Category Archives: misc

teaching kids science

Have been meaning to write about this for a couple of weeks – and have definitely been carrying some inspiration from it. 

A couple of weekends back, my youngest daughter and I had an unexpected treat.  We got to attend a class on teaching science, given by our friend Ed Sobey PhD.  We’d heard about the class through a friend of ours, and I skimmed the coiurse description and it sounded really fun.  So i mentioned it to Kris, who signed our daughter up for the class.  I figured one of us would come along and watch.

Well – we arrived a few minutes early to find Ed setting things up.  He asked us whether we were ready to build some boats, and excused himself to continue “filling up the oceans”.  People started to file, and I noticed that there were no other kids present.  One of the attendees was our eldest daughter’s kindergarten teacher.  It occurred to me that we were in a class intended for adult teachers, not for eight and a half year old kids.  Oy!

I sidled up to Ed, and said – “um – I think I misread the class description …”.  Ed responded “Well – you’re here now”.  So I decided to give it a try, and see what happened.  Having attended one of Ed’s talks before, and having read some of his books, I had reasonable hope that it might be just fine for the kids in all of us.

He began the class by running through the ground rules :

  1. work fast (everyone else is)
  2. make mistakes fast (you learn more from these than successes)
  3. steal ideas from those around you (learn from their successes and failures)
  4. make one change at a time (the scientific method)
  5. dare to try something new

The rules sound simple, but my experience is that even experienced professionals forget these things too often.  And there’s a lot of research about how fear of failure stifles creativity in kids.  The key seems to be to set the expectation that effort is the thing that differentiates you from others, and give your kids the confidence to take risks, so they can learn from the inevitable mistakes.

We spent a while building aluminum foil boats which would support the weight of a heap of nails.  The idea was to figure out how to balance surface area on the water, with walls to keep the water out as the boat dipped farther into the water with the increased weight.  it took about fifteen seconds to explain the exercise, and about that long to come up with your first try at a boat.  The other experiments we did were all pretty straightforward in terms of guidelines and assembly.

In all cases, the effect on our kid was immediate.  Our daughter got right each of the experiments, and also seemed to internalize the scientific method (change one variable at time in order to understand what’s working and what isn’t.  She proactively asked questions, and watched others to figure out what was working for them, and then incorporated these ideas with hers for the next boat design.  Amazing, when contrasted with the more traditional classroom lecture approach.  It seems that putting the onus on the students to learn through experience serves to empower them, and fires their interest.

Of course it helped that there were some chemical reactions featured as well – namely Mentos and Diet Coke, as well as Alka Seltzer in a small film canister.  Our daughter was very proud that her film canister cap ended up on the roof of the library.

Initially I was concerned about whether the class would work for my daughter.  By the end, I could see why Ed didn’t object to her sitting in.  She was proof positive that the methods work. 

Since then, she’s started doing more ‘experiments’ at home, or wherever else we might be.  Lots of fun.

Check out some of the fine work Ed does, and see what you think :

He’s also written many books.  Some notable selections are :

Thanks for what you do Ed!

working in new york city

I’ve been working in New York City since last week, and am having a good time.  I’ve spent two days interviewing students at Columbia University, and then a couple of days this week will be spent with customers using the product I work on (the Windows Presentation Foundation developer platform framework).

This is my first college recruiting trip in a year and a half, and it’s great to be back into this.  I genuinely enjoy interviewing people.  It’s not always easy, and can be very intense work.

On one of these trips, I typically speak with 24-26 people in two days.  Each interview is 25 minutes long, wit 5 minutes in between for paperwork.  Other than a lunch and a couple of 15 minute breaks, I’m “on” all day.  You can;t let your mind wander – that wouldn;t be good for my employer’s chances of making the most of the time.  It also wouldn’t be fair to the people I’m talking with.  This is a good opportunity for them, and I need to value their time as well.

