Why Amber Streetlights?

Have you ever wondered why some cities streetlights have a warm amber glow, while others have a stark bluish tint? Well, some cities like Phoenix and towns in Connecticut have changed their street lamps to the lower color temperatures because they are more progressive than the rest of us.

According to the American Medical Association, the harsh blue color of LED lights can cause eye damage and distorted vision. These intense lights can also disrupt sleep patterns.  Our brains are sensitive to lights that peak in blue and they’re more likely to mess with our circadian rhythms.

Besides, the blue lights are unflattering – they make you look sick, even if they don’t make you feel sick. So, get the warmer amber-colored LED bulbs for your home and improve your health! Unless you’re performing surgery, you really don’t need the high-intensity blue LED lights.


Time for Kids to Hunker Down!

Now that most kids have been in school for 6 weeks, and 6-week grades are released, it’s time to get serious about their studies.  Most teachers spend the first few weeks getting students on board with policies, rubrics, and review, so kids often claim that they have straight A’s at the start of the school year. Then, a few weeks later, you watch their grades slowly slip down to B’s, and then C’s… This is an easy fix if you can consistently insist on a routine. Yup!  That’s it!

As soon as the kids get home from school, have them open their Merit Planners (or any planner that has 7 columns for each day of the week and has rows that start at 6:00 am and end at midnight). Ask them to write down all of their homework assignments in their planners on the assignment due dates.  Then do the same for quizzes, tests, and projects.  NEVER PUT IT ON THE ASSIGNED DATE! By entering the assignment on its due date, they will begin to understand priorities.

Next, ask your kids to block off time to complete each step of the homework, study prep, or project. This also helps them guestimate how much time it takes to realistically complete each phase of the homework or study prep.  By blocking off time to complete each phase, your children (and you) will know whether or not they have time to watch TV or play video games.  Make sure that they block off time for each assignment, not one big block for all of their homework. This is important. A huge block in the planner to do homework can be daunting and may even contribute to procrastination.  By writing each task in the planner, they can highlight the tasks as they complete them. This gives them a great sense of accomplishment, which can motivate them to do more.  Success begets success!

Simply insist that they update their Merit Planners as soon as they get home, then do their homework and studying before they do anything else.  With a plan like this, you’ll never hear that they forgot about a test or ran out of time to get their homework done.  We still have time to bring up those grades and empower your kids to do the best that they can this term. Let’s get started now!

Could MIT's Bee World Save The World's Bees?

Leave it to the students at MIT to possibly solve the rapid decline in our bee population. YES! When 75% of the world’s crops depend on bees and other pollinators AND the global bee population is down 50%, we will have a real problem providing enough food for everyone.  Did you know that several bee species have been added to the U.S. endangered species list for the first time ever? This is why this self-contained artificial environment might just be the ticket to rebuild our bee population.

How does it work?

Bees would live in complete captivity so the MIT students could study their behavior and to protect the bees from pesticides and other toxic substances that are killing them.  The bees will gather synthetic pollen and sugary water, and they’ll set up hives in this controlled environment.  Temperature, lights, and breezes will be set so it will seem like spring all year long. I know people who would love this too!

What are the concerns?

I wonder why the MIT students don’t use real pollen instead of synthetic pollen.  It seems to me that synthetic pollen might mess with the bees’ ability to make honey, and if they do, would we humans want to eat honey that is made from synthetic pollen? I’m also concerned about bees being born in captivity and how they will survive if and when they will be allowed to go back into their natural habitats – or will they live their entire lives in captivity?  If bees are being raised in controlled environments to save the bee population, wouldn’t they have to be released to pollinate all of our crops?

Chime in to discuss the pros and cons. I’m in favor of creating these self-contained bee communities to boost the bee numbers and hope that the MIT students will use natural feedstock to promote optimum health benefits for both the bees and the humans. 


The Evolution of Language Innovations: Texting and Abbreviations

I just read a fascinating article “A History of Punctuation for the Internet Age” in The New Yorker.  As you probably already know, I’m a stickler for punctuation.  Without it, I find it frustrating to understand the author’s point of view.  According to author David Crystal, Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation, proper use of punctuation shows our identity as educated people. So people who don’t punctuate properly, actually bring attention to their lack of education.  Hmmm.
Way back when, words ran together without spaces between them:
Then back in Old English manuscripts, people started to capitalize the beginnings of each new word to indicate that there was a new word. So the evolution of punctuation started like this:
With the advent of the printing press, a standardized punctuation system was developed:
To mark the beginnings of new words
In 2007, computer texting incorporated abbreviations and numbers:
Txt msg 2 N8 the Gr8 LOL
In 2014, cell phone technology provided spell check so texting abbreviations died out, but punctuation was still conspicuously missing:
Ya that’s pretty close to me I can do that
When parents started using the same abbreviations and truncated writing styles that their kids used, a funny thing happened: the kids stopped abbreviating! LOL, jk!
The English language will continue to evolve with each new generation, and who knows, maybe someday good ol’ traditional punctuation will become popular again. I suspect that if it does, communication between people will vastly improve.  

Confused by CSU and UC Application Requirements?

Check out this chart!

Both the CSU and UC applications are available online, and you can start submitting applications on Nov 1st.  If you’re wondering whether you’ve satisfied your math or language (other than English) requirements, check out this chart for easy and clear explanations. If you skipped Algebra 1 or Spanish 1, but you took Algebra 2 or Spanish 2, you don’t need to retake the lower classes because you’ve demonstrated that you have the conceptual knowledge because you passed the higher classes.  But, this is not the same for Geometry. Even if you took Precalculus, it would not validate your Geometry requirement. ARGH!

