Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Bus Stripped Bare

For most of the journey the bus has been a in various states of disarray from "where is the, oh there it is" to "I've been through the bus three times and still can't find it." Much of this disorganization came from the fact that none of us on the bus are particularly organized, but some came from external sources. All the oil we started with forced us to stow personal items and living quarters supplies in non-optimal places. As we used the buckets of oil and disposed of them, we regularly shuffled items around to improve our comfort and ease of use. As more buckets disappeared everything else seemed to expand. Demonstrations that came out less often didn't always get packed away as efficiently as they were the first time. We were invited into homes and upon leaving, didn't pack away things as nicely. Then there was the oil. Transferring oil is never a totally clean operation. Oil is sticky and clings to the pump, to the buckets; every so often a little bit spills. This mixes the grime that accumulates from getting in and out of the bus. The large demonstrations on the floor of the bus also made hard to clean it up. The bus was messy and dirty. Then Erik said he wanted people to go through the bus.

Before all that, we went to the Sciencenter. The Sciencenter is a science exploration museum with displays and interactive exercises to explore different phenomena. The staff was great and super helpful. I, however, nearly created a disaster. The room was a mini amphitheater with a tiny stage. We placed our prop table on the edge of the stage. We were down in the aisle of the first row. I tried to climb up to grab a prop behind the table. The whole table slid, and I nearly took a tumble. I can't figure out what I was thinking. When I set up the table, I could feel it slide, and I knew it wasn't stable. The rest of the day was quite busy.

Eric was throwing a kick-off information event for a new Physics Factory project. As part of the information session, he asked Bruce and I to put on a show and let people in the bus. This meant the bus badly needed to be organized. The bus was relatively clean, but personal items were scattered about, and it was kind of messy -- we had been on the road for over a month. The event was held at Ithaca Generator. In order to clean up the bus, we decided to pull every demonstration off. This one night had more demonstrations ready to go that I have ever seen and Bruce can recall. We had a few demonstrations that we still hadn't used on this trip. They either took too much time or too much space, but today was the day everything came out. In addition to the regular floor show, we had the large harmonograph, the siphon race, the Coriolis machine, the coupled pendulum and dodecahedron all set up. We took up a lot of space in the parking lot, and the bus looked so spacious. The night was a little chaotic because all these demonstrations were out, and for a while I was the only facilitator. Even with Bruce around, there was always someone trying something a little unsafe. Normally, I think of this behavior as juvenile, because kids are used to things designed not to hurt them and tend to play hard until someone gets hurt, but this time I was heading off adults from irresponsible behavior far more often than children. It highlighted the importance of  facilitation for demonstrations and field testing to see how people can abuse and misuse them. Lessons learned, and no one got hurt, so the event went great.

May 11th

Happy Mother's day. Before heading out of town, we had Eric fiddle with the ignition, and lo and behold, he was able to reinstate two features. The backup beep works again (maybe for the first time in years), and the bus starts up much more easily. We are off to Pittsburgh.

Bruce Goes Home

 I find that it is hard picking which stories to tell on a given day; we were warmly
set off on our journey by Rob and Robin in Deerfield, MA. They graciously provided
us food, shelter, and access to a great number of amenities of which the most
important were their kindness and good company. We headed off for a short day's
drive to Troy, NY where I met the Bruce's parents.

Brian Bayly and Helen Bailey Bayly were our hosts, and we arrived in time for a
late lunch and an early afternoon tea. Then the stories began, interlaced with a
tour of the house, a walk around the grounds, lunch, tea, tea again; a continuous
stream of humorous anecdotes, witticisms, family history, local politics and recent
adventures were passed along. Helen told of how she met Brian when a friend told
her she had to come to a party. "Why" Helen asked, and her friend told her how
funny she thought it would be to introduce Mr. Bayly to Ms. Bailey. Helen didn't
think the homophone was all that funny, but we are all better off because she was
enticed to go (because the food was supposed to be good). It may be that Bruce's
very existence came into being because of the enticement of good food.

While being given a tour of the house, I was reintroduced to one of the most
powerful forces in the universe, but also one of the most gentle. Helen made
sure I went exactly where she was guiding me without having to stop her train of
thought by simply placing her hand on my arm and pulling me there. Her comfortable
confidence and motherly manner made me see how she had acquired so many adventures.

I cannot say her “can do” spirit was passed on to Bruce, because she clearly still
has it, but Bruce has kept the road show running often on his confidence that it
will succeed and solutions to all problems will be found. One story that I must
pass along is one where Bruce was a post-doc in NY. He was headed to his first job interview at Brown University. After being introduced by the head of the
department and just about to give his first job talk, a voice called out from the back.

 "Hi, Brucie!" Phillip, Bruce's brother, had found about the talk and came up to watch; according to Bruce most of the audience members were Phillip's friends. Bruce tells the story with his usual entertaining flair, but it is a time when he confesses to being flustered. Everyone who knows Bruce knows he easily adapts to adversity and moves on, but it is great to know that it is a learned skill, and we can all learn to deal with adversity as happily as Bruce does. Along our journey I got to meet Rachel and Fiona, sisters to Bruce, and both always called him Brucie. Then on our arrival to the house, Bruce sang out "Hellooo, is anybody there?" Helen's lyrical reply was one I cannot remember, but "Brucie" was in it.

