Attention Evil Geniuses and Kids: MakerFaireNC today!

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So you ran any number of 5K charity races yesterday or went on the Piedmont Farm Tour. But it’s a rainy Sunday in the Southeast and you’re wondering what to do with a house full of cooped-up kids, especially if it’s too soggy to do day two of the farm tour.
Let me suggest that you get to Durham, NC, to MakerFaire:NC.

Maker Faire is an annual event organized by the people who bring us MAKE Magazine. Maker Faire:NC is a fully sanctioned event but is being planned and coordinated by Raleigh/Durham locals. Our goal is to bring together Makers, Crafters, Inventors, Evil Geniuses, Scientists, Artists, and anyone else interested in learning from NC, SC, VA, DC, and beyond.
Maker Faire:NC is FREE to attend thanks to our generous sponsors and commercial exhibitors.
Just like the bigger Left-Coast version, Maker Faire:NC celebrates things people create themselves — from James Bond-worthy electronic gizmos to Martha Stewart-quality “slow made” foods and homemade clothes. Inspiration is ubiquitous at the festival and there are surprises around every corner for people of all ages.

Regular readers who follow the creative activities of Toaster Sunshine at Mad Scientist, Jr. will know a little more about what these life and tech hackers do.
Here’s the Quick FAQ but the details are:
Where: Indoors at Loehmann’s Plaza, 1821 Hillandale Rd, Durham, NC 27705
When: Today, Sunday, April 25 – 9 am to 9 pm
Cost: $0.00
There will be wi-fi available for two bucks if you need it.
Here’s a list of the exhibitors to get a flavor of the stuff that will be there.
MakerFaireNC is run by a professional events company under the local guidance of Jonathan Danforth, an audio/video/artist/multi-tech guy I first learned of from his expertise in daguerreotypes.
The PharmKid and I will be rummaging about. Follow us on Twitter @AbelPharmboy.

Toaster Sunshine channels Jack White for science and technology outreach

At the recent U2 Academic Conference, I had the opportunity to be at the local premiere of It Might Get Loud, a much-more-than documentary of the electric guitar as told through the careers of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge, and Jack White of The White Stripes and Raconteurs. For the record, I thought that White was going to be totally out of his league – while I wouldn’t call him a “legend” as billed by the producers, I left being incredibly impressed with his background and breadth of abilities.
Related to the movie trailer below, I had an exchange with Toaster Sunshine, a musician and scientist who writes the blog, Mad Scientist, Jr. (Tagline: “Sticking stuff that wasn’t made to be stuck to stuff to stuff that wasn’t made to have stuff stuck to it.”) The trailer opens and closes with Jack White constructing a primitive electric guitar with a weathered wood plank, a bottle, and some wires and such – Toaster knew exactly what it was and told me how to do it myself.

However, as a microcosm of our respective lives (Toaster is still in the lab and I am primarily at my computer), Toaster actually made the instrument yesterday.

For the hackerspace, I send out a lot of emails. Most of them get ignored, but some of them stick. One of the ones that got a reply was a request to tour a museum collection of rare and antique musical instruments that the university’s music school owns. In one of the conversations we had with the outreach director of the collection, we decided that co-hosting an educational event that melds technology and music into a workshop for kids and their parents. This is what is referred to as a Make and Take, participants register, pay a fee for parts, come and get taught how to make stuff, and then get to take it home with them afterwards.

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I am not worthy

[Sort of a repost from the last three years, updated appropriately – APB]

Seven years ago at 11:24 am EDT (1524 GMT), your humble blogger was handed the keys to a whole new vocabulary of love.

The gift came in the form of a 7 lb 13 oz (3,544 gm), 20.5 inch (52 cm) bundle of drooling, peeing, meconium-pooping bundle of baby girl, yanked from an incision in PharmGirl’s abdomen.

The lessons of compassion and unconditional love I have been taught by these two women have comprised the most formative experiences of my life.

