Archive for the ‘science’ Category

There is a lot ive wanted to write about lately  – but its all going to be thrown into one massive pictures/stories post.

Ive been trying to soak-up every last minute of my family of 3.  The weather has cooperated, which has allowed us to take numerous trips to playgrounds, parks, the zoo, and the harbor.  We have also had a day trip to rehoboth beach, DE  and a weekend trip to Philadelphia for my departmental retreat where Phil and Wil checked out the science museum.  Things are slowing down now as I get bigger and closer to my due date.  Most everything is ready for baby girl to arrive.  I just have to finish up things at work! (I joke that my form of ‘nesting’ has been cleaning and organizing all my work code – not cleaning the house.  I hired someone to do that.  I’ll stick to commenting and annotating my analyses.)

I waiver back and forth between anxiously awaiting our new addition and mourning the ‘loss’ of Wil as my only child.  Im so so happy to give him a sibling – but I know it’ll rock his world for a bit.  Wil has been such a happy boy, these last few months in particular, that Im sad to go and change everything on him.  Even his teachers at daycare have commented on how well he has been doing lately.  Not that Wil has ever been that troublesome.  I know Ive been lucky with a mostly happy boy.  But he has never been that great of an eater (meal times have always been a struggle)  and hes had some issues playing nice with others (he  was sent home with a few ‘incidence reports’ from daycare).  But over the last month – hes really turned a corner with his demeanor.   He is happy nearly all of the time.  I didnt know kids could be so delightful, haha.  Ive always been use to pacifying Wil – trying to guess at what hes fussing about or what he’ll actually eat or playing helicopter parent at play groups so he wont push or bite the other children.  But now, he eats without too much trouble, his teachers say he participates in circle time more (songs and interactive time), and he even gave his friend a hug as we were leaving the other day!

One thing that I think has really helped, is his vocabulary.  I think he really enjoys words and talking.  By far the funniest word in his vocabulary is ‘Mommy’ – which coming from him sounds like ‘Amy’.  He drops the first ‘M’ so its more of an ‘ommy’ which sounds enough like ‘Amy’ that everyone laughs when he starts yelling it and running at me.  We joke that we have a very formal relationship.  ‘Daddy’, on the other hand, comes out clear as a bell.  Weve been working on colors and counting, but those are taking some work.  Currently when you ask what color something is, his only response is ‘yellow’.  EVERYTHING is yellow.  Until you correct him and then he’ll repeated after you.  But initially, its yellow.  He also loves to growl.  This started as we were learning animal sounds, but now he likes to growl and grunt randomly as hes playing and walking around.  He sounds possessed half of the time. Good thing its 2013, or someone would have given this kid an exorcism already.   He also growls when he shows you his muscles.  When I go to change his clothes, or if he sees someone else without a shirt on, he growls and ‘flexes’ his muscles.  Its so adorable.  I hope we have a video of it.  Hes starting to put a few words together in strings. Usually ‘more’ followed by whatever he wants. He also enjoys singing.  Usually just ‘LA LA LA’ – but he has taken to singing the new kids on the block with daddy at nighttime.  Phil starts singing ‘Oh oh oh oh oh – the right stuff’ and he will start singing along.

Wil still sleeps in his crib at night – but naps on a cot at daycare during the day.  So far he has not fought the crib or tried to climb out.  We are planning to get a floor mattress soon for him to get use to sleeping outside the crib at home since we will want to use the crib for the new baby after a few months.  We are slowly starting the potty training process, but he hasnt taken much interest yet.  He initially was terrified of sitting on the toilet, but after a few m&m rewards, the potty doesnt seem so bad. But he still doesnt really get the concept of using it for intended purposes.  We now have a small toddler potty downstairs that he gladly goes and sits on and then requests his m&m reward, haha.  (M-M?!) So now we need to start enforcing actually using the potty for the reward.

