Happy Towel Day 2016!

Today is Towel Day. Happy Towel Day!

The Galactic Hitchhikers have tallied the contest votes and have declared a winner!

You sass that hoopy Lisa Orozco? Our very own Lisa has been chosen to represent Earth as our new and shiny Towel Day Ambassador! Lisa will be assisted by Stefan Gemzell, representing Sweden and Norway, and Andrew Pithie, representing the UK and the Commonwealth.

Congratulations, you froods! Don’t Panic!

As Douglas Adams reminds us in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

My Guide To The Doctors

I made this for my wife

I made this tongue-in-cheek guide for my wife’s amusement.

When I was a new fan of the British science fiction television show Doctor Who, I had a lot of trouble keeping straight all of the incarnations of the Doctor. This was because the Doctor had the annoying habit of regenerating into a different actor every so often as the series progressed over the course of 50 years. So I started giving each one of the incarnations a nickname just for my own personal use.

My conversations with my wife, Tamara, who is far more knowledgeable about all things Whovian than me, would then go something like this:

“Doesn’t the First Doctor look like Franz Liszt?”
“You mean William Hartnell?”
“I guess so. Which doctor is “Patches”?”
“You know, the one that dresses like Patches the Clown.”
“You mean the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker? And he does not!”

Eventually, like most things that I do in our marriage, her exasperation turned into amusement:

“So “Celery Man’s” daughter actually married “Lord Business” in real life?”
“Ha. Yes, the daughter of Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor, married David Tennant, who played the Tenth Doctor. Her name is Georgia Moffett. You need to write this stuff down.”

She has been bugging me to make an image guide listing all of my nicknames for her Doctor Who Fans Unite fan club, so here it is. Feel free to copy it and share it. My fan-made guide is under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license, so feel free to copy, modify, and share it so long as you give credit and it’s not for commercial gain. After all, I do not own the images and I am using them for fun as a fan.

Whether you are a fan of the older series or of the new, check out the Doctor Who Fans Unite meetup if you want to be a part of a local group who love the Doctor in all of his various forms.

The LEGO Movie

lego movie

I just saw The LEGO Movie with my son Alton and everything is awesome!!! It is The LEGO Group’s first feature-length comedy adventure film, although they have come out with other, shorter LEGO films before this one, covering such subjects as Bionicle, Hero Factory, Clutch Powers, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars. The LEGO Movie is directed and co-written by Phil Lord and Chris Miller and is distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures.

The movie is about Emmet Brickowski, an ordinary construction worker with no special qualities. He builds things with the aid of instruction manuals, and even uses one to manage his daily life. He meets Wyldstyle, a woman who is searching for the Piece of Resistance, an object capable of stopping a doomsday superweapon called the Kragle. Wyldstyle takes Emmet to Vitruvius, a wizard who explains that he and Wyldstyle are Master Builders capable of building anything they need, both with great speed and without instruction manuals.

The ability of these LEGO characters to manipulate their own LEGO universe offers the adult viewer some ontological questions that is in part what makes this movie clever and funny. The conflicting worldviews between conformist building (do not deviate from the instructions) and creative building (construct your desires from anything available) are expressed throughout the movie and remind me of how different people treat LEGO bricks.

Also, several websites come to mind. LEGO Education is the part of The LEGO Group that offers several STEM building kits for students to explore and to work hands-on through practical experience and demonstration.

LEGOengineering is a website developed by the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach with the support of LEGO Education to inspire and support teachers in bringing LEGO-based engineering to all students.

Besides the obvious use of using LEGO building materials for design and construction, LEGO bricks can also be used to provide an analogy for atoms, molecules, and their reactions. Scott Halpern at has used LEGO bricks to explain atomic theory.

Texas Tech University’s GK-12 Building Bridges program participants Arla Jo Anderton Gideon, John Como, and Jennifer Hortman (a high school chemistry teacher, a science PhD candidate, and a master’s candidate in math, respectively) developed a lesson module for using LEGO bricks to teach balancing chemical equations.

Along those lines, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Edgerton Center offers a Chemical Reactions lesson that introduces to students molecules, atoms, chemical notation, and chemical compounds through an engaging hands-on wet lab and LEGO brick models of atoms.

Remember, LEGO is not only from the Danish phrase leg godt which means play well, it is also Latin for I study or I put together.

How Many Dino Fingers Do You See?

My son Alton is interested in dinosaurs, so he is starting to collect various dinosaur toys. Needless to say, as far as accurate representations go, most of them are far from being museum-quality models. But as a father I am fine with that; after all, they are toys.

However, there is one pet peeve that I just can’t leave alone and that is the gross misidentification of the large theropods. Never mind that there are several dozen kinds of them and that they lived in different times across a span of 150 million years, the most popular one has got to be Tyrannosaurus.

Now, out of my son’s dinosaur toy collection, he has five large theropods and they are all pretty much unidentified save one. That one is the one from Toy Story and his name is Rex. And, of course, he is supposed to be Tyrannosaurus rex. But is he really?

No, he is not. Rex is not a Tyrannosaurus rex because each of his hands has three fingersTyrannosaurus had only two fingers on each hand.

So I decided to play a game with Alton called Tyrannosaurus or Allosaurus? Now, I realize that Allosaurus lived in the Late Jurassic (about 150 million years ago) and that Tyrannosaurus lived in the Late Cretaceous (about 65 million years ago) and was heavier, but they are both roughly the same size and body type.

Tyrannosaurus or Allosaurus?
Three fingers. Allosaurus.

Tyrannosaurus or Allosaurus?
Three fingers. Allosaurus (even though his name is Rex).

Tyrannosaurus or Allosaurus?
Two fingers. Tyrannosaurus.

Tyrannosaurus or Allosaurus?
Two fingers, again. Tyrannosaurus.

Tyrannosaurus or Allosaurus?
Three fingers. Another Allosaurus.

If you are interested in additional information about dinosaurs, the Natural History Museum in London has a wonderful dinosaur website.