bp's science: photosynthesis (v.1)

A few weeks ago, Jess gave a talk in church. He said lots of good things and he even mentioned photosynthesis. Of all the things Jess said, Oliver clung to that word, "photosynthesis." He kept repeating it after the talk was over. Now what a perfect subject for this Tuesday.

Photosynthesis in the easiest terms is when a plant (or bacteria or algae, etc.) uses the sunlight's energy to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into sugar (C6H12O6). Chlorophyll is the molecule in the plant cell that enables plants to turn light into food, e.g., sugar. It's what makes plants green and it's where photosynthesis takes place.

The reaction is all very simple really and it occurs through the actions of the Calvin Cycle (see chart below).

Okay, no, it's not all that simple and it takes a few steps (all of which I was required and I attempted to memorize in molecular biology one semester). I mean, look at the process, the detail, the complexity. It truly is amazing and makes evident that God is in all things. And that's why photosynthesis is appropriate for a church talk and a bp's science post all at the same time!

Want to test a plant's need for carbon dioxide out? Take three plants, rub petroleum jelly on the top of the leaves of plant 1, on the bottom of the leaves of plant 2, and leave plant 3 alone. Water the plant as necessary and watch the plants each day. Plant 1 will suffer, plant 2 will die, and plant 3 will grow fine. Turns out, plants take air in through the underside of their leaves and when they can't get enough air, they can't go through photosynthesis, and they die. I took this experiment from a lovely book I've had quite fun reading and will use for my kidlet(s) when they get older.


Why not?

I've recently had some stuff on my mind, so to combat me thinking about this stuff every free moment I get, I took it upon myself to sign up for a 10K. I must say that having a goal to do something and then getting in the exercise to do it works wonders for me. I like to run and this race was very doable. I came in feeling quite good as Jess and Oliver cheered me into the finish. "Did you see me sprint at the end?" I asked Jess. His answer, "You were sprinting?" Ha! I felt like I was kicking the pavement pretty hard, but apparently I felt a lot cooler than I looked. After some congratulations and discussing how my race went, Jess, as my inspirational coach, told me that I need to get those knees high and start sprinting earlier toward the end. He finished it up by saying, "You should feel pretty tired at the end so you know you've given it your all." I've taken this coaching to heart and will try it out next time. I like talking to Jess about pushing myself harder. I know myself as a bit of a wimp, so I like this kind of talk.

This race was doubly good because it was at a regional airport and there were several planes, helicopters, trucks, and automobiles on display. Oliver was livin' it up. We got to go inside many vehicles. We even had a chance to see a motor cross show that was "off the hizzy!" How's that for some extreme sports talk?

What's more, the race was triply good because it was held very close to our friends' house. We were able to meet up with them, look at the planes, and grab some lunch at an excellent place. This made for a very fun Saturday.

my pre-race face :: Oliver pops his head out of an armored vehicle :: sitting on the fire engine


2 years and counting

We recently celebrated Oliver's 2nd birthday. That's right ladies and gents, this kid is officially two! He's grown lots and lots and loves anything on wheels. He likes to learn new things, explore new places, and he's very keen of any park (especially those with swings). Blueberries are probably his favorite food, and, this year, his horizons have expanded to cake. Last year when he turned one he wasn't having it, but this year, he loved the strawberry, vanilla creme cake. He was also very intrigued by the candles.

Later on he discovered his card because it had a big "2" on it. "It's a 2!" he kept saying. Now we are working on putting up two fingers to show that you are 2. However, he knows that sign as "Peace" so we've got some explaining to do.

And this is how he spent some of his birthday afternoon, playing with his cars. This really is the life for Oliver.

It goes without saying that Oliver is one great kid. On the nights when Jess comes home after Oliver has gone to bed he asks, "What's the cutest thing Oliver did today?" My answer is always something new.


bp's science: how a car engine works (v.1)

Yesterday we went to the playground. There are a lot of good playgrounds around here and Oliver has his favorite thing at each one, whether it be the race car, the bus, or the train (hmm, I see a theme here). While his joy with the pictured toy below is not a favorite, I've always liked it.

And the reason why is because it's a perfect subject for bp's science. You see, it's much like a model of an engine and it shows one how the engine works.

The green and red pieces together make up the pistons.
The blue pieces represent the connecting rods.
The yellow center piece represents the crankshaft.

First, the plastic tube surrounding the piston fills with gasoline (step 1.) as the piston goes down. Then the gasoline is ignited by a spark plug going off (step 2.) and creating a source of heat, which ignites the gasoline causing it to explode (step 3.). This explosion pushes the piston down strongly releasing energy that goes into the connecting rods. The connecting rods change the up and down motion of the pistons into the circular motion that goes into the crankshaft and thereby turns the wheels. The piston then pushes back up to release the exhaust (step4.).