Wil is a very active boy and loves to run around.  He is not scared of stepping up or down off of things anymore, which is scary for us!  He still doesnt have the best judgment on what might be too far of a step down, but will just go for it.  Which has resulted in a few falls when Phil and I arent paying close enough attention.  He loves to go down the slide head first and then tries to climb back up.  He loves playing with water – either outside, or in the sink, or bathtime.  Whenever he has a ‘boo-boo’ we immediately go and rinse it in water in the sink and its immediately all better.

Im sure there are other unique things about Wils development and habits that I dont have written down, but this will have to do for now.  Im curious to how the next kid will be different – and this little family blog is my best attempt at storing memories for the future.  As anxious as I am about the change, my mom says I will look back at all these pictures of ‘just Wil’ and see them as an incomplete story of our family.  He has had a good run as the only child! Hopefully we’ll all adjust to being a family of 4 soon enough.  I cant wait!

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Phil traveled back to indiana for a good friends wedding, and I, unfortunately, had to stay and work due to unforgiving shortage of vacation days.  To turn a frown upside down, I decided to make the most of my time with Wilek and went to the farmers market, DBFA pool party, the aquarium, and library in 2 days time.  I was mom of the year, until he got sick from all the germs i exposed him to.  awesome.  Here were fun times before the cold hit:

We go to the farmers market fairly often.  So that wasnt new.  But the trip to the pool was his first ever.  We have done a few splash pools at Mimi and PopPops and Busia and DziaDzias, but this was a whole new ball game.  Similar to past experiences, when I first put him in the water, he screamed bloody murder. I thought the afternoon was done-for, but we kept with it in the splash pad and introduced him to some toys and he slowly got use to the water.

We finally made our way over to the big kid pool, which was actually much warmer, and he loved it!!!  Someone was nice enough to take a quick picture of us.  But there was also a professional photographer there, hired by the DBFA and I hope to order/buy some of the pictures she was taking, too.  Wil loves being thrown in the air and ‘jumping’ (read: falling) from the side of the pool, into the water.  It was such a fun day!!

We are yearly members of the aquarium, so on sunday afternoon while i was shopping we decided to hop into the aquarium!  I got a few videos that didnt really turn out, and here was one picture.  Hes definitely more into it now.  But we only stayed for 45 minutes due to nap time.

Mondays are my normal days off, and I try to attend “mother goose nursery rhymes’ at the library, where they read books and sing songs for ages 1 through 3.  Of course the one week I make it, its cancelled as they get ready for the school year.  Luckily, I was not the only mother to not know this, and there were plenty of kids to hang out with for an impromto play-date. (haha, wordpress tried to correct my ‘imprompto’ to ‘improper’.  I assure you it was a very civilized play-date.)

(Yes his shoes are too small.)  The next morning he woke up with a killer runny nose that is slowly making its way through our house.  The price we pay for fun!!

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As most of you know, we are getting ready to move from New Jersey to Baltimore. We are moving because the research lab I work in is relocating and Friday was my last day, ever. They are completely shutting down the base and transferring the land to the county. I have been so incredibly busy trying to wrap things  up in NJ while keeping things running in Baltimore (plus the whole ‘baby’ incident) it didn’t really hit me that Friday was my last day at the Fort… ever.

This my sounds like hyperbole but it really is the end of an era. A whole lot of amazing science/technology was developed at Fort Monmouth and at my building (McAfee Center in the picture above) in particular. The McAfee Center’s namesake, Walter Samuel McAfee was an African American mathematician and scientist who first calculated the speed of the moon relative to earth. At the time, when the official announcement of this scientific breakthrough was made it only mentioned Dr. McAfee’s white colleges. Dr. McAfee was an integral part of Project Diana (intellectual forerunner of NRL’s Moonbounce program) which proved it was possible for radio waves to exit the ionosphere, bounce off the moon, re-enter the ionosphere, and be received at a monitoring station. This project is considered the birth of the US space program and fields of study such as radio and radar astronomy. This was the first time the human race had purposefully ‘touched’ another celestial body. I could bore you (even more) with the technical details but I won’t, just trust me, the project was amazing.

