Monday, April 27, 2015

The Big Trip: India

We have started up our Big Trip again!

When we left you last, we were in Mongolia.  The Zoomlians have been kidding me that we haven't moved on because I love Mongolia.  In reality. life was too crazy- fortunately, in an imaginary trip, you can easily take a break!

So we are visiting northern India, mostly Delhi and Agra.  We've been eating lots of Indian food!  And, of course, touring the Taj Mahal. Hence last week's Poem of the Week.

Did you know that there was a persistent legend that Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal) had built a second Taj Mahal in black stone for his own grave?

He is buried in the actual Taj Mahal (by the son who overthrew and imprisoned him the last years of his life), but he clearly did not intend to be buried there.  His grave (and cenotaph) are the only things in the entire Taj Mahal complex which deviate from it's perfectly symmetrical design.  By "perfectly symmetrical" I mean every last leaf and flower on every wall are mirrored on the opposite wall.

Perfectionist doesn't begin to cover it!

Archeologists have recently uncovered the "Black Taj Mahal!"  But it's not a building.  It's an octagonal reflecting pool (built of  black marble) in the ruined gardens across the river from the actual Taj Mahal.  These were the gardens which Shah Jahan used to visit his wife's grave, and he could see both the white splendor of the actual building and it's ghostly dark reflection.

But what did Shah Jahan intend for his own grave?  We don't know - he never designed or built another tomb. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Poem of the Week

Pied Beauty

By Gerard Manley Hopkins
 Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.
Ht: Poetry Foundation 
This is a favorite that I always think of in spring when I see the sun through the new leaves!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Physics for Kids: Electricity

I've decided to do a small low stress Physics Club.   Once or twice a week (depending on how much prep time I have), we dip into Mom's Magic Box of Physics (NO PEEKING!).

Inside the box we find a variety of experiments grouped around a theme.  Really, I am shamelessly following my favorite experiments from Janice Van Cleave's Physics for Every Kid.

 So this week we started with electricity (I don't think we need to do laws of motion again!).

We actually started with watching the Bill Nye episode on electricity, so we got a good discussion of the basics. 

Electricity is a moving current of electrons.  What will it move through and why?

We started with a D battery and a variety of conductors and insulators.  You need to warn the kids, if it makes a circuit, the metal will get quite warm, quite quickly, so be prepared to drop it!

Did you notice that the shiny things tend to be conductors?  They shine for the same reason they conduct electricity: lots of loose electrons!

The conductors get warm because  they are imperfect: they are offering resistance to the electrons, so some of the electrons' motion is being converted by friction into heat.

If you have electric heat (or an electric stove or toaster!) that's how it works.

We also did quite a bit with static electricity because it's easy to see exactly what you are doing (rubbing electrons off of your hair) and because it's really hard to build enough of a charge to electrocute anyone!

 We hung two balloons from thread in a doorway.

At first, the uncharged balloons hang loose.

Rub one balloon on a kid's head and the balloons stick together (the negative charge will be attracted to the neutral because it's more positive - opposites attract).

Rub the other balloon on a kid's head and the balloons spring apart because they are both negatively charged (likes repel).

And this negative charge will attract/be attracted to all sorts of things!

Tissue paper, glitter, lint, little paper tents in plastic cups, water, the wall, your head...

It's fun to try different things!

The most fun experiment was one where I couldn't take a picture, but if you only do one experiment do this one: go into a dark room with a balloon and a florescent light bulb.  Rub the balloon on someone's hair and bring it close to the light bulb.

That's why florescent bulbs take so much less energy to run!

The grand finale was our home made electroscope:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

More From NJ

More Aquarium

 I had forgotten that Mxyl took his camera to the aquarium!

His pictures capture a different view - I had forgotten how much time we spent in the Australia exhibit.

Or that we had seen their bats moving around a little.
 His pictures also tend toward the more artistic in both the classical (great composition on the turtle picture!) and the experimental sense (mirrored halls).

With some pictures, I'm not sure where or how he even took them! 

But they are very cool!

This is an actual picture without Photoshop.
 He also tends to get pictures that I don't think to take, but tell more of the story: here we are walking back to the van.  It's a beautiful day, the kids are still full of high spirits, so we stopped off at a park to play.

And I also forgot to post this video I took of the archer fish :

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Merry Christmas! We had a wonderful day at the aquarium!

Our membership (which we just activated now) was a Christmas present from doting Grammy and devoted blog reader, Grammy Ann.  Thanks, Grammy!

I think I have been coming to this aquarium for about twenty years, and it just keeps getting better and better!

Plus it has been interesting to visit with kids of different ages.

These kids used to fall asleep in the backpack here when they were babies.

And this Black Tip Reef Shark exhibit used to hold a single Beluga whale before they built the Mammal Pavilion.  I think Choclo prefers the sharks!

