Adventures in Ethics and Science

*For Hanukkah this year, the elder Free-Ride offspring got E. coli and the younger Free-Ride offspring got Rhinovirus — not the actual microbes, but the Giant Microbes stuffed versions. These gifts actually exploited a convenient loophole in Casa Free-Ride’s moratorium on new stuffed animals, seeing as how bacteria are not part of the Animal Kingdom, and viruses aren’t even technically alive.

The eyes on these plush microbes did offend the sensibilities of the Free-Ride parental units, but we survived years of toy snails with eyes not properly located on eye-stalks. The real outrage was the identical claim on the swing tags of both the E. coli and the Rhinovirus that the stuffed microbes were 1,000,000 times actual size.

“Preposterous!” declared Dr. Free-Ride’s better half. “There’s no way that virus is anywhere close to the size of E. coli!”

And indeed, the interactive HowBig? animation from CELLS alive! supports this judgment. E. coli is two orders of magnitude bigger than the Rhinovirus!

It’s a really cool animation, although the thought of Ebola virus hanging out on the head of a pin along with more mundane stuff like dust mites and pollen grains freaks me out just a little.

*The younger Free-Ride offspring is, apparently, something of a dualist, but not in the officially sanctioned Cartesian manner.

Younger offspring neglected to do homework at the after school program one day earlier this week, but offered as a defense, “You shouldn’t be angry with me, you should be angry with my mind for forgetting to do homework!”

In other words, younger offspring draws a distinction between body and mind, but (at least for the purposes of assigning blame) identifies self with body rather than with mind. This is pretty much the opposite of how Descartes did it.

The jury’s still out on whether this new twist on dualism will turn out to be more defensible than Descartes’ version.

* This weekend, the sprogs and I will be taking a crack at the contest to design and build a sustainable gingerbread house. It seems like the right balance of holiday tradition, engineering problem, and science fair to keep all of us happy. (And, it seems like the perfect opportunity to use candy that is way too old to ingest.)

We’re drawing on two main sources of inspiration as we embark on this project: an Ask issue with articles on “green” building and another one on “green” doll houses (I’d tell you which issue, but the cover fell off some time ago so I don’t actually know), and Rose’s Christmas Cookies, a cookbook which includes recipes and plans for a gingerbread cathedral. I’m pretty sure our house won’t include flying buttresses, but you never know.

We’ll post pictures and commentary after I’ve cleaned the gingerbread and royal icing off my hands.

* Finally, from Leah, a pointer to a post that gives instructions for DIY shrinky plastic dealies If you’re looking for a weekend project that won’t turn your kitchen into a gingerbread construction site, this might be a good option.


  1. #1 J-Dog
    December 14, 2007

    Since you are in CA, you should look into how many LEED points you can generate, and qualify for major tax breaks
    (and of course, help the environment and future generatiosn too).

    Since you will be doing New Construction, follow this link:

    To get your Green Building tool kit:

    ps: Regarding youngest’s dualism – It is far, far better that they learn it’s limitations now, rather than years from now… like an ID supporter that just doesn’t get it 🙂

    Happy Solstice.

  2. #2 Alan Kellogg
    December 14, 2007

    Younger Sprog,

    Guess what? We don’t really know where the mind comes from. We guess a lot, but we don’t have the information we need to say with any assurance. It’s a mystery, and a mystery we are no where near figuring out. That means there will still be mysteries when you’re mom’s age and have sprogs of your own.

    The bad news is, you still forgot to do your homework that day. And the grownups around you forgot to remind you. They forgot how young you are and how easy it is for you to forget things. At your age grownups need to be responsible for you, because you’re not ready yet to be responsible for yourself in all things. You will be one day, but that day isn’t yet.

    By the way, your stuffed rhinovirus looks like fuzzy purple snot. 🙂

  3. #3 Graeme Williams
    December 17, 2007

    I’m sure the younger sprog is correct in his dualism: he was worried that you would punish his body for an error committed by his mind.

  4. #4 Casey G.
    December 19, 2007

    I’ve only been reading this blog for about the last month, but it has quickly become one of my favorite on the internet. As a geologist/high school biology teacher/high school earth science teacher/parent of an 11 month old boy, I’ve been able to use some of your posts for class (“What kind of scientist is Santa” went over great in class last week) and I’m now thinking of ordering a stuffed virus for my son. Glad to see I’m not the only parent/person in the world who sees life as my own personal science experiment.
    Keep up the good, nay great, work!

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