I consider Project Diana to be the most interesting and advanced thing to come out of Fort Monmouth. However, other scientific breakthroughs and projects developed at the Fort include:

  • Major Edwin H. Armstrong developed frequency modulated (FM) wireless communication here. This is the same theory the radio in your car operates on.
  • Developed the first radio equipped weather balloon which led to the first air to ground wireless communications
  • In 1949 Fort Monmouth housed the 1st Pigeon Breeding and Training Center. Hundreds of these pigeons went on to serve with distinction in WWII and Korea . I swear this is a real thing, I have been told this book does a good job of telling the story.
  • In the 1950’s and 1960’s various night vision technologies were developed here which enabled US forces to operate 24/7 in Vietnam.
  • Counter IED and counter mortar technologies (This is what I currently work on).

Overall, Fort Monmouth was a great experience and the history of the place is amazing. I cannot believe our congressman let the base shut down, especially since he has an advanced degree in science. The only member of congress who is a rocket scientist. Anyway, the family is looking forward to starting a new chapter in Baltimore. Hopefully, HOPEFULLY, moving out of Jersey will stop people from asking us if we know Snookie.

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This is the first of many posts outlining specific reasons why our new Jetta TDI is awesome.  One of the main factors in our new car search was gas mileage.  The EPA estimate for the Jetta TDI is 43mpg and on a recent trip from New Jersey to Maryland I averaged 44.43mpg. In this post I am going to explain one of several pieces of technology which contribute to this type of fuel efficiency.

The Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission is distinct from the transmission you have in your car unless you drive a VW or Audi (or Porsche, except they call it a PDK but it is essentially the same design). The DSG is essentially a manual transmission which is shifted automatically. This may seem trivial but there are significant differences between a standard manual and a standard automatic transmission.

I could dedicate pages to explaining, comparing, and contrasting in detail these two general types of transmissions but people MUCH smarter than I have already done so.  I am, however,  going to try to give a quick overview of each in order to highlight how cool our transmission is.

Standard Manual Transmission

For any transmission the goal is to apply the optimal amount of horsepower and torque at a given rpm. In a standard 5 speed manual transmission there are 5 different horsepower/torque combinations which are manually selected by the driver. The picture below illustrates a very simple two-speed transmission.

Simple 2 speed manual transmission

In the above 2 speed manual transmission, the purple gear selector fork can be moved forward or backward to engage the small or the large blue gear. The different diameters of these blue gears (and associated red gears) are what applies the different amounts of torque to the gear shaft. This is easy to visualize for a two-speed manual transmission but slightly harder to visualize for a standard 5 speed manual transmission, see below.

Slightly more complicated 5 speed transmission

As you can tell its more complicated but all the parts are the same. If you look at 1st gear you can see how that would provide significantly more low end torque than 5th gear.

Automatic Transmission

A standard automatic transmission still applies torque but goes about it in a mechanically different way. A typical standard transmission uses whats called a ‘planetary gearset’ to apply different amounts of torque. A simple planetary gearset consists of a sun gear, planet gear, and the ring gear. The following illustration makes the naming convention slightly more obvious. Note, this not exactly how the gears look in an automatic transmission, it is more to get a visual of how this gearing structure works.

Simple Planetary Gearset

Appropriately the  yellow gear is the sun gear, the red gears are the planet gears, and the blue is the ring gear. This is a little harder to visualize but the different amounts of torque come from applying input power on one gear shaft (yes Jared/Akers I said shaft) and taking the output power off another shaft. Another wrinkle is that planetary gearsets have a mechanism to hold one gear stationary while the others continue to rotate.

To make this a little more obvious consider the following two scenarios.

First, consider the input applied to the sun gear and the output taken off the ring gear with the planet gears held stationary. In this scenario the output ring gear would be rotating providing a specific torque.

Next, consider the input attached to the ring gear, sun gear held stationary, and the output taken from the planet gears. This scenario would output a very different torque as compared to the first scenario.

Below is another drawing of this idea. The 3D representation helped me understand a little better. The bright red marks can be used to calculate the gear ratios.

