I’m writing an app…Introducing Physics Coach

For those of you interested in some of the professional work I’ve been doing while on sabbatical, I just published a post describing Physics Coach, a web app I’m writing that is a sort of “workout tracker” for physics practice. This sabbatical has given me a lot of time to learn web programming—specifically React, Redux and some of the latest Javascript tricks, which has been a lot of fun thanks to regular pair programming sessions with some great former students of mine.

If you’re interested in reading more about the work I’ve been doing, feel free to head over to my teaching blog: Introducing Physics Coach—an app for tracking physics “workouts”.

Tromsø: Chasing the Northern Lights

Back in early January, we took a trip to Tromsø, Norway, which is at 69° N latitude, a full 10° above Oslo. Here is our view on the way in.

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Tromsø is a beautiful city, especially when it’s dark. And in Tromsø it is dark almost all the time in January. This is a photo just outside our hotel at 1:30 in the afternoon. In January, you get a couple of hours of daylight around noon.

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There are lots of fun things to do in Tromsø, but Maddie and Ada had the most fun climbing on and sliding down the huge snow piles around the city.

Tromsø also has some great museums. We were especially impressed by the science museum, and as you might imagine, winter and climate change were major themes.

Here’s a great exhibit exploring the symmetry of snowflakes.

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And here’s Maddie and Ada trying an exhibit that simulated pushing a sled on the snow.

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Notice the socks—everyone has to leave their dirty snow covered shoes at the door, a common practice in Norway.

The main reason we chose to visit Tromsø was to see the Northern Lights. Even though Tromsø was close enough to the arctic circle and we were there during the darkest time of year, light pollution and variable cloud cover meant we had to leave Trømso to actual see the lights. So, we booked an expedition to see the Northern Lights with “Chasing Lights.” We set out at 6pm on a fancy touring bus with 50 other tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of this wonder. This turned out to be quite an adventure—it was too cloudy just south of Trømso to see the Northern lights, so the bus began a long journey toward the Finnish border, stopping along the to see if the cloud cover had reduced inland. Fortunately Ada was able to sleep for 2 hours on the drive there and Maddie was able to enjoy gazing at the constellations on a perfectly dark cloudless nighttime sky (though with no “northern lights” activity) on our first stop before we reached Finland.

Below is the route we took—we got to the Finland border just around midnight and arrived back at Tromsø around 3am. But what is time when it’s completely dark outside 22 hours a day?

Of course, we all had visions of the spectacular photos you see when you picture the Northern Lights. Alas, that isn’t quite what we saw. When we got off the bus at the border, we could see low clouds, and above the clouds, a faint smudge of a light gray/ possibly green? light above the clouds—truly unimpressive, and worth making you wonder why you got off the warm bus when it was -15°C outside. But the CCD in the camera is much more sensitive than your eye, so when the guides took our photos, you do see a green halo on the horizon—success! Of course, Ada, as usual, wasn’t interested in getting her picture taken and Maddie, who was asleep on the bus when we reached the Finnish border, had to be practically dragged out of the bus to see the phenomenon. After cookies and hot chocolate and a brief attempt at building a fire by our guides, we all got back on the bus for the long 3 hour bus ride back to Tromsø.

I was glad we convinced Maddie to get out of the bus because after our trip, Maddie added the photos above to her school iPad and proudly showed her classmates the picture of us with the Northern Lights. Even though we were less than impressed, Maddie and Ada couldn’t stop talking about the Northern Lights and drew some pretty great pictures of themselves with the Northern Lights the next day as we took a break at the local library in Trømso.

Another highlight of our trip was a morning spent visiting reindeer and learning about Sami culture, the native people of Norway. We got to feed the reindeer—they would just walk right up to you and eat from the bucket of reindeer food.

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Then we got to ride around the property on a real reindeer sled “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

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After all of this, we gathered in a warm Sami tent for a traditional lunch of reindeer stew, and an explanation about Sami culture from one of the local Sami reindeer herders.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Tromsø is the weather. We went expecting it to be a record-setting cold that we’d remember for the rest of our lives, but in reality, temperatures were mostly right around freezing, and we spent a good deal of one day in our hotel room because of the heavy rain outside. Tromsø (and coastal Norway in general) are known to have a warmer climate that many other parts of the arctic due to the gulf stream, but watching heavy rain outside your window in early January above the arctic circle still feels a bit strange.

Speaking of hotel rooms, if you ever stay in a hotel in Norway, the “Scandic” hotel chain has an amazing breakfast buffet included in the price of your hotel room- lots of Norwegian knekke brød, fresh fish, Norwegian vaffles, pancakes, eggs of all sorts, an assortment of cheeses, fresh fruit, and even fresh orange juice.

