Posted by: Grandma LaLa | November 23, 2014

Wahoo, weekend!

Jumped right into a wildly busy and fun-filled weekend as soon as we ended the workday on Friday!

029c - FNAL slam presentersFriday evening: eating homemade tacos at Dad’s place with Dick and Ron; attending the third annual “Physics Slam” event at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. What a blast to hear five different scientists talking about their research, presented in a way that non-scientists could grasp the concepts! No wonder the “house” was sold-out. And how inspiring to learn that 150 of those tickets were for students under the age of 18.

030a - soupsSaturday morning: eating a hearty homemade breakfast; watching “Elementary” and “Grimm” episodes online from earlier in the week; doing some quick and productive Christmas shopping for bargains.

Saturday afternoon and evening: assembling three pots of homemade soup (chicken and rice for Dad; chicken and rice for friends with a little one in the hospital; and white bean and rice for us); dropping off soups and heading to the hospital for a quick visit and moral support.

031c - Porgy and Bess at LyricSunday afternoon and evening: heading into the city by car, with generosity from traffic deities for a smooth trip and affordable parking at the Poetry Garage; experiencing my favorite American opera, “Porgy and Bess,” in a live performance by the Lyric Opera. We can’t afford to go often, but this 3-hr experience was such a gift to share with Dad and Ron. Headed back out to the suburbs and reached Dad’s place by 7 o’clock, making a quick snack supper of soups, crackers, and raw vegetables.

Wahoo for fun weekends with dear companions!

Posted by: Grandma LaLa | November 17, 2014

Wahoo, weekend!

Some weekends are such jam-packed fun that the time seems to fly by.  This was one of those!

Friday evening: carrying out vegetarian burritos from Chipotle for a quick supper; watching our online shows, including “Elementary” and “Big Bang Theory;” working on ideas for holiday gifts for family members.

Saturday morning and afternoon: enjoying farina for breakfast while watching “Grimm” online; laundering clothes and linens; running a few quick errands; fulfilling a couple of promises by making homemade enchilada casserole for Ron (a belated birthday celebration) and homemade raisin bars for Dad (just because).

007 - ESO warming upSaturday evening: watching Niki gleefully run in the back yard before sunset; feasting on enchilada casserole, spanish rice, and tossed salad for supper. Then we headed to the Elgin Symphony Orchestra for another musical enchantment. All of the music this evening was composed by Americans, including two of my favorites: Bernstein and Copland. What a treat!

008a - first measurable snowSunday: sleeping late; doing a few household chores; and lazily reading a new book. And oh yes, waking to the first measurable snowfall of the autumn, just blanketing the grass and some of the wetland plants.

Monday evening: ok, it’s no longer the weekend, especially since we worked today; but the invigoration of watching IU basketball at Dad’s place surely felt like a weekend.

Delicious ~ and over so soon!

Posted by: Grandma LaLa | October 26, 2014

Wahoo, weekend!

Another wonderful weekend, all the better with beautiful autumn weather – bright sunshine, gentle breezes, mild temperatures.

Friday evening: celebrating three continuous weeks of mostly-compliant progress on healthier choices for diet, exercise, rest, and self-care; meeting Dad and Dick for supper at Panera Bread (still love the yummy autumn squash soup they serve); attending the public lecture on “Successes and Failures in Engineering” at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory ~ and stretching some new suspension bridges (aka, neural pathways) in my brain.

Saturday morning: eating a hearty breakfast with Ron, while FINALLY watching the season premiere of “Grimm.”

14-10-25 leek and potato soupSaturday afternoon: running a few errands; laundering “magic” clothes for my favorite illusionist; and making my own recipe for leek and potato soup. Chopped baked potatoes, leeks, frozen corn, and 2% milk, topped with light sour cream, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, dill weed, and salt/pepper to taste. Yummy ~ tastes like fall!

Magic and Malarky at Steel BeamSaturday evening: enjoying dinner with Dad and Ron, featuring homemade leek and potato soup, Ritz “everything” crackers, apple slices, and cucumber slices; spending time with Dad and Niki watching a little of the World Series (Kansas City at San Francisco); seeing a fun and fabulous magic event at the Steel Beam Theatre. What a treat to watch, hear, and participate in the antics of these three talented illusionists: Arman Sangalang, Scott Piner, and Ron Clayton. Hope to see this trio performing together again soon!