Historically, of the 24 or so people i speak with, perhaps two to four might ultimately get an offer.  This is not based on a quota or target number at all.  It’s a historically valid number reflecting data from perhaps 25 campus trips I’ve taken over the years.  That’s been at some top-tier schools (MIT, CMU and the like), as well as some second and third tier schools.  Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much of a yield, given that a trip will cost several thousand dollars.  But over the years, I’ve followed how some of the folks I’ve interviewed (who were ultimately hired) have done.  It’s very fulfilling to watch them grow and advance.  And getting a couple of good hires for that kind of cost is time and money well spent.

The other part of the trip was a bit more of a mystery.  When speaking with customers I had to help give a presentation about our product, answer questions, and gather wish-list items from them.  The experience was mixed.  One of the customers did not really make very good use of the time.  This was for a variety of reasons – the biggest one being that their experience level with our product was fairly low.  The other customer packed more purpose into an hour than the first one did in a day and a half.  All in all, it was worthwhile – although I have some ideas about how to make better use of the time in the future.

The thing about the customer visits for me was that it involved a market sector I’d not had much experience with.  As is true with anything like this, there’s a whole vocabulary to learn and lots of context to gather.  The technical domain is interesting enough that I wouldn’t mind more experience with it.  Despite the fact that the time could have been better spent with one of the customers, I did draw some good experience from the trip – hopefully that will translate into some good product stuff too.

Of course, being in New York allowed me to do some fun things as well.  I got to visit with my very good friend Doron and his family.  The last time I saw Doron was when I was still in the hospital last year.  It was great to catch up with he and his family.  I got to spend the weekend with some of my cousins celebrating a confirmation.  I’ve been coming back to NY once or twice a year since about 2001, and it’s always a real treat to catch up with friends and family.

an unofficial 50k – and plans for the ms ride

The folks behind last week’s Pacific Crest Trail FA event have issued the results, and they tell us that we completed 31 miles, rather than 28.  If I factor in the half to full mile that I inadvertently tacked onto the distance with a missed turn, I’ve unofficially completed a 50k.  Not a bad day’s run.  This makes it more tempting to target a 50k as my September event. 

One nice wrinkle to the planning is that Kayla has committed to doing the MS Ride with me up in the Skagit Valley in mid-September.  With both of us obliged to ride 22 miles, and to raise $250, it’s time to start training and fundraising, isn’t it?

riding with the middle-schoolers

Several weeks back, Kayla invited me to join she and her classmates on a bike trip over on Lopez Island next week.  I figure I’m dangerously close to being the world’s most embarrassing man.  Being that Kayla’s nearly twelve, this is expected.  So, how could I say no ?

The trip itself sounds like a lot of fun.  We’ll take the ferry over from Anacortes on Wednesday, camping on Lopez for two nights, and doing a good 25-40 mile bike ride on Thursday.  The girls get to choose which of two rides (short or long) they do.  I figure I’ll ride whichever they prefer to put me on.

Last year, they apparently had horizontal rain for the bike ride.  Here’s hoping the weather from this week holds.  It would be wonderful to have sunshine, or at least no rain when we’re camping.

One of the prereqs for taking the trip was to join them on a ride from the school out to Genesee Park yesterday.  Taking 37 12 year olds on a bike ride through Seattle city streets is not dull.  Fortunately, the teachers organized things and kept the girls safe.  All I had to do was to ride along and cheer them on.

We didn’t set any speed records, but I was pretty amazed at how they did.  Each girl was supposed to convey directions down the line of bike by shouting them out – “turning left!, slowing down!  car back!  stopping!".  This they did with zeal, which was pretty funny.  Imagine a whole line of girls barking out these directions in a steady ripple, down the line. 

The trip back was punctuated by several hills carrying us up from Lake Washington Blvd, through south Leschi.  These hills were not easy ones, and the girls handled them very nicely.  Some of them took a bit longer, but everyone seemed to push themselves a bit, and the folks gathered at the top of the hill cheered the rest of the bikers on.

This was pretty spontaneous – no one told the kids they had to cheer.  They just did.  The positivity was infectious!

It made me wish we spent more time teaching adults to focus on the positive things, including encouraging each other to push ourselves up out of our comfort zones a bit more.

Anyway – it was a fun afternoon.  Hot too – the thermometer inside my car said it had gotten to about 85 – which is nearly as warm as it ever gets here.  Wow.

catching up … running and more

We’ve had some work done on our house, so have been away from it for about a week.  Pretty busy.

