January 19 – World Quark Day

Posted on January 19, 2019

Today's a celebration of quarks??!?

Oh, frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Quarks are some of my favorite sub-atomic particles!!!

But as I did research to find out why today is Quark Day, I realized something dreadful:

We aren't celebrating quarks, the six flavors of fundamental particles that make up protons, neutrons, and other hadrons...Instead...

Instead, today's supposed to be about quark, a very soft cheese or a very thick yogurt or (at any rate) some sort of dairy product! It's made by adding lactic acid to milk; the whey splits from the curd, and the solids that come from this process are turned into quark. 

Quark is supposed to be like a smoother, creamier cottage cheese. It's neither sweet nor sour, and almost all quark is sold without any added sugar / other sweetener (yogurt is often sweetened) nor any added salt (most cheese has added salt). Because of that, quark is supposed to be healthier than many other dairy products.
But...but...that's enough on quark-the-food! What about quarks-some-of-my-favorite-sub-atomic-particles?

The six flavors of quarks are up, down, top, bottom, charm, and strange. 
Note that every flavor of quark has a corresponding anti-particle.

Two up quarks and one down quark are said to make a proton. (But...)
Two downs and one up quark are said to make a neutron. (But...)
The "But..."s indicate that the explanation of a proton having only 3 quarks (2 up, 1 down), and neutrons having only 3 quarks (1 up, 2 down), are just major simplifications. The truth is much more complicated...

Strange, charm, top, and bottom quarks are all heavier than up and down quarks, and the heavier particles are very unstable. Physicists have observed them during high-speed particle collisions, but then these heavier quarks quickly change into up and down quarks. 

There is a lot we don't know about quarks (and anti-quarks!), and hopefully when we learn why there are so many different flavors, and why these various particles have the spins, charges, and masses that they have, we'll know a lot more about life, the universe, and everything.

I'm not sure that babies need to
know about quarks...?

But I love some of the "Baby Loves..." books,
so maybe this one is great, too?
To learn more, check out this super simple video...

And then you simply must check out this much candy-animated video that explains how the simple video actually way oversimplifies things!

January 18 – Cook Spots Hawaii!

Posted on January 18, 2019

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, when we say something like "so-and-so discovered such-and-such place," we USUALLY mean something like this: "so-and-so is the first European known to have seen or landed on such-and-such place."

I have to remind myself of this misuse of the word discover whenever I read about an intrepid explorer discovering a place WHERE HUMANS ALREADY LIVE! I mean, for sure the ancestors of those humans discovered the place before the explorer did - and maybe even they weren't the first humans to see / walk in that place!

Another less important point: We always name the big-name guy, the fellow who gets all the name recognition, all the credit and/or blame for the "discovery" - 

But it was probably someone in the big-name guy's crew, someone whose name is lost to us know, who was the first European to clap eyes one wherever-it-is.

Probably some poorly paid sailor high in the rigging or up in the crow's nest, someone who called "Land ho!" or "Mire!" or "La terra, la terra!" or whatever.

Anyhow, on this date in 1778, British explorer James Cook "discovered" Hawaii - or, rather, someone on James Cook's crew became the first European to see any of the Hawaiian Islands.

Cook and his crew first anchored in Waimea Bay, on the island of Kauai, but I'm not sure how many islands they saw or which island they spotted first. I do know, however, that Cook named the islands the Sandwich Islands, after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, who was pretty much his boss.

Cook and his crew met with inhabitants to trade, getting water and fresh food for the next leg of their trip.

Months later, on his return trip, Cook and his crew explored a bit of Maui and the island of Hawaii (aka "the Big Island") - but relations with the inhabitants got bad, and Cook and several other British marines ended up dying when they tried to kidnap and hold for ransom the King of Hawaii. Some other crew members died of a variety of other causes (mostly illness), but many of them were able to complete the journey back to Britain and spread the word on the existence and location of the Hawaiian Islands.

Here are some of the most beautiful things to be seen on  Hawaii's eight main islands (there are hundreds of teeny islands as well):






The Big Island:

Niihau - the forbidden island:

Kahoolawe - the privately owned island:

January 17 – International Mentoring Day

Posted on January 17, 2019

Today is Muhammed Ali's birthday.

Ali's birth name was Cassius Clay. He changed his name after he won the heavyweight championship of the world in boxing; the new name showed his pride in his African roots.

Ali's nickname was "The Greatest." He was a legend in the boxing world, and he is also still seen (more than two years after his death) as one of the most important sports figures of the 20th Century.

Ali was also an activist. He stood up for his own rights - taking his case for not being drafted into the Vietnam War all
the way up to the Supreme Court. (Before his final victory, Ali had been arrested, tried and found guilty for draft evasion, and stripped of all his boxing titles.) He also stood up for other people - Native Americans, refugees, victims of famine and disease, Palestinians.

Some of his activism could be better called philanthropy. Ali is considered a humanitarian because he did things like persuading the U.S. government to help Rwandan refugees,  testifying before Congress about the need for funding to combat Parkinson's disease, going on diplomatic missions to Africa, and participating in events to rally support for Palestinians.

Mohammed Ali was apparently also a good mentor. A mentor is someone who guides and supports a young person or a less experienced person. Usually mentors help others with a particular trade, sport, skill, or career, but some focus on what might be called "life skills."

Today, and all through January, look for mentoring or apprenticeship programs where you can either learn or teach, be guided or be a guide.