Daily Archives: December 8, 2012

Sciency Christmas Gifts for the Whole Family

I’d like to call a truce on the War on Christmas. The true meaning of this holiday is, of course, the presents, and pursuant to that I have some suggestions for you in case you are stuck.

Dr Who Presents

The Doctor Who TARDIS Cookie Jar is a must have because is is a Dr. Who Thing, it is a TARDIS and it is for holding Cookies.

This particular cookie jar has light and sound effects. And, if you run out of cookies it is relatively easy for you and your companion to go back in time and get more.

This TARDIS does not come with cookies.

TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space.

Speaking of TARDIS, The Amazing Disappearing TARDIS Mug is a perennial present.

If you gave this to someone last year, consider giving it again. Chances are, by now, someone put theirs in the dish washer and melted off the magic coating that makes the TARDIS disappear into an alternative Time and Space Dimension when hot beverage is poured into it.

No home is complete without a Dalek. I recommend a Dalek alarm clock.

The Underground Toys Doctor Who Dalek Projector Alarm Clock is a particularly fancy model. It projects the time on the ceiling. The alarm itself is, as you would expect, unique. The clock shouts “Exterminate … Exterminate….”

Just for fun you might consider throwing in a set of Dalek Blue Prints TV Poster.

Finally, The Tenth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver is a must have for any Dr. Who fan. From the Manufacturer:

Let the Doctor help you get all of your home and office repairs done with this Electronic Sonic Screwdriver! The Doctor’s handy-dandy sonic screwdriver is the epitome of multifunctional gizmos. Whether it’s driving a screw, picking a lock, or disabling an opponent, this amazing implement seems to exhibit the precise capability required by its owner at the time. Now this marvelous gadget can be yours! The sonic screwdriver measures 8-inches tall x 1-inch wide. This Doctor Who Electronic Sonic Screwdriver Replica features button-activated light and sound effects. It includes a hidden ultraviolet pen and UV light that reveals your secret writing, as well as a spare standard ink nib. Look who’s Doctor Who now! Requires 3x “AG13” button-cell batteries, included. The sonic screwdriver is a fictional tool in the British sci-fi television series Doctor Who. Its most common function is to operate virtually any lock, mechanical or electronic, and thus open doors for escape or exploration. It has also been used for repairing equipment, as an offensive weapon, and occasionally even to drive screws. Like the TARDIS, it has become one of the icons of the program and is closely associated with the Doctor.

Space Science Presents

There are myriad space science presents including devices to project stars on your ceiling, and of course, telescopes and such.

Here I just want to point out two interesting choices. First is The Magic School Bus: The Secrets of Space kit.

Starring Ms. Frizzle, kids get to make a night-vision flashlight, design a solar system mobile, a constellation box, and xonstellation cards. This is mostly for younger kids, maybe 3rd through 6th grade.

For older kids and the whole family, there is Monopoly Night Sky:

Can’t really go wrong with that. Julia would probably like one of those.

Life Science Presents

For someone who has recently acquired (or is just getting) a microsocpe, consider something like the AmScope 100 Piece Assorted Specimen Collection for Home School Students, Basic Biology Science Glass Prepared Microscope Slides (Set E). This incudes animal and plant tissues, insect parts, etc. all prepared in a cool wooden box. Sure, it is good to make your own slides, but it is also nice to have a set of slides with diverse objects so you know what a nice set of slides looks like. This particular one is normally about $250 but is on sale for way less as I write this.

I’ve been looking at USB digital microcopes such as the Learning Resources Twist Flexible Digital Microscope. They seem to vary a lot in terms of features but there are several models of digital USB scopes that would be great. You should look through a variety and find one that seems to be made to do what you were thinking you would do with it and then check the reviews to see if the particular one you are looking at is bogus, great, or somewhere in between.

Cameras make the best presents

Just so you know, THIS, or a similar model, is the camera you should get your loved one if you really truly love them. I’ve not seen THIS ONE in action but it looks really cool and is orange. Both have really nice lenses.

True Geek Presents

If you know someone who messes around with their Linux or even Windows computer a lot, get them a 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive (SSD) along with a cheap conversion kit so they can put the new drive in either their laptop or desktop.