Caught a fun run this past Sunday with my friend Sue’s running group.  We combined with Eric’s group – which definitely paces faster (more on that in a minute).  This group is infamous for appearing on the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in November of 2006.  It was great to see everyone.  I’d not seen (or run with) Eric since last June (you can read a brief entry about that run here if curious). 

Anyway back to the run.  We went out more quickly than I’ve been running – right around an 8 minute per mile pace.  I was able to keep this up for perhaps 6-8 miles before the lead group opened up some distance.  By then I was pretty wrecked, but tried to keep it up for the whole 14 miles anyway.  I probably slowed down to about a 9 minute pace for a while, but tried to finish strong.  I didn’t feel strong, but according to the clock I was :).


We convened in the bagel shop for breakfast.  Much chaos ensued when I was challenged to demonstrate the little yoga I know, and did the crow pose in the middle of the shop.


Despite appearances, I’m not bending over and getting sick.  Really.

House stuff is bustling along (finally).  We’re pressing ahead with a kitchen and upstairs bathroom remodel.  It will be nice living in the house we want.  And provided we don’t overdo things, it’s a good time to remodel too.

Our family also got to spend some more time at the hospital this week.  My parents came back early from their trip to California because mom had a nasty infection on her leg.  It was cellulitis, and it was really good that she got prompt medical attention.  Apparently this can get very bad if left longer than a few days.  She’s doing well now, and expects to be back home tomorrow or Friday.  We’re definitely thinking about her.

week’s end

We’ve reached the end of another week, and now’s when I typically look back on the week’s happenings.

This was the first week back to work since the weather, holidays, and vacation.  Things are pretty crazy right now.  We’re in the midst of a product cycle, and it feels a bit strange to join in the middle.  On the other hand, it’s a cool opportunity to jump in and make a difference too.  People are working really hard, and we’ve got some substantial decisions to make about what’s going to fit (because not everything will). 

And again, the more normal things get, the better I feel.  This is true, even if normal is chaotic.

The kids are back into school again, following a longer than planned holiday break.  Rachel has started swimming lessons again, and Kayla’s got basketball.  Someday we’ll be able to operate day to day without feeling like we’re running late or behind.  It’s challenging figuring out how to handle the kid’s commitments, including homework while still leaving time for us to spend together.  Over the break, we’d started carving a little time before bed to play games together.  It’s great family time, although it sometimes doesn’t necessarily calm the kids down before bed.  Between eating, homework, packing lunches for the next day (Rachel generally participates in this activity, Kayla packs her lunches herself) – there’s not much time for unstructured fun.  Bummer.  So this is definitely an adjustment.

Workouts have gone pretty well this week.  I started going to coached swim workouts again.  Ugly.  Slow.  But it does feel good to get back in the water and get the yardage in.  My per-run mileage was a bit down this week.  Last week I tended to get 6 miles per weekday run in.  This week it was a bit under 5.  Still – I went out six times this week, and did my longest run since the race in Bridle Trails a couple of days before the bike crash. 

It added up to about 35 miles, roughly the same as last week.  That’s a goodly sum for someone who’s taken six months off.  I’m not running fast, usually hovering between 9 and 10 minute miles.  My intent is to work on strength and endurance by covering the mileage, and then I’ll worry about speed.  Definitely feels good to be out running again.

So despite some craziness, it was a pretty good week.

cleanup time

So one of the things that happens every so often is that your MSFT credentials expire, and you need to get a new password.  Usually there are ample reminders that this is coming. 

That wasn’t the case for me last month with everything going on, so last night I braved the support line to handle this.  The guy was very helpful, and I was somewhat dense.  I had trouble reading some of the screen stuff that was to guide me through.  Oy!

When I got in, I had nearly 2000 messages, 1500 of them unread.  When I finished the first pass this morning, I had 250 messages in my inbox, with no unread.  It’s amazingly easy to delete daily messages that are old, or that I don’t stand a chance of pitching in on!

Later today, I need to take a shot at the remaining 3000 messages that were filtered to other folders.  That should be pretty easy as most of these are automated.