The evening proceeded with more stories and a great local restaurant Garlic Lover's Quarter where we were served Middle Eastern cuisine, which was enjoyed and shared
around. Then Brian said we must try the "something Bomba" -- no one could remember
the dessert’s first name. It was a frozen passion fruit concoction that we ordered
one of with four spoons.

There is another great story about getting the bus up the nearly mile-long driveway
and fallen trees and power lines and transformers and possibly about lies of
omission, but I shall wait until Bruce and I can collaborate to remember as many of
the details as possible and maybe decide which details to leave out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bruce says Hello!

Tuesday 6 May: Bruce is blogging for the first time!  I woke up as the sky in the East was beginning to lighten - a habit I acquired from my high school teacher wife Elena. Shane and I were in the Bus at the home of Anne Tisdale-Ashford and her husband Jonathan in Concord MA - very close to Boston but far enough to be set out in beautiful farm country. We slept extremely well after last night's supper of a delicious "country chicken" stew - warm in our sleeping bags even though the outside temperature was predicted to be in the 30's.
It wasn't fun getting out of warm sleeping bags in the pre-dawn chill, but I felt that it would be good to start earlier than later, as Boston rush hour has the reputation of being tough. We got started around 6:30; traffic was already busy on Route 2 East but not yet congested. Unfortunately the vegetable-oil fuel system was!  It turns out that on cold mornings, the oil is reluctant to move quickly, even with all our heat exchangers, and on the first big uphill the engine shut down. Not very convenient!  But it as a matter of moments to coast onto the shoulder, and a couple of minutes to re-prime the fuel system - then we drove the rest of the trip on regular diesel fuel.
We arrived at the Shady Hill School before most of the staff, but Kim found us and put us in the capable hands of Tim, who showed us where to park and unload. Well worth getting there before parents started arriving and dropping off children!  Our host Erika helped us get set up, and we were warmly welcomed by Mark, Alison, and many more teachers whose names went in and out of my head. Our venue was the venerable Assembly Hall that appeared to date to the founding of the school 100+ years ago - high ceilings and massive beams, it was the most majestic room we've presented in on this trip.
The presentation itself was delightful - about 250 middle-school students in grades 5-8 sitting on the wooden floor. This can be a difficult age range if there's any tendency among older students to be more concerned with whispering to their friends than watching the experiments. But not this group!  They favored us with our attention from the first moment and got more and more into the presentation as it progressed. Afterward a teacher (whose name I forgot) said that having the middle school students on the same campus as the elementary grades encourages the older kids to adopt responsible behavior as models for the younger ones. I'm not sure if this would happen everywhere, but at Shady Hill it works just fine.
A note of thanks to our sponsor: THANKS to Lee Herbst for connecting us with Shady Hill School!  You should be receiving some appreciative letters and emails from students and teachers.
From Shady Hill we drove south to the rural town of Pembroke, home of Dolly's friend Richard Edlund. Like Dolly, Richard is a graduate of the Boston Museum of Art School, and he had a distinguished 30 year career in commercial art - the Pep Boys logo of Manny, Moe, and Jack being one of his better-known designs. In retirement he drew the whirling-bus logo of the Arizona Math Road Show that we are sure will become just as famous!  Richard's house is a vortex of creative energy, full of his artwork and musical instruments - plus a bust of the cartoon character The Tick, created by Richard's son Ben!
We tore ourselves away to start - finally! - our journey westward back to Tucson. We had been graciously invited to stay with Robin Sherman, a college friend of Bruce's wife Elena Martin. Robin and her husband Rob live in a lovely renovated farmhouse in Deerfield MA, in the foothills of the Berkshires. We wanted to help her prepare dinner, but she firmly directed us to stay on the spectator side of the kitchen counter. Just as well, as she whipped up chili and cornbread in a controlled whirlwind of activity that we could not possibly have survived!  However she did let Shane bake his trademark oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies afterward - on condition that he replace the chocolate chips with cranberries in half the batch. Not a bad bargain!
With the early start and nonstop activity throughout the day, plus the wonderful supper, we could not stay awake until Rob came home. Robin set us up with extremely comfortable beds, and we slept extremely well.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Shane Says Hello 5.5

We left Devin at the Omega institute in New York in the hands of good friends. We were sad to lose him but glad that he received such a warm welcome by the staff Devin will be working with for the rest of the summer. I cannot mimic Devin's storytelling style, so I will not try. But I hope to capture some of those same moments that have made impressions on us and that highlight the excitement of the trip.

Monday, Bruce and I went to Boston. Bruce took the opportunity to visit M.I.T., where he was graduate student “long long ago.” We discovered that it is very difficult to navigate Boston in a bus with Google maps. Bruce knew there were many low bridges in the area and a large number of parkways that are “cars only.” The extensive tunnels that move an amazing number of people in and out of Boston every day do no allow the GPS. System to know where you are. Google maps decided to reset the map to middle of Massachusetts when we were underground. The streets are so tightly packed that it is easy for the GPS to confuse which street we were on with an adjacent street and told us to make impossible turns. Google maps firmly believed we could make u-turns at will, and the bus had a turning radius of a compact car. This was far more apparent on our way out of town when Google maps did all of these things in quick succession, always rerouting us to roads that were cars only. Fortunately Bruce's thirty-year-old memory of Boston's roads prevailed.