Maddie’s first concert and composition

Maddie has been taking piano lessons once a week after school, and she’s really starting to come into her own. Thanks to some sticker rewards from her teacher, and a used electric piano we found online, Maddie now practices every day, and really enjoys getting better at playing music. She’s got a wonderful repertoire that includes Jingle Bells, When the Saints Go Marching In, and Alouette, a song that she and Diana discovered is about plucking the feathers from a little bid.

Maddie has also taken up composition, and recently wrote her first song which she had Diana transcribe. She titled the composition “The Math Test”, because she explained that “it starts off easy and then it gets harder.”

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All of this hard work recently culminated in her first concert, which you can see below. You’ll also see some of Maddie’s adoring fans—her sister, Ada and her friend trying to get front row seats.

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New Year’s Eve in Oslo

Again, I’m about a month behind posting this, but New Year’s Eve is a big holiday in Norway, and one of the only days in which it is legal for people to own and use fireworks, and it seems that most Norwegians take advantage of that fact. Fireworks intermittently start shortly after sunset (around 4pm) and really take off (pun intended) in the hour before midnight. Here’s a video from our rooftop during the minutes just before midnight, and as you can see fireworks are everywhere.

December Highlights

We’ve already shared a bunch of the photos from December in the Christmas in Norway post, but here are some highlights that didn’t make that post.

One Saturday afternoon, we went to see the Oslo Philharmonic Christmas special, where they created a sountrack for the animated film “the Snowman.” It was a wonderful performance, in a gorgeous hall.

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We got our first major snowfall one school day in December, and Maddie and Ada had a wonderful time walking to school that day.

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Unlike previous places I’ve lived, the snow is now a permanent fixture, and so nearly every walk to school involves Maddie and Ada climbing the large snow mountain in the grocery store parking lot along our walk.

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Maddie and Ada’s school created a similar huge snow mountain, which is a favorite place to play for kids in the morning.

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On weekends, we love to head to some of the nearby school playgrounds, and now that there is lots of snow, Staabek school has a wonderful sledding hill.

Here are Ada and one of her best friends, Kiana riding on a two-person sled that even has brakes.

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And the two of them eating big blocks on snow on the walk home.
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Maddie and her friend, Nika.

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In mid-December, we went back to the folk museum to see their Christmas market, and got to see lots of traditional Norwegian crafts and traditions. Maddie and Ada loved this organ grinder.

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The horse drawn carriage rides were also neat to see.

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And Ada liked the big ornaments on the tree.

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John took a two-day workshop on using web programming in Javascript to create art. The workshop brought together 10 people from around Oslo with a wide range of programming background and professions, and we created these posters that were printed on A2 paper using a Riso printing process similar to screen printing. Two days after the workshop, we got to see all of our work on display at an art gallery appropriately named Low Standards. My poster is the apostrophe on the bottom row, 2nd from the left.

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In a second poster, prints from different artists were merged to create new works of art.

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Here is a video of Ada’s preschool class singing “I’m a little snowflake.”

We went back to Bærums Verk, and it looks very different in December than from how it looked back in September.

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Here’s Maddie in front of a statue of Ingegjerd Løvenskiold Stuart, the Mistress of the Robes, the highest-ranking member of the royal court, who was committed to restoring the industrial village of Bærums Verk.

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At Bærums Verk, we got to see a short performance by the 3 sisters, singing a traditional Norwegian Christmas Carol, På låven sitter nissen, a song about naughty elves on the porch eating porridge that has become quite an earworm in our house.

Finally, we wrapped up the trip to Bærums Verk with a horse and buggy ride.

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Maddie has also become a rather voracious reader in the past months. She’s finished both of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory books, and is now reading Harry Potter with John. Every now and then, she even reads to her little sister.

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Here’s one more sledding video, this time, from Frogner Park in Oslo. Maddie and Ada love these “Bumboard” sleds, which are super popular in Norway.

Our walks home from school often involve just as much snow play as our walks to school. Here’s Maddie climbing snow mountain just after school lets out with her friends Eleanor and Barrett.

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Here’s Maddie and Ada making a snowman after piano practice one Thursday. IMG_3464

Here’s a photo of our Christmas tree and decorations. Thanks to our friend Paulina for loaning us a tree and many of the ornaments.

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Here are our Letters to Santa (one on left is Ada’s written by Maddie and one on right is Maddie’s second draft in which she added a few more things.) Both were sent to Santa in Drobak, Norway via the postal service.

