Just the three of us

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Today marks my wife and I’s sixth anniversary (and seven years together). But as any parent knows, it’s not just us anymore. How the two of us came together to make such a delightful and beautiful little human being, I’ll never know.

Happy Anniversary, Catherine! And thank you for Patrick!

The photo is from a free session we won through Red Tricycle, with Grace Espiritu Photography. The shoot was done at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, WA, just across the Columbia River from Portland. You can see some more shots at Grace’s blog and her Facebook page.

PBS vs. NASA: Thoughts on popular science education at a local museum

I love living in Portland, Oregon. Great nature parks. Great libraries. Great museums.

One such museum is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), and they always have something interesting going on. Back in April, I was able to take my son to see the Kratt Brothers. They were discussing their new children’s program on PBS Kids, Wild Kratts. Many of my readers might know them from their earlier programs, Kratt’s Creatures and Zoboomafoo. I loved these shows when I was young, and my son now enjoys watching clips and episodes of Wild Kratts on the PBS website (we do not own a television). Each episode starts out with Chris and Martin Kratt discussing a specific animal, sometimes on location. Then they morph into their animated forms and fun and adventure ensues as we learn about adaptations while the Kratts foil the plans of various villains who want to exploit the animals. Oh, and they don creature power suits.

For an event that required parents to sign up for free, but limited, tickets through the OMSI website, I expected that we would get to meet the Kratt Brothers. Their presentation for a room full of kids was about thirty minutes, and they had a question and answer session as well.

Kratt Brothers at OMSI

Kratt Brothers at OMSI

Patrick seemingly entranced by TV characters talking about animals:

Kratt Brothers at OMSI

But did we get to meet them, take our kid’s picture with them? Nope. After the presentation, they darted out the side door of the auditorium so fast that my son was unable to give them a small piece of octopus art he had made for them. And tears gushed. (I passed off the art to an OMSI employee I knew and asked her to make sure they get it). It was a fun event, and I support PBS and most of their children’s programming (Wild Kratts and Dinosaur Train can’t be beat for educational shows). The event, however, felt very controlled, and it lacked a sense of personal connection.

The auditorium was full for the Kratt Brothers, children’s television celebrities. Some parents were even complaining on the museum’s Facebook page that they were unable to get tickets, or heard about it too late.

In July, Patrick and I went to OMSI for two more events. Earlier in the month, we headed over to the planetarium early on a Saturday morning to witness the the very last launch of the Space Shuttle: Atlantis (STS-135). The planetarium usually shows the launches of the shuttles, but this was the LAST! We had to go. We sat in the planetarium, groggy but excited, watching NASA television for an hour-and-a-half until the countdown.

Last Space Shuttle launch at OMSI

It was a great moment for me, because the three-decade history of the Space Shuttle program matches my three decades of life; and great for Patrick because he loves all things science and it’s something I wouldn’t want my son to miss.

Last Space Shuttle launch at OMSI

We applauded during that final liftoff, while some of the other folks in the crowd teared up. How many people were there in the planetarium? I’d say about 40 (mostly adults), and that includes news teams who were there to film it (you can see Patrick and I for a brief moment here). That number does not begin to fill up the planetarium.

Two weeks later, we were fortunate enough to go to OMSI again to see a presentation by “OMSI Kid” and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt (he is from Camas, Washington – just over the Columbia River from Portland – and his mother volunteered for OMSI). Barratt flew on the third to last shuttle mission, aboard Discovery (STS-133) as mission specialist.

Barratt spoke of that last Discovery mission, the future of NASA’s space exploration, and the history of the name Discovery for ships of exploration (sea-going and space). He included a question and answer session, and gifted to OMSI an “I am OMSI” shirt he wore while on the International Space Station in 2009.

Before the presentation as people were entering the auditorium, Barratt posed for pictures and gave his signature. After the presentation, he did a formal photo op and signed NASA photographs.

