Donors Choose: Only Four Hours Left!

Okay, people, it’s crunch time: only four hours left in the Donors Choose challenge, only four hours left to get your donations matched. Thank you to all who’ve already donated! For those who haven’t, there’s still time – get thee to my giving page and make science happen!

Let’s finish strong and show these people just what a bunch of rock-dust coated geologists can do for science classrooms. Bring the hammer down.

And then I’ll stop asking you for money. ;-)

Donor’s Choose: Mere Hours

Thanks to several generous donors, one amazingly so, we’ve funded Mr. Minkler’s field trip to Great Basin National Park. I expected that one to take us to the 11th hour, but I should have known you lot wouldn’t leave it so long. You’re beyond awesome, you are!

I had to scramble to find another project during my lunch hour, just in case there were folks who’d been waiting for payday for their shot at some good deeds plus swag. I found a beaut. Mrs. O’s after a stream table. Stream table! If you’ve never seen a stream table in action, head over to Riparian Rap and discover how immensely fun they are. I wish we’d had a stream table in school! And I’m loving this project description:

My Students: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.” Albert Einstein

This is the mantra by which my students seem to live by. I teach in a college prep school that serves those who are traditionally under-served and marginalized in education. Over 90 percent qualify for the free – and reduced-meal program.

As Albert Einstein stated, the most important thing is not to stop questioning. I want to continue to cultivate this curiosity in the classroom.

My Project: From physics to geology, my students’ minds are always working! Every day in my fifth grade science classroom, questions arise and curiosity peaks. My students are hungry for science knowledge. In an effort to expand their knowledge of how the world works, we need hand on resources!

When science comes alive, students deeply engage to learn more about the world around them. By using a stream table students will see first hand how erosion occurs and how the world around them is formed. With a detailed world map they better be able to visualize geographically the climate regions we learn about in class. With interactive games and kits students will experience science being fun and engaging.

In a time when scientists are needed more than ever, these activities will inspire the scientists within each of my students. This will help to build the scientific leaders of our future!

I’ll confess, I only saw the words “stream table” and merely skimmed the description before adding the project and rushing back to work, but now I’ve had time to read up properly, I’m all the more in love with this one.

So there ye go: a little something wonderful for those late to the donor party. We’ve got until midnight Eastern time tonight to earn matching funds, which we can then put toward any projects that catch our fancy. If you’ve been holding back, but want to get involved, now’s the time. Whether it’s Mrs. O’s project, or one of my other Freethought Bloggers’ choices, or even one of the other blogging networks involved in the Science Bloggers for Students challenge, it doesn’t matter – they all qualify.

I want to take a moment to talk about the competition aspect of this, because you guys have done something incredible. The patrons of this cantina, this small but select crowd, have put En Tequila Es Verdad in third place overall. Who’s beating us? Pharyngula, at $15,131, and Bad Astronomy, at $5,497.

Take a moment to absorb this. It took the single most popular atheist/science blogger on the entire internet, and a popular astronomer who’s also a teevee star and author, to beat us.

That. Is. Amazing. You, my darlings, are bloody incredible.

DrugMonkey’s just a few lengths behind us at $2,055. Together, we pwn Phil Plait, so I’m choosing to view us as an unofficial team. If we get the rest of the Scientopia and Freethought Bloggers to sign on to this idea, we can chant “We’re Number One!” or, possibly, “¡Somos el número uno!” if Google Translate isn’t completely wrong and everybody’s consumed enough celebratory margaritas.

One thing’s for sure: this cantina’s done one hell of a job for those kids. And you’re still doing it. We’re bringing the hammer down.

I’m so damned proud of you right now!

Now, those of you who haven’t donated but meant to, head over to my challenge page and make wonderful things happen. We’ve got a stream table to buy. And there’s more projects we can select, if you all go crazy and finish this one early but are still eager for more. Just tell me in comments what you want to support, and I can add it.

Maybe, just maybe, we can make Plait’s pate shiny with sweat.

