Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reeher's Camp

Here's some photos from the Triple C Loop Hike at Reeher's Camp in the Tillamook State Forest.  It's a very easy, family-friendly hike that was perfect on a cold day.  A sprinkling of ice covered everything.  Strange mushroom-like ice formations littered the ground in places.  
Photo by Jasper.
Photo by Jasper.
Bird's nest fungi.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What is Technology Doing For You?

Technology offers us some pretty amazing tools.  It's up to us to use them wisely.  But are we?

Lately I've been taking Jasper to more of the Portland community drop-in events for homeschoolers. It used to be that he'd refuse to go unless he knew one of his friends would be there.  Now he feels differently.  He loves some of these activities for their own sake, and he feels more outgoing about meeting new kids.  For my part, I've noticed that it can be downright brutal to go without a friend and try to strike up a conversation with strangers in the hopes of meeting new people.  Certainly not every time...but more and more often, parents are hunched over their phones.  When we first started homeschooling, I thought people considered the whole point of these events to be a social time for both parents and kids. And not everyone seemed to consider smart phones to be a vital part of a family budget.  What happened? 

Over the past few years, homeschool groups and message boards have been steadily abandoning the awful Yahoo platform and moving largely to Facebook.  After all, lots of people are already on Facebook, so it's easy to see how this would seemingly simplify your life.  I've started using Facebook out of necessity, and I've noticed that Facebook makes me lonely.  It occurred to me, ironically, that I might not be alone in contemplating this, and discovered that research has been done on this very topic.  It seems that FB tends to depress people who use it as passive readers, seeing pictures of the best moments of other people's lives in their news feeds while they sit in front of a screen, and having tangibly less to show for their free time. FB tends to make people happy if they post a lot and get some validation from the response, and most of all if they mainly use FB as a tool to arrange face to face time with real friends and family.

There is a particular FB group I joined which has over 8,000 members.  With alarming frequency, people post asking for advice from total strangers that clearly ought to be given to them by trusted confidants or reputable experts.  Scrolling through the posts, it doesn't take long to read about strangers whose spouses are cheating, who want legal advice in custody battles, or want you to look at a picture of their child's medical condition and offer a diagnosis.  It's just not uncommon for FB to be used as a substitute for telling someone who cares and can help. This is not a positive use of this technology.  Facebook's job is to get us on Facebook more often, because that's how they make their $$.  We look at all that advertising, and we supply them with consumer data that they can sell.  But do we want to spend more time on Facebook?

I'm sure most parents, and homeschoolers especially, know very well how amazing screen time can be as a learning tool.  You can explore a vast variety of topics through websites and documentaries, and videos can make otherwise dry topics exciting and far more accessible to younger kids.  It's hard to imagine how we would have pieced together an astronomy unit, for example, without access to cutting edge documentaries we've borrowed from our library. They are often shot with superior graphics and imagery.  Yet experiences like seeing Saturn and its rings clearly through a small telescope at an OMSI Star Party, looking through the giant telescope at the Haggart Observatory and seeing a distant nebula, going outside in the middle of the night to see a lunar eclipse, meeting astronauts in person at public talks and hearing them describe what it's like to be in space and do experiments in the International Space Station, and seeing the huge meteorite collection at the Rice NW Museum of Rocks and Minerals where you get to touch one- something that came from space!- are experiences my son will remember far longer.  Using technology to find such resources is really positive.  But I'm convinced that too much screen time comes at the expense of our relationships with real friends and family and with the community and natural world around us.  All of us must find the right balance. It's there somewhere!

Oh...and if we see each other when we're out and about, let's put our phones down and say hello, shall we?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jackson Bottom

We went for a stroll at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve.  This time of year, overwintering waterfowl are big stars, and Jackson Bottom is a hotspot for viewing them.  We found the wetlands drier than we would have expected, with all the trails above the water. 
Mushroom.  Photo by Jasper.
Canada geese.  Photo by Jasper.
Canada geese.  Photo by Jasper.
Northern flicker.  (Thanks Michael for the ID help!)
Rose hips.

Egret and great blue heron.
Egret and mallards.
Bull thistle.
Canada geese.
Red-winged blackbird.
Egret and Canada geese.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Awesome New Blog!

This has been in the works for quite a while... My son Jasper has started his own blog.  It's called "Mushrooms In Disguise" and it's here:  This way, he can share is nature photography, book reviews, pictures of his Lego creations, and whatever he feels like sharing with the world.  His inaugural post features lots...and lots...and way too many mushroom pictures.  Because "mushrooms are awesome!".  And we certainly get lots of them here in the Pacific Northwest in the fall.  Here's one of my favorite of his pictures.  

Does your kid write a blog?  Tell me about it!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

3D Printers!

