub-categories:

History of Exploration
Historic Explorers: those who pioneered the exploration of the land, sea and sky.

Space Missions and Spacecraft: the launch vehicles that have carried our people and our machines into space, and the spacecraft we have used to explore the cosmos.

Scientists and Engineers: Those who have contributed to our understanding of Pluto and the solar system.

Literature of Exploration
Fictional Explorers and Travelers: The characters who have embarked on journeys in the stories we tell.

Fictional Origins and Destinations: The places they have sought and the homes they have left.

Fictional Vessels: The sailing ships, starships, and everything in between that have carried them on their journeys.

Exploration Authors and Artists: Those who have envisioned our explorations of the land, sea and space.

Mythology of the Underworld
Underworlds and Underworld Locales: The deep, dark places of mystery and death, as imagined in all the cultures of the world.

Travelers to the Underworld: The intrepid travelers who have ventured into the underworld and (sometimes) returned.

Underworld Beings: The deities, demons and denizens of the underworld in our stories.

If you’re not fully satisfied with the list of nominations, you can submit your own ideas.

I have already done so – under the category Literature of Exploration: Fictional Explorers and Travelers. I nominated Tom Swift – the central character in a long series of books about science and adventure. I think I read all of them when I was a kid and they helped inspire a life-long love of science.

So, put your thinking cap on and come up with your own ideas – get involved. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll be talking about the Tom Swift mountain range on Pluto.


If you enjoy science, follow me on Twitter @Science_186000


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