In return, PharmGirl has suffered tremendous indignities on my behalf: the necessary biological machinations required to mix haploid DNA following our post-9/11 sorrow gave way to fatigue and sickness that all but ruined our previously-planned vacations to Mexico and Key West.

Even the positive pee stick that greeted us on Christmas morning, 2001, could not make up for the suffering that lie ahead during weeks 25-38 of gestation in the unforgiving North Carolina summer heat. Not to mention her having to resubmit NIH grant applications, deal with the academic patriarchy, and care for family members and cancer patients of her own, all the while.

Perhaps the worst, however, was immediately following this nine months of constant discomfort: post C-section complications and the unanticipated loss of 1400 mL of blood that required twice-daily massage of her abdomen and uterus that had only been sliced open 24-48 hours earlier. Her collegiate athletic career could not provide adequate preparation for the pain I witnessed.

Gents, we men are not man enough to be women.

And my dear daughter, who must now be known to the blogosphere as PharmKid given her transition into second grade this past month – the one who proudly calls me Daddy – the one who wanted to go see Jeff Tweedy play a few summers ago because, “he seems like a good daddy, too.”

This year, we seem to be more into Taylor Swift, Katie Perry, Demi Lovato, Miranda Cosgrove, and the Jonas Brothers. However, I keep playing Marley, Coltrane, and Monk in the car – to keep laying the foundation.

I have never ever loved anyone or anything more than this girl. More surprisingly, to me at least, I had never known I was even capable of such a depth of emotion.

So, perhaps, just for today, I will put aside thoughts of my worthiness and just enjoy the gifts.

Happy Birthday….and thank you my sweet peas.

Oriental Trading Co. Face Paint Recall – Colors Expanded

face paint.jpgThe US Food and Drug Administration is usually the first federal authority to take action on adverse event reports for any health product. But few appreciate that the FDA is also responsible for regulation of cosmetic products: pretty much anything applied to the skin.
So, it was no surprise when I was trolling the FDA adverse event reports and news releases to find their announcement of a recall of a number of children’s face paints due to rashes and undue skin irritation. The products are manufactured by Shanghai Color Art Stationery Company Limited, Shanghai, China.
The original recall was issued on 12 May but two additional colors were added yesterday.
While you may not recognize the name of the Chinese manufacturer, parents may recognize the name of the US distributor of these products: Oriental Trading Company of Omaha, Nebraska. (I’d add that they were the ones who issued a voluntary recall and did not require FDA action to do so).

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers last week to stop using six paint colors distributed by Oriental Trading Co. of Omaha, Neb., after reports of rashes and skin irritations. The products were found to have yeast and mold counts above industry guidelines, FDA said.
Oriental Trading Co. subsidiary Fun Express announced Friday it was adding white and yellow face paints to the colors already recalled, which were blue, purple, red, orange, black and green.

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Best fishes for a Happy Valentine’s Day!

So, I’m over at CVS Pharmacy this morning looking for a sympathy card for Orac and Mrs Orac and a get-well card for Sheril, and – I admit it – some 25-50% off Valentine’s stuff for the PharmKid.
There, I came upon this complete and utter gem.
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Frankly, this is gilling me – but what better way to share the love with your catch than a double crispy chocolate fish from the R.M. Palmer Candy Co., of Reading, Pennsylvania:

This foiled, life-like fish is the best you’ll ever taste – made of our delicious Double Crisp candy. The natural-looking foil makes this fish the perfect “catch” for your favorite Valentine. Two different sentiments tell your Valentine how you feel – “You’re A Keeper” and “I’m Hooked On You”. Each fish is packed in a reverse tray and colorful box that makes it look like this “keeper” is ready to hang in your trophy room.

