Thursday, May 28, 2009

Win $20,000 for your green idea at Green Effect™

Do you have an idea for how to improve the environment in your community? If so (and you are over 18 and a U.S. citizen), head on over to Green Effect™, a new venture from National Geographic and SunChips®, to submit a short essay about your proposed project. You could win $20,000 to spend on implementing your idea. Don't wait, though, because the contest closes June 8, 2009. Ten finalists will be chosen by a judging panel (and win camcorders!); visitors to the website will select the top five. These five lucky winners not only receive seed money to start their project, they also get to travel to Washington, D.C. to present their idea to environmental leaders. You can read the current set of 1,200 submissions to see what's already been suggested.

Don't be intimidated by this contest! A good, solid, simple idea that would have a positive impact on your community and the local environment should do well. According to the rules, 1/4 of the points awarded at judging are for "alignment with SunChips® brand's philosophy of 'Small steps add up to meaningful progress and positive change.'"

Good luck!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Vote for the 2009 Ocean Hero at Oceana

A tip of the hat to Allie at OH, FOR THE LOVE OF SCIENCE! for today's tidbit:

Head on over to Oceana, "the largest international organization focused 100 percent on ocean conservation" to vote for your favorite "Wavemaker." One of the eight finalists will be chosen as the 2009 Ocean Hero. Voting closes at the end of May.

While you're there, stop by Creature Corner to learn more about the diversity of life in the sea. You can also visit Oceana's Publications page to download their reports, newsletter, and a guide to help you make healthy and sustainable seafood choices when you are dining out. Oceana suggests checking out EPA's Fish Kids for more on healthy ways to prepare fish.

Oceana: Protecting the World's Oceans

Friday, May 22, 2009

Website of the Week: Smell Like Dirt

This week, I was pleased to find Smell Like Dirt, a blog devoted to helping us reconnect with nature. Along with the great Pileated Woodpecker footage I found for last Wednesday's post, Smell Like Dirt has over 25 short nature videos on topics like birding, composting, and gardening. If you live near Charlotte, North Carolina, be sure to check the blog frequently to find environmental classes taught by Carol Buie-Jackson, a Smell Like Dirt blogger, Habitat Steward, and Master Composter (I didn't even know there was such a thing!).

Here, Ms. Buie-Jackson shares tips for creating a wildlife habitat in your backyard:


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Woodpeckers in our backyard

I was nursing baby "Princess" the other morning, stuffed into a comfy chair relaxing, when I heard a huge thwack at the window. I was nose to beak with a large bird, a woodpecker with red, white, and black plumage. Since I'm a nature lover, I was thrilled. This is our first spring in our new house and I didn't realize that I would get to observe birds quite this closely. I was so excited about my bird that I just had to tell almost-eight year old Kerm.

"I know," he told me. "I saw it pecking on the fence in our backyard at breakfast."

"What kind of bird do you think it is?" I asked. "Let's get out your bird book and look it up."

Well, this is where our problem started. We opened up Kerm's copy of Bill Thompson III's The Young Birder's Guide (which we own courtesy of our friends at 10,000 Birds as per this post, but that's another story), and Kerm and I realized that we disagreed on what the woodpecker looked like. I said that it had a red head and black wings. Kerm said the wings were black mixed with white. So, we couldn't identify which bird we had seen, which was very disappointing since it was a truly striking bird.

However, a line that I read in Thompson's book stayed with me. He suggests that you shouldn't run for your bird identification guide the minute that you spot a cool-looking bird. Rather, you should pay close attention to what you see.

So, I spotted our bird again yesterday and, this time, I took a long, hard look at him. He has a red tufted head, black and white bands on the sides of his face, and solid black wings.

Two fun things came of my close observation. First, I now know that there's a Pileated Woodpecker living in the woods near my backyard. Second, Kerm was adamant that *his* bird had speckled wings and no red tuft. So, I think we will soon have another bird to identify!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Fibonacci poem

If you like writing scifaiku, check out the newest kid on the block, the Fibonacci poem! Based on the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical relationship that commonly appears in nature, the Fibonacci poem consists of 20 syllables in six lines. The six lines have 1,1,2,3,5,and 8 syllables.

Do you see the pattern? If you assume a "0" at the beginning of this sequence for 0,1,1,2,3,5,8 ... then the sum of each number in the sequence is obtained by adding the two numbers preceding it: 0+1=1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, and so on. In mathematics, the Fibonacci sequence can go on endlessly. In poetry, though, lines longer than eight syllables are hard to manage.

"Fibonacci sequences appear in [nature], such as branching in trees, arrangement of leaves on a stem, the fruitlets of a pineapple, the flowering of artichoke, an uncurling fern and the arrangement of a pine cone." (source: Wikipedia). This is the underlying math behind why we commonly see flowers with 3 or 5 petals instead of 2 or 4 petals.