So, if you followed what I was saying above, you understand how a simple planetary gearset works. Unfortunately, in real life the gearset looks like the two figures below and instead of one set of sun, planet, and ring gears, there are two. This is necessary to achieve all the required torque settings. It’s complicated and I’m not sure I understand all of it but the mechanical engineers that came up with these designs are god damn geniuses so I am sure it works.

Planetary Gear Set Transmission Pulled Apart

Planetary Gear Set Internals

Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) Transmission

This brings me to the most interesting thing I have written about to date on this blog (aside from the chicken blood of course). The gear box in our brand new 2011 Jetta TDI is an automatically shifted manual 6 speed dual clutch. So, compared to the first part of this post the physical mechanism which applies different amounts of torque is most like a manual transmission but there is essentially a computer which ‘manually’ shifts the gears based on the engine RPM and gas pedal input. This combination basically gives us the manual gearbox advantages while minimizing the automatic gearbox negatives. Another way in which the DSG transmission behaves like a manual transmission is when you are not engaging the gas or the break. At rest if you take your foot off th break the car will not inch forward like an automatic transmission would. While moving if you take your foot off the gas to coast, you will experience engine breaking, just like a standard manual transmission.

Manual 6 Speed Transmission VS. DSG Transmission: The manual transmission boasts a lighter weight, less parasitic power loss, and slightly better gas mileage (mpg) if used efficiently.  It should be obvious how these first two advantages lead directly to better gas mileage. However, the difference in fuel efficiency is typically on the order of 2-4mpg, not a huge jump but it equates to legitimate fuel savings.  The main advantage of the DSG transmission is ease of use. All shifts are made automatically, just like any standard automatic transmission. One thing that helps the DSG transmission in terms of fuel efficiency is the precision in how it shifts in turbo diesel. Since everything is done by computer power is delivered to the wheels in a much more consistent manner than with a manual transmission.  This is because the computer keeps interruptions in power delivery between shifts to an absolute minimum, thereby keeping the turbo spooled and maximizing fuel efficiency.

My reasons for writing this post were three-fold. I will now explain them in order of importance.

1) I understood the transmission in our car was basically an automatically shifted manual transmission but that is all I knew. Holy crap, I learned a lot about this transmission. Coincidentally, holy crap did we make a good choice on transmission.

2) Initially, I had a surface understanding how manual/automatic transmissions worked. I really wanted to understand at a fundamental level how any engines translate usable power so well and at such a wide variety of speeds/weights/rpms/torques/etc. It honestly still amazes me. Now, when I accelerate from every stop I find myself paying more attention to the transmission progressing through the gears and turbo spooling when I should really be paying attention to the road or other drivers around me.

3) I really wanted to find a way I could legitimately use the word ‘shaft’ over and over.

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Woznation Chicken Part II

If you missed Part I of Woznation Chicken check it out here.  Part III on its way next.

Now that we have our roasted chicken, you may be wondering ‘How do I eat this thing?’.  Often one hears of buying a ‘8 piece chicken.’  That is generally a term used for a raw chicken broken down into 8 serving sizes.  But I guarantee you that one little chicken isnt going to serve 8 people.  So I will be demonstrating how to break down the chicken Woznation style which is 4 pieces, with 2 wings to boot.  So here is our chicken:

It has been resting at least 20 minutes to cool down.  If you try to break it down too early, it will be way too hot to man handle.  We are going to start with the 2 leg/thigh servings.  Begin by cutting into the skin between the body and the leg, angling as close to the back of the bird as possible.  You can flip the bird oven if youd like, to make sure you are getting as much of the thigh meat as possible.  Is should be pretty easy to cut through the skin and meat – but then your knife will stop when you reach bone / hip socket.  Thats ok.  Dont try to actually cut through the bone, just cut through the meat part for now.

So like I said, you will stop once you have cut through all the meat and skin, and now the thigh piece is hanging on by the bone/hip socket.   Since you have already roasted the bird, this should be a pretty weak connection.  You should be able to see the bone at this point and you can most often separate the thigh by a few twists back and forth, perhaps with a little encouragment from the point of your knife right at the socket.   There is a bit of a learner’s curve on this, so dont fret if you cant jimmy-off the leg on your first try.