And then I shall stop pestering you for money, until next year, when we’re likely doing this all over again.

***For those who asked how much they have to donate in order to win that short story from me, the number to beat is $410.73. If you can best that, fantastic! But don’t beggar yourself to do it – there’s still plenty of other swag, including poems, if you want something personally written by me.***

Cantina Quote o’ the Week: Bhagavad Gita

I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.                  

-Bhagavad Gita

This is another translation of the quote that crossed Robert J. Oppenheimer’s mind when he saw the first atomic bomb explode at Trinity site. I like it better than his translation: one word change, a slightly different impact: destroyer, while apt, doesn’t have quite the effect of shatterer. Destroyer is a word; shatterer gives you the cacophony of a world broken into a trillion pieces, the sharp sound of all those shards falling on the ground.

In any form, it was an apt quote for a world-shattering event. The world changed. The people who wielded this weapon now had the power to destroy it utterly. And these words, thousands of years old, were there to describe what it was, precisely, we had become.

I love the old Hindu myths. They’re so often whimsical, sometimes funny, comical, and then they take a sudden turn. They become vast and deep and terrifying and serious. Sometimes they’ve brought me to a new understanding of the world. I come away with different eyes, when I read them, and this is what all good stories should do.

Someday, I might even get around to reading the Bhagavad Gita in its entirety. Myths are wonderful things for a storyteller to mine, and there are stories in those non-Western tales that just beg to be enfolded into my own story world.

But this moment, it stands by itself. I can think of nothing more suitable to say whilst watching a mushroom cloud rise.

It’s Only the End of the World. Again.

Image Source

Callan Bentley reminds us it’s the end of the world today.

Morning everyone! Have a great end of the world! ;)
@callanbentley
Callan Bentley

He gets to spend it playing in the field. I’ll be talking to people with broken cell phones. I’d offer to trade, but I wouldn’t wish my job on people I actually like.

Anybody got any good post-apocalypse parties planned? Starting a pool on what Harold Camping’s excuse will be this time? Or are we experiencing apocalypse-fatigue and just planning a lie-in with an improving book this evening?

Donors Choose: Bring the Hammer Down!

I’m not a natively competitive person, and I don’t foresee any actual losers in the Science  Bloggers For Students 2011 challenges, considering that everyone’s involved in an excellent cause. The kids will see nothing but win. But some of us humans need a good friendly rivalry to motivate us. In which case, this is a science celebrity death match and WE WILL PWN YOU SUCKAZ!!!

I can smell the desperation in the air. Check out these two tweets, which simultaneously amused me and made me extremely damned proud of my readers.

Hell no! Freethought Blogs lead over Scientopia now $1993. Time to invoke powers of darkness ... http://t.co/7n8Lu6Wb @
@docfreeride
Janet D. Stemwedel

My, my. Black magic, even so. And what’s forced them to take these desperate measures?

Our status as of 12:30am PDT

Why, I do believe that would be us, my darlings! Granted, we’re two bucks shy of the full lead amount, but still, we are responsible for that sound of quivering knees emanating from Scientopia’s neck o’ the blogosphere.

Do you need proof? Thee shall have it:

And, ahh, DrugMonkey blog readers in particular...just sayin, Dana Hunter's Freethought Blogs Challenge: http://t.co/mQkNX1lu is on the move
@drugmonkeyblog
Drug Monkey

We are not merely on the move. We have got hammers. And we are about to bring them down.

Two donors today contributed $160, and I did my $200 match, so Mr. Minkler’s kids need a mere $576 for their field trip to Great Basin National Park. This blog gets over 400 hits per day. Let’s be pessimistic, and say it’s only 400, and moreover, it’s always the same 400 people. That’s less than $2 each to completely fund this project.

Now, not everybody’s going to donate. Some of you have already given generously, more than once. Some of you are starving students who haven’t got a spare dime. But I’m sure there’s plenty of us who could scrounge round in a pocket and come up with $5 or $10. And if you do that between now and the end of the challenge Saturday night, you’re going to get some extra fundage to toss into any project you like. So, go for it.