Between our ingress and egress to and from the city of Boston, we had the most amazing weather. We also found out that it is easy to park a bus in Boston at least if you know about the autopark. The Museum of Science doesn't allow buses to park on site, but they do have directions for where to find bus parking. This information was not easily found anywhere else in my search of the internet, so I thank the content manager of the Museum of Science web-page. Having parked the bus a stone's throw from Bunker Hill, we rode our bikes right past ignoring its tourist appeal. Likewise the U.S.S. Constitution was just around the corner, but we pedaled our way over to M.I.T. Bruce grew nostalgic as we wandered the halls, and stories poured forth both while cycling and walking around the campus. One story that made the already ebullient Professor Bayly light up was the one about a prank measuring the Massachusetts Ave Bridge over the Charles River in Smoots (The length of Oliver Smoot who was supposedly to inebriated to notice his fraternity brothers moving him along the bridge and marking off his lengths in chalk) where it was 364.4 Smoots plus or minus an ear, which was part of the great lore of M.I.T. pranks that he learned of on his first week on campus.  

We found our way to the food trucks outside the medical center where many years ago Bruce said there was one falafel truck and “it wasn't very good, but it was close and it was the only one.”  We had a chickpea fritter sandwich (Yes I think that is falafel, but they called it a chickpea fritter sandwich) and rosemary fries from Clover. The food was great in scale and flavor. One sandwich easily fed us both.

There are many stories to tell, but it has grown late, and another day will soon be upon us. I must say thanks to: our host at M.I.T, Bruce's former student Martin Bazant who allowed us to sit in on a lecture on ion particle dynamics in an quasi-neutral medium, and Anne Tisdale-Ashford and Jonathan Ashford who opened their home to us, plied us with food and drink, told wonderful stories and introduced us to new friends and future scientists. Tomorrow the physics factory rides again with an event at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge, MA.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Devin says good-bye!


Dear readers, this is my last earthbound broadcast, so to speak. With that said, there is more that I must put in after the fact, but I have greatly enjoyed the past few weeks of informing each of you as to the whereabouts of the Arizona Mathematics Road Show.

Starting out on a cold and wet morning Thursday we prepared to do the impossible. There is an old saying that the truest test of a mad man is getting him to park a school bus on the street in the Lower East Side (LES). Well, even if that's not a saying, it should be: today we were going to attempt to park the bus outside of the LES Girls Club. Now, the brief version of the history of the club is that New York has had plenty of Boys Clubs but never anywhere for a girl/young woman to go that offered the same benefits. So, pretty recently, several folks took careful note of this imbalance and decided to address it with dedication. The newly bought club features classrooms of an incredible variety: everything from workshops, to kitchens, and even a planetarium. I digress, the insides of the building are expansive, but it is rather small on the outside, so our parking became a fearsome obstacle. It took us two full circuits around the block in order to find somewhere long enough to park without getting a ticket. Length aside, we now had to worry about whether we would be blocking off an entire street. Our estimation was that traffic would still be able to make it through the gap, so we went off to spend our day in the city before the performance. Still, I think we took the last parking spot in Manhattan.

Our next stop was the Museum of Natural History. Why? As it so happens, another of my aunts works on the fifth floor in a section devoted to Biodiversity. She met us downstairs and then pulled back the curtains to show us the world that exists behind all the exhibits. I kid you not, there was a point at which she actually rolled back a whole wall to reveal a secret elevator for staff members. Wow, there was nowhere near enough time to explore the entire place. So, we cut our losses and walked back to the Club for our shows. What I would give to stay overnight in the museum though...

Back at the Girls Club of New York, we traded our demonstrations for their marvels. Of course I don't mean literally an exchange of materials, much more like cross pollination. We did two brief shows, and I thought both of them went extremely well. The second one was a performance for young women who are older than our usual audience, so I was delighted when the initial wall of cool crumbled and fell, leaving eyes bright with curiosity. We even had the chance to take a trip out to the edge of the galaxy and back before the end of the day via the planetarium!

After our busy day, we caught dinner with some of Shane's friends from Tucson and then returned to our roost in New Jersey.

On Friday we all split up to pound the streets of the city. My Dad was mostly interested in visiting sites of his old stomping grounds; I went down to the pier in Queens to visit a friend's performance space; Shane and his girlfriend went back to the Museum of Natural History to try to get a grasp on the tourist side of the institution. Later in the day, I met with my Dad at the Museum of Mathematics in what can only be described as a feat to telepathy: without any communication, after parting ways on the subway, we arrived within five minutes of each other at the museum. We looked around for a while, and then walked down to a party with some math folks he had known 30 years ago. The day sure filled itself up nicely.

The two of us caught a train back to the Jersey suburbs and pretty quickly found ourselves asleep in beds upstairs.

Saturday broke upon us, and we drove out to host a booth at a miniature STEM convention in Larchmont, NY. The whole event was happening at a middle school in the town, and apparently it was fairly large: something like 2000 people showed up for the gathering. We started at 1:00pm in this wonderfully spacious area. The whole five hours would have been nothing but an excellent send off for me if I had not been in the process of losing my voice. As such, I had to time my explanations around hovercraft launches. I won't forget to mention that we were joined by the people in charge of the illustrious Bio Bus! But, like anyone with a bus knows: if you have a bus, you will have engine trouble. This seems to be some sort of natural law. Anyway, they were not taken by surprise, and managed to bring several microscopes in a Subaru, and put on quite a show of force at the mini-convention. However, I was heartbroken, because I had been planning for some time that I would have the chance to duct-tape a harmonica to their front bumper, and now that opportunity must wait another 18 months.

