Friday I took the day off to judge a middle school science fair. I’d never judged this particular science fair before, so the location was new to me. There were a few people I knew there, which was nice. It was the standard judging; lots of scientists and engineers from all the engineering firms and laboratories around, some house moms, and a spattering of retired folks. The first round I judged 8th graders. I got through my 12 and had my score sheet handed in right on time. Because it was required, there were over 150 8th graders, 175 7th graders, and the optional 6th graders had 5 entries. There was quite a variety of skill in the entries. Some of them were obviously done in the nights before and with little preparation or consideration. The worst was clearly the volcano; it’s such a cliche, and he didn’t even understand what was going on with the baking soda and vinegar, calling it an explosion and attempting to measure the height as his variable. There were also the ones where the parents helped a lot. Those are the ones where I ask questions they likely weren’t coached on. Things like “If you had changed this part of it, what do you think would happen?” and “Can you explain what the difference is between carbonated soda and flat soda?”. Some of the parents were sneaky; sometimes they’ll raid their labs for materials, but then make sure they’re using household ingredients instead of the lab chemicals. I always ask what kind of help they had.

The second round I took the 6th graders. There were 5 entries and 5 judges. We did each one, so each of the kids had to give their spiel five times. Two were clearly above the other three, though each had some really creative bits to it. One of the judges made me mad, though. Our ratings were exactly opposite, and his explanation was merely “they weren’t interesting to me.” That he was judging based on how interesting the project was to him was infuriating. The science fair isn’t about flashy or interesting, it’s about the scientific method; identifying a problem or question, designing an experiment and hypothesis, performing the experiment and measuring the results, analyzing the results, and forming a conclusion. There are steps like doing background research, validating your results, making observations, and ensuring safety and correct procedures. I make sure they went through the process, not look for the most interesting projects. Sure, the interesting projects will have identified a unique problem with a practical application and conclusive results, but not