Mr. Minkler would be very happy. Just look at the note he sent me today:

Mr. Minkler just posted this message for Discovering the Wonders of Nevada:

“Hi Dana, We are crazy about you! Thank you so much for helping us get our kids to GBNP. We had one project completely funded through your blog. You are the best.”

That’s you. You are the best. He and his kids are crazy about you. Because you, my darlings, are the ones making this happen for them.

And if you’re here for the fiction rather than the rocks, and you’d rather support a classroom library, Stephanie’s got a project who’s time is running desperate short. Go buy some kids a book instead. I want Mr. Minkler’s kids to make it to the Great Basin, of course, but us rock-obsessed folk will get them there.

Everyone on Freethought Blogs has got a Donors Choose badge. Go explore until something tickles your fancy, and then put a few bucks in. Even – and this is heresy – head over to one of those other science blogging networks and see if they have anything that catches your eye. Sure, you won’t get any of the fancy incentives I’m offering. But you’ll still have helped students get the things they need, and I can tell you from experience that’s a wonderful, warm, fuzzy feeling.

These kids are the future. Our future. Give them what they need to fall in love with learning, and ensure their futures are full of win. Geos and other adorers of the good science of rock breaking: bring the hammer down. Get Mr. Minkler’s kids out in the field.

I’ll republish the incentives below the fold for those who need reminding. And for those who need competition more than incentives for motivation: DO NOT LET THOSE BLACK-MAGIC WIELDING HEATHENS AT SCIENTOPIA BEST US! NOT WHEN WE’RE SO CLOSE TO TROUNCING THEIR ARSES!

1. I’ll write a short story for the highest donor. You can even choose the subject, if you like, and you’ll get a paper copy complete with autograph, if you wish. You’ll have to give me until the end of the year, because I’m stupid enough to try NaNo this November, but I’ll have it written and sent to you in January. Yes, I will haul my arse to the hated post office just for you.

2. The second-highest donor will get a personally-collected hand sample. That’s right! I’ll post a list of places I’m going this summer (once I know what they are!), and you tell me what hunk o’ beautiful geology you want me to package up and mail to you.

3. I’ll match 4 (count them, 4) donations of $50. So you $50 folk get to double your money! Don’t let that stop you from donating more, of course! And if you guys manage to fund these projects before I can whip my credit card out, you can each pick a project of your own for me to donate to. Done.

4. Starving Students Offer: Those of you too strapped for cash to manage more than small donations can still get a little something! Send me an email telling me what you’re studying, why you chose your major, and why you donated, and I’ll showcase you guys on the site. Plus, I’ll write a poem for the person whose note makes me punch the air and shout, “Yes! Science can haz future!” Same caveats apply as the short story deal.

5. I’ve also got some super-snazzy Mount St. Helens posters, so all who have donated to any of our projects and want their names in for that have a chance at winning one of Mother Earth’s great works of art.

Yahoo knows me as dhunterauthor. Get hammering and get stuff!

“I Can Feel The Boulders Rolling”

I have to admit that my first thought in the few seconds of this video was, “What the fuck are you doing, you fool? Get away from the wash!”

Then I discovered the person filming the video is a USGS hydrologic technician, and I was like, “Oh, right. Carry on, then.” This is definitely one of those don’t-try-this-unless-you’re-a-paid-professional sort of things. Much like climbing down into the craters of active volcanoes FOR SCIENCE.

These floods are scary dangerous things. Too many people don’t appreciate the power of water. But just watch that video. Look at the sediment load that water’s carrying. Listen to the roar. Consider they could feel boulders bouncing in the flow, just standing there at a relatively safe distance on the bank. Note the size of the channel these occasional floods have carved. It’s not a good place to be standing when the water comes pouring in.

And it comes fast, and hard, and without much warning. Flash floods have appeared in the desert on clear, bright, sunny days when the nearest rain is a hundred miles away. The moment you hear a rumble and a roar, it’s time to get the hell to higher ground.