The 3D printer makes a little cat.  You can just see its feet
and tail on the screen near the bottom of the image.
 Jasper and many of his friends are super excited about 3D printers!  A while ago the Lake Oswego library became the first public library in Oregon to make 3D printing available to library patrons. Details on their availability are here:  We learned that Hillsboro Library is doing the same and went to a presentation to learn more. The purchase of the printers was raised through the efforts of the  Hillsboro Library Friends, clear evidence that all those books people donate to library book sales do make a difference!  They advised that Multnomah County is working on a similar project and hoping to bring 3D printing to the Rockwood branch.  And I've read that Ft. Vancouver Regional Library District is also considering 3D printers.  So wherever you are in the greater Portland area, 3D printing may be heading your way soon!

Hillsboro's program is not expected to start until January 2015.  They have purchased two Up! Mini 3D printers.  They are limited to printing objects within a 4.5" cubic area, which should work well, since anything larger could potentially take far too long to print than is practical for a shared printer.  Guidelines for use are not finalized yet.  So far, they are anticipating that patrons will be allowed to print a maximum of once a week and will not be charged for the service. The plastic itself is inexpensive, so if they do charge a fee in the future it will likely be minimal. Meeting with a trained staffperson to confirm that a proposed design will fit their capabilities will likely be a required prerequisite.  Patrons won't be able to watch their pieces being printed then and there, but will need to come back later to pick them up.
Jasper checks out a table of neato 3D printed objects.

This 3D printer, like most commercial models, prints objects in only one solid color.  However, objects made with ABS plastic are easy to paint. ABS plastic is most likely the material they will have available, but they will be testing to see if PLA plastic will work as well.  PLA plastic is has different tactile and visual qualities, is more rigid than ABS, and is considered more earth-friendly. It is made from plants instead of petroleum (although some sources of PLA are apparently made from GMOs) and will biodegrade if composted by a commercial composter. There are also special 3D printers that can print in such materials as ceramic, metal and even chocolate, or in multiple colors of plastic for the same object. NASA is actually working with a private company to see if food can be printed on the International Space Station!  Some companies that own fancy 3D printers will accept custom orders and will mail your object to you when completed.

If you'd like to try out the 3D printer, the first step would be to find or create something to print.  The website Thingiverse has become a popular place for 3D printer enthusiasts to share copyright free designs, so you could simply find one you like there.  If you'd rather create your own design, Tinkercad offers free online software and user-friendly tutorials. Hillsboro Library plans on eventually offering free CAD (computer aided design) classes to familiarize people with the process. They hope that this will be a first step in creating a community makerspace. How cool is that?

Busy printing another kitty!
Should you buy your own home 3D printer?  It doesn't sound like a great idea to me... yet.  My feeling is that this technology is bound to take the trajectory of many technologies as demand increases.  The heat will be on manufacturers to market future models that are more sophisticated and user friendly even as the price drops. This is why it makes perfect sense for 3D printers to be available as community resources beginning now, when it's not yet practical for most of us to purchase them for ourselves. Hillsboro Library staff advised that although they purchased two printers, they anticipate that they may only use one at a time, because they have a steep learning curve and frequently break down. They described owning a 3D printer as an experience quite unlike owning a home inkjet printer, which should work right out of the box, and more like a "tinkerer's hobby".   They might find it necessary to keep their second printer as a backup or a source for quickly replacing delicate parts that can break, since it takes a while to receive replacement parts.

Do most of us really need 3D printing?  Heck no!  But does it matter?  I doubt it.  Think about the many thousands of things we use nearly every day, that we just can't seem to live without, that we lived perfectly well without when we were growing up.  I'm betting it's not just a passing fad, but that 3D printing is here to stay.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Salmon at Eagle Creek Trail

In the fall, we never want to miss salmon making their long migration back to their spawning grounds.  Eagle Creek Trailhead is an ideal place to see them.  This year, we watched in amazement as thousands of salmon rested in the water just below the surface.  Afterwards, we stopped by the Bonneville Hatchery to see the fish ladder, feed rainbow trout and check out Herman the Sturgeon and company.  Herman was resting deep in his pond, hulking and not too handsome for his own good. Sadly, all his pictures came out far too murky.  
Salmon eggs.
Salmon just under the surface.
Rainbow trout at the Bonneville Hatchery.
An American dipper seen stealing salmon eggs from the fish ladder.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cedar Ridge Preserve

On our last day in Texas, in Dallas, I wanted to go for a nature walk. I know, that is kind of insane. We visited the Cedar Ridge Preserve, and although it was seriously hot, we lived to tell about it!  It's a lovely spot- which would be even better on a cool day.  I guess I got what I came for- something a bit different from what usually comes to mind when I think of Dallas.  A reminder of what the landscape held before all the pavement went down.

Damselflies by the pond.
A lizard high in a tree.