We drove for the rest of the day, and presently arrived four minutes from my site of departure. Naturally, I write this all hours after the bus has left the parking lot of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, so this is my last broadcast, like I said before. Thank you all for following us on our journey, and please don't be too rough on Shane, because he is picking up where I left off.  

Tasty Bits:

We nearly sheared off the top of the bus going underneath a nine foot bridge on the way to the Taconic State Parkway. Some sort of misinformation.

It rained and rained and rained.


The rain came down. Yesterday's weather seems determined to wash the east coast into the sea, and each of us couldn't help but wonder if we were in for more. We woke up where we were staying in Rehrersburg, PA, and the rain hadn't let up an inch. In fact, the drops were getting thicker, and the air inside the bus was cold enough for us to see our breath. We were forced to huddle under whatever blankets we could throw together, and that still didn't keep us completely comfortable. This was an unusually dreary day, but at least the bus was behaving itself.

I would like to point out the operative word here in the last sentence is the “was.” Our plan was to spend some time at the Liberty City Science Center in New Jersey, but apparently our engine had different plans. After being on the road for a couple of hours, we started to lose power again. According to my Dad, the engine trouble the day before was due to our diesel filter, but now our veggie oil filter was all blocked up. He replaced our used filter, but there was something else keeping us from maximum throttle. So, we pulled into a Love's truck stop and got large hot chocolates while we figured out the next step. We decided to do a quick engine oil change, and soon realized that due to the temperature outside, quick was not an option: the viscosity of the oil was so high that we could only pour in half cup increments every thirty seconds, or the funnel would overflow. The flip side of this slow drip was that we got to eat a nice hot lunch of soup and Shane's world- famous wraps.

Following lunch, we did a quick meeting of the minds and agreed that this precipitation just about had us beat. In a multi-stage effort to rally against the damp, we bought ponchos, snacks from Trader Joes, and called off the Liberty City Science Center visit. As the last part of this plan we got in touch with another of my Dad's old students and then drove to his house. Fortunately, we are now indoors and quickly drying in the company of friends!

Tasty Bits:

Even though the engine is a great hot object, we were not able to harness its waste heat for the inside of the bus, because the air and moisture whooshed in from the undercarriage.

I just heard that there is a flash flood warning until 10:00pm tonight too.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Last Parking Spot in Manhattan

The folks at the Lower East Side Girls Club reserved this spot for us on 7th street by Avenue D. It was exciting getting a 40 foot bus around the Alphabet City section of Manhattan on street sweeping day!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On the road again!


DC is now just a colorful memory, and we move ever onward. Believe it or not, the schedule is just as full as ever, we just have to drive slower because the Northeast is rather populated. Monday can be divided into two separate halves: the part where we left my Aunt's house, and the section where we drove until Newark. However, it's worth mentioning that Shane's girlfriend brought Tucson Tamale Company, and our last meal in my Aunt's house was a taste from home.

We left the bus at the Newark Charter School (NCS), which was the site of our next performance, and met up with an old student of my Dad's. He met us in the freezing Delaware parking lot, and we gave an impromptu presentation to his kids who weren't part of NCS. We all carpooled back to their spot in a nice little neighborhood and dug in to an unreal BBQ spread for dinner. I spent the rest of the evening attempting to catch up on blogging posts, and soon found myself up far too late. I rubbed my eyes to try to make the clock turn backwards, and upon failing, decided to turn in for the night.

We did a couple of lightning fast shows at the school the next day. The folks we were staying with had lent us a car to get back to the school, and we pulled in with time to spare. Luckily, this extra time gave us the chance to figure out how we were supposed to boil down our show into about 25 minutes, because that was all the time NCS was giving us. Honestly, I liked the whole performance better, but it was a tad bit rushed. If we could figure out a way to still connect each separate demonstration, then we would have a real power-packed number.

Once the shows were all done, we hit the road for PA, and accomplished both of our goals for the rest of the day: we found somewhere to rest, and we sniffed the air in Hershey, PA. The air wasn't that delicious, but it's nice to be under the roof of another road trip veteran.

---Tasty Bits:

We finally found something else we can pass on the road: a horse and buggy. That's right, today we crossed through Amish country!

End of the Convention


Sunday was a reflection of sorts for our booth at the festival. I had stayed out rather late into the evening and as a result slept like the dead well past the time that everyone else had driven into the District. I arrived several hours into the final day of the convention and tapped out Shane and my Dad so they could rest their joints and vocal chords. I helped more people understand what harmony looks like and taught them how to do several sound experiments with everyday stuff.

There were several key differences worth mentioning though. Later on, I happened to be walking past one of the stages when I noticed that the next show was going to be the traveling arm of the Franklin Institute. I have never considered myself above a little bit of spying, and so I immediately ran back to the booth to get my camera. I returned, and watched 40 minutes of well-executed and finely packaged science. Following the show, I grabbed their contact information, so there may come a time soon where they find themselves as members of our own captive audience!