Unless, of course, you’re a scientist, in which case you know how to do crazy dangerous things relatively safely. In which case, carry on.

Donors Choose: Matching Donations and a Thank You Video

Just a quick word before this beautiful thank you from Ms. Davis: you’ve got a chance to earn some extra donation cash from the Donors Choose Board of Directors, if you donate between midnight EST October 20th and the end of the challenge at one minute to midnight October 22nd. Yeah, that’s in addition to my snazzy incentives! Stay tuned after the video for details.

I got an email from Anna at Donors Choose:

Science Bloggers –

Today, I had the pleasure of meeting Mayen Davis, a middle school Science Teacher at a high poverty school in Queens.

Her project, “Women and Hands-on Science” was recently funded through Dana Hunter’s Freethought Blogs Challenge. She recorded this video message of thanks to let you all know how the project you’ve completed will help her students understand science.

Ms. Davis is just one of the dozens of teachers you have helped over the past three weeks. I hope you’ll see, as I did, the immense gratitude teachers feel when individuals like you support their efforts in the classroom.

Sincerely,

Anna

Ms. Mayan Davis was one of the very first teachers you all funded. She’s got her stuff, and she demonstrates it whilst thanking you for making it happen:

That’s what you made possible.

So far, so wonderful – and it gets better! I got another email from the Donors Choose folks, and they’ve got a very generous offer for us:

Hi Bloggers,

Congratulations on an impressive 2.5 weeks of bringing resources to more than 8,000 students through Science Bloggers for Students.

The DonorsChoose.org Board of Directors wants to thank you for your hard work, and to encourage readers to give, by matching all donations to Science Bloggers for Students between the first moment of Thursday October 20th and the last moment of Saturday, October 22nd (midnight to midnight Eastern time). 

If you were involved in last year’s campaign, the match will work the same way the HP match did:

-At the end of the three day period, all dollars donated will be totaled, and the Board of Directors will match those dollars.

-The number of dollars will be divided by the number of people who donated, and gift codes will be issued to every donor (via e-mail) for an equal share of the matching dollars. So, if 100 people donate $10,000, each donor will receive a $100 DonorsChoose.org gift code.

-Individuals will, in turn, have the chance to apply the funds to whatever classroom project they choose.

If you have any questions about the logistics of the match, please direct them to Anna at DonorsChoose.org (anna@donorschoose.org).

Thanks for all your hard work to help students get the materials they need. Let’s finish strong to ensure that even more students have science materials in their classrooms.

Best,

Janet

How much of a difference can we make with that kind of match, eh? Let’s get it going! Large donation, small donation, it doesn’t matter – get thee to my giving page. Let’s get Mr. Minkler’s class to Great Basin National Park, and then see how many other students we can reach with the extra matching fundage! And remember, even small donations can add up in a hurry.

And who knows? Maybe the field trippers will send us a video!

Skepticism 101: What’s the Harm? Plus, Resources

So what’s the harm? What’s the harm, if people believe silly stuff?

Skepticism 101 panel

I have an answer to that: What’s the Harm. Go there, and you’ll see what the harm is. Even the most harmless woo can be quite harmful.

The thing about believing in “harmless” woo is that it leaves you open to harmful stuff. You’ve shut your critical faculties down, you’ve learnt not to question certain things. That leaves a crack in the door through which some snake-oil salesperson can insert a foot.

You could end up thinking some little bit of natural medicine is harmless, even helpful, until it delays a critical treatment, or you take a supplement that wasn’t so natural and pure after all.

Ghosts are just a bit o’ fun – until strange things happen that scare you, and rather than searching for a mundane explanation, you call a ghosthunter or exorcist, who then parts you from cash best spent elsewhere at best, and feeds your fears until you end up doing something dangerous at worst.

And on. And on, and endlessly on.