My store didn’t have the “I’m Hooked On You” version. However, it did have a choice of the trout or the bass.
Could you imagine getting this for your partner only to find out that they love trout and find bass offensive????
And, trust me, the foil was not “natural-looking.” The only time I saw a trout in foil was during my childhood with my uncle, cooking our catch over a campfire on the side of the Winooski RIver outside Burlington, Vermont.
Well, dear readers of this humble blog, we at the world headquarters send you all of our love and gratitude for you continued readership, contributing to the discussions, and keeping us honest.
Regardless of whether you’re a trout or a bass.

Test post in shiny new MT4, with help from They Might Be Giants

Regular readers may note that has been off the air for the installation and upgrade of our blogging platform, MovableType. So while I finally learned how to use the old one after being here two-and-a-half years, I am now starting over. Hence, this first post being completely devoid of content.
However, I wish to honor my first two commenters with the new interface: a spammer from Istanbul (not Constantinople).
So without further delay, some music to mark this occasion:

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Sometimes “allies” need a kick in the pants

We had one of our most active comment threads the other day when I posted my thoughts on drdrA’s own superb post about what is most important to her in being a woman in science. I noted my own desire to listen to and understand as completely as possible the issues of my women colleagues and discuss, in an upcoming ScienceOnline’09 session with Zuska and Alice Pawley (Sat 17 Jan, 11:30 am, session C), how they can enlist academic allies who have the traditional power and resource structure (i.e., white guys like me) to establish partnerships in working toward fair and equitable treatment of women in the STEM disciplines.
Much discussion ensued, particularly as pointed out by a commenter named Spaulding, that Zuska’s rightfully pissed off tone in many of her blogposts is alienating to some of the men she seeks as allies. I and others argued that potential allies must first put aside one’s defensiveness and listen to the content and reasons for the anger. I am learning this in several other aspects of my professional life from other groups who have been traditionally screwed over.
Well, I am truly blessed with some wonderful and thoughtful readers and the following note came in from a woman scientist whom I respect greatly. Everyone involved in last Tuesday’s discussion (and all men in science) should read this. It is truly outstanding:

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Why we donate to DonorsChoose projects

I’ve been a bit too quiet on my end during this third year of participation in the October Blogger Challenges for was launched by Charles Best, a Bronx schoolteacher who recognized that public schools around the US were underfunded, particularly in districts with a high abundance of poverty:

Charles Best leads, a simple way to fulfill needs and foster innovation in public schools. At this not-for-profit web site, teachers submit proposals for materials or experiences that their students need to learn. Any individual can search project proposals by areas of interest, learn about classroom needs, and choose to fund the project she/he finds most compelling.
Recognition of includes the Nonprofit Innovation Award given by Stanford Business School and, a Global Technology Laureate from the TECH Museum of Innovation and Microsoft, the 2006 Social Capitalist Award and selection by Ashoka. National media such as Oprah Winfrey and The New York Times have profiled DonorsChoose as “the future of philanthropy.”

I’ve really got to thank San Jose State University Prof Janet Stemwedel for bringing DonorsChoose to our attention back in June 2006. She has corralled a good number of us bloggers to appeal to you, dear readers, every year to pick from amongst the projects we have each selected in our own individual challenges. We at Terra Sig have been incredibly fortunate as our donor-to-pageview ratio has been among the highest at this blog collaborative, attesting to your incredible generosity, especially that of a couple of tremendously thoughtful and supportive philanthropist-readers.

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DonorsChoose: you can donate $1.5 million without spending a penny

As I alluded to in the previous post, many science bloggers like us are currently running challenges to readers to donate to projects at
This great organization has been a sponsoring clearinghouse for all kinds of educational projects proposed by US public schoolteachers, many of which are very basic activities for which public funds are not available, then donors like you and I get to choose to whom we wish to send a few doubloons.
Independently of the ScienceBlogs drive, I just learned that American Express has selected DonorsChoose as five finalists who are competing for a $1.5 million donation from them. All you need to do is vote for DonorsChoose; you don’t even need to be an American Express cardmember – here’s the message I received:

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