Future City: I Believe the Children Are Our Future

Our kids rock! But you wouldn't know that if you listened to the doom and gloom that's often reported in the mainstream news. Disparity sells, and there are always more stories about kids doing bad in school and failing tests than there are with our kids achieving.  Positive programs never get the attention that they deserve, even national ones with a great track record like Future City. From the website:

The Future City Competition is a national, project-based learning experience where students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade imagine, design, and build cities of the future. Students work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models with recycled materials; and present their ideas before judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the National Finals in Washington, DC in February. 


Last weekend I had the pleasure to serve as a judge for the Wisconsin Regional finals at the Kern Center for the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).  It's a beautiful gym and it was fun to see all of the students carrying their city models that they built out of recycled materials into the center. Here's a pic from the outside at the wonderful time of about 7:30am. The white truck in the background is from a Fox news van that was covering the event.

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The judges sat in a room and teams would come in and give a short presentation and Q&A session. The teams spoke about their ideas on how to solve transportation using the model that they built, and had moving parts and visual aids. The models themselves were quite cool as they were made of recycled parts - everything from Starbucks cans to computer speakers.

Unfortunately, as a judge i could not take photos of the individual science models, but below is a photo of the main hall.  You can see quite a few well-dressed kids next to their visual aids, ready to explain the feats that their city accomplishes.

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I left the event pumped and optimistic for the future of science in our country. We are in good hands, but we can't get lazy - we need to encourage this spirit of innovation in ALL grades.  Once kids find out that #ScienceLooksGood, they'll help move us to the next era.

Also, the title to this post refers to one of my favorite songs, the Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston. I had to learn this song while attending the YMCA as a kid.

Not to be outdone, the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America featured a hilarious rendition of Greatest Love of Y'all by Randy Waaaatttttttssssoooooonnnnn and Sexual chocolate.

Hey Science? Respect Matters #StandingWithDNLee

Update #1 10/14/13: Biology online has apologized and fired the mysterious Ofek.  And Scientific American has released an official explanation which is also B.S.

Underrepresented minorities within the scientific community, such as African Americans and/or women, often bear a burden of perceived illegtimacy within science.  My life is littered with remarks of how I could possibly be a successful scientist when I came from a inner city background. Our passion for what we do drives us to push on despite a general culture that makes us feel like we don't belong in an area that we love.

Danielle Lee of Scientific American's The Urban Scientist blog is an amazing scientist and blogger who was unfortunately the victim of terrible remarks. I'd like to share her words with you.  Please tweet her (@DNLee5) some words of encouragement with the hashtag #StandingWithDNLee.

Ofek from, you've official been called out. We won't stand for your ilk. Disrespect is unacceptable. 

DNLee's blog post is below, reprinted in its entirety with her permission.


wachemshe hao hao kwangu mtapoa

I got this wrap cloth from Tanzania. It’s a khanga. It was the first khanga I purchased while I was in Africa for my nearly 3 month stay for field research last year. Everyone giggled when they saw me wear it and then gave a nod to suggest, “Well, okay”. I later learned that it translates to “Give trouble to others, but not me”. I laughed, thinking how appropriate it was. I was never a trouble-starter as a kid and I’m no fan of drama, but I always took this 21st century ghetto proverb most seriously:

Don’t start none. Won’t be none.

For those not familiar with inner city anthropology – it is simply a variation of the Golden Rule. Be nice and respectful to me and I will do the same. Everyone doesn’t live by the Golden Rule it seems. (Click to embiggen.)


The Blog editor of Biology-Online dot org asked me if I would like to blog for them. I asked the conditions. He explained. I said no. He then called me out of my name.

My initial reaction was not civil, I can assure you. I’m far from rah-rah, but the inner South Memphis in me was spoiling for a fight after this unprovoked insult. I felt like Hollywood Cole, pulling my A-line T-shirt off over my head, walking wide leg from corner to corner yelling, “Aww hell nawl!” In my gut I felt so passionately:”Ofek, don’t let me catch you on these streets, homie!”

This is my official response:

It wasn’t just that he called me a whore – he juxtaposed it against my professional being: Are you urban scientist or an urban whore? Completely dismissing me as a scientist, a science communicator (whom he sought for my particular expertise), and someone who could offer something meaningful to his brand. What? Now, I’m so immoral and wrong to inquire about compensation? Plus, it was obvious me that I was supposed to be honored by the request..


After all, Dr. Important Person does it for free so what’s my problem? Listen, I ain’t him and he ain’t me. Folks have reasons – finances, time, energy, aligned missions, whatever – for doing or not doing things. Seriously, all anger aside…this rationalization of working for free and you’ll get exposure is wrong-headed.This is work. I am a professional. Professionals get paid. End of story. Even if I decide to do it pro bono (because I support your mission or I know you, whatevs) – it is still worth something. I’m simply choosing to waive that fee. But the fact is told ol’ boy No; and he got all up in his feelings. So, go sit on a soft internet cushion, Ofek, ’cause you are obviously all butt-hurt over my rejection. And take heed of the advice on my khanga.