Sunday: sleeping a little late (ahhhhhhhh!); treating ourselves to breakfast at Sweet Berry Café, where the portions are hearty enough to take home leftovers for a second meal; hanging out at home for a few chores, laundry, photo-editing, and reading. Mowing and treating the grass for winter might just wait until another day.

Posted by: Grandma LaLa | October 26, 2014

Top 4 learnings from the FNAL lecture: engineering

14-10-24 FNAL lectureEngineering isn’t my thing.  So the FNAL lecture by Henry Petroski (civil engineering and history professor from Duke University) wasn’t on my list of must-attend public events.  But Ron and Dad were both interested, so we put the date on our calendar.  As it turned out, Ron wasn’t able to go, but Dad, Dick, and I really enjoyed the lecture.

“Success and Failure in Engineering: a paradoxical relationship” addressed case studies on the premise that failures in engineering help scientists to structure better successes ~ and successes in engineering often lead to over-confidence that eventually results in failure.

1.     the Titanic – mechanical engineering

Engineers designed this ocean-going vessel with massive steel plates, riveted together. They anticipated that the ship could survive a head-on collision with an iceberg, but apparently didn’t think in terms of a side grazing by an iceberg.  Just such an event on the Titanic’s maiden voyage tore a gash along the side, with water pressure then “unzipping” the rivets and plates.  Internal structure played a factor too.

This engineering failure occurring on the ship’s first journey helped engineers and ship-building businesses to avoid further failures, which might have included: assuming structural soundness and building with thinner steel plates and/or fewer rivets; carrying too few lifeboats; carrying more passengers; continuing the pattern of turning off on-board radio communication at night.

2.     suspension bridges – civil engineering

Suspension bridges in the 19th century helped to span greater expanses of water, without interfering with boats, ships, and other water-faring vessels.  But the chief problem for any suspension bridge is sustained wind and/or storms, in which the expanse between the anchoring structures tends to sway.

Petroski used examples to demonstrate that there isn’t just one way to resolve these engineering problems.  British and European engineers tended to design massive tube bridges (heavy, expensive to build, and environmentally unfriendly when soot from a locomotive belched into the tunnel and back into the open-air coach seats).  American engineers, led by John Roebling, built wider bridges (with more weight/mass), reinforced with trusses and diagonal stabilizing cables to help stabilize the structure in sustained wind.

As new bridge designs evolved over the past century, some suspension bridges in the US were constructed without trusses and/or without the diagonal cables.  Forgetting the various engineering lessons of the past century, some of those bridges failed.  Some failures due to unevenly distributed weight, such as heavy construction trucks standing on one side and stress unevenly distributed.  Some failures (impending) due to lack of sufficient stabilizing cables, which is already showing wear on the few existing cables.

As a result of these civil engineering failures that seem to have forgotten or dismissed some of the insights from the past, these designs are now pretested in wind tunnels

3.     tall buildings – structural engineering

In the question and answer period, someone asked about a particularly large building.  Petroski discussed this briefly, suggesting that most of the issues about large buildings are less about engineering and more about human inhabitants.  For a proposed building that is a half-mile wide, a half-mile deep, and a half-mile high, the first issue would be that a large number of elevators would be needed.  This could easily consume one-third of the cubic space.  Developers aren’t likely to want to devote that much space to structural features that don’t generate income.  The second issue would be that most people in offices or residences want windows.  Again, in a structure that large, most of the tenants would have internal spaces without windows.

This led him to reflect upon the engineering process prior to the construction of one of the world’s tallest towers.  Engineers wondered how much building movement people could/would tolerate on upper floors, since the structure would sway by feet and even meters.  So they created a “blind” test in which individuals were offered free eye exams.  These test subjects came into a room for the exam, while the engineers behind the scenes actually moved the room itself.  This helped to establish how much movement people notice, as well as how much we can tolerate.  Interesting!

4.     engineering as learning

It wasn’t really on the topic of successes and failures, but one of the audience questions related to the new initiatives to introduce more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) into the K-12 curriculum.  The person asked what Petroski recommended in terms of engineering for K-12.