A few last random tidbits, We found Thai restaurant in Oslo with the same name as the one we frequent in Delaware. Alas, since eating out is a super special treat in Oslo, we didn’t check this place out.
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Here’s a candid photo of Ada waiting for her sister’s piano lesson.
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Finally, here we are with our Nisse-billett, the free Flytoget train tickets we got to the airport for wearing Santa hats on our journey to Copenhagen. Just one more way to get in the Christmas spirit.

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October and November Adventures

Things are getting busier, and I’m falling behind on my monthly photo posts, so I’m going to combine two months into one here.

Hanging out at a small pond in Jar, near our house.
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In early October, Maddie got a copy of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When she first got it, she wanted to read it walking to school. She’s now finished both this book, and the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

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Maddie is also enjoying taking piano lessons after school on Thursday’s. Her teacher likes it when the parent is in the room during the lesson so we can better help her practice during the week. So, often Ada gets to hang out too sometimes playing and sometimes eating a snack at her sister’s feet.

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Ada keeps getting better and better on her scooter, and it’s now the best way to make sure we get to school on time.
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Date day—Diana and I got to see a member of the Physics Nobel Committee describe the 2018 Physics Nobel Prize.
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This is the view from the back of the physics building, looking to the west—our apartment is way off in the distance.
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Maddie’s class put on a small play sharing the story of Rama and Sita.

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Here’s more of Ada on the scooter. This time, it was 51°F outside, and Ada insisted on wearing short sleeves.
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For my birthday, we celebrated with chocolate cake from our local bakery and took a trip to see the National Norwegian Ballet perform Manon. Thanks to the generous underwriting of the Norwegian government, our tickets were around $15 each, and Maddie and Ada managed to stay focused for the entire 3 hour ballet.

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Afterward, they decided to run around a bit on the Opera House, which is an amazing space right on the water.

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Maddie and Ada’s school celebrated Halloween with Trunk or Treat on October 21st (because their fall week long break fell right over Halloween)—parents decorated their cars and gave out candy and awards for the best costumes.
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Maddie turned 8 this year, and we decided to have a small celebration at home.

We celebrated Maddie’s Birthday with some friends from Iran, and they sang Happy Birthday in Persian to Maddie.

Ada turns herself into a present.

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First snow in Norway—just as we are leaving for London for fall break.
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As we were waiting for our flight, Maddie and Ada found a moment for some silly science experiments with static electricity.

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In early November, we went to a Kulturhus in Oslo for a day learning about different cultures. One of the activities was building new worlds and making bridges between them. Maddie and Ada chose to make homes out of cardboard. Maddie’s house is the one in the back (and not pink).

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Another walk near our house around Dællivannet (vann means water in Norwegian and is a way to name a lake). That’s Kolsas in the background.

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In mid November, we set up a Skype call between Maddie and her class back in Delaware. She had a great time talking to them.

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Ada celebrated a friend’s birthday at Leo’s Lekeland, a play space for kids that is loaded with all sorts of climbing and play structures for kids, and plenty of seating for parents to sit and chat.

Here’s a video of Maddie trying to master a rope swing on a playground near our home. This is one of her final attempts after working on it for twenty minutes.

Norway doesn’t really believe in salting or shoveling sidewalks, so it’s not uncommon for walkways to be quite slippery. Not to worry, the local sporting goods store sells shoes with ice spikes, along with detachable spikes you can add to any shoes, and keeps a block of ice in the store for you to test out the traction of your shoes.

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A trip to Bergen

Back in the beginning of October, we took a long weekend and traveled to Bergen, Norway.

Bergen is known for being rainy, and it didn’t disappoint. It was our first real chance to put our rain gear to test.

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Maddie and Ada had a great time jumping in the biggest puddles they could find.

and with rain, you always get rainbows (even two at a time!)

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We took the Fløibanen funicular up to the top of Mount Fløyen, where it was rainy and a bit cold, but Maddie and Ada managed still had fun at the playgrounds we discovered at the top.
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Evidently parts of “Frozen” were inspired by the city of Bergen, Norway. The moss covered rocks and trolls at the top of the Mount Fløyen were reminiscent of the film.

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Here’s a picture of the Skomakerdiket, a beautiful lake that the top of Mt. Fløyen that made the perfect lunch spot, until it started to rain heavily again.
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The classic tourist photo of Bryggen, the historic shops and restaurants at the wharf.
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The Bergen Aquarium made for a great visit on a rainy morning. I find I really like museums that are small enough to fully explore in half a day.

We also had some great adventures at the science museum.

We spend an afternoon wandering around the Bergen Art Museum.

One really interesting exhibit we saw was this installation where kids could write their wishes on a star and place them on the wall. This one caught my eye. (“ikke” means not in Norwegian.)
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