So now that you have one thigh off, do the same with the other (and yes, the juice of the thigh meat is a little pink indicating that I slightly undercooked the dark meat of this bird. You have to cook the breast until 170 and the dark meat until 180.  So you can pick between an overcooked breast or an undercooked thigh.  Since I usually throw the meat into something else Im cooking later that week – I always go the ‘undercooked’ route.  If you are planning on serving the thigh meat immediately -you could pop the dark meat pieces back in the oven for 10 more minutes, or nuke ’em for 30 seconds?  I havent actually tried that though – so let me know how it turns out….).

K.  Now you have 2 thigh/leg pieces.  Lets get to the wings. This really doesnt count as a ‘piece’ or a serving.  Its more like a snack for the cook.  Its usually the first thing I take off a eat right over the stock pot and then toss in the bones/skin.  You can use your knife to cut through the skin by the elbow socket, but really the tendons are so weak at this point, you dont really need a knife and the wing will most likely fall part as you are twisting it off.  In fact, bonus points for you if you can get the little wing off in one piece.

Wooo.  Bonus points for me.

Lastly, we need to break down the breast.  This is slightly easier than the legs since we arent going to be dealing with any bones.  But the breast bone is curved, so it can be a little bit of work to get as most meat as possible off in one piece.  Start on one side of the breast bone and cut down curving outward when you reach resistance, following the breast bone.

Once you have that top cut done,  I move to the end of the bird and cut under and back up towards the top, staying as close to the rib cage as possible. This is a lot of hands work as well.  I use the knife to get me going, but a lot of work is done by the hands pulling the meat away from the bones.

I included pictures from both sides, hopefully you get the idea.  Like I said earlier – There is a learners curve to this.  I definitely mangled a few chickens before I got the pieces to come off in nice whole pieces.  But the good news is, the chicken will be delicious no matter how you get it off the bone.  So just start tearing pieces off if its not cooperating with you.  After roasting about 50 chickens, itll become second nature and you’ll have 4 decent sized servings (plus some wings, if you havent eaten them already).  Yaaaay Chicken.

Interesting fact about chicken blood (from phil): Back in the 1950s doctor George Gey was trying to grow human cells in a petri dish outside the body for the first time. Doctors wanted to do this so they could experiment on live human cells without having to experiment on a live human, the IRB would be proud. Doctor Gey was trying to find the optimal environment in which to grow the cells. He tried several substances ranging from chicken blood to goat semen. His first successful ‘immortal’ line was grown in a mixture of human placenta blood, beef embryo extract, and plasma from chicken blood. The successful cell line was grown from a smaple of cervical cancer taken from Henrietta Lacks and are known as HeLa cells. These cells are still used today for all kinds of medical research, aided in the creation of the polio vaccine, and have led to all kinds of advancements in the field of oncology.

If you found the above paragraph as exciting as I found it to write I recommend “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. It is riveting, I would read it directly through if I were you.

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I had remembered hearing about a study that concluded infants remembered or responded to books read to them in the womb.  Whenever I was trying to find that study online, I came across a similar study done regarding melodies heard in the womb.   Here is the link for those who are interested:


It has inspired me to rev up my playing in the last trimester in hope that I can somehow calm our baby by merely playing the same songs he heard in his previous womb life.  Ill be a mix of the dog whisperer and the pied piper (whoa, I did NOT know the whole story of the pied piper! I will not being harming any children with my magical piano playing).

Anyway.  Playing piano in the evening is more stimulating than reading myself children’s book.  So hopefully the kid likes it.

Brahms Walt in A-flat Major:

Mendelssohn Venetian Boat Song No 2:

Chopin Prelude in C-Minor:

Most of these songs are slow and relaxing.  I also occasionally play more upbeat pieces, but I dont foresee playing these pieces in order to calm a fussy baby.  This doesnt exactly make you want to go to sleep, right?

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