Saturday, June 11, 2011

How I Love My Kindle? Let Me Count the Ways!

I received a Kindle for Valentine's day this year.  Michael had noticed that I was without a fiction book
during my student teaching.  It was difficult to find the time to get to the library.  I was extremely grateful when he presented me with the 3G Kindle.

My very first download was Martha Grimes, Fadeaway Girl.  I was thrilled with the idea not having to visit the library or book store.  Even better was the concept that I could download a sample of the book before purchasing it.

As with any new technology, it a little time for me to get used to using it.  The e-book comes with a slim manual that is helpful for those that may not be technologically inclined.  My biggest mental block with using the Kindle was determining the difference between the "menu" and "home" buttons.

The "home" button is like your startup webpage with an internet browser.  It lists all the content found on your Kindle.  The Kindle lists your newest download to the oldest.  It also indexes any applications that you have purchased for your Kindle.  There are calendars, games and active content available at the Kindle store.  I purchased Scrabble for my Kindle since I can play against the computer and not have to wait for Mike to join me in a game.

The "menu" button changes accordingly to where you are located within your Kindle.  If you are viewing your homepage, the menu will transport you to the Kindle Store or assist you in managing the content on your e-book.  Likewise, if you are within a book or game, the menu button will help you navigate within that content or application.

I have found the Kindle to be an enhancement to my reading life.  I consume three to four books a week, so I enjoy the accessibility to an e-book.  In addition, I have no problem viewing an electronic book.  The Kindle has E Ink Pearl that doesn't strain your eyes and the screen minimizes any glare.   Routinely I have brought my Kindle down to the pool and read in full sun.

Granted there are some drawbacks to the e-book.  Amazon's website claims that you can read your Kindle for one hour a day with the battery lasting one month.  I haven't had that same experience.  It seems that my Kindle needs to be plugged in to recharge about once a week.  I also have had rebooting issues the the e-book.

After laying out the downsides, I still love my Kindle.  Michael recently bought himself an iPad and now routines reads from it.  I took his iPad for a test drive and still  prefer reading from the Kindle.  I believe there is less strain on the eyes with the Kindle and want to avoid using reading glasses for as long as I can.  I need reading glasses for the computer but don't need them for reading books yet.

An extra benefit with the Kindle is using e-books to get children to read more.  Yes it is a sly way to spur children to read but I am having success with Timmy.  Since we are now enjoying summer break, I ask the kids to read in the morning before we go anywhere.  I decided to download a book for Tim on the Kindle.  He enjoyed the whole process:  shopping for a book, transfer samples of books and purchasing an e-book from the Kindle Store.

We ended up buying Stink: Solar System Superhero by Megan McDonald.  Tim loved being able to "wake" the Kindle to read the book.  There is a slide button located at the bottom of the e-book to power up the Kindle.  He also was fascinated with "turning" the pages.  The Kindle has page-turning buttons that are located on either side of the e-book.  Moreover, Tim enjoyed looking at the pictures with the e-book.  The Kindle does a great job displaying any drawings in grayscale.  If the Kindle promotes more summer reading with Tim, I will gladly let him choose another book.

Overall, I am fond of my Kindle considering any imperfections.  Furthermore, I will have even more deep affection with the e-book reader once Amazon and the library work out the kinks with "borrowing" e-books. Currently, Overdrive (my local library's e-book software) is only compatible with PCs, Apple, Androids and Blackberry devices.  Once Overdrive is compatible with Kindle, I will be inseparable with my e-book reader.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Finding Digital Fitness

My Mother's Day present that I received this year was a Fitbit.  You might ask yourself why I would receive such a device for being a good mother.  Well, Michael knows my fascination with fitness gadgets and this was on my wishlist since last year.  There were some technological hold ups with this new tool and I had told him to wait to buy it.

Now that the company worked the knots out of their supply chain and made it easier to obtain, I was ready to try this new gizmo.  I gave Michael subtle hints that it was time to buy one for me.   He accommodated me this Mother's Day.

Fitbit is a wireless pedometer and sleep tracker.  It has a base station that connects with your Mac or PC and will upload data from your device when it is within fifteen feet from the base.  It also has an online community with a food and activity website.

