Green Roofs

Last night Eric and I went to an Empiricist League event — one of regular nerdy dates.  The Empiricist League describes itself as “a creative community for those who believe in evidence, observation, and experiment”.  In other words, science.  A few times a year, the Empiricist League holds an event with 3 speakers focusing on some aspect of science, at an area bar.  Last night we funneled end-of-the-week alcohol at Union Hall while learning about “The History of the Future: Steampunk, Spacesuits, and Beyond”.

Wythe Marshall (Harvard grad student in History of Science dept) opened the night with a talk on “Cities of Futures Past: Strange historical visions of the urban future”.  He spoke about early visions of green space in city planning, and then posted a striking photo of a colossal green roof which made me wonder where I’ve been — I had no idea this was happening on Randall’s Island!

Wythe Marschall talking about Cities of Futures Past.

The Five Boroughs Green Roof is a green roof on top of the headquarters of the Five Borough Technical Services Division of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.  The idea was conceived in 2007.  The before and after photo is striking.

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 8.36.36 PM

At 29,000 square feet, it is the 5th largest green roof in NYC.  (What are the other four?)  I don’t really understand why every roof isn’t green, because the benefits seem so obvious.  I wonder, what are the disadvantages, if any? What specs does a building need to have in place before the roof goes green?  Can anyone recommend a great green roof book/primer?

Dad, One. Frizz, Zero.

It’s back-to-school time . . . and many of us begin thinking of apples, plaid, backpacks, sharp pencils, and smooth, combed out hair.

Image result for frizzy hair stock photo
This is not my baby.  This is the first time I am using a stock photo! 

But what if your kid’s hair is plagued by frizz?  And in fact, the more you comb it, the frizzier it gets?  This happened to one Dad, Biogeochemistry PhD Boyce Clark.  His daughter’s daily battle with frizz pushed him to first research frizz, and then start his own company fighting it.

After experimenting in the kitchen for nine months, Boyce Clark started Lubricity Labs, a company that makes anti-frizz hair products.  According to the company’s About page, the products

“are all made from naturally-derived ingredients, ultra-gentle cleansers and the highest quality bio-compatible proteins. They are vegan, GMO-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free, and cruelty-free — if you don’t count the hundreds of hair washes my daughter had before we had the Eureka moment.”

The two-step anti-frizz regimen changes the structure of hair, smoothing out irregularities that make hair permeable to moisture and result in frizz.  The treatment takes about 30 minutes, and is needed only once or twice a year.

Clark says it changed their morning routine, eliminating the typical 20 minutes of arguments and crying.  Um . . . if only we could end the tantrums here through anti-frizz hair products!

Note 1: I am not affiliated with Lubricity Labs. 

Note 2: A big thank you to Tomoko for sending an article on this my way!

Author Bingo!

I would rank tonight 2nd or 3rd in “All-Time Worst Bedtime Experience with Kids” so tonight’s post will be short as my wine IV is waiting so I can numb my feelings of despair and failure.

One of the speakers at the Writers Digest Conference shared this Author Bingo card with us.  It’s perfect!  She told us when we get five in a row, to go out and splurge.


My favorite is “Social Sitch: ‘I Have a Great Idea for a Book'”.  Probably because that was so me, like 4 years ago.

I feel like I would have won Parent Bingo tonight if the squares included, “End the night with everyone crying”, “3-year-old throws self on floor multiple times”, “Discover maintenance broke your bath tub at 7 PM”, “Feel like the tantrum is your fault because you went to work this morning”, and “Rip a Duplo out of a small child’s hand”.  Definitely not any of our finest moments.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.



Two things happened a few months ago.  1) BRK and Owl and I left the apartment early on a Saturday morning.  Our newspaper was outside the apartment door, and I figured we’d just collect it on our way back.  However, when we returned, it was gone!  Someone had stolen it!  And I had a minor fit.  2) I began telling BRK a serial bedtime story in order to get her to brush her teeth.

Since then, we’ve had no more newspaper thefts, but we’re going gangbusters on the stories.  We’ve gone through a lot of different plots.  There was the one about the dog who loved walnuts and the squirrel who loved pizza, the one about the rabbit who wanted to go to the beach, and another one I cannot remember.  We are now on the one about the squirrel who wants to become a fairy, and the voyage of the squirrel and his fiends — an eagle, a snake, a lion, a monkey, and some camels — to a wizard who might grant the squirrel’s wish.  Each night I tell her about 3 – 5 sentences of the story while she brushes her teeth, and then I say,

“We’ll do the rest of the story tomorrow night!”

And she says, “Part of it else?”

And I do a few more sentences, then it’s off to bed.

Squirrel and company encountered pirates recently on one of their adventures, when they had to bring the wizard the most colorful parrot in Madagascar.

“What are pirates?” BRK asked.

Huh.  I wasn’t anticipating this one, because we’ve read Goodnight Goodnight Pirate Ship more than a few times.

“Uh, well, they don’t do a lot of good things,” I was just tired and really hadn’t thought about how you explain pirates to a 3-year-old.  I wished Daniel Tiger could save me, but I was on my own,  “They steal things.”