Photo credit: Esdras Calderan, through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Fibonacci sequence poems, or fibs, had a huge resurgence in 2006, when Gregory K. Pincus discussed the form in this blog post during National Poetry Month. The newly rediscovered poetry form became so popular online that the New York Times wrote an article about fibs going viral. Their sudden popularity spawned Fibetry, an online forum devoted solely to fibs, and a new journal, the fib review.

Like scifaiku, fibs are fun and strangely addicting to write. This one is a science fiction fib, so I guess that makes it a scifib.

your scaly green skin
looks so strange paired with my blue eyes


If you like this post, you might also like:

Try your hand at science poetry

Massachusetts Science Poetry Contest

Science Poem: Intrasolar interloper

Meet Scifaiku

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

National Children's Book Week

This is National Children's Book Week in the United States. Libraries across the country are sponsoring special events to celebrate. Be sure to print out a bookmark (note: this is a .pdf file) and check out the Children's Choice Book Awards Winners for 2009. You can also find puzzles, book recommendations, advice for having a "read-in", and more!

This is a great time to talk with your family about your favorite books and why you love them. Do any science titles make your top list? Kerm's current favorite science book is Earth & Space, while Little Brother favors The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

If you're looking for good children's science titles, check out this list of recommended books from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and these suggestions from the National Science Teachers Association. You may also like this post about the Royal Society.

Happy reading!

How much sugar are you *really* eating?

Itinerant Cryptographer found an interesting website recently. Sugar Stacks shows how much sugar is in commonly eaten foods, using sugar cubes to visualize the amount. Each sugar cube depicts 4 grams of sugar. Check out the amount of sugar in soda! The page comparing breakfast foods is making me think twice about scarfing down Cinnabon® cinnamon rolls.

Photo credit: Mykl Roventine, through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Free coffee grounds for your garden

Starbucks Coffee® is currently offering Grounds for your Garden. Come to any Starbucks and tell the store manager (or shift supervisor on duty if the manager isn't available) that you're interested in free coffee grounds. Depending upon the popularity of the store, you can pick up grounds daily or every other day. Starbucks will even bag up the grounds for you!

Coffee grounds can be a nice addition to your garden soil or compost pile. However, since they are acidic, be careful of how much you add. Most home gardens aren't going to need a bag of coffee grounds daily or even every other day. This post over at Green Talk™ covers some of the pros and cons of adding coffee grounds to your garden. What I took away from this discussion is that you probably should "not add more grounds until the original grounds [have] decomposed."

Happy gardening!

Photo credit: Jonny Hunter, through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Meet Scifaiku

Last month, I was busy writing poetry for the Poem-A-Month challenge over at Poetic Asides. One day, we had to write a haiku.

Haiku is not my favorite poetic form. It looks like it should be easy -- write the first line with five syllables, the second line with seven, and the third line with five syllables again. But as I wrote in my anti-haiku:

a difficult form
even with 5-7-5
this is not haiku

Real haiku poems seem to capture a peaceful (or Zen-like) moment, often include a season, and provide some kind of comparison or insight. Like I said, I find this type of poem hard to write. So, I was cruising around on the Internet, reading anything I could find about haiku, and I discovered scifaiku.

What is scifaiku? Simply put, it's science fiction haiku. The term was first coined in 1995, when Tom Brinck wrote The SciFaiku Manifesto.

According to Brinck, scifaiku explores science or science fiction themes. The poems don't have to adhere to the traditional 17 syllable form of haiku, in part because so many science terms are long and unwieldy and eat up a lot of syllables. However, scifaiku should still be brief and get to the point.

I like scifaiku. Instead of a Zen-like moment, scifaiku poems explore things like alien encounters, the vastness of space, or thoughts about stars. You could even write a poem like this:

her tentacles green
wrap around my tender wrist
i love my new pet

Photo credit: Lenny Montana
through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

If you like this post, you might also like:

Try your hand at science poetry

Massachusetts Science Poetry Contest

Science Poem: Intrasolar interloper

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Kerm's Mars Rover

I just had to post this. Kerm made a Mars Rover out of LEGO®s. I think it looks like the original, don't you?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Animal Rescue Sanctuary

Last week, Little Brother and I visited an animal rescue sanctuary. I had assumed that we would be meeting injured animals that were unable to return to life in the wild. Instead, we found a collection of pampered farm animals that had formerly been mistreated or abandoned. I'll admit, it had never occurred to me that a farm animal might need to be rescued. But some of their stories -- animals that had been starved, neglected, spray-painted (!), or even poked with electric prods in the hope that they would die -- have changed my mind. I've realized that, without really ever considering it, I've been valuing wildlife over domesticated animals. It reminded me of the importance of knowing your biases.

Friday, May 1, 2009

OT: Finished Poetry Challenge!

I'm happy to announce that I have finally finished the Poem-A-Day poetry challenge over at Poetic Asides -- 30 poems in 30 days, to honor National Poetry Month. Working on the challenge has encouraged me to try new things. You never know how trying something new might inspire you, or even inspire others.

Photo credit: Erik Harmon,