Fairbanks Alaska, GoPro and the Democratization of Science

04.14.12

I’ve hardly blogged because this week has been a whirlwind of activity. The folks at GoPro brought a few bloggers and invited MSM to join them on an expedition with some rocket scientists while we launched weather balloons into the night sky.

Here’s how it unfolded.

Monday:

Bring the kids to school. Go home and pack everything I own plus some of my friend Alison’s stuff into a bag. My tennis partner has offered to drive me to the airport. This, I think is awesome, later I will remember why this is not awesome.

At 3pm I leave Los Angeles for Seattle. Bulkhead seat and a non chatty seat mate. Huzzah!

I spend the dinner hour in Seattle eating something and wishing I was there already.

Score! I’m in First Class from Seattle to Fairbanks. I have four hours of a flight attendant being nice to me. I try to watch the Descendants. Maybe on a big screen it’s not a terrible movie? I realize that I’ll never like things the rest of the world enjoys and I take a nap.

Arrive in Fairbanks close to 11pm, the sun hasn’t set fully. I’m relieved to meet some of the folks on the trip. Everyone is nice. Everyone is smart and interesting. This is unusual and lovely.

Tuesday:

Breakfast and a trip to the grocery store. I spend the next four days pulling organic apples and baby bel cheese out of my purse for anyone who might be feeling peckish.

Not everyone has arrived and we can explore Fairbanks for the day. We decide on the Chena Hot Springs and I’m all Reddit told me this would be good… you know because everyone should plan their trips with Reddit (and they should).

We toured the hot springs, the ice sculpture museum and the geothermal energy production. They are completely off grid and producing their own lettuce and tomatoes year round. At the ice museum we enjoy appletinis. I don’t typically enjoy appletinis but these are not to be missed.

After soaking very briefly in the hot springs we head back to the hotel for a powernap. On the way back to the hotel we see a moose. Kelly and I scream MOOSE so loudly that our host surely must be rethinking his entire career.

We have dinner, a few more people arrive including Stefanie and at 11 pm we head out to launch the first of three weather balloons. This is the map we use to get there.

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Remarkably we get there. Apparently there aren’t many roads in Fairbanks. We pile out of a fleet of Suburbans and stand around waiting for something to happen.

The scientists fill the balloons and attach the payload. The payload is a half dozen GoPro Cameras, a GPS, some bacteria and an American Flag. The balloon will go about 20 miles up before popping and we’ll track it with the GPS and retrieve it.

 

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At about midnight an arc appears in the sky. It’s light green, almost lemony looking. At the southernmost point of the arc red spikes start to glow. I think it must be the city of Fairbanks but then I realize that it’s the show. During the next two and half hours the sky swirls and explodes with rays of light turning red, green and purple. They shine and dance and we crane our heads and delight in what we are seeing.

I stand with Dr. Bering and ask him about what I’m seeing and he explains solar flares, solar storms, plasma and energy. I nod and I understand what he is saying but know that I am unlikely to remember. I wish my husband was there.

Reluctantly we leave at 3.30 in the morning and try to get some sleep. Sleep is hard to come by. We’ve just seen the majesty of science and I’m too excited to sleep.

Wednesday:

It’s too hot for dogsledding in the afternoon so it’s been pushed to 10am. We have a 9am breakfast and we pile back into the Suburbans.

Dogsledding is awesome. The dogs are small, the sleds are fast the mushers are Alaska’s version of surfers. They’re all passionate, fit and adventurous. The only unfortunate part is that the dogs are incredibly affectionate and they smell slightly worse than goats. I refuse to believe that Junior is related to them.

After dogsledding we grab a quick lunch and regroup. There is an optional trip to snowshoe out to retrieve a payload that had been launched a few days before. It’s approximately a mile away from the road. Maybe a three hour trek.

There aren’t enough snowshoes. At first I try being polite and saying I’ll do what’s best for the group and then I remember that this is my first and possibly my only trip to Alaska and I really want to go snowshoeing. They come up with another pair of snowshoes and we hike in to the middle of nowhere.

It’s magnificent.

Sometime around 8pm I’m lifting my leg out of two feet of snow and warm washes over me. This is the first time in two years that I’m not arthritic. I’m fighting back tears and I’m standing at the edge of the earth and my hands, hips, knees and ankles don’t ache. I’ve ached for so many years that I fear I’ve forgotten how it feels to not hurt.

There’s snow to my knees, my coat is too heavy for the relatively warm weather, I’m dripping with sweat and I’m crying a little because I think, just maybe, that I’ve hit that magical remission that the doctor had said we might get.

Here is the payload.

We get back to the Suburban by 8ish and pile in wet and smelly. Heroic we join the other 20 or so folks at a really nice restaurant in Fairbanks. Dr. Ben Longmier holds the payload over his head victoriously and everyone cheers.

