Laralee and I just got back from our second-grade science enrichment class. We finished our unit on the solar system with an activity where we paced off a scale-model solar system (with appropriately scaled planets too), and then had a presentation via laptop and projector where I ran Celestia and took the kids whizzing around the planets.

It was a blast, because the kids are so excited about this stuff. They kept oohing and ahhing as we talked about things like Quaoar and Sedna, how far Pluto really is from Earth, and even the volcanoes and sulfur lakes on Jupiter’s moon Io. But the real fun was with Celestia as we zoomed over to Saturn and watched a hundred moons whiz around it in one-million-times normal time, or rode Halley’s comet as it whipped around the sun every 76 years. The kids were literally yelling about how cool it was, and one of them said he was getting sick to his stomach on the Halley’s comet ride.

Not only do I enjoy spouting all of my crazy scientific knowledge, but it’s such fun to see a group of second-graders who are enthralled and excited about it.

They’ll really like it when we mess with lasers. And chemical reactions. And rocket propulsion. I can’t wait.


Because it’s another unbelievably gorgeous day, I decided to get up from my desk and go biking for a while.

I just bought some new tires for my bike a few days ago, because I keep getting flats, and these puppies are sweet. They’re Kevlar-lined and tough as steel, so pesky thorns don’t even get through them. And a good thing, too: after today’s ride I picked goat’s heads out of the tire. There were forty-one of them stuck in it. Wow.


Last Friday Laralee and I taught our first “enrichment” class of the school year. It’s nine second-graders who are considered gifted, so they get to skip an hour of reading time and come to a class we teach. Although there’s a recommended curriculum for the class, most of the topics are pretty dull. So we make up our own lessons, which is not only more fun for us (although more work) but also seems to excite the kids.

So we started with the solar system. We talked about the planets and what’s interesting about them (Venus is the hottest! Neptune has winds that blow at 1,300 mph! Uranus is flipped on its side!). The kids were so excited to learn that stuff that we’re going to do a second class this week.

I’m playing around with some software called Celestia, which I’m hoping I can figure out and get running on my laptop so we can take a “tour” of the solar system. The graphics in the program are amazing:

In addition to being cool to watch, you can move in three dimensions, through time, across space, and watch the planets spin and orbit and moons whiz around them. Awesome stuff.


The kids are upstairs sending e-mail messages to one another. Alex pointed out “Of course we could just walk into the other room and say it, but there’s something fun about doing it in e-mail.”

I remember my first exposure to e-mail, back in 1990. I heard someone mention there was a way to communicate with people anywhere in the world instantly and for free. Imagine! I could write to a pen pal in Germany (hey, I’d just finished three years of German in high school) without licking a stamp. It was a pretty new medium back then– few people actually had e-mail addresses, and you had to fill out a ton of paperwork at the university to get one– but it sure seemed cool.

Now it’s a key part of modern communication, and something most of us take very much for granted. So it’s fun (and a little funny) to watch the kids suddenly realize what it can do.