Monthly Archives: September 2013

Arachnaphilia – Spiders in My Yard!

Unfortunately, this awesome Halloween decoration was stolen from our yard a few years ago.  We miss him/it.

Unfortunately, this awesome Halloween decoration was stolen from our yard a few years ago. We miss him/it.

I’m getting into the swing up our upcoming national scarefest on October 31st.  This post is for you if you like spiders, love spiders, get creeped out by spiders, or hate spiders.  If you are a spider killer, move on to another blog.  We have a no kill policy in our house, we relocate to the yard.  Which is why it is full of … SPIDERS!  I will admit that I do kill Black Widows and remove their egg sacs.  The whole poisonous thing is too much even for me, a spider lover.   But they are still really cool.  For an excellent short bio of Black Widows check out (  And yes, they are called widows because the females do sometimes kill and eat their mates.  Remind your husband of this the next time he doesn’t want to get up from the recliner to take out the trash.

Now for some photos of spiders from the yard.  EEEEEKKKKKK!

Took this recently, after I spotted this garden spider spinning a web right over our table.  Watched it make its web for about 15 minutes.  They move really fast!

Took this recently, after I spotted this garden spider spinning a web right over our table. Watched it make its web for about 15 minutes. They move really fast!

Action shots of the spider spinning.

One of our backyard favorites.  Their webs stay in the same place for weeks.

One of our backyard favorites. Their webs stay in the same place for weeks.

We found this next spider a few years ago.  It made a web on top of one of our bushes.  The web was like a giant funnel, and the spider waited for anything to land on the web and then would race out to eat it.  Sam and I spent a few minutes dropping things on to the web, and then we would shriek and jump back when the spider zipped out of the web.  It moved like lighting.  Eventually it got tired of us and sat in the end of its funnel sulking.  I don’t really blame it.

Funnel spider.1



The smallest spider I've ever seen.  I don't even know how we noticed it.  It spun around the blade of grass like some Cirque du Soleil performer, and then dropped off into the lawn, never to be seen again.

The smallest spider I’ve ever seen. I don’t even know how we noticed it. It spun around the blade of grass like some Cirque du Soleil performer, and then dropped off into the lawn, never to be seen again.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

We are a crafty family, so I couldn’t resist adding in a really fun Halloween decoration we made last year.  Take a white pumpkin and draw web lines on with a black sharpie.  Hot clue a big fat spider and a fly to the web.  It you want to get really gruesome, hot glue little people instead of a fly…totally creepy.  Both you and your decoration.


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Filed under Science

Facebook Shaming

Sue+MoMy friend Sue has made the inexplicable decision to not have a presence on Facebook.  As we live in a tight-knit suburb of San Diego (Tierrasanta – The Island in the Hills), this has become a social liability for her, mostly because she never knows when we are all talking about her on FB.  It has become my mission to drag her into the 21st century and get her to set up a FB page already!

One of her issues is that she feels she has no time for FB.  No time to document her fascinating choices for breakfast or dinner, pass on Home Economics tidbits, keep everyone updated on the accomplishments of her two very accomplished boys, or document her drunken binges at JPs Pub.  I must beg to disagree, because I know for a fact that she now has BUCKETS full of nothing but time.

First of all, her year long obsession with David The Swedish Exchange Student (DaTSES) has finally ended (see my post  He has returned to the bosom of his biological family, though he misses San Diego greatly.  Topping his list of things he misses are the beach, the sun, and Sue driving him all over the damn place so he could keep up a social calendar that rivaled Paris Hilton’s.  No David equals more time.

No David

Also, her last child has graduated from elementary school.  She was quite the volunteer queen at our school, with her capable fingers in lots of pies (Yearbook, Art Program, Jogathon, Fall Fest, PTA, yada, yada, yada…).  Here she is, bull horn in hand, directing the peons.


And below, attending a monthly school spirit meeting.  The depth of her devotion really had no END!


But now that that’s all done with now.  Which leaves her what???  MORE TIME.

One thing that hasn’t changed is how much time she has to spend on her hair, but there is nothing to be done about that.  It is kind of curly, just a little bit, and on bad days it takes some effort to get it under control.

The other thing standing between Sue and FB diva status is, to be frank, her attitude.  Sue is kind of old-fashioned.  She has interesting views on “appropriate” attire for married women.


And here she is driving kids to school.

Sue.driving kids

Finally, I think she may be a bit worried that getting on FB might draw her away from her family, that her online presence might detract from her flesh and blood life.  Who is she kidding?  She never sees her family anyway!  Her oldest son has gone feral.

Her younger son has left home to take the helm and corner office in a Fortune 500 company.


And she might not even recognize her husband if she passed him on the street.


I have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are really no valid reasons for my friend Sue NOT to be on FB.  To quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the occasion of his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”


Shrug off your unjustified terror of social media which paralyzes your attainment of a FB page!

Convert your retreat from interconnectedness with your friends and people you haven’t seen face to face in decades into an advance into the digital age!

Give your support to me, your friend Mo, which will be essential for my victory, in these critical days of trying to propel you onto the modern stage.

I am convinced that my friend Sue will give me that support, that she will throw off the shackles of the 20th century to emerge, as pure as a stream of fresh-scrubbed electrons, into the 21st century.