The convention closed half an hour later, and we moved on to evening plans. It took us a while to pack everything away, but you need to understand that our gear needed to fit into a fraction of its original space in order to leave the festival: we had borrowed my Aunt's tiny Honda Fit to shuttle our entire show to the convention center. I believe that there exists footage of our exodus from our booth, but it might take some time to reach you. Until then, trust that we are capable and inventive when the hour demands it of us. The next stop in the day was getting dinner with another old friend of my Dad's out in Bethesda, MA. I had a fantastic time catching up with the guy, because I am starting to realize that I am the age now where I can appreciate my Dad's friend's company fully. We said our goodbyes much later and officially wrapped up the last day of the SCI FEST.

Tasty Bits:

According to the founder of the convention, it is absolutely necessary to allow for an entire year to pass in between each festival. I believe we scientists are a little harder to host than the Comic-Con crowd.

At the Convention with 35,000 others!


Today we got to move into our 10'x10' booth in the sub level cavern of the convention center. The time had finally come to show the people of the world what the Arizona Mathematics Road Show was all about. We were in the best shape of our demonstration lives thanks to the 30+ shows that lay behind us across the southern half of the U.S. But wait, something wasn't quite right: where were the crowds of small children who would undoubtedly tear the place apart unless we appeased their every wish? Hmm, it suddenly seemed like we might be able to ease into this booth thing, as opposed to a metaphorical leap of faith.

Really, I won't say that I was disappointed, but by the time the VIP party started, we hadn't even done 50 harmonograph drawings. However, I mustn't look a gift horse in the mouth: the gentle start to the weekend gave us much needed time to fine tune the few instruments that we weren't in the habit of bringing in with us for shows. The harmonograph was creating better and better graphs of harmony, and all of a sudden the PA system boomed above us, “Thank you for coming to the Science and Engineering Festival, the halls will be shutting down in 15 minutes. Please come back tomorrow for even more fun, and STEM.” Holy Smokes I thought, the time was 2:45 pm, and at 3:00 we were basically done. For the next three hours we were invited to wander through the convention center, and explore the other booths that were a part of the Festival.

I mean this place was full of intrigue, where were we supposed to begin? I found it very interesting to observe how information trickled from person to person by word of mouth, and eventually we discovered that there was an opening ceremony happening on one of the halls above. I followed the masses up escalator after escalator until I came to a truly impressive display of bodies in motion. I had the fleeting impression of being a single water molecule flowing down a gradient and coming to rest in a landscape depression alongside fellow molecules. At this opening ceremony, I let most of the pleasantries drift through one ear and out the other; however, one piece stuck, and I filed it in my mind under convention trivia: imagine this, we were about to experience a wave of people numbering somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000. WHAT?? We were going to need at least another packet of paper for the harmonograph.  

Once I had recovered from that shock, I followed my group out to dinner with some old friends, and put any disturbing thoughts of large numbers out of my mind.

Tasty Bits:

It turns out that you can use other people's mouths as musical instruments if you have a long enough series of straws joined end to end. All they have to do is mouth A E I O U while you blow the improvised reed instrument. 


This is the day we have all been waiting for: Science and Engineering Festival day one! I would be hard pressed to explain why it is that I am not always interested in chasing down details even if I am involved in the final version of a plan. All I am trying to introduce to you is that on Thursday I woke up, and found out that I was going to be riding the metro into the city with my step mom, and we were supposed to find our way to the convention center. Deal, no prob; I mean, I grew up in the grid system city of Tucson, so navigating DC (also grid) should have been a cinch. So, the two of us went out the door and made our way to where we would catch the Metro. After riding into the District with little or no effort, we emerge into the sunshine with little or no clue of what direction is north, south, east, whatever. Luckily, we looked exactly like the folks who needed a friendly push in the right direction, and that is just what happened: two seconds after looking up and down each street, someone nearby says “The convention center is that way.” Perfect, but my pride wasn't thrilled that someone knew I was a tourist seconds after getting out of the Metro.

We made it to the Walter Washington Convention Center with no further trouble, and pretty soon the rush of activity took the day away. We had the opportunity to give two separate performances, which were now being called workshops. The small difference between a workshop and a show is just the amount of time you take to explain how members of the audience might find themselves in our shoes: “We're not the myth busters,” my Dad explained, “you can try this at home.” The workshops went very well. In both of these separate cases the three of us got into a finely tuned rhythm, and the additional questions from the audience gave us the chance to provide greater depth than what we have become accustomed to. The only noteworthy punctuation between one show and the other was our Indian food lunch break: each of us was soon stuffed to the gills, and their curry was the perfect level of too hot to handle.

Tasty bits:

I had heard about the DC film festival while I was at the Embassy last night, so today I went off in search of some quality cinema. Just three city blocks from the convention center, I found the Goethe Institut where they were showing the film Cairo Drive. This is a must see Egyptian slice of life all done in the backseats of cars suffering from traffic in Cairo. Don't knock it till you try it.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Here's a link to a newspaper article about a presentation Bruce, Devin and Shane did in Maryland.

They are now heading north to New Jersey, New York, New England ("new" territory, for sure)!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Great Falls National Park


The sun came out for a little while today before disappearing in the clouds, but we still found adventure in a drizzly DC area. I woke up after everyone in my Aunt's house had gone on to various activities. My first thought was that it was the middle of the day and I had done a miniature Rip Van Winkle. However, I saw a clock, and Shane came back shortly. He then explained what everyone else was up to: he and my Dad were set to perform at the Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, VA, and my step mom was waiting to take me to Great Falls National Park

Pretty soon, Shane's prophecy was realized, and everybody left the house heading in different directions.