“Mommy,” BRK said, “I think it was pirates who stole our newspaper that day.”

“Um, OK”.  Who am I to squash the imagination of a 3-year-old?  Plus, the image of pirates creeping up to the 14th floor to steal our Wall Street Journal is a great one on a gloomy day . . .

Making lunches for kids

Yes, that’s right.  We have officially entered the Making Lunches years.  School hasn’t started yet, but BRK just wrapped up two weeks of a new summer camp that included “lunch” among the things to bring.

I was sort of dreading this epoch due to the commentary I’ve received from veteran parents.  However, two weeks in, it hasn’t been that bad.  Why?  I think it’s because I have dramatically lowered the expectations of all concerned parties, i.e., me and BRK.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been following this formula for the school lunch:

  1. string cheese
  2. yogurt
  3. a fruit
  4. a vegetable — we are limited to tomatoes or carrot sticks because these are the only raw veggies BRK will consume.
  5. a starch.  So far we’ve done only rice crackers and plantain chips, but I can see this opening up to pastas, etc.

No special requests, no treats, and definitely nothing specially cut or decorated.

And for now, I’ve received no complaints about this formula.  (Though, one day BRK told me about this kid who had JUICE in a CARDBOARD BOX with a PLASTIC STRAW attached and I worry if I’ve been raising my children in the equivalent of a historical theme park.) I’ve also been marketing lunch preparation as an important job BRK can help out with.  And that’s also going well, so far.  (Ever notice how when ANYTHING in parenting is going well, you need to throw in a disclaimer like, “so far”, because you know all hell can break loose in an instant . . . )

BRK helping to pack her lunch!

So, this has been sort of a dry run, as camp is now over, and we have two weeks until school starts.  Hopefully we will pick up where we left off in terms of enthusiasm for string cheese and helping.

Packing the lunch also led to me think it was time for BRK to get a new lunch box.  She had been using an old crusty cloth cooler I think we had pre-kids.  Meanwhile, baby Owl got an insulated seer sucker (I know) monogrammed lunch box as a gift so it’s really kind of time for BRK to have a nice one as well.

We headed off to the store after camp Tuesday to pick one out.  The woman at the store showed the various pink and purple lunch boxes with princesses and elephants and such, and BRK went right for the dinosaur lunch box in bold primary colors.  I could barely contain my pride.  I just really loved that she picked that one out, but I mostly wanted her to know that actually any of them would be fine . . .  a princess, an elephant, or a dinosaur one.

BRK’s new lunch box

But it got me thinking as we made our way home, how would I have reacted if baby Owl had picked out the pink and purple princess one?  This feels tricky to me.  I thought about this anecdote I read recently written by a clown who was face-painting, and a little boy wanted a butterfly but his parents wanted him to get something more masculine.  The clown pointed out that we give girls a wider berth here . . . most parents would support a girl getting a butterfly OR a skull-and-crossbones painted on her face . . . the princess OR the dinosaur lunch box.  But we box our boys in.  It’s a moment for reflection for me, and I’m curious to start thinking about these things more deeply and to talk about them with our kids.  It’s too easy with a girl to just cheer on the dinosaur lunch box, and move on.  But with baby Owl growing up, I’m going to have to challenge myself to think more critically about gender and norms and the messages we send our kids about what’s OK and what’s not OK.  I’m grateful for it, and also kind of petrified.  Up until this point I’ve hardly had to think about it, and now, these questions are knocking at the door.

Water to Whiskey

During my McKinsey consultant days, I would often frequent hotel bars in the evenings, hoping at least to take the edge off, at most to meet the cast of the next blockbuster movie.  (You see, one of the consultants I idolized had met the entire cast of Ocean’s 12 at the Amsterdam Four Seasons hotel bar, so I was gunning for my chance, though doubtful I’d find them at places like the Westin hotel bar in Princeton, New Jersey, where I was stationed).

I elevated my taste from my graduate school Jameson to the slew of single malts I could now afford . . . with Lagavulin and Oban as my favorites.  (As I write this, I’m salivating, but it’s only 4 PM! Must make it until the kids are in bed.)  Another consultant taught me to add just the tiniest amount — about 1/2 of a standard straw — of water to my scotch, and revel in the torrent of scents and flavors unleashed.

I’ve always wondered about this significant before- and after-water difference with scotch tasting.  Could it have something to do with hydrogen bonding?  But my inquiry joined the long list of Things to Look Up Someday, until last week, when I saw this headline in the Washington Post: “The best way to drink whiskey, according to science.”

Björn Karlsson and Ran Friedman from the Linnaeus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden (of course), undertook computer simulations, modeling the molecular composition of whiskey, to investigate why water made it taste better.  The results were published here in Nature last week.

In the Linnaeus University news article, Karlsson explains the taste of whiskey is linked to molecules with a “water-loving” (hydrophilic) and “water-hating” (hydrophobic) part (soap and mustard have these features as well, fyi), such as guaiacol, a compound that forms when the malt grain is dried over peat smoke during whiskey production.