You don’t want none of this

Thanks to everyone who helped me focus my righteous anger on these less-celebrated equines. I appreciate your support, words of encouragement, and offers to ride down on his *$$.: 


Yeah They Still Work #4: '96 Tech

This is the latest post in my Yeah They Still Work (YTSW) series, where I review my old tech that still works and brings me joy.  

In December of 1996, I was a skinny, optimistic high school junior, ready to take on the world!  I kept one of my high school papers because I wrote a front page article and I'm a packrat. Little did I know that 17 years later, it would serve as a perfect time capsule for some of the technology of the day.

Check out the video below for a journey into the ridiculous TVs, CD players, and phones of the past! 

50 Years of Tech: March on Washington

AFP / Getty Images

AFP / Getty Images

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s had a clear high point when Dr. King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 50 years ago in Washington, DC. If the march had taken place in current times, official photos like the one above would show an entire crowd with mobile phones and tablets, recording King's speech, tweeting, and uploading pics and videos to Instagram.  The trolls would be out in full force on social media, delivering instant reaction to the speech and trashing King and the rest of the civil rights movement pioneers. Maybe even King would have a social media account managed by someone else, updating the account with segments from the speech soon after they were spoken.  But in 1963, mainstream television was still in its early ages and a mobile phone was a pipe dream. 

 A few highlights of the tech scene in 1963 are below: 

  • NASA culminates its first spaceflight program Mercury by sending astronaut Gordon Cooper into Earth orbit. He completed 22 full orbits before returning home. The Mercury program, which had a goal of putting a human into Earth orbit, made a hero out of John Glenn when he became the first human to orbit the Earth the year prior (1962). 50 years later, many astronauts have been beyond Earth orbit to to land on the surface of moon.  While we still haven't ventured past the moon to put our feet on another planet, we've sent various probes throughout the entire solar system and, in Voyager's case, beyond.

  • The first episode of sci-fi cult classic of Dr. Who was broadcast in London., with William Hartnell as the first Doctor. 50 years later and the current reboot of Dr. Who is still going strong.  Still waiting for a Doctor that's not white or male though ...

  • Instant Replay is used for the first time during the live transmission of the Army Navy Game by its inventor, director, Tony Verna. 50 years later and we're able to create video on our phones and rewind, fast forward, and manipulate our videos in the same way that instant replay was intended for. Also, we have to deal with annoying commentating by sports announcers who usually replay the most horrible injuries over and over again.

  • The television remote control is authorized by the FCCpaying the way for people to turn the TV on and off and change channels without leaving their chair. 50 years later and we are controlling our TVs with our phones, tablets, and WIi U Gamepads.  Somehow, I still didn't have a remote for my TV when I grew up in the 80s though ... 

The Atlantic put together a beautiful photo montage of 1963 which includes some of these tech highlights - check it out here! 


NASA Fermi: You Won't Like Me When I'm Angry

Gamma rays helped turn Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk

The Hubble isn't the only telescope floating in orbit around earth - NASA also has the Fermi Gamma Ray Telescope. Fermi turns five this week.

Why gamma rays? The visible light that we see is a small part of a much larger electromagnetic spectrum. The Fermi telescope uses gamma rays, which travel very fast with a very high energy (i.e. they have a high frequency). Faster, high energy waves have a better chance of detecting hard-to-see objects in the universe such as black holes. Check out the following description of the spectrum from Science Company.

Electromagnetic Spectrum

The chart makes it apparent that lower energy light on the left of the visible spectrum such as radio, microwave, and infrared are what we see in our everyday lives.  Several of these waves are passing through your body as you read this, but since they are low energy no damage is done. The higher energy gamma rays on the right can only be used safely because the Fermi telescope is in space, away from human contact.

From the NASA Fermi mission site:

The Large Area Telescope (LAT), the mission's main instrument, scans the entire sky every three hours. The state-of-the-art detector has sharper vision, a wider field of view, and covers a broader energy range than any similar instrument previously flown.
Fermi's secondary instrument, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), sees all of the sky at any instant, except the portion blocked by Earth. This all-sky coverage lets Fermi detect more gamma-ray bursts, and over a broader energy range, than any other mission. These explosions, the most powerful in the universe, are thought to accompany the birth of new stellar-mass black holes.

Check out a five year retrospective of the Fermi telescope below.

All this news makes the Incredible Hulk happy, and he celebrates by beating the mess out of Loki in this scene from the Avengers movie.