What’s the harm? It blinds you. You can’t see the spectacular beauties of this world as they truly are. You can’t see the rough edges and the dangers, nor the non-woo things that can sand down those edges and protect you from those dangers.

You donate to homeopathic “healers” instead of Doctors Without Borders, and thus fund useless medical care for desperately needy people instead of funding the real medicine they so desperately need.

What’s the harm? It saddens me we even have to ask that question.

So, seeing as woo is harmful, and needing a good skeptical toolkit to protect you from it, where do you turn?

Here are some of my favorite skeptical resources. Feel free to add your own.

James Randi Educational Foundation.

Skepchick.

Respectful Insolence.

Science-Based Medicine.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

 

And finally, courtesy of Caeli “Starspider” Kane, moar pitchoors!

Jen McCreight et moi

Valerie Tarico and Meg Winston

Jen McCreight

Meg Winston

Donors Choose: Who Rocks? You Rock!

So, this morning, I get this note from Ms. C:

“Dear Dana,

Thank you for including my project in your blog; I can’t believe how fast I am getting funded. I love bringing science into the library. I love collecting rocks in Utah, but my metamorphic section is very weak. I am so close to getting my rocks and other supplies! Thanks again to you and your blog followers.”

That was at 7:39am Pacific. At 8:11am, an anonymous donor plunked down $50, and by 8:56am, Jessica Ball at Magma Cum Laude had fixed them up with the rest.

Bam. Project funded, justlikethat.

And then, at 5:26pm, another of my marvelous readers funded Exploring the Wonders of Nevada. Another one done!

You, my darlings, never cease to amaze me.

That leaves just one. One. Discovering the Wonders of Nevada, as of this writing, needs a mere $996. And it’s not even payday. And the five-and-dimers haven’t even weighed in yet. And I’m in for at least $150.* Who’s gonna be the next $50 or more donor and ensure I’m in for $200? My direct deposit hits at midnight on Thursday. Are you lot gonna beat me to it, force me to seek out other projects to give my matching contribution to? I wouldn’t be surprised at this point! And I wouldn’t mind in the least. The more kids funded, the better for science education.

Get thee to my challenge page and toss your coinage in. Whatever you can spare. The amounts don’t have to make my eyes pop, although I admit that’s a nice effect. The thing is, though, if less than one-third of you gave a mere $10 each, we’d have this field trip funded by the end of the day.

I know we can do this. We are that damned good.

We got more lovely notes from teachers, and I’ll refresh you on incentives, below the fold here.

Ms. C. wrote us a thank-you right after you finished funding her project:

Thank you for your generous donations! You have given me the materials that I need to make geology come to life in the library. Students will use these supplies for years to come. Plus, the individual rock identification books will provide support for classroom teachers to take students on a real rock hunt.

Thanks again, you all ROCK!

With gratitude,
Ms. C

And then we got one from Mrs. D:

Thank you so much for your generous donation to Science Rocks! My fourth and fifth graders are motivated and excited about hands-on science and they will absolutely love this unit on rocks. Because of you, we will have all the specialized science supplies we need for the labs. I’m especially excited about having the safety goggles and rock samples. All the science supplies will be used year after year in my highly capable classroom.
With gratitude,
Mrs. D

We made a difference, people. Bask in that for a little while.

And bask in these incentives:

1. I’ll write a short story for the highest donor. You can even choose the subject, if you like, and you’ll get a paper copy complete with autograph, if you wish. You’ll have to give me until the end of the year, because I’m stupid enough to try NaNo this November, but I’ll have it written and sent to you in January. Yes, I will haul my arse to the hated post office just for you.

2. The second-highest donor will get a personally-collected hand sample. That’s right! I’ll post a list of places I’m going this summer (once I know what they are!), and you tell me what hunk o’ beautiful geology you want me to package up and mail to you.

3. I’ll match 4 (count them, 4) donations of $50. So you $50 folk get to double your money! Don’t let that stop you from donating more, of course! And if you guys manage to fund these projects before I can whip my credit card out, you can each pick a project of your own for me to donate to.