So the action of the piston is down (gas in), up (mixture volume decreased, spark plug goes off), down (mixture explodes), up (exhaust out). So an engine piston action is up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down. That's why you need oil (and need to get it changed every so often). See this video of the toy in action. Many thanks to my science assistant.

And a quick note: keep in mind that engines are usually in a V shape, in a line, or even in a boxer shape. Never are the pistons arranged like a star as seen in the toy. Still, there is such a thing as a rotary engine, but that is a whole other post.

How do you like your cake font?

Growing up, for every birthday, I got a cake from a bakery in my mom & dad's old neighborhood. The same happened for each of my siblings and my parents. We loved these cakes. They were delicious. And they'd always come complete with a message on top in beautiful cursive lettering, "Happy Birthday [insert name here]". After our family got older and people got married and little ones came, we'd celebrate birthdays by months. In March, we have several birthdays (9 right now), and I remember the cake having lots of names on it. In fact, I remember being in awe of the skill of the baker, placing the icing on top of the cake with such lettering precision. It always looked so superb.

Such has been my standard for cake lettering all these years. Imagine my shock and surprise as I saw this at a recent function:

The spacing is bad, the lettering is sub-par, and that spelling is not helping either. So this is what cake lettering has come to and we've learned to accept. Really? I had to laugh.

Needless to say, no one else seemed to be bothered by it and the cake was gone by the time we left the get-together. I guess when the message is written in butter and sugar, you're going to be pleasing most people regardless of how it looks.


Clever Kid

It's sure is fun to hear what a soon-to-be 2 year old comes up with when reading, playing, drawing and the like. Oliver is a clever kid, and I can't help but make note of the things he says these days, as they are awesome. The following are some comments he's made in the last month or so while reading books.

For this photo Oliver said, "Glasses on." I like that observation.

And for this one he exclaimed, "Remember to chew!"

While reading Drummer Hoff Fired It Off, a book from my childhood, Oliver really liked the line "Captain Bammer brought the Rammer" (see page from book in photo). He then proceeded to go into the bathroom and grab the toilet cleaner calling it a rammer. Cool relationship made there, eh? Let's just keep that "rammer" in the bathroom.

And this last photo is to share with you why I'm not so clever. For days I thought this was a photo of humpback whales looking up to the sky. Just recently I figured out it was a picture of birds putting their heads into water. Yep.


Did someone say update?

Okay, it's Tuesday, but I thought it was Monday, so instead of bp's science, here's an update. I think my days are kind of confused here because we just got back from a vacation, a wonderful vacation full of good times and seeing people we rarely see . . . family. When I say rarely, try every 6 months, if that, so it's always good to get together.

We went to visit Jess' parents place. His dad was graduating with his PhD after retiring from his first career. Way to go! And what an accomplishment. We had a wonderful time watching as he walked into the stadium, was hooded, and received his diploma.

Jess and Oliver wait for the graduates to get seated

It's official with the diploma in hand (or really in the mail)

The mini Theodore fam at the dinner celebration afterwards, with an excellent "I love Barbeque" face from Jess

A day at the kids' old elementary school was complete with swing jumping competitions

Oliver with Grandma all nice and toasty

Oliver loved nothing more than to be with his Grandma + Grandpa and his aunts + uncles. Just yesterday after his nap he indicated that he wanted to go to Grandpa and Grandma's house and proceeded to bring his shoes to me to put them on. Needless to say, there was some explaining to him about how it takes around 6 hours to get to their house (and around 24 if you miss your first flight - which we did and which is another story).

And with that, I end by saying that it really was a great time. We also got to eat at the University Creamery, use the XBox Kinect (I felt like I was living in 2050 or something), have great conversations, and enjoyed some pre-birthday cupcakes which Oliver loved. I wish this kind of thing could happen more often.

See more of the fun at my sister-in-law's blog.


bp's science: poison ivy (v.1)

Oliver and I just got back from a long walk. It was a good time, complete with a fall in some mud and some flower picking. I also thought I spotted some poison ivy. I can't tell you how many times I've been outside on a hike or a walk and thought, "Hmm, that plant has three leaves, it may be poison ivy." It just so happens that what I thought was poison ivy was not. I think I may just be over-aware. Any plant that is green and has three points is always under scrutiny. So why don't we clear up the confusion here with a photo of poison ivy in all it's three-leaved glory.

And by the way, the redder leaves are newer leaves. I found this photo at a website entirely devoted to the plant. See here for more info.


Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl

As a big fan of Roald Dahl (his book Matilda worked it's magic and made me like reading when I was a youngen), I was excited when Jess told me he had heard about a new biography about the author. I quickly put the book on hold at the library (I was the 75th person in the queue!). When it came my turn to check it out, I eagerly opened it as soon as I got some time.