He duly noted that he doesn’t really teach children of those ages and isn’t familiar with current curricula.  But he suggested that the chief gift of learning for engineering would be problem-solving in which there isn’t (just) one correct answer, but possibly many.  Good answer!

Posted by: Grandma LaLa | October 12, 2014

Wahoo, weekend!

Fully into autumn now, we are enjoying the fall colors and cooler temperatures.  What a great weekend for that and more!

Friday evening: renting a cargo van to transport dining room furniture from storage, the last step in Dad’s move; enjoying Niki for a few more minutes before her vacation ends and she goes back to Dad’s place.

Hearty and healthy autumn supper

Hearty and healthy autumn supper

Saturday morning and afternoon: sleeping late with windows open (overnight low of 37 degrees); making a nutrient-rich breakfast of eggs, vegetarian breakfast links, and dried apricots; then laundry + laundry + laundry; quick-clean of downstairs to prepare for company; taking photos for the Powerpoint presentation for my TUG speaking commitment; making smoked Gouda cheese quiche, oven-baked acorn squash (sweetened with applesauce), steamed broccoli, and mixed green salad for a healthy pre-concert supper.

Elgin Symphony Orchestra "Nature's Soundscape" concert

Elgin Symphony Orchestra “Nature’s Soundscape” concert

Saturday evening: listening to the pre-concert discussion by Stephen Squires, conductor-in-residence for the Elgin Symphony Orchestra (very enlightening and enriching!); enjoying the “Nature’s Soundscape” concert featuring cellist Matt Agnew and works by Respighi (“The Birds”), Haydn (Cello Concerto in C major), and Sibellius (Symphony No 5 in E-flat major). Always a treat to share these cultural experiences with Ron and Dad!

Sunday: sleeping late with windows open (overnight low of 36 degrees); finishing photos for the TUG presentation; laundry + laundry + laundry; reading, relaxing, and enjoying the October sunshine and cool breeze.

What a delicious gift of a weekend!


Posted by: Grandma LaLa | September 12, 2014

Top 4 learnings from the FNAL lecture: nanotechnology

14-09-12 FNAL lectureDr. Chad Mirkin, distinguished professor from Northwestern University, presented this evening on the topic of “Nanotechnology: Learning to Think Big in a Field Focused on the Small.”  Prior to this event, I really knew nothing about nanotechnology other than what I’ve found in my leisure reading of espionage and science fiction novels (e.g., “Safe House: Net Force 10”).  In other words, truly nothing that could be counted as knowledge!

Given that I was mentally starting from scratch, I found Dr. Mirkin’s lecture to be challenging, stimulating, exciting, and terrifying all at once.  Amazing what this technology field can already do ~ and what it could do.

1.     nanometer

Nanotechnologies are measured in units called nanometers.  These measures are substantially smaller than a virus (30-50 nm) or even DNA (2.5 nm), yet larger than an atom.

2.     changes at the nano-level

Nonliving elements and living constitutes behave differently at the nano-level.  We’ve actually seen this for centuries in nano-particles of gold used to decorate ancient chalices and even to create the glow in deep reds of stained glass windows.  Not called nano-particles then, of course.

3.     example: medical diagnostic technology

Nanotechnologies already exist that can be used for substantially faster genetic sequencing and DNA typing.  Dr. Mirkin gave a video example of a journalist who agreed to try the test used to analyze risk factors for the use of warfarim (i.e., coumadin).  The test results returned in a matter of hours, rather than weeks.  Unexpectedly, the journalist’s test results show two known genetic risks that would adversely impact his body’s processing of warfarim.

4.     example: medical treatment options

Nanotechnologies also already exist that can be utilized to take advantage of the changes that occur at the nano-level. Protein-sequences that would be resisted as protein strings or helixes can be shaped into a sphere. This sphere, with attached protein sequences radiating from it, can be designed for absorption by cells that would otherwise resist naturally occurring shapes.