4. Starving Students Offer: Those of you too strapped for cash to manage more than small donations can still get a little something! Send me an email telling me what you’re studying, why you chose your major, and why you donated, and I’ll showcase you guys on the site. Plus, I’ll write a poem for the person whose note makes me punch the air and shout, “Yes! Science can haz future!” Same caveats apply as the short story deal.

5. I’ve also got some super-snazzy Mount St. Helens posters, so all who have donated to any of our projects and want their names in for that have a chance at winning one of Mother Earth’s great works of art. Yahoo knows me as dhunterauthor.

Saturday’s three days away. We can do this thing.

Skepticism 101: How May Skepticism Be of Service? Plus Pictures!

Pictures or it didn’t happen, right? At last we have photographic evidence of the awesomeness that was the Skepticism 101 panel at GeekGirlCon, courtesy of the woman who brought Nerf guns to work and, in general, ensures I do not stab myself in the heart with my pen at work. A round of applause for my good friend Caeli Kane, otherwise known as Starspider, ladies and gentlemen. And another for her snazzy new DSLR, if you’d be so kind.

Skepticism 101 panel, from near to far: Valerie Tarico, Meg Winston, a sliver of Jen McCreight's noggin, Amy Davis Roth, moi, and our delightful moderator Case.

That’s some serious Seattle star power right there.

So we’ve had a chat about what is skepticism, and talked about popular pseudoscience. Let us continue ever onwards, and I answer a rather personal question put to each panelist: how has skepticism helped you?

Well, that’s easy. Skepticism has kept me from spending my limited fundage on useless nonsense, for one. I’ve learned how to evaluate claims and sort out what’s plausible from what’s not. There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, that I might have actually plucked a homeopathic (heh, I nearly typed “homeopathetic” just there) remedy from a store shelf, because it promises fast, safe relief from various miserable ailments. Now I know I don’t have to spend money on this stuff. If I want a nice placebo effect to help with a cold, all I have to do is put a bit of onion in water, shake, dilute, shake, dilute, repeat until not a single molecule of onion remains, and voila! I’ve got a homemade homeopathic remedy that will work every bit as well as the real thing, and won’t cost me one thin dime.

My arm might hurt after all that shaking, o’ course. But at least all the lovely exercise will have taken my mind off my symptoms.

Jen McCreight et moi

Skepticism, and becoming familiar with how science works, has given me the ability to sort truth from hype fairly well. It’s given me patience. For instance, a few years ago, I’d have been super-excited about those supposed superluminal neutrinos, and annoyed with science when it turned out there were more mundane explanations instead. I’ve learned this is just how science works: scientists discover something odd, say “That’s possibly interesting,” share their results, media goes utterly insane claiming ZOMG teh laws of fizzicks, dey r rong! while other scientists figure out that, no, there’s some perfectly ordinary explanations for those results and the theory of relativity has got nothing to worry about.

Exhibit B: artistic krakens.

Now, I ignore the hysterics and follow the real science with unalloyed pleasure. Especially when the scientists get snarky.

Skepticism has helped me let go of gods, and adjust happily to a life without them, which turns out to be brilliant, far more fun, and much more interesting than being a believer ever was.

Moi pontificating.

And, most importantly, skepticism has made me a far better fantasy author.

I know, strange thing to say, right? You don’t usually think of fantasy and skepticism in the same sentence, but it’s true. Back in ye olden days when I swallowed anything fantastic that came along, I was rubbish. Skepticism and science have given me the tools to question certain assumptions, and look for better answers, and find inspiration in this universe of ours, which is far more fantastic than anything my poor imagination could dream up. It’s given me much more interesting characters and story worlds worthy of them. It’s given me stories I could never have told before.

Skepticism has given me the people who can help me realize tell those stories.

Those are precious gifts. This is a glorious universe. And, as if those things weren’t enough, skeptics are fun to hang round with. I see nothing but win here.

So, you skeptics, gather round. Tell me what skepticism has done for you.