It took some time at first, getting used to the Fitbit.  I had a Omron digital pocket pedometer which was durable.  It became my watch because of its digital clock and would let me know how active I was.   However, the pedometer kept falling out of my pocket while sitting down and was bulky to wear.  The Omron also needed about fifteen minutes of sustained walking in order to record aerobic activity.  The other hassle was its seven day memory.  There was no way to keep track of a month long history of my physical movement.

The Fitbit would address all of my misgivings about the Omron pedometer.  When I first removed it from its box, I was amazed at how slim the device was: about the size of my thumb.  Likewise, it was not cumbersome and fit nicely on the waistband of my track pants.  I was delighted already.

The pedometer has a slim button that you press to read your steps, mileage and calories burned.  What I didn't realize was that if you held down the button for two seconds, you could record the distance for a specific activity like mowing my lawn (sorry, I haven't measured that yet).  In addition, it took me more than one night to figure out how to use the sleep tracker function for the Fitbit.

You are supplied a wristband that the Fitbit tucks into nicely.  The company suggests that the wearer place it on their non dominant hand (maybe because of late night nose scratches?).  Then the wearer holds down the button on the Fitbit for two seconds to view the words, "start."  The Fitbit supposedly figures out how long it takes the wearer to fall asleep.  It also monitors how often you wake up during the night.  According to the Fitbit, last night I fell asleep in 6 minutes, slept for 7 hours and 39 minutes and only woke up once.  It rated my sleep as 100% efficient.  Whoo hoo!

What I like about the Fitbit is that the device is keeping me honest.  It shows me how active I am.  My first week of using the pedometer, I took a total of 84,376 steps which works out to an average of 12,054 steps a day.  It calculated that I burned 15,708 calories for that week with a daily average of 2,244 cals.  I found all this out with a weekly newsletter that the company emailed  me.  I liked the convenience of having this information at my fingertips.  It prompts me to adjust my eating according to my activity level.

The one drawback I would say is the Fitbit's nutritional database website.  Fitday's website has a better selection of foods to enter for your food journal.  It seems a lot of Fitbit's food entries are from fast food which I don't eat on a daily basis.

Another limitation for the Fitbit is the lack of a timepiece.  My old Omron doubled as my watch.  Once again I am watchless and have to find a clock to tell me what time it is.

Other than that, I feel that the Fitbit is another gadget that I can't live without now.  It surpasses the plain-vanilla digital pedometers.  It helps me to keep a pulse on my activity and diet.  Especially at the end of a busy day, I get to stare at my Fitbit data and pour over the details of my food, activity or sleep journal.  Better than Facebook!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

How I Survived Student Teaching

Yes, I am back.  It took me two weeks of recovery from overloading my brain cells with science and teaching before I could think of posting with my blog.  Thank you, readers for your patience.  I knew that I would be walloped by teaching six science classes for three and a half months.  Thank you especially to my family for their assistance in getting me through what I consider the whirlwind of educational training, clinical practice.

Imagine, if you can (you non-science, non-educators) being subjected to an occupation that you've only read or heard about in a school setting.  Then you are told that you must perform the job for the next four months.  Unfortunately, you are not told the secret codes (students will text while looking down in their lap) or helpful hints (double check your PowerPoints for grammatical mistakes before posting them on the web) that would make student teaching all the more helpful.  In this clinical practice you are expected to command 120 students to learn, ask questions and be respectful of each other.  Ideally the clinical practice has good intentions, but I would add a few improvements to the experience.

Make sure that you eat, sleep and exercise well.!  None of those simple actions were mentioned in any of my orientation sessions.  I found that being under extreme stress, they were the three activities that kept me going.

Being on your feet for five hours straight (and I mean without sitting down once!) requires a lot of energy.  I made sure every morning that I loaded up on proteins like peanut butter, yogurt and Nutella.  I also took with me to school, nutritious foods like salads, oranges and chicken.  I discovered that I required a refueling that was low on carbs and high on protein with vegetables.

Now I wasn't perfect in my eating and I did depend on caffeine three times a day.  It's hard to be animated and excited at all hours of the day.  The extra caffeine in the form of diet soda and coffee assisted me in completing my educational to-do-list.