Nano-particle delivery of medications can help to reduce both the general drug toxicity (because designed to be absorbed only by certain cells, such as cancerous ones) and the specific tumor resistance (because designed in a shape that the cell doesn’t resist in the same way). Such medication is already in development for treatment of breast cancer (increasing effectiveness more than 40%), aggressive brain cancer (in which standard treatments cause damage to healthy cells), and other aggressive diseases.

Well, that’s the best I can do to remember and reiterate some of what I learned.  It’s actually one month later (10/25/14) when I’m writing and post-dating these notes.

Posted by: Grandma LaLa | August 17, 2014

Top 4 learnings from the FNAL lecture: speed

14-08-15 FNAL Lecture

Another great public lecture at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory last evening, featuring Dr. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky on the topic of “The Science of Speed.”

Admittedly, I don’t care much about car-racing or NASCAR.  Having grown up in Indiana, for decades I have steadfastly resisted turning on the television on Memorial Day weekend, driving my car anywhere near Indianapolis on that weekend, or learning anything at all about the Speedway and the Indy 500.  So I was basically hoping that her topic would cover broader aspects of science about speed, including the physics related to space travel.  Well, not this time.

Even so, it was a fascinating lecture on a topic about which I previously knew absolutely nothing.  I learned a great deal from Dr. Diandra’s presentation, the top four points of which I’ll note for posterity.

  1. Fireproof suits
    Given the extreme risk of fire in a crash on these speedways, it makes sense that the drivers wear fireproof suits.  A gasoline fire can burn at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit – or hotter!  For years, the drivers wore materials that had been dipped in fire-retardant fluids, but these fluids washed out when the clothing was laundered.  Not good!  Now they wear fire-retardant underwear, gloves, shoes, and fitted clothing.  NASCAR tried treating with kevlar, but it does become flammable at 900 degrees.  More commonly, they used nomax, which has a molecular content identical to kevlar, but the molecules are arranged differently.  So nomax withstands heat and flame for longer and for higher temperature.  A third product (whose name I can’t recall) is pre-burned and actually the best protection, allowing the driver several extra seconds of fire protection.
  2. Short-life tires
    Goodyear supplies all of the tires used in NASCAR racing, with an eye-popping price of more than $450 per tire!  The tires are between 11 and 12 inches wide, with only one-eighth inch of tread.  This is part of the reason that NASCAR races are suspended if it rains.  These tires usually last for only 50-100 miles!
  3. Down force
    I really hadn’t thought about the forces outside the cars, given their speed on the track.  That includes the aerodynamic forces.  Dr. Diandra described the down force on the front of the car as oncoming air hits the front of the hood.  That down force helps to keep the front tires gripping the surface.  So what keeps the rear tires gripping?  As the oncoming air continues over the top and back of the car, there is a bar similar to the spoiler on regular vehicles.  It breaks the airflow enough to convert some of that air pressure into a second downward force, which helps to keep the rear tires gripping the surface.
  4. G-force
    I also hadn’t thought about the forces inside these cars, as they are driving and turning (60% of the time) at speeds of 160 mph and higher.  As I recall, Dr. Diandra’s own test-drive at speeds of 160 mph meant that she would experience 2-G in those turns.  Think of how much physical strength it takes just to keep one’s head and shoulders stable enough to safely drive those speeds in a race!  One earlier driver used rope to tie his helmet to a part of the car, just to try to stabilize.  Now they have a built-in stabilizer bar right next to the helmet to somewhat reduce the stress.

The thought of watching cars racing around a track is still not an enticing entertainment for me, but I have a whole new appreciation for what’s involved in these and other aspects of the “science of speed!”


Posted by: Grandma LaLa | April 27, 2014

Top 4 learnings from the FNAL lecture: particle physics

What a great lecture on particle physics, presented last evening by Dr. Nigel Lockyer of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.  These public events are so stimulating.  What a gift to have such brilliant and talented scientists working in our neighborhood!

Particle physics isn’t my thing and really hasn’t ever been.  So there’s substantially more that I don’t know than what I do know.  Four things I learned last evening.