My step mom and I went off in search of some nature. Honestly, it was an act subconsciously aimed at the fact we had spent most of yesterday wandering around Sears looking for suits I could wear. The whole place did much more than give us a dose of nature: I felt like could have stayed forever and watched the waters of the Potomac cascade over rocks. When we returned back to my Aunt's house, we were greeted by my Dad and Shane who had finished their performance. According to them, the show went as good today as shows get: the audience was incredibly responsive, and now they all love science. Naturally, after that the two of them were napping on sofas in the living room, and suddenly looking at them made me realize how tired I was myself. I went straight up to the guest room and fell into a solid sleep instantly.

By the time I woke back up, I could smell various aromas that were climbing the stairs, and filling the room. Downstairs Shane was fiddling around with a curry, and by the time I was fully awake, it was time to eat. Well, I have to hand it to him, the man knows his way around a yellow chicken and rice curry. But as I write this, I am starting to smell something altogether new. Allow me to end this short posting here, and I will go investigate the source of these smells.

Till tomorrow!

Tasty Bits:

My step mom and I almost got to witness a rescue in progress out at Great Falls today. Unfortunately, it looked like the folks at Cabin John Rapid Rescue were only interested in practicing, which consisted mainly of determining the speed that would keep them in exactly the same spot on the river. Even if this is a rather difficult trick, it is altogether unimpressive to watch.4.22

Monday, April 21, 2014


Today we were in hunter gatherer mode. Yes, I'm aware that we are near that hot spot of civilization called the District of Columbia, but we thought we should get it out of our system. Although we spent most of the morning hunting and gathering small necessary items, Shane and my Dad managed to evolve as far as being able to use power tools: they spent the afternoon building, and fixing various demonstrations for the upcoming conference. However, I am not sure how their trajectory fared into the evening, because they went to go play disc golf with someone who graduated from the U of A. Either disc golf represents the final rung in humanity's ladder of evolution, or their development asymptotically petered out after using the rental jigsaw cutter.

I on the other hand did little to better myself for most of the day, but instead caught up with my Aunt, and her partner. I went on the errand run in the morning, which took us to four different hardware stores, two toy stores, a Michaels, and finally a grocery, all before lunch. That's right, somebody call Guinness World Records. Our final stop was in a shopping center called Seven Corners. The name has to do with the seven roads which join just outside of this location. Whether this is necessary, or some form of civic engineering jape, it doesn't matter; the plaza is a truly fearsome place, and I barely made it out without turning into a gibbering mess.

Perhaps I'm guilty of exaggeration, but it was a welcome rest getting back to my Aunt's house. After we had eaten lunch, Shane and my Dad began a careful execution of the second half of the top paragraph, and I stuck around to talk to our hosts. At length, we covered just about all the subjects involved in a well rounded catch-up session, and pretty soon her partner said he was going to take a drive to Barnes and Noble to look at a book. I rarely pass up an opportunity to be surrounded by paper and words, so I jumped in his Jetta and shouted “Giddyup!” Actually, that last bit didn't happen, and instead we had a nice drive, talking about diesel engines. Fast forward, neither of us found anything we were particularly interested in, and we returned home. Later on in the evening, the two of us started a French thriller by the name of Cache (hidden), and got very near finishing it. Suddenly, Shane, my Dad, and my step mom all were in the room! I had completely forgotten the date of her flight. Not long after, the excitement subsided, and we all settled down to eat a delicious salmon dinner with broccoli and couscous. .

The following day we planned a trip to scout out the Walter Washington Convention center. Once we were all ready, my Aunt drove us into the city. Shane didn't join us; instead he went to Maryland to visit with another cousin who, according to Shane, has quite a green thumb. There was almost no warning before reaching the District: all of a sudden buildings that housed important offices of state surrounded us on all sides. I began to imagine that it was just a little bit unreal, but DC is really not that big, so I guess there can't be much in between each national this or that. We arrived at our destination, and quickly found the convention center busy with something called “Awesome Con.” Again, I was shocked: my expectation must have been that the convention center was waiting patiently for the science and engineering conference; however I see how little sense that makes now.

We continued our tour through DC after realizing we could do no reconnaissance of the building while it was crawling with costumed creatures. My Aunt then took us to two other important stops: the Swiss Embassy, where we have an evening event this week; the apartment of her partner, which we might use for sleeping during our stay in DC. Now well into our city tour, I began to marvel at the sense of direction my Aunt possessed. Maybe I'm easily impressed because I grew up in Tucson, where everything still largely is arranged in a grid system, but still the nerve center of the nation, and all of its surrounding metro area, are somewhat labyrinthine.

The trip concluded just after lunch time, so we followed it with food, and then I became a free agent with an afternoon to spend in Falls Church. Our party size decreased one more time when my Aunt stayed home to work around the house. This meant the group now consisted of me, my Dad, and my step mom. We drove my Aunt's little car out to get dim sum at the Seven Corners Mall. The food was excellent, and soon we all were groaning happily. The two of them collapsed at home for a short nap, and I went out to find a coffee shop. I almost made it to a fun little spot called SpaceBar, but Falls Church takes Easter very seriously, so it was closed. Taking refuge in a nearby Panera, I spent my next few hours, but soon I returned home to have dinner with the gang. I think I'm starting to get some bearings, because I only got lost once riding back on bike!