I don't know what ever happened to the whale, but with the "new" (15 year old now?) pavilion, they got around 10-12 dolphins.

Even though they aren't doing "shows," the dolphins are still more fun to watch than the whale!

The big new exhibit this time was an aquarium "petting zoo!"

We got to touch rays and skates.

And horseshoe crabs (more closely related to spiders than crabs) and conchs.

I discovered that the conch did not face the direction I thought they did.  Their heads are closer to the narrow end instead of the thick end and they move what I think of as sideways.

 And then we got to pet the jellyfish.

I am not making that up.

Personally, I thought a jellyfish petting zoo would rank up there with such classic failures as the scorpion and poison dart frog petting zoos. Very educational, but not very fun.

But they must have thought of that, so they were using harmless moon jellies.
 For extra bonus cool, they were cleaning the shark tank!

Not the big tank with the small sharks, the small(er) tank with the big sharks!

The tank itself is shaped like a racetrack, and they pen the sharks in half of it while the other half is being cleaned.  One great side effect is that you can see a huge number of very large sharks in a fairly small space.  There are five sharks in that picture!

Choclo was in raptures!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Marching Through Time Part 2

We also spent some time (1770s) with the Scottish encampment.

Here we learned many amazing things about their time and place.

Firstly, they were from the time and place where the Second Doctor picked up Jamie, one of my favorite companions.

Secondly, they predate clan tartans.  The Emperor happened to ask, and it turns out clan tartans date from 1820.  Not the 1820s, 1820.

The concept that a clan wore a particular tartan was a fiction dreamed up by an English travel writer, and popularized by Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.  It settled in the English mind so firmly that when the King visited in Scottland in 1820, he asked to meet all the clan chiefs "wearing their clan tartans."

Well... wearing tartans at all was a Highland thing, but at least they could look in their closets. The Lowland chiefs had to look through weaver pattern books and pick something out!  In the case of the fellow behind Choclo, his clan's tartan was chosen by the chief's wife, who chose a blue that matched her eyes.

That doesn't mean a clan tartan isn't a real thing now, 235 years later!  In fact, I think it has helped many emigrating Scots hold on to their Scottish culture (disclosure, my dear MIL was from the Clan McKnight).

We did see a few later encampments, but the younger Zoomlians were pretty well hot and tired by the time we hit anything like modern times.

I think these guys were British from the 1850s.  They were brave enough to let Choclo hold the sword but not brave enough to let him draw it, which explains his look of consternation.

And, of course, it wouldn't be a successful event without dancing!

Here we have Klenda and Leena:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Marching Through Time Part 1

This past weekend we had a blast Marching Through Time!

We spent quite a bit of time in 800 with Charlemagne's encampment.  This may have been because they let Choclo and Oob whack at each other with wooden swords.

But we also enjoyed their (heavy) chain mail, and their small throwing axes (franciscas, from which we get Franks, from which we get France).

Alas, we did not get to throw any axes, but we did get to mess around with this light cavalry mace.

And they were encamped next to these Romans.

I grant you, he looks more like a Viking, but that's because he is a Viking being paid to fight for the Romans... of the Eastern Empire, long after the Western Empire (Rome itself) fell.

Yes, it's Byzantine.
 Moving on to the War of the Roses...

We met a brave knight.  He was so brave, he let us try on bits of his armor while he himself was getting fully suited up.

Note the anachronistic soldiers from the 1800s in the background.  One of the fun things about this encampment is watching various eras interact.
 Here he is all suited up and ready for action!

A very fun thing this time around was the presence of some friends.  The dad in this family was a Swiss Guard, which makes him the only person I have met who has professional experience wearing plate armor. And Halberds!  It was fascinating to hear him discussing things with the reenactors.

One thing I learned: metal armor always feels either too hot or too cold.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Poem of the Week

Shah Jehan

You knew, Shah Jehan, life and youth, wealth and glory, they all drift away in the current of time. You strove, therefore, to perpetuate only the sorrow of your heart...Let the splendor of diamond, pearl, and ruby vanish like the magic shimmer of the rainbow. Only let this one tear-drop, this Tajmahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever.

O King, you are no more. Your empire has vanished like a dream, your throne lies shattered...your minstrels sing no more, your musicians no longer mingle their strains with the murmuring Jamuna...Despite all this, the courier of your love, untarnished by time, unwearied, unmoved by the rise and fall of empires, unconcerned with the ebb and flow of life and death, carries the ageless message of your love from age to age: ‘Never shall I forget you, beloved, never.’

- By Rabindranath Tagore (translated by Kshitish Roy) from One Hundred and One Poems by Rabindranath Tagore (pp. 95-96).

HT: Sheridan Libraries