Astronomy Day at OMSI: Astronaut Michael Barratt

Two things struck me about the Space Shuttle and astronaut events. Neither had filled up the planetarium. More people had come out to Barratt’s presentation than the final launch of Atlantis, but still tickets did not run out like they did for the Kratt Brothers. And while Patrick could not keep his eyes off of the Kratt Brothers, he was difficult to keep his attention in Barratt’s presentation. That is not to say he wasn’t excited to meet an astronaut! But there’s an obvious difference between them. Barratt is not a television celebrity, and children haven’t viewed him at a particular time every morning. I am not trying to diminish the Kratt Brothers here; I’d rather my son watch their show and talk about them then what shows on any other channel. I just think Barratt should have more exposure, and it would have been great to see his event overflowing. While I’m sure there’s more to the turn outs and dymanics of each event, the greatest factor is that one is television-based and the other is not.

Astronomy Day at OMSI: Astronaut Michael Barratt

What did Patrick have to show off seeing the Kratt Brothers? A sticker. Barratt? A signed photograph and a picture with him. Which do you think will have a more lasting impression on a curious young mind?

New issue of the Reports of the National Center for Science Education

The NCSE has changed how they publish RNCSE. Content from the latest issue is up online, inlcluding a book review by me:

NCSE is pleased to announce the second issue of Reports of the National Center for Science Education in its new on-line format. The issue — volume 31, number 2 — includes Matt Cartmill’s “Turtles All the Way Down: The Atlas of Creation“; Alice Beck Kehoe’s “The Lost Civilizations of North America Found … Again!”; and, in his regular People and Places column, Randy Moore’s “Billy Sunday: 1862-1935,” discussing the creationism of the ballplayer-turned-evangelist.

Plus a flurry of Darwinalia: Michael D. Barton reviews John van Wyhe’s The Darwin Experience; Steven Conn reviews James Lander’s Lincoln and Darwin; Piers J. Hale reviews David N. Reznick’s The Origin Then and Now; Allen D. MacNeill reviews James T. Costa’s The Annotated Origin; Michael Ruse reviews Phillip Prodger’s Darwin’s Camera and Barbara Larson and Fae Brauer’s The Art of Evolution; and Keith Thomson reviews Julia Voss’s Darwin’s Pictures.

All of these articles, features, and reviews are freely available in PDF form from http://reports.ncse.com. Members of NCSE will shortly be receiving in the mail the print supplement to Reports 31:2, which contains, in addition to summaries of the on-line material, news from the membership, a new column in which NCSE staffers offer personal reports on what they’ve been doing to defend the teaching of evolution, and more besides. (Not a member? Join today!)

Hello there!

Sorry blogging has been so light as of late. Just a few things:

My wife started a new job a month ago, as a librarian in the city of Canby about 25 minutes south of Portland. So I am daddy during the week and have some part-time work on the weekends.

Excited for the OMSI Science Pub at the Bagdad Theater tonight. It’s with Rebecca Skloot and she’ll be discussing her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Hopefully Patrick behaves…

Speaking of my son, he turned 5 on March 27th. He’s getting big! We had a fabulous nature-themed party for him at Tryon Creek State Park:

Patrick's 5th Birthday & Party

Patrick's 5th Birthday & Party

He’ll be starting kindergarten in the fall. The proud parents:

Patrick's 5th Birthday & Party

The freethought conference (pictures) here in Portland at the end of March was great, and it was nice to meet PZ Myers:

2011 Northwest Freethought Conference, Portland State University

I seem to be blogging more at my other blog, Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas, and Patrick and I spent spring break week outside every day

Molalla River State Park, Canby, OR

Next month I will be giving a talk about Darwin and creationist quote-mining for the Secular Humanists of East Portland/CFI (an extended version of what I did for Science Online 2011).

And there are not too may days until the next installment of the history of science blog carnival, The Giant’s Shoulders.

Follow me on Twitter (@darwinsbulldog) and Facebook for constant linkage of Darwin items of interest…