  1. Oscillation – The B_s meson (quark/antiquark) actually flips between matter and anti-matter.  The spontaneous oscillation occurs three trillion times per second!  This was scientifically established at Fermi in 2006.  The decay of matter into anti-matter and of anti-matter into matter isn’t quite equal, which may explain the ratio of matter to anti-matter in the observed cosmos.
  2. Analytic truths – Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence started, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.”  Ben Franklin revised this assertion from synthetic truth to analytic truth by changing it to read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”  I wasn’t really sure how that portion of the discussion linked to the particle physics.  I’m still not sure. With further deliberation, for me the discovered oscillation of the B_s meson and other quarks shifts the concept of what constitutes a particle.  I still think of a particle as a concrete and virtually unchanging thing that couldn’t be the same thing at each extreme of the oscillation.  That’s the “billiard ball” approach to physics – old school.  That’s an analytic assumption about the language of physics, called entirely into question by the synthetic evidence from the FNAL accelerator.
  3. Neutrinos – OK, I have to admit that I thought neutrinos were baby neutrons. LOL.  Of the particles known and named, it seems that we know the least about neutrinos.  And they don’t behave in ways consistent with that of other particles interacting with the Higgs field.  Neutrinos have very tiny mass and very little interaction with/in matter.  That’s what makes them so challenging to detect.
  4. NOvA – The NOvA experiment involves neutrino research, using liquid argon as the scintillator.  The particle beam originates in our neighborhood and travels to a local “near” detector and on to a “far” detector in Minnesota.  The first detection of neutrinos occurred just two months ago.  Amazing!  Research continues to investigate whether neutrino oscillation has a charge-parity violation (which helps to explain the abundance of matter vs anti-matter).

Twenty-four hours later, that’s the best I can do to summarize this impressive lecture.  Obviously, it wouldn’t withstand the critique of a physicist ~ nor likely pass a high school test these days.  It’s definitely time for me to go “back to school” on particle physics.

Posted by: Grandma LaLa | March 8, 2014

Wahoo, weekend!

As much as I enjoy the week and its serendipities, with weekends like this one they’re hard to top for adventure!

Friday night: bringing home small pastas from Noodles & Company; watching new online episodes of “Elementary” and “Big Bang Theory;” doing a little organizing of clutter from the week (ok, it’s really longer than that, but at least it’s progress!).

Elgin Symphony Orchestra's "Beethoven Inspired" concert

Elgin Symphony Orchestra’s “Beethoven Inspired” concert

Saturday: laundering clothes and linens; working with hubby to clean our library, kitchen, and dining room area; making homemade french onion soup for supper with Dad; seeing that Ron re-shoveled snowblown trails in our backyard for the canine who will be here this evening; enjoying the Elgin Symphony Orchestra’s concert focused on Beethoven and musically-related composers.

Sunday: resetting all of the clocks as we “spring forward” to Daylight Saving Time; taking a hike at a nearby forest preserve; hmmmm, maybe saving a little time to finally put away the rest of the Christmas and winter décor (hey, it IS still winter for almost two more weeks!); and hopefully getting to meet the adorable new baby in our community of friends.

Hope you’re having a great weekend too!

Posted by: Grandma LaLa | February 2, 2014

Wahoo, weekend!

So many weekends, so much fun.  Here’s a sample from the end of January and beginning of February.

Friday night: eating leftover nachos and chips; watching latest online episodes of “Elementary” and “Big Bang Theory;” packing two more cartons of holiday décor (now 75% done!); laundering two loads of clothes; and celebrating that there is an adorable new puppy in our neighborhood.

From The Claddagh Irish Pub in Geneva Commons

From The Claddagh Irish Pub in Geneva Commons

Saturday: enjoying the fresh snowfall (6+ inches this time); skipping breakfast to buy groceries before the store gets busy; quick-cleaning our downstairs rooms; gathering ingredients for homemade tacos for lunch; taking a delicious 2-hour nap; eating pub chips at The Claddagh Irish Pub as a late evening snack; and splurging on new books and DVDs from Barnes and Noble, using a (Christmas) gift card from my boss.

Sunday: making a quick trip to Dad’s so that his Cairn terrier has a chance to run and play in our great backyard trails that Ron shoveled for her today; making homemade lentil+carrot+kale soup for lunches this week; and watching the Super Bowl at Dad’s place.  Let’s go, Broncos!

Life is good with weekends like this!

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