The next day I found my way back to Seven Corners (again), and my Dad went with Shane to do a school visit. My step mom and I were on a mission to do some suit shopping, and I have to say I think I am going to have unpleasant dreams about silky things crawling up and down my arms. Somehow I found an argument for a particular set of pants, shirt, and jacket, so we bought them and left to get lunch at a little Thai restaurant. To keep us from plowing into a nap afterwards, we went out for a ride miles along a cute little bike path. Although it leads all the way to DC, we went only 20 miles round trip. Without planning, we got home just before the other two had returned with the bus.

Over dinner I got to hear how the show went without me. According to Shane, the audience was a slight struggle, and he wound up exhausting himself by trying to keep up the energy in a vacuum. He might even go further and write a short description to add to this post after the publication, so keep your eyes out if you want more details. According to my Dad, the show went perfectly, so I think they must have performed at different schools. Anyways, the dishes are done, and everybody is getting ready for bed, so too must I.

I hope everyone had a pleasant weekend!

Tasty Bits:

The Rufous-Breasted Wren makes a “KettleKettleKettle” noise.
I wrote the wrong name of a wren. Its the Carolina Wren, not the Rufous-Breasted.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

4.17-4.18 -- HEADING NORTH.

Good morning Myrtle Beach! What a wonderful sleep; I certainly couldn't complain about the smell of breakfast which accompanied my waking. Someone had made scrambled eggs with mushroom, complete with toast, and bacon. When I had taken a shower, and changed clothes, I found everyone still sitting at the table happily digesting. I could tell that this wasn't going to be a day where we rushed anywhere, so I got outside a plate of my own in a leisurely fashion. In fact, we had so much time that we even got to do a load of laundry while staying with Shane's Aunt! What did they ask for in return after all this hospitality? Well, nothing that strange: just that we help take a recliner back to their neighbor. I decided this was perfect blog material, so I pulled out the camera. When I had finished shooting, I smiled as I thought about how maybe our presence had transformed this manicured community into a rather interesting place.

Mischief managed, we then hit the road once more heading North, and put in a days worth of driving again. The day lacked any real punctuation, and once we had loaded some P.G. Wodehouse onto the radio to provide company for my dad, Shane and I both took afternoon naps. Waking up some time later in the evening, He and I noticed that the bus was no longer the only vehicle moving far below the speed limit: we had run into some serious traffic. All of us waited quite a few minutes before receiving any clue as to what had created the delay. Presently, the metal clot steadily dissolved, and by that time
we saw several state troopers pulled over at 20 yard intervals. Forward another standard 20 yards was the crisp remains of a compact no longer distinguishable my make, or model. I dwelt upon this scene even after stopping for the day, and brought one thought to the surface: perhaps speed on the interstate is a pool on which we all draw upon, and when one party exceeds their allotted share, the pool shrinks to create droughts in the form of traffic jams. However, situations like these are as intense as they are brief, and I surrender myself to the mystery on the side of the road.

My sleep held no fiery crashes, and pretty soon I joined the ranks of the living in Richmond where we had stopped the night before. Not for the first time, I woke to discover my Dad and Shane had made tracks, and were no doubt off doing something productive. Soon after finishing two bowls of  cereal, I learned from my Dad that Shane was pants shopping, and would be back soon enough. In the meantime, he said I could go check email at the restaurant inside the TA truck stop if I wanted. While sipping a hot chocolate, I caught up with things electronic, but discovered little. Not too much later, Shane came back, and told us that we needed to check out the mystery machine before leaving Richmond. I gawked at him not understanding the reference for a second or two. Well, he wasn't kidding, and all I can say is it was pretty special to be there with two infamous vehicles in proximity. Without anything else to distract my Dad, we made decent time all the way to my Aunt Rachel's house in Falls Church. The bus pulled into the city around 4:00 pm, which seems to be rather standard, and we spent an hour at the Mary Riley Public Library down the street from Giants grocery. Not only is this a special place for being so close to the a store frequented by fairytale creatures, the Library has an incredible story. Rather, the story is inspiring, but not altogether new: Mary was a remarkable woman who devoted flesh and bone to making sure folks around had access to literature, so the branch was named in her honor. Thanking Mary in my mind, each of us settled in. Before I had even made it past my book's introduction, a librarian on the loudspeaker announced it was closing time. As we packed up to go, I had the thought that a perfect demonstration of the pervasive magic of books is the way time behaves in the buildings which house them.

Anyways, we left the library and steered to our resting place. Currently, the air carries a hearty aroma, and Shane is prodding me with the hope he might dislodge me from my writer's trance to come eat dinner. I think I will end things here, and another day goes!


Tasty Bits:

Before driving out of Myrtle Beach, Shane's Aunt's husband Henry humored Shane's request that we might get a photo of the front of the bus in Henry's car's review mirror. Now, why would we do something that would force me to use so many possessives to describe? Well, I'll give you the background, but I want you to try to figure it out: while we were stranded in Florida I had a clever moment as I watched my Dad adorn the back of the bus with three words; once he finished, I painted “WOHS HTAM ZA ” on the front above the windshield. Do you understand?