Figure 1
Figure 1 from Karlsson’s and Friedman’s paper, an image of 2-methoxy-phenol, aka guaiacol.  The OH part on the bottom is water loving, since water is also made from H (hydrogen) and O (oxygen).


The scientists studied simulations of a water/ethanol mixture in the presence of guaiacol, and determined that in mixtures containing 45% or less ethanol, the guaiacol was more likely to be found at the liquid-air interface, rather than deep in the liquid.  The presence of majority water seems to “release” that flavor compound.

Now, when whiskey is bottled, it is typically already diluted with water so the mixture is 40% ethanol.  The authors suggest the few additional drops of water added just before consumption must further enhance the release of the flavor compounds to the surface.

In the wake of the eclipse, I’ve seen a number of people on social media taking their hats off to SCIENCE.  I think this study is almost as important!


“Someone is Eating the Sun”, and other Eclipse things . . .

The Great American Solar Eclipse is nearly upon us.  On Monday, August 21, a swath of “totality” (complete coverage of sun by moon) will stretch from South Carolina in the South up to Oregon in the West, with all of North America, and some parts of South America, Europe, and Africa in partial eclipse viewing range.  

Total solar eclipses occur about every 18 months, when the Earth, moon, and sun align perfectly and the moon blocks out the sun’s rays.  Most of these eclipses are visible from only some place out in the ocean, making Monday’s land-based viewing opportunity all the more special.

We’ve been reading a few books on the eclipse at home, even though I’m not sure we trust BRK with eclipse glasses and may just wait until the 2024 eclipse, with a path of totality stretching from Texas to Maine, to make this a full family experience.


BRK has fallen in love with “Someone is Eating the Sun”, a lovely picture book published in 1974 by Ruth Sonneborn and illustrated by Eric Gurney.  Several farm animals conclude someone is taking bites of the sun, as it takes on its crescent shape during an eclipse.  A wise turtle explains it is merely an eclipse, and after totality, the animals are relieved the sun has returned.  We also read Eddie’s Eclipse, published this year, by Becky Newsom and Pam Tucker and illustrated by Pam Tucker.  BRK is a bit young for this book and I had to severely live edit as we moved through the pages.  The book had a clear, bright diagram of an eclipse that was helpful in explaining to BRK what an eclipse is.

A page from Eddie’s Eclipse

Meanwhile, Eric and I attended a Solar Eclipse class at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, taught by Joe Patterson, a professor of Physics at Columbia University.

On the first night, he shared a compelling story he wrote about his experience of totality in 1970, during an eclipse in Virginia Beach.  He shared his skepticism that totality would be “worth it”, as he had already experienced a 90% solar eclipse.  He writes:

“As late as 1:30 PM, at about 96%, there was just no hint of the drama yet to come.  I started looking through my binoculars with about 1.5 minutes to go, when Cal warned, “It’s coming fast now.”  At about 15 seconds before totality, he yelled, “Joe — the fringes!”, and I turned to see light and dark bans moving across the sand at 5 mph.  The bands were 2 – 4 inches wide.  I don’t recall if the light bands were any lighter than the sand before the fringes appeared — it would have been very difficult to to tell anyway since the light intensity was changing very rapidly now.  I watched the fringes for a few seconds, yelling, “The fringes! There they are! The fringes!” or something like that.  Then I ripped off one filter and looked back at the Sun.  In a few seconds the diamond ring effect appeared, the last burst of light from the photosphere.  Then Bailey’s Beads flashed into view, and I lowered the binoculars to rip the last filter off.  I had been lying down to view it comfortably, but by this time I was standing up, though I don’t remember getting up.  In my haste to remove the filter I lost my balance and fell, and in a kneeling position I glanced up to see the corona.  All this took at most three seconds, so the corona must have appeared very suddenly.  I looked around me and saw — if that’s the word — the darkness that had enveloped everything.  I heard myself yelling incoherently, “My God! It’s incredible! Fantastic!” and so on.  I heard Bill yelling similar things and I think I heard Cal, but I had no awareness that anyone else was present — except that I clearly recall wondering why nobody else was reacting to the spectacle, so I must have been aware of their presence.  Later Bill and Cal told me that everyone had reacted with the the same hysteria . . . “

Joe also shared with us Annie Dillard’s account of her experience with the 1979 total solar eclipse.  She wrote:

“I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970.  A partial eclipse is very interesting.  It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse.  Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying an airplane does to falling out an airplane.”

(How badly do you wish you were going to totality? If you aren’t going to make it for this one, make your 2024 plans now!)


Beyond the awe and spectacle, eclipses also generate discoveries.  Science magazine did a great piece on what past eclipses have helped us learn.  For example, around 150 BC, a Greek astronomer named Hipparchus of Nicaea used a solar eclipse to calculate the distance from the Earth to the moon.

Finally, there have been some reports of faulty viewing glasses.  If you are in doubt about yours, you can check your brand here.  If you find yourself without protective glasses, here’s a cool workaround from Neil deGrasse Tyson involving a colander.

Happy Eclipse Viewing!