Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fun with Radiation!

Well, it came a little bit too late for the great 2008 science fair experiment, but after two months of waiting, our Uranium came in the mail!



There's nothing quite like living in a country where the Postal Service will gladly deliver your box of radioactive material without even requiring an adult signature!



My son opened the box, held the rock, and said, "I don't feel radioactive." I had to explain that even at lethal doses, one doesn't generally "feel" radiation. We checked out the otherwise unremarkable rock, both (I think) equally impressed that we were the only people we knew with our very own Uranium.

Now, before you all go calling Homeland Security on me, I should explain a little bit. The sample was obtained from a source I maintain in Niger for whenever I need my yellow cake urani... er, I mean, it was ordered perfectly legally from a scientific supply company. (You know, just like you could order Anthrax and Botulism back in the good ole' days before overly-nervous housewives and radical Mohammedans ruined all our fun.)

One of my son's science fair projects was to try to re-create a smaller version of Wilson's 1911 Cloud Chamber. Why? Because radiation is cool, and because not enough people know about good ole' Wilson. For starters, we know Wilson was a cool guy because in addition to being a physicist, he was a mountaineer. In fact, the inspiration for his cloud chamber came to him while standing on the summit of Ben Nevis. Wilson's cloud chamber allowed the scientific community of the time to learn all sorts of stuff about cosmic rays and radioactive particles. My son's cloud chamber had a somewhat less lofty goal: He needed an "A."

Unfortunately, we didn't get our sample of Uranium in the mail quite on time, so we had to scavenge for other sources of radiation. (No, I'm not going to tell you where I finally found some radiation, but the first person to post a comment correctly identifying the sample below gets a free subscription to my bi-monthly newsletter.) Anyway, here is the Totel Cloud Chamber as it appeared in the science fair:



So... the science fair is over, the experiment is taken apart. The grade has been assigned, and I have this chunk of radioactive ore and nothing to do with it. Don't worry, though, I'll think of something. Until then, the next time you are over having a beer or the next time you find yourself in the neighborhood, ask to see my Ore.

Oh, and for all the nervous-nellies out there who are freaking out that I let my son play with radiation, here's a recent picture to prove that he's just fine:

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Big Dance, part II

Well, in the end I ended up being more "Ned Flanders" than I had originally intended. I had fully planned on making this as difficult for date-boy, and as embarrassing for daughter as humanly possible. I had been planning this night for most of my adult life, after all. One of the guys at work who has a seven year old daughter once said to me, "Let me know how you manage to survive the whole 'dating' thing." I simply replied that I intended to survive just fine, but that there would likely be a trail of teenage-boy corpses left in my wake.

As it turned out on dance night, the boy already looked horrified when he arrived. Not scared of me, mind you, but scared of my daughter. I'll explain:

The evening began much as expected, with my daughter running around complaining that there wasn't enough time to get ready, her hair didn't look right, and all the other neurotic rambling of any sixteen year old. As I wrote earlier, mommy was at work, and daddy was to be stuck helping with dance prep. Just as I was trying to decide if it would be better to sedate her or myself, my mother-in-law arrived to save the day. Mother-in-law was here to do hair and makeup, which apparently I'm not trusted to do (for some reason I can't understand.) Mother-in-law's arrival ended up freeing me up for more important duties, like shoving the video camera in my daughter's face every chance I got.

Just as I thought I had seen the maximum stress level possible out of my daughter, one of the boys called (not sure if it was her date, or her friend's date) and said that my daughter's date didn't have a car or a way to come pick her up. Apparently this is a big deal... because her head came off her shoulders, spun around three times, and then exploded. She hung up on whoever it was and said to her friend, "If he can't get here to pick me up, I'm not going with him! I'm NOT meeting my date at the dance!"

I kept rolling tape...

