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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sharing a Table with the Governor and Other Sacrifices. Space News. Great Videos and The Imaginarium.


Hello Troops,

"Mrs. Riding, is Mr. Williamson in your room?" It was half past two in the afternoon when the call came.  I was on my knees helping a young 5th grader calculate the surface area of a triangular prism.  
"You're going to a dinner tonight and will be sitting at the governor's table," Kyle Herring informed me.  I fumbled for my wallet where I keep a small sticky note filled with believable excuses why I can't attend all the social events my Space EdVentures Board of Directors want me to attend.  Kyle waited patiently for my response.  I opened the note and read the first thing on the list.  

"Sorry, I can't go.  Darn it, I've already made plans to stay home and sort my socks."   There was a long pause.  I knew immediately that one wasn't good enough to put off dinner with the governor.  I needed something else.  I looked further down the list.  "Ah, I can't go.  Darn it, I've made plans to go to the hospital to see my new great nephew."  

"You did that yesterday," Kyle reminded me.  There was another long pause.  I put the list back in my wallet and made a metal note to revisit those excuses when I had more time.  I noticed my 5th grader's eyes were welling up with frustration.  I needed to get back to work.  

"OK, when and where?"  

"I don't know. Heather will fill you in on the details.  Relax, you'll have a great time."  
Later in the afternoon I called Heather for the details.  "It's the Salt Lake County Republican Convention Banquet.  You'll be sitting with my husband and I at the governor's table along with Mark and his wife (Renaissance Academy Director) and a few other people I'd like you to meet.  Dress is casual western, so wear jeans."  

"I don't own a pair of blue jeans."  

"You're from South Dakota and you don't own a pair of blue jeans?"  Heather seemed surprised.  

"Metropolitan South Dakota," I corrected her.  "Rapid City has 50,000 people."  That put her in her place.

"Well, dress casual and be there no later than 6:30 P.M.  I'd have you come earlier but I know you hate mixers."  

Hate wouldn't be the correct term - greatly dislike would be a better description for my distaste for the casual stand around a room holding a plate topped with veggies, ranch dressing and a Walmart mini-brownie and searching the room for people to make small talk.  Mixers are great for politicians; they are surrounded by potential donations and votes.  Try being the guy in the room who's opening line is "Hi, I have a spaceship simulator....." 

I think this distaste for the 'mixer' started when I was a child and had to wait for my mother to drive my brothers and sisters and I home from church.  She loved to 'mix' and gossip in the chapel foyer.  
One occasion is burned in my memory forever.  It was a wintery Sunday evening.  I was twelve.  Sacrament meeting ended at 6:30 P.M.  The eight of us were foaming at the mouth to get home to watch the yearly Sunday broadcast of "The Wizard of Oz".  We made her promise not to talk so we could get home and not miss anything.  It was a promise broken.  Someone had something on someone in the branch and knew my mother couldn't live another moment without hearing what it was.  

 I finally forgave her on my 46th birthday.  It was great relief to have that off my conscious.   

I walked into the South Towne Expo Center at 6:30 P.M. on the dot.  I couldn't see or hear the Republicanite Revival so I walked the mile or so of carpeted expanse to find the information booth.  

"Are there any Republicans here?" I asked the uninterested woman at the desk.  

"This is the antiques fair," she replied, pointing to the expo hall full of ancient artifacts. 

"Well then, this must be the place if its antiques we are talking about."  My statement didn't draw the smile I hoped it would.  I could tell right then and there she was a believer.  

"Try the other end of the building.  You've got a long walk ahead of you."  She took great pleasure in pointing me in the right direction.  She didn't use your standard straight armed point, instead she used the arcing of the arm point, signaling a Lord of the Rings journey was ahead of me.  I turned and started my quest to find the Republicanites.    

I expected to find thousands of them gathered in worship.  I was wrong.  The great room seemed rather empty.  I assumed only the most ardent were invited to this particular banquet.  I guessed the rest of the believers were out knocking on doors and bringing the good news of the party to the unbaptized of South Jordan.  I wondered if I dared tell them that I wasn't of their faith.  I was a born again Independent, the kind who had one foot in heaven's door and the other in Hell's.  I thought I'd best keep that to myself, considering the company I was keeping.  

I want to thank Brent Groom, Heather's husband, for finding me right away.  Heather knew my last encounter with Republicanites didn't go so well at their Utah County Republican Revival.  I was out the door before the first amen was said.  

Brent introduced me to another teacher, a kindred spirit, who started her own online charter school for students in grades 7 - 12.   We had a great talk about schools and curriculum and how we might collaborate to bring the Farpoint experience to her students. 

The Call to Grub was sounded.  The cattle herded themselves into the banquet hall.  I found the Governor's table right smack dab in the center front of the room.  The Governor came around and shook hands. 

"Have we met?"  he asked.  

"Yes, you came to the Space Center's 15th anniversary celebration in Pleasant Grove," I answered.   He looked confused.  I knew Heather would fill him in on the details so I left it at that.  Besides, there was a delicious slice of peach pie with a crumbling buttery crust sitting in front of me, needing my immediate attention, smack....smack.....

The preacher in charge of the revival stood and welcomed everyone.  They said she was in charge of the Salt Lake Republicanite congregation.  She introduced the VIPs and then asked the governor to say a few words.  Afterwords, the call came to head to the back of the room and fill our plates.  It was a self serve affair.  The polite remained seated to demonstrate their self control (showing self control is a good thing for a political), while those of us with very little self control moved quickly to the front of the line to fill our plates.  My disadvantage was the distance I had to cover to get into the line; remember, my table was at the opposite end of the hall from the serving tables. 

I stepped into the line behind Sen. Osmond.  I knew him from his work on education bills.  He didn't know me from Adam.  I had the advantage.  I debated whether or not to introduce myself, but decided against it.  A woman wearing a cowboy hat tapped me on the shoulder.  "You don't mind if I cut in front of you, do you?  I'd like to talk to Senator Osmond."  

"You go right ahead,"  I replied.  My generosity put me back one place in the line, but the chance to overhear their conversation was worth putting up with her intrusion. 

"Senator Osmond, I'd like to talk to you about your feelings about the Common Core." The three of them spoke 'Common Core' through the long wait.  I heard bits and pieces, but what I did hear was interesting.  I was unaware that so many Republicanites were so anti Common Core.  The woman kept saying things like "An intrusion into our lives and state's rights".

Their conversation ended where the dinner plates started.  That's when the woman turned to me. 
"And where are you from."

"Pleasant Grove," I replied.  

"And what do you do?"  She was asking the standard questions to see if I could be of use in her anit-Common Core crusade.  

"I run a Space Education Center and teach 6th grade math."  

"Oh, Alpine District -  then you know about the Common Core."  

"Yes, I teach Common Core math every day."  She thought she had found a fellow soldier in her battle.  "Actually, I think the math is pretty good.  I don't know about the rest."  

"What about the story problems.  We know they are written to push a socialist, liberal agenda," she explained while helping herself to several spoonfuls of potatoes.  

"I haven't noticed, although I wonder how a math problem can push a socialist, liberal agenda?"

She looked confused and perturbed.  She skipped the chicken in an attempt to put distance between us.  Whatever disease of the mind I was suffering from frightened her.  I filled my plate and returned to my seat.  

We had a great conversation at our table about using simulations in education.  It was enjoyable talking to people who really understood education and the challenges teachers face in Utah's classrooms every day.  

The Bar J Wrangers provided the evening's entertainment.  They were great.  Their Wyoming accent reminded me of home.   They sang, told cowboys stories and jokes, and talked about their life entertaining visitors at their Bar J Chuckwagon at Jackson Hole.  

I enjoyed my evening with the Republicanites.   While appreciating their beliefs and values, I'll continue to remain faithful to my independence.  The believers on both ends of the political spectrum refer to us as the Undecided, the Lost, the Confused.  In reality, we are the ones searching for a faith that steers a middle of the road approach toward governing.

I want to thank Heather Groom, a member of our Space EdVentures Board of Directors and a member of the State Board of Education, for making these events possible.  She is going above and beyond the call of duty to make Farpoint a reality.  I may moan and groan at times, but thank goodness Heather understands that you can teach an old dog new tricks.     

Troops, never let it be said that Mr. Williamson doesn't make his share of sacrifices as we work together to build our Farpoint Station.   Whether Republicanite, Democratite or Lost Soul, we can find common ground on this one of a kind educational initiative.  We want to revolutionize learning and change the world, one student at a time.  

Thanks for being an important member of our party!

Mr. Williamson   


Space News


Next in our Series on Planetary Vacations.  Vacationing on


  • A Day on Venus is 117 Earth Days.  A normal vacation of two Earth weeks on Venus would equal 14 Earth Years. 
  • Romantic sunrises with the Sun rising from the west and setting in the East.  Venus rotates west to east. 
  • The surface of Venus reforms every 100 million years so you could never refer to it as the same old planet.  Venus' mantle temperatures rise until they reach a critical level that weakens the crust.  Then, over time. the subduction occurs on an enormous scale - completely recycling the crust. 
  • Apart from the Sun and Moon, Venus is the brightest object in the night sky.  Your family would always be able to look up and see you, knowing you are never very far away. 
  • 80% of Venus is covered in lava plains.  There are more than 1000 volcanoes  dotting the surface.  Just the place to be to witness spectacular volcanic eruptions.  
  • There will be a slight problem with Venus' thick, toxic atmosphere.  The planet is trapped in a runaway greenhouse effect.  The temperatures on the surface are hot enough to melt led (800 F).  The surface pressure is 90 times that of Earth's.  You'd be crushed, then baked.  Not a good way to end your vacation.     
Two New Earth Like Planets Announced. Kepler 62e and

Kepler 62f. 

The two planets, known as Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, circle the same star that is located around 1,200 light-years distant and are right next to each other (closer than Mars is to Earth). The star, dubbed Kepler-62, a K2 dwarf, is similar to our sun in many ways, though it is about 1/3rd smaller, about 2 billion years older and only 1/5th as bright, which means any potentially habitable planet would have to be orbiting pretty close to the star to receive all of the energy it would need for life to thrive. Kepler-62e fits that bill, as it is the innermost planet in its planetary system. If it has an Earth-like atmosphere, the climate may be similar to that of a tropical island-- with surface temperatures reaching about 86 degrees Fahrenheit [or 30 degrees Celsius).

Kepler-62f, on the other hand, is the "chilly" one, with a climate closer to that of a frozen tundra. (Which is cool if you live in Oymyakon) The planet is just about 40% larger than Earth, with temperatures that might hang around -19 degrees F (or -28 degrees C) , which does not sound all that appealing, but is still much warmer than the most habitable worlds in our own solar system (the moons of Jupiter and Saturn). If the planet is indeed habitable, it would need a somewhat-tenuous atmosphere with appreciable carbon-dioxide (a greenhouse gas) in in order to retain water on its surface in liquid form -- something that two of the team members believe is likely.

The Imaginarium  Making the ordinary, Extraordinary.  

Watch this when you have a few minutes.  An excellent futurist look at life without books.  

The Last Bookshop

I Love People Like Her.  Watch and Enjoy.  In Fact, Get Up and Dance With Her.  I Did (you would have enjoyed my air punches).  

England's Bus Stop Dancing Queen.

Bruce Lee's Words of Wisdom

Before he became King.

Playing Hide and Seek.
Yep, this one is destine to end up in one of my classes :)

University Library Sign

 Another lesson in the importance of commas

Wise guy fortune cookie.

Heavy Metal

The only healthy soft drink.
According to some.

Teens, be sure to share this one with your parents.
Parents, don't let your teens see this one.

A floor of pennies.
 Imagination: A

There's a sucker born every minute.


Engineering: A

He's met his match.

The Imaginarium's Winners in Product Design and Imagination

Office Wars

The Most Accurate Watch in the World

A Peelable Banana Ice Cream: Brilliant!

 Ah, the good old days when this was the only think you had tor fret over.

Hummm.  The JDRF stands for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund

OK, Something really bad is about to happen.
Best to turn and drive the other way.

14 years of his life carving one piece of wood.

Creative surfing.

Aggressive advertising.

Brilliant combination of stairs and ramp

I'd be a regular.

Near a suspected UFO landing spot.

Story of my life
My place on the PE bench :)

Brilliant Public Relations Campaign against Texting and Driving

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