Thank thee for thy time good reader.

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Filed under Facebook Humor, Tierrasanta Tattler

Diving Into the Wide World of MOOCs


My kids (age 11 and 13) and I have recently begun to explore the world of massive open online courses (MOOCs).  We now use the word as a verb.  As in…

“Emma, it’s time to MOOC”.

We also like to sing to prepare ourselves to MOOC.  As in…

“We’ve got to MOOC it MOOC it, we’ve got to MOOC it MOOC it”.

If you are a fan of the Madagascar movies, you know what I am talking about.

I recently created accounts on four different MOOC sites; Coursera, edX, Udacity, and Open2Study.  What brought this about was a missed opportunity when I was in college at Wellesley.  I was a science major (Biology) and I had to take math, chemistry, and physics courses to fulfill requirements, which left me little space for humanities classes in my schedule.  Wellesley, at the time (late 1980’s), had an amazing Art History introductory course, which was supposed to be very difficult and time consuming (the final was legendary), but a great experience.  I never took it, to my eternal regret.  So on an impulse one day I checked to see whether Wellesley had an Art History MOOC.

They did not.  I guess this is still reserved for paying customers.  But it got me looking around at the world of MOOCS, signing up for various sites, and enrolling in courses.  I was not looking for what I wanted to take per se, but what might be of interest to my 13 year old daughter, who has high functioning autism.  Emma is 13, as smart as they come, with a high interest in science (cosmology and biology have been favorites for years).  She also can be difficult to shepherd through life, and the expectations of life both at home and at school sometimes challenge her.  I lit upon the idea of MOOCs as a way to help develop her executive function skills (time management, organization, attention) while working on material in areas of her (sometimes obsessive) interests.

That was the original idea, but it has gone so much beyond that.  I may need an intervention soon.  Over the summer Emma and I finished two MOOCs (Introduction to the Universe and Epigenetic Control of Gene Expression).  This fall she and I will do From the Big Bang to Dark Energy (she loves cosmology!) and Human Evolution (offered by Wellesley, yeah!), Sam and I will do Preparation for Introductory Biology and Beginning Game Programming, and I will be doing Networked Life (my friend Mike is teaching this one) and A History of the World from 1300.

It sounds like a lot (and probably is a lot), but the beauty of MOOCs is that they are FREE, and you can put in as much effort as suits you.  Sam’s Biology MOOC is a great example.  They have a basics track (you watch videos and take quizzes) and a scholar’s track (you do other assignments as well).  I am doing the basics track with him, and it is perfect.  It also helps that the material is quite familiar to me, so I pause the videos to make sure he is following or to explain the material further, or I review the material with him afterwards.  But as an 11 year old he is getting a great introduction to basic concepts in biology and biochemistry such as DNA replication, the structure of the plasma membrane, and protein synthesis.  He may not remember most of the details, but when he hits the material in high school it won’t be the first time he has seen it.

Sam reviewing cellular structures.

Sam reviewing cellular structures.

As I said, it helps to be familiar with the material if you are using these online classes to supplement your child’s education.  Sam’s upcoming MOOC,  Beginning Game Programming, should be interesting, as I know nothing about computer programming.  Trying to take it may be full of fail, but again, it doesn’t matter.  We will just chalk it up to an error in judgement, and move on.  I sometimes have the opposite problem with Emma, as she got very bored with the introductory lecture for her cosmology MOOC, and started lecturing back at the screen.  Good practice though, since it was a chance to work on what is okay to do when you are bored in class.  Shouting back at the professor…not so good.

The MOOCS have been great for both kids in driving home the lesson that you need to keep up with your work, as the weekly quizzes close out after the due date, and you need to have watched all the weekly videos (usually 4 to 6) before then to pass the quiz.  It is a shift from the type of responsibility expected from students in middle and high school, where the progression of learning is mapped out by their teacher.  This puts the onus on the student to fit their work into their schedule and to budget their time, which is more reflective of what they will experience in college.

But the great thing about MOOCs is that you can access college level curriculum without the pressure of college.  If you lose interest or run out of time and can’t continue with a MOOC, you just quietly slink out of the back of the virtual classroom and no one is the wiser.  But if you are really gung ho, you can pay a fee (usually around $40) and get an official certificate of completion for the course.  I’m not sure how this will translate into real world credit; this is one of the aspects of MOOCs that is still evolving.

One final general observation about MOOCs is that the level of the material covered and the difficulty of the quizzes and assignments varies a lot, depending on the target audience.  Some are taught at a very high level with a lot of detail (the Epigenetics MOOC we took), versus others that are more about providing a general overview of a topic (Introduction to the Universe was more along this line).  Both types of courses have their purpose, and it would be good to understand which kind of MOOC you are signing up for, particularly if you are planning to take it along with a child.

There is a MOOC on just about anything.  Offered by colleges and universities all over the world.  We got to listen to Dr. Marnie Blewitt’s awesome Australian accent as she lectured to us about DNA methylation and nuclear compartmentalization.  My class on networks is being offered by the University of Pennsylvania.  Don’t be intimidated, just get online and sign up.  The learning is easy!

The completion certificate Emma and I earned for Astronomy, our first MOOC.

The completion certificate Emma and I earned for Astronomy, our first MOOC.


Filed under Education, Family, Science