There is a curious absence of ego. Perhaps that happens easily in a room where everyone is highly accomplished?

After dinner it’s back to the hotel for just 15 minutes and then back to our hilltop site to launch two more balloons.

This night the northern lights give a show that makes one woman weep. There are rays of light zooming into the sky with such power and such force that it’s hard to believe that we aren’t in a movie theater or an observatory.

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Luke Kilpatrick took some amazing photos with a camera loaned to him by Robert Scoble. Luke was incredibly generous with his shots and shared them with everyone asking only for attribution. He explained that Robert had lent him the camera and he would share with same openness.

Which brings me back to the fact that this experiment costs approximately $1,500 for the first trial and significantly less thereafter. Science doesn’t require a million dollar lab.

I was tired and folks started leaving at 3ish. Back to the hotel at 3.30 again and it was a little easier to fall asleep this time.

I was sad to leave Alaska but thrilled to be reminded of the magnificence of the universe.

Thursday:

7am wake and pack.

7.45 go to the airport.

8.30 am Score first class and settle in to sleep. I don’t realize the plane has taken off. I didn’t know there was a delay. I was sleeping. Wake up ravenous and the flight attendant gives me a plate of scrambled eggs. I touch them to my tongue and realize they are shit. I am starving and eat them anyhow. I quickly fall back asleep.

Noon: Disembark the plane knowing we are late for the next one, look around and realize we are getting back on the same plane. I moan about how shitty my seat is and score another first class upgrade. Lucky me.

12.30 board the plane with a splitting headache.

12.45 lose breakfast.

12.55 apparently there was more breakfast.

1.15 angry flight attendant takes pity on me and gives me crackers she’d brought from home

1.25 goodbye crackers

At this point all of first class is using the lavatory at the rear of the plane. I’m too tired and puny feeling to even be embarrassed by this.

3pm in the taxi line at LAX and I have to let three cabs go. They smell so awful that surely I’ll retch. After some frustration I tip the guy at the curb nicely and find a cab driver that neither douses himself in cologne nor smokes.

5pm I’m cooking dinner at home. Because… ya know… they’re hungry.

Startup Series: Wittlebee A Clothing Club for Well Dressed Kids

02.13.12

wittlebee logo sean percival

Wittlebee is the second startup to come out of Science and it’s another good one. Every parent knows that the first half dozen years will have you shopping for clothes endlessly. Some mothers enjoy this. Some fathers enjoy this… I like to call them the other 1%.

You see I loved buying my daughter clothing, before she was born, with gift cards… but once the baby is on the scene buying a carton of milk is as much of a shopping adventure as anyone needs. By the time my son came around I was like, “Mooooommmmmm…. please buy the kids clothes because shopping makes me cry.” And she did. Bless her and bless the Cabazon outlets.

Don’t get me wrong, buying a party dress or a little suit is fun, but buying a stack of onesies, leggings or long sleeved shirts… not so fun.

Enter Wittlebee. They will send you a box of essentials every month. Every. Single. Month.

wittlebee

Ooh, and guess what? It’s really high quality stuff. If you look on their facebook page you’ll see posts from their customers like this one.

i’m loving Wittlebee! Anyone with kids from new to 5yrs HAS to check i out!! 8 articles of clothing for $39/month.(your first box is $19.99) One onsie costs $16 so its totally worth it!! USA made Brands like Cotton Seed & American Apparel. Also Baby Gap & Gymboree…Only the best brands!!! Plus if you have multiple kids you can mix and match sizes in your boxes….Im super excited about this idea!!

I’ve heard about Wittlebee for a while now because Sean Percival is the founder and he’s a friend of ours. What sort of cinches the deal is that Sean’s wife Laurie is known around Los Angeles for her impeccable taste. I knew all along that with Laurie as the woman behind the scenes those boxes would be top notch.

Wittlebee is truly personalized, when you sign up for a subscription they ask a ton of questions.

Boy or girl?
Age?
What size do they currently wear?
What colors do you like?
What style items do you need the most?
What’s a shopping trip like?
What’s your child’s style?
What’s your child’s personality?

The first box may take a while, up to two weeks and then they arrive monthly thereafter.

A Wittlebee subscription is a fabulous gift, particularly since new parents are often showered with gifts the first months and then scramble to find time, energy and money to buy new clothes after the newborn stage is over.

There’s a robust community over at the Wittlebee Facebook Page, and if you’re looking to try it out here’s a coupon that will give you 50% off your first order.

[UPDATE: The coupon code is now worth $10 off the first month]

Startup Series: EventUp

02.7.12

Since incubators like Science are now calling Los Angeles home I figure it’s time to start a series of posts to show off some of our finest startups.