My first reaction was one of surprise. Roald was no perfect chap, not in the least, and it kind of bothered me. He was definitely a character. He liked gambling and getting people riled up, he was a womanizer and very quick to judge. But he was great with children and loved his family, he was very charitable and dedicated to his craft. And he sure knew how to write superb kids' books. He was the master of the edit, rewrite, rework, and edit of all his writing. He said the key to writing a successful children's book, in part, was to make it funny and make it move fast (no long descriptions). His recipe worked for me and reading this biography made me want to read more of his stuff. Would I have wanted to hang out with Dahl? Sure, that is, if he was in a good mood, I knew that he liked me, and he didn't feel like getting into a debate.

One passage that I liked and wrote down the minute I read it was one dealing with just living your life and getting on with it, regardless of the circumstances (Dahl had to deal with the death of a child, the near death of another, the stroke of his wife, and his step-daughter passing away unexpectedly). Emphasis is my own.

Superstition is something that one grows out of. You try avoiding all the cracks in the pavement or you touch all the posts in the fence. But then you find out later that it doesn’t help. You find out that it’s not going to make a bit of difference if you step on the cracks or not. I think I just realized subconsciously that if you start thinking about bad luck, you’re going to weaken. The great thing is to keep going, whatever happens.


Sunglasses + a watch

I was getting the "that last post was too negative" vibe, so I've got to post something that is definitely better.

I like to call this photo "triclops".


Road Criticism

Jess and I always seem to complain about all of the other drivers out there who "don't know how to drive." We laugh at our intensity and our hypocrisy sometimes.

"That guy cannot drive."

"I can't believe he just braked to exit!"

"Why didn't he signal?"

Sometimes it gets a little over the top and we have both admitted as much, but we still do it, and it seems that once one of us gets going the other only seems to fuel the fire. I guess I didn't realize how much we did this until my sister came to visit and took the 25 minutes ride with us to church. Weeks after her visit, I was talking to her about our car banter and she said it was indeed apparent on our ride to church that day. I was a little embarrassed. My embarrassment was furthered one afternoon as I drove Oliver downtown. A car pulled in front of me and I said, "Seriously?!" It was quickly repeated by Oliver and now it's a common word.

With that understanding, I am going to complain a bit about some drivers here. Is this a little excessive? Sure. And I should probably just stop here, but in true Ashley and Jess car banter fashion, I'll continue. Here are the things that just don't make sense to me when driving:

1. Braking around traffic lights when the light is green.
2. Slowing down to 20 mph when there is a speed camera in a 35 mph zone.
3. Stopping on an on-ramp.
4. Driving under the speed limit in the left lane.

Okay, that's enough. Does this kind of stuff bother you when driving or am I the only one here? If I get zero comments, I get the point.


bp's science: antihistamines (v.1)

Today we went to the park. And I sneezed a bit. I never had allergies growing up, but since moving here, I have experienced the runny nose and sinus pressure that comes with allergies. It really isn't bad, but it's there.

So with that, I make a very simple bp's science post today. What are antihistamines and what do they do? To understand antihistamines, we must talk histamines. Histamines are proteins that activate certain activities in the body. Some of these activities include brain function, stomach acid release, and immune response. The last one is what causes allergies. When an allergen enters the nose, histamines are released to activate the increase of vascular permeability causing a runny nose and sneezing. Those histamines think that pollen is coming to destroy your health so it responds as such. An antihistamine (like Claritin or Allegra) works by attaching to histamine receptors and thereby blocking the histamines from ever activating anything.

Think of this: It's a hot summer day and histamine is represented by a wool hat. Your head is a histamine receptor. If you were to put on this wool hat, your head would get all hot and sweaty (which would start to run down your forehead, much like mucus starts to run out of your nose - gross, eh?). Now an antihistamine is represented by a wide brimmed sun hat. Instead of putting on the wool hat, let's say you put on the sun hat so your head is cool and well ventilated. Now once you put on that sun hat, you can't get the wool hat on (or it won't fit on) and thus your head does not get hot and really sweaty (in other words, you don't have the allergic reaction). Does that make sense? Hope so.

photo from knitting my first hat (2010), which was ironically too big for Oliver and too small for me -haha


Finishing up April

Our April was filled with a lot of good things. One of which was the Saturday before Easter. Oliver hunted for plastic eggs inside our apartment. He enjoyed it and was very fond of the candy (unfortunately now he thinks all eggs are filled with "cahndy" as he calls it).

enjoying the spoils before finding all of the eggs :: counting the eggs

Then we headed outside because the rain from the morning had stopped. It was a glorious day. We tossed around a soccer and tennis ball, watched planes fly overhead, threw sticks in the river, and looked at flowers. Fortunately, the rain blew all of the allergens out of the air, so it was a sneeze-free trip.

hilarious dandelion blowing :: very close airplanes

It always seems like time speeds up around this time of year and before I blink, it's August. I'm glad I get to enjoy the time with these two. Here's to May!