Someone else calls, and says that he has a limo that can pick them up, but the limo won't be able to go pick up her date because it would be extra mileage or some such thing. More screaming. A combination of limo-excitement and rage aimed at the guy without a car. I told her to call the limo-kid back and let him know I'd be glad to pay for the extra mileage. (It seemed a fair price to pay in order for someone to come and pick my psychotic daughter up and take her away from the house.) It was about 6:15... and the dates were supposed to have been there at 5:00.

The phone rings again, and it's limo-boy, saying that the limo isn't going to work out, but his big brother can come pick them up in the minivan, but they might have to meet her date at the restaurant. More psychotic screaming into the phone. I don't even think it was words... just angry sounds. Like some sort of aboriginal hooked-on-phonics tape.

I left the room so she wouldn't see me laughing.

Finally, she said, "They're on the way, and HE'D better be with them, or I'm not leaving this house!" I thought briefly back to my previous blog about Ned Flanders vs. The Sergeant, and I decided that this poor lad had enough problems that night without me scowling at him. I went upstairs and unstrapped my holster, changed out of my "Teenage boys make good compost" t-shirt and practiced smiling in the mirror.

An hour and a half late, two nervous and twitchy boys arrived at the door, one all decked out in his ROTC uniform and the other in his police cadet garb. They seemed like nice enough boys.

I'm glad I didn't kill them.

For now.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Big Dance

So... I'm a tad late in sitting down and writing/finishing this, but what's new? The first part was written last week (pre-dance) the second part I just finally got around to finishing up... to keep the suspense going, I'll wait and post the last part tomorrow.

(Last Wednesday)
Friday will be my daughter's first big "dance." She got asked to the ROTC Ball by some poor gangly, pizza-faced, nervous, awkward boy. (Actually, I've never met him or seen him -- he could look like Tom Cruise for all I know -- I'm just running with the stereotype here.) As it turns out, I had taken the night off work so I could go to see an art show featuring the work of one of my best friends, so I had the whole evening off. My wife, on the other hand, will have to work until 6:00 p.m. which means dad is to be left at home for "dance prep" and boy meeting.

My dear wife has admonished me to be on my best behavior for boy-meeting night. Apparently in her abscense I'm forbidden from the following:

* Displaying Firearms
* Cursing at teenage boys
* Scowling
* Grimacing
* Answering the door in my underwear
* Answering the door in my wife's underwear
* Threats
* Homicide


I do love my wife dearly, but she certainly can take all the fun out of an evening I've been planning ever since my daughter was an infant. As I mulled it over in my mind; however, I got a little more introspective (the vodka does that to me) and I started thinking back to all the times I had to have a "first meeting" with some high school girl's dad. I remembered the extreme nervousness, the fear, the apprehension... it sucked. And then I realized that I had it much, much, much easier than ROTC boy was going to have it. You see, I went to an extremely conservative evangelical Christian high school. The dads I was meeting looked and acted something like this guy:



I, on the other hand, happen to be a mean, grouchy, fat, vulgar and ugly SOB. I recently learned (to my great amusement) that my daughter's friends, both male and female, all refer to me as "The Sergeant" due to my apparently stern demeanor and strict rules. If I had to meet a father like me when I was a lad, I undoubtedly would have simply skipped the date all together. No girl is worth having to meet ME.

Which is when I had my second epiphany: The girl who's dad scared me the most was the first girl I eventually ended up bedding and marrying. (He scared me so much, as a matter of fact, that I'm even kind of nervous thinking that my father-in-law might reach down from heaven and punch me in the skull when he reads that I wrote "bedding" before "marrying.") And it wasn't just the dad... she had BROTHERS. Older brothers... every one of which looked like he'd just as soon slice my throat as as shake my hand. As it turned out, they're all nice guys and my throat remains un-sliced to this day. (Of course, I don't know if they know about the whole "bedding/marrying" chronology yet.)

Maybe I should go easy on this schmuck. Maybe I should be more like Flanders than like... well, me. It's not easy being a horny teenage boy, is it? Horny? HORNY? Screw that... he'll get to meet "The Sergeant."