Three separate things occurred today that have me convinced I'm being haunted by Harlan Ellison: I was reading one of the comic books Shane carries with him on his hard drive and a particular issue contained an introduction by Harlan; when I got to the library I checked into a catalog computer, only to discover that the last person had been searching for books by, guess who, Harlan; on the way to getting groceries, the directions I was using steered me down Ellison street for .3 of a mile. However, I'm not excessively alarmed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014



But I'm getting ahead of myself . . . Where did I leave off? Oh yes, we spent the night in Bonifay at the mechanics shop: the owner of BST, Billy Sellers himself, had left the office open for us to spend the night. Although the upstairs office windows would have been perfect for watching the eclipse, a huge storm rolled in. Just as a piece of trivia, this was the very same storm that had convinced the Governor of Alabama to cancel his travel plans that week. Anyway, the weather that night seemed only to suggest further complications with the bus.

The following morning the sun rose on a windy and wet world. I wasn't inclined to wait around the shop all day, so I suggested that we make the Holmes County Library the second base of operation for the duration of our stay in Bonifay. All in favor, we drove into town, and grabbed breakfast. Following our large meal at the Waffle House, Shane and I settled in at the library for the long haul.

However, the haul turned out to be rather brief. After several hours had passed, my Dad called Shane with good news: Warren, the prodigal mechanic, had managed to get the engine running! Shane and I couldn't believe what we were hearing, because Warren had originally stormed off after a particularly long, and dirty, session under the bus. As soon as the bus pulled up outside, we jumped in. and sped off without one backward glance.

Since then, we have been slowly readjusting to life aboard the bus. We spent most of that day driving towards Jacksonville with no real excitement to speak of. Following the bleak day, we then found a Kangaroo Truck Stop to spend the night. As the evening went on, Shane pulled another pasta dinner out of his sleeve. Despite its dubious origin, the pasta went down nicely, and soon we were all asleep.

The three of us had almost got back in the swing of things: only problem was it had been more than week since our last official show. Shane hit the phone early to remedy this situation, and pretty soon we found ourselves booked for a show at the Myrtle Beach Boys and Girls Club. All that lay in between was 300 miles, and this really cool bridge! I will make sure a video of it gets onto the YouTube channel, but some photos are included.

Well past the bridge, we came to South Carolina territory. Apparently, the majority of businesses we passed were focused on beach supplies, miniature golf, and Jaws themed seafood restaurants. The notable exceptions to the above are the existence of two gigantic water parks located half a mile from the Atlantic Ocean.

Instead of stopping to talk sternly to each park manager in turn, we kept driving along the bus only lane (sadly, bus stands for business) all the way to the clubhouse. An enjoyable show ensued, but we were cut short as a result of strange traffic patterns. Perhaps I should just say we were late . . . by almost an hour. However, I must point out Myrtle Beach rush hour comes on early and strong.

With driving and demonstrations all done, Shane directed us to the house of his Aunt. She lives in this gorgeous house ensconced in a Highland themed neighborhood. He is now cooking up Thai chicken curry, and I'm salivating, so perhaps I should just wrap this post up.

Until next time y'all!

Tasty Bits:

So, the bus was looking pretty hopeless for a while, but the night before it started running again three special things happened: firstly, a lunar eclipse occurred; secondly, the bus was left outside in a thunderstorm (think Frankenstein); thirdly, my step-grandmother lit a candle to help us with our trials. Unfortunately, this is a classic example of a weak technical experiment, because we cannot conclude that any one of the three played a critical part.

We had a Princess at the club today; that was really her name.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

And Now for Something Extra!


Our show today was at the Lagniappe Academie which is a small charter school in downtown New Orleans. We had parked at the school early, and went looking for a nearby cafe to use their internet. This quest deposited us at the Starbucks symbiotically nestled inside a French Quarter Sheraton. I was impressed by their gazebo-esque bar and infinity loop positioned bathroom mirrors, but their espresso was just average. Time ran away with itself, and we were soon walking back to the school. We were greeted at the gate by our contact: a teacher named Thomas Mickley-Doyle. I'll only describe him as the science teacher everybody wishes they could have. He was a delight to get to know, and his enthusiasm during our visit was palpable. With the help of the other teachers, he got all the kids seated, and we began. I thought both shows went great; I have the fond memory of one little girl explaining that in order to shoot square smoke rings we just needed to try harder. She is bound for greatness no doubt. All in all, it was a treat to visit the Lagniappe Academie.

The next destination was an early supper date with Ricardo Cortez at Tulane University. Ricardo is a mathematician who is currently working with one of my Dad's colleagues at the university. The two of them are both looking for ways to introduce the concept of mathematical modeling to high school students. As we walked to the student union to grab food, Ricardo took the time to answer our questions about the city. During this time, he told us that the name Lagniappe is actually a term to describe that little bit extra which comes with something else; more or less, the equivalent of our phrase of a baker’s dozen. I still don't know quite how to use the phrase correctly, but it solved the mystery of school’s name. He gave us a tour of the campus, and we gave him a tour of the bus; we got the better deal. Pretty soon after, he waved goodbye as we made our way back to I-10 East. I really enjoyed having a chance to see Tulane, and I'm glad I got to meet Ricardo.

It had been another full day all things considered.

Tasty Bits:

While it took several days to pass through the state of Texas, we managed to pass through three different states in one day before stopping in Alabama.

I almost got a nasty glass bottle cut on my foot while walking along fraternity row. Goes to show, not all the shapes in Crescent city are safe to handle.