Eventup caught my eye because it starts in the geek space but ends up in the mom space (even if they don’t realize it yet). Eventup is a site that allows you to search for a location for your event big or small in and around Los Angeles with other cities soon to launch. If I search New York I find one garden apartment, I’m assuming there will be more fabulous locations soon.

Everyone who watches the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills knows that everyone in and around Los Angeles spends $60,000 for a child’s birthday party. No? Okay maybe not $60k but I swear sometimes it’s hard to keep it under a thousand even when they’re tiny.

Let’s say you want to have a party where four year olds run around and scream their heads off but your back yard is a disaster area. Go browse eventup and you’ll find locations like this house in Beverly Hills that sits on a one acre lot. How’s this for a back yard?

rodeo_drive_villa

Or if you’re like my friend Emily you could use Eventup to find the perfect spot for a Midnight Brunch. Yes really, brunch at midnight…

I’m excited to watch eventup launch here in Los Angeles and even more excited to see how it will expand and which cities will embrace it first.

Toddlers and Television, the AAP and Sesame Street

10.27.11

Well that went well. Dr. Ari Brown spat out the words Mommy Blogger a few times with a little more disdain that Sister Susan uses for syphilis or satan. James Steyer was magnificent at promoting his website and chastised me more than once for arguing the science.

Because ya know I’m like Michelle Bachman if I argue the quality of the science. Yet I do question the quality of the science.

We talked about how low income kids watch more TV and it might not be children’s programming. Perhaps because it’s less safe to play outside? I’m thinking that’s true in the cities, but not every low income home is urban. I strongly suspect that with NPR talking about less screen time for children (particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area) it’s preaching to the choir.

There was great concern at the top of the hour about apps, smart phones and computers, but that wasn’t discussed. Lesli Rotenberg joined us as a representative of Sesame Street and everyone fell head over heels. She might as well have been Grover. Who doesn’t love Sesame Street?

The discussion on KQED’s own site centered around the fact that these families had screen free homes. Irony anyone?

I’m tired of of women like Dr. Ari Brown who have an agenda that is dismissive of real life. It’s exhausting to me that folks think that because you’re a blogger you’re uneducated. It’s tiring to hear from the “experts”, as new media has evolved I’ve seen the curtain pulled back and much like the Wizard of Oz there are often tiny men with big megaphones.

Your infants and TV? The AAP’s recommendations are sound. Limit media.

Okay, got it? Limit media. Houses with TVs on all day? You suck, the AAP says so and I totally agree with them.

Don’t give your one year old your iPhone… well odds are are 1 in 6 that there’s fecal matter on it already.

The recommendations suggest nesting cups or wooden spoons. You should totally use these toys for your kids while you’re milking the cows and churning your butter.

I understand that people worry about too much media. There was a time that lawmakers were concerned about radios in cars.

I also know that there is a richness in new media. Good content should not be ignored and Bugs Bunny won’t make your child violent, he simply will not. If a Baby Einstein video introduces your infant to Mozart and a Brainy Baby DVD teaches them colors go for it. Also if you think your child doesn’t have to be learning every single second of their day, you might be right too.

 

UPDATE: Here is the podcast.

Preparing Myself for Rape as Best I Know How

05.24.11

Kansas leaves me speechless and I can’t help but wonder who is living there. I know many wonderful Kansans and they don’t appear to be the sort of people who hate women. I’m assuming their neighbors are.

In Topeka Kansas a bill has been approved that would require women to get separate insurance to cover abortions. This way businesses that are pro life will no longer have to pay for coverage that includes family planning.

This should enrage everyone. Right now the only terrorist group I see in America is the religious right. These hideous, angry and ungodly people are on a campaign of terror that I absolutely equate with the stoning of women in the middle east. People like Republican Pete DeGraaf put our peers and our daughters at risk every time they pen a new law.

Outlawing abortion does not stop women from having abortions, it stops them from having safe abortions. I don’t care if you believe life begins at conception, it’s just a belief, it’s not science and your beliefs cannot legislate my country.

Somewhere, somehow the Christian Coalition got together and decided that this country belongs to them. It doesn’t, there’s room for them here, and our laws have been set up so that folks can worship any way they see fit. I will always defend your right to worship. Right now I’d say that Pete DeGraaf has more in common with an Al Qaeda terrorist than with a good American.

From The McPherson Sentinel:

Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican who supports abortion rights, questioned whether women would buy abortion-only policies long before they have crisis or unwanted pregnancies or are rape victims.

During the House’s debate, Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican who supports the bill, told her: “We do need to plan ahead, don’t we, in life?”

Bollier asked him, “And so women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with a pregnancy?”

DeGraaf drew groans of protest from some House members when he responded, “I have spare tire on my car.”