If you know someone who makes podcasts and is currently using a cheap mic like the one that came built into their computer, get them a Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Microphone (Cardioid) (highly recommended by many) or even the Platinum Edition of the same mic.

Ultimate Expensive Gift for the Apple Lover

Do you know someone who has an iPod Touch and really likes it, but does not have an iPad? Consider the Apple Ipad Min.

Sean Carroll, Marie-Claire Shanahan, and the Higgs

I’m pretty sure that for a long time people who were supposed to know what they were talking about were explaining the Higgs Boson wrong. This led other people to think of it the wrong way as well. I’m not even speaking here of the whole “god particle” thing. That’s a whole nuther, equally annoying, issue. But eventually, the real story started to get around and I think it is possible to get a reasonable idea of what the thing is without being a theoretical physicist or particle expert.

Let me try. Here’s my current version of the Higgs Boson. There seems to be three things to know about it:

1) It is a continuous field that gives rise to a particle under certain circumstances. Sort of like how air is continuous (within our atmosphere) and occasionally gives rise to a snowflake (screaming rants from physics grad student blogerinos about how horrid the snowflake metaphor is in 3…2…1…0…)

2) One of the things the Higgs does is to impart the property of mass to certain, but by no means all, other particles. That these particles having mass, in turn, causes them to interact with other particles the way they do. Ultimately, this means that without the Higgs particle-field thingie, there would be no atoms, or at least, no atoms other than Helium, and I’m not so sure about Helium.

3) The Higgs Boson appears to exist based on this year’s science achievement.

Sean Carroll is two people, a physicist and a biologist. One of them, the Physicist (Sean M. Carroll), is two people: An actual physicist and an excellent science communicator. Or, should I rephrase: The ability to communicate effectively about science gives scientists the property of mass. And by mass, I mean relevance. Sean Carroll is massive.

Marie-Claire Shanahan is also, I’m sure, two or three people at least, and is an outstanding communicator in her own right. As a science education expert, Marie-Claire occasionally subs for Desiree Schell on Skeptically Speaking, and this Sunday, tomorrow, Marie-Claire will interview Sean Carroll about the Higgs Boson.

This, dear reader, is your best chance to understand what the heck the Higgs Boson really is, other than reading Sean’s new book, The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World.

I am ensaddeded that I will not be home tomorrow evening at the time of the show and thus can’t listen to the live-before-an-Internet Audience production and participate in the chat room, but you can. I’ll catch the podcast when it comes out later in the week.

Have a massive day.

Lego Adventure

The LEGO Adventure Book, Vol. 1: Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs & More! by Megan Rothrock is primarily for people who have been messing around with LEG for, say, less than 10 years or so, especially those who are new at it and seek both inspiration and guidance in such daunting tasks as making a scale two engine turboprop airplane or an entire Lego town.

The book guides the reader step by step through 25 exemplar models, each of which is fairly elaborate, and demonstrated with more basic information close to 200 other models to illustrate variation. Despite the name of the book and a fairly high degree of silliness in some parts (the Lego figures have a few things to say) the 200 page volume actually has a lot of information in it. The copy I have is hard cover and has thick glossy paper which means that when I open it to a certain page it stays open at that page. That may seem like a small thing but for a guide book for something you need both hands to do, that is a key feature.

To give you an idea of what the book covers, I’ve copied the table of contents:

  • Chapter 1: Building the Idea Lab
  • Chapter 2: A LEGO Town
  • Chapter 3: Hot Rods and Cool Rides
  • Chapter 4: From Below!
  • Chapter 5: The Sky’s the Limit
  • Chapter 6: The Turtle Factory
  • Chapter 7: Starfighters
  • Chapter 8: Mighty Mecha
  • Chapter 9: Medieval Village
  • Chapter 10: Triassic Park
  • Chapter 11: Making New Friends
  • Chapter 12: Full Steam Ahead
  • Chapter 13: Steampunk
  • Chapter 14: A LEGO Legend

The author, Megan Rothrock, was a set designer for Lego, and her displays have been see at ComicCon and other places. Rumors that she is a member of The Cult of LEGO are unfounded. Well, probably not.