Take the time to review this chart to ensure that you have satisfied all of the requirements.

Are you confused about calculating your GPA when you repeated a class?  Not sure if you average or replace the grades?  The answer is different between the CSUs and the UCs.  The CSUs allow you to retake courses several times and will calculate just your highest grade, while UCs will only allow you to retake the course once.


TBM: October 17th, 1989: Loma Prieta Earthquake

I still remember the Loma Prieta Earthquake that shook our home, and our lives, at 5:04 pm, 27 years ago today. I was holding Jaclyn, who was 7 months old, and talking to Nicole’s preschool teacher, Danielle. A native Californian, I grew up with earthquakes and they never bothered me until this one.  After 5 seconds of rumbling, I realized that this was no ordinary earthquake because the intensity increased and glass started to break and furniture began to fall over. We were standing in the middle of the rec room on the first floor and I realized that it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. I tossed Jaclyn under the table with Danielle while I headed upstairs to get 4-year-old Nicole.

Although the earthquake lasted 45 seconds, it seemed like 2 minutes! I had to hang on to the handrail as I climbed the stairs because I was being tossed around.  The potted plants that lined the banister above, flew down the stairs and on top of me as I called for Nicole. She was taking a nap and she slept through the whole earthquake. When Nicole finally heard me, she navigated down the hallway barefooted stepping over and around all of the broken glass from the photo frames. She was traumatized. As we exited the house through the garage, we saw all of our cabinets strewn across the floor.

Standing outside, we watched the hillside behind our neighbor’s house crumble, blocking them in with huge boulders. Rob was at his office on 7th Avenue and he managed to get a call to us to make sure we were okay, and then the phone lines went dead. In his Jeep, he drove over downed trees and through utter chaos to get home.  We slept in our van for 3 nights, and then went to Hawaii to escape the thousands of aftershocks.  Nicole said she’d rather have volcanoes over earthquakes any day! After geologists tested the soil behind our property, we had to evacuate and move to Pasatiempo where we lived for 3 years while we removed a boulder that stood right above Nicole’s bedroom. The girls slept under our bed where they felt safe and close to us.  What a nightmare.

It’s time to check our earthquake kit again! We forgot about our earthquake supplies and when Rob checked it 5 years ago, he found diapers in it!  Our girls were away at college.  Oops! Now that we have puppies, we’ll need to add dog food. I hope that we never experience another earthquake like Loma Prieta again. 

Who is Controlling CRISPR? What You Need to Know.

If Einstein created a monster by showing how to split the atom, will we regret unleashing CRISPR?

One of my students came to me completely freaked out one day. We were at the brainstorming stage of ProjectMERIT and she was looking to do a project that could possibly save the world --- from human destruction.  She had just learned about CRISPR, a gene-editing technology that may revolutionize medicine, healthcare, food production and more.  So why was she freaking out? She is smart enough to know that just because we now have the ability to split our DNA, splice it, and edit it in a multitude of ways, doesn’t mean that people will do only good things with this technology.  She’s 16 years old and she figured this out on her own.

Remember one of Albert Einstein’s biggest regrets after he discovered how to split the atom? Einstein said, “I’ve created a MONSTER!” Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. And therein lies the ethical dilemma with CRISPR.  It is relatively easy to use and is inexpensive because experiments can be done much quicker than with other technology.

Today, universities across the globe have CRISPR and there is an “unwritten agreement” in the academic world that it will be used in positive ways (curing disease, reducing pests) and will not be used to do unethical things (cloning humans).

But not all scientists and people share the same ethical protocol that colleges do.  In 2015, Chinese scientists claimed to have edited human genes using CRISPR to develop treatment for incurable diseases. Now, the world is worried that China may be trying to clone humans. 

While it’s exciting to see the possibilities for curing disease, I agree with my 16-year old student that controlling how CRISPR is used will be difficult to do. Like Einstein’s regret, I wonder what the real stakes in gene editing are going to be once CRISPR is available to everyone.   

TBT: Love it When my Students do Projects that Make a Difference!

Don’t buy antibacterial soap! See what Natalie did to get this movement going!

Stop using and buying antibacterial soap!  Why? Because it doesn’t kill more germs than regular soap.  Yup!  One of my students, Natalie Kassel, set out to get all public schools in Santa Cruz County to switch from using antibacterial soap to regular soap back in 2008.  She created an educational outreach program, worked with the press, and stood on a soap box (no pun intended!) to educate the public.  What’s really exciting today is that the Food and Drug Administration finally – albeit 8 years later – stated that “…they (antibacterial soap) do little or nothing to make soap work any better and the industry has failed to prove they’re safe.”

Triclosan and triclocarban are the ingredients that are used in over 2,000 antibacterial soaps and products.  The FDA is giving soapmakers one year to remove these ingredients from their soaps. YES!  I’m so proud of Natalie for starting a movement here in Santa Cruz way back in 2008. 

The FDA says that washing with plain soap and running water remains one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others. And good ol’ Ivory or other soaps are a lot less expensive, too!

Puppies Update!

So it’s been 5 weeks since we’ve become owners of TWO 11-week old puppies. 

If you missed that blog, check it out here. I’ll have to admit that it did take me a few days – weeks – to adjust to having an equivalent of 2 infants without any warning or preparation. But, I forgot how wonderful it is to be greeted by happy pups as they race and fumble with wagging tails towards you every time you enter the room. 

And it’s fun to teach them little tricks because they learn so fast and they’re so eager to please. I think my favorite part is cuddling with them because they just love to be held, and I know this is a short-lived activity considering that they’re a black lab and German Shepherd mix.