Sleep was essential for student teaching.  I found that if I had a ragged night, my teaching was tattered the following morning.  My challenge was getting up at 4:30 in the morning in order to be at school in time.  However, I made sure I was in bed by 9:30 each night.  Sometimes I was asleep earlier if I had a particularly problematic day.  I would try to catch up on my sleep over the weekends.  The extra hour or two that I snagged on Saturday and Sunday helped me to recharge and rest for the next week.

Exercise was nonnegotiable for my clinical practice.  The stress that I underwent was high and I could not envision being sedentary through it.  My EA Sports Active 2 got me through many a demanding day. My forty-five minutes a day sweating in the basement supplied me with enough stamina to withstand serving a detention or two.  Adolescents have an endless cache of exuberance, forty year olds do not.  Exercise was my amulet against fatigue and poor spirits.

Overall, I know I flourished and established some wonderful connections with my students and cooperating teachers.  My clinical practice was an extraordinary experience that I would not have been able to complete without:  my family, eating properly, sleeping decently and exercising appropriately.  I plan on continuing this approach throughout my educational career.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gratitude in 2010

As you can tell from the time I submitted my last post, I have been rather occupied with school.  It was a demanding but rewarding year for me.  I acquired invaluable experiences from my classes; time spent with family taught me numerous lessons.
Mike is thrilled to meet the other Michael.
 My analysis of the events this year are the following:
  1.  Let your husband or significant other pursue his or her passions.  Michael has been a contented person thanks to his cooking hobby.  Is it really a hobby?  I am not sure it is.  His cooking pursuits are more like an obsession and I refuse to prevent him from chasing after them.  He had such a lovely time at Michael Symon's cooking class learning how to make summer squash salad, grilled lamb and keftedes or Greek meatballs.  Plus I get the benefit of tasting his experiences.

Diane is smiling because of visiting one of her favorite cities, Chicago.
 2.  It is essential to take a family vacation away from your home town.  No other experience can substitute a family trip.  Our children appreciated the opportunity to encounter different people, foods and past-times while in Chicago this year.  We would be hard pressed to match that experience while staying in Akron.  A big city is a great laboratory for the human experience.  The children got the chance to see Chinatown, eat bao or Asian buns and visit world-class museums.  I reveled in watching their excitement while trying out new activities.

Natalie and Tim are hanging out at Scooter's Dawg House.
 3.  Siblings need to share their summer activities together.  It is tempting to let the kids go their separate ways during summer break.  Ben will always find a friend that he can hang out with.  However, Mike and I made sure that we hiked, swam or shared a meal as a family.  This connectedness is the glue that helps maintain family homeostasis during stressful times.  It was without a doubt, a trying time for the family with me in school at night.  Michael was the "single parent" for three out of five nights.  I believe the children were more considerate towards each other because of the family ties we established up till this point.  The kids realize that they have each other to rely on along with their parents.

Ben is proud wearing Dayne Crist's jersey from Notre Dame.
 4.  Children need to find recreation that they are enthusiastic about.  Ben couldn't make up his mind this year about what was his favorite pursuit.  Although, he really discovered football this year.  He started pouring over football stats once his grandfather introduced him to preseason, college football magazines.  Now he pays attention to the sports pages and asks Mike about Notre Dame, the Cavaliers and the Cleveland Browns.  Ben is indubitably learning how to endure cheering for a losing team.  Mike and Ben have been faithfully watching the up and down, Cleveland Browns.  

5.  I and my family benefit by continually learning new ideas.  My field experience in the classroom was a real eye opener to how education takes place.  Yes, it was demanding devising lesson plans for high school students.  Despite that, it was worth the effort making sense of how adolescents learn.  My appreciation for intellectual enlightenment has increased a thousand fold.  I am a more humble and patient person because of my experiences.  I am more compassionate parent because I am more aware of the struggles that my children and husband face.

Yes, this year has been a formidable year for us, but it has been most satisfying.  Michael, the children and I have thrived with appreciable experiences.  I actually look forward to additional challenges next year because I know they will pay dividends to our family growth.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Unnatural Animal Alliance

I was at the Cleveland Regional Council of  Science Teachers Conference a week ago at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.  It was a great location for the conference since many sessions were concerned with animal science. We, as a human species are at a crossroads with animals.

Diane's teacher conference includes topics like exotic animal release and the new elephant exhibit at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

 We have made considerable strides in our treatment of animals.  Our government enacted the Animal Welfare Act in 1966 to guide the treatment and care of animals used in research, for exhibit or sale.  Scientist today employ animals in an ethical and pain free manner.  Likewise zoos consider every aspect of an animal's needs before exhibiting those animals.  In addition, dealers produce records of an animal's care before selling that animal.

However, our relationship with animals has taken a deleterious divergence.  Exotic pets have become the  latest fad in domesticated animals.  Unfortunately, the state of Ohio has some of the most lax laws with regulating the sale and ownership of exotic pets.  Why are suburban home owners allowed to raise and care for dangerous predators like bears, tigers and wolves?  If I had a neighbor who was raising a chimpanzee, I would consider moving.

What motivates exotic pet owners to care for unpredictable predators?  Unfortunately it is due to TV shows with people like Steve Irwin, Austin Stevens and Jeff Corwin.  These animal exploiters depict wild animals in sensational and inhumane settings.  Steve routinely teases the crocodiles or snakes on camera by picking them up by the tail or forcing them to strike him.  In addition, many of the crocodiles seen on his shows are zoo-fed or sedated.  This gives viewers an unrealistic impression of animal behavior in the wild and furthers animal cruelty.

Animal Planet has begun to air a new show called Fatal Attraction.   This show will only incite suburbanites to become exotic pet owners.  Exotic pet owners believe that they are conservationists since the animal's natural habitat is being encroached by humans.  This is an honorable endeavor but many exotic pet owners don't realize that they are endangering nearby residents.  Many exotic pet owners are unaware of the aggressiveness of chimpanzees as they age; or how a bite from an iguana is laden with salmonella (a stitched bite runs the risk of infection if not properly treated with antibiotics).

The keynote speaker at the CRCST conference was Tim Harrison, an exotic animal activist.  For almost ten years, he has been assisting in the recovery of exotic animals that have been released into the environment.  Whenever exotic pet owners become frustrated or unable to continue care for their animals, they liberate the animals in parks, fields or uninhabited spaces hoping for the best.  Tim drives hundreds of miles to rescue these animals because first responders like police or fire personnel are often unprepared to capture these exotic pets.  Moreover, exotic pets can escape like the chimp in Kansas City.  These lost exotic pets become a public nuisance and potentially a menace to humans.  Tim knows first hand how dangerous it is to coral a wild boar piglet, a six foot alligator or a capuchin monkey.

Tim wants educators and parents to know about the misperception that animal TV shows are propagating.  Exotic pets are not meant for domestication like cats and dogs.  They are unpredictable, strong and lethal.  Tim hopes that his movie, The Elephant in the Room brings this message across.

We as humans have made appreciable advancement in the care and treatment of animals used in research and education.  Now, we need to carry that success to the animals found in the wild.  They deserve to have our respect, understanding and to remain undomesticated.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sweet Science

Tim and I usually try to do an activity in the morning before school.  He tends to pick a holiday craft but lately I've been promoting science experiments.  No, he's not looking for a cure for cancer or solving global warming.  I just try to find easy but educational activities that stretch his current understanding of the natural world.
This mason jar contains a ghoulishly purple syrup for rock candy.
Initially when I asked him if he wanted to make rock candy, he asked me when he could eat it.  When I told him it would be a week, he said "skip it."  Undeterred, I decided to start making the sugar syrup to see if I could grab his attention.  Sure enough, he was asking me what I was doing while I was rounding up ingredients.

Most recipes for rock candy have you boiling water in a pan and then adding sugar little by little.  I decided that we would make ours in the microwave.  The only challenge would be to not let the syrup boil over while it was in the oven.  I avoided that by heating the sugar water in minute increments.

While I was heating the cup of water before adding the sugar, I had Tim cut string in twelve inch lengths.  He did an outstanding job using the ruler and clipping the string into the desired length.  We decided to use butcher's twine because of the rough surface which would give our sugar crystals a place to grow.

Once Tim cut six pieces of string, we tied them onto a pencil and let the twelve tails dangle into a quart mason jar.  Meanwhile, I heated the cup of water in the microwave until it was almost boiling.  Then Tim added a cup of sugar to the water and stirred it until dissolved.  It was interesting listening to his dialogue about the syrup.  He like seeing the bubbles in the syrup and enjoyed watching the sugar change from white to clear.  Tim has considerable observational skills and is wonderful at describing his experiences.

Next, I added another cup of water to the mixture and heated the syrup till almost boiling.  Then Tim added a second cup of sugar.  He kept asking me "I wonder what this will taste like?"  I appreciated the fact that he was curious and was thinking ahead to the end product.  After the sugar was dissolved, I cautiously heated the syrup (one minute at a time on high power) because I didn't want the mixture to froth over.

For me, the fascinating part of the activity is making a saturated solution.  The syrup needs a longer time to heat up after you add the third cup of sugar.  The sucrose molecules are occupying close quarters and have less water around themselves to stay dissolved.  Tim noticed by the fourth cup of sugar, that the mixture was thick, more opaque and full of bubbles.

Tim's favorite part of the recipe was adding the food coloring.  He kept flip-flopping between orange and purple (probably because of Halloween this month).  When he chose purple, the sugar syrup ended up looking more like royal blue than a true purple.

Once the syrup was colored we poured it carefully into the quart mason jar without letting the syrup touch the pencil or strings.  Unfortunately, the light weight of the strings caused them to float rather than stay submerged in the syrup.  If we had weighted down the twine, the strings might have remained immersed in the sugar water.  I tried to poke them down with a knife unsuccessfully.

Needless to say, I put a sign on the jar to discourage curious persons from picking it up and shaking the contents.  Saturated sugar solutions will crystalize with any possible disturbance (change in heat, change in movement) so quality rock candy needs to sit for about a week.  This gives the sucrose molecules the opportunity to join together and form monclinic crystals.

The chunky confection takes about a week to form.
It was challenging for Tim to wait the full week for his rock candy.  Although, each day he would look at it and wonder what was happening inside that jar.  I thought it was a great exercise in using his reasoning skills.  When the seventh day came, Tim was thrilled to taste his confection.

It took me a while to get the strings of candy separated from the block of sugar that formed on the bottom of the jar.  Once I did, Tim gobbled up the candy on the first string within seconds.  I think next time we make this recipe, we're going to add some flavoring.  Pure sugar, to me is too cloying.  Sugar needs a little enhancement like cinnamon or the traditional anise.

Our experiment was a sweet success.  Tim got to see some authentic science with sucrose crystals.  He was able to observe and ask thought provoking questions. Yet, most of all, his patience was rewarded with a scrumptious sugary delight.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Northern Exposure

No, I'm not going to write about the infamous TV show, Northern Exposure.  Instead, I want to talk about my dilemma with the adverse growing conditions I experience this summer.  After doing some investigation online, I found out that Akron, Ohio had it's 6th hottest summer this year.  We in addition are experiencing drought conditions.  It's no wonder why I had to water my garden almost every two days this summer.

Another challenge with our garden was its northerly location.  We sometimes only get six hours of sunshine per day.  I wanted to optimize our sun exposure so I moved our vegetable beds this spring.  I was grateful that I did because I got a better harvest this year.  My greatest success was with the grape tomatoes.  I collected about a handful of tomatoes each day and would put them in my salad.  The vines are still producing even with last night's overnight temperature of 45 degrees.  It wont be long before I will have to bring the green ones inside soon.  Check out Iowa State University Extension description on how to ripen tomatoes inside for future use.

Our garden produced numerous grape tomatoes this summer.
Unfortunately, I can't match a garden that faces south like my brother-in-law, Matt.  I envy his garden and have resigned myself to the fact I will never equal it unless we pack up, sell the house and buy a lot across the street.  How about a $200,000 tomato?  That's probably what it would cost me to get the bountiful harvest that south-facing gardeners get.

I still won't give up on my northern exposed garden.  Thankfully, I have convinced Michael that we need to rearrange our plans for a future patio attached to our deck.  I persuaded him to select the western side of the backyard for his charcoal grill.  I want to sway him so that I can use the ground that is under his current grill location.  My master plan is to put in two more garden beds that face east.  Hopefully the eastern side of the backyard encounters enough sun to support potatoes, carrots and swiss chard.  Now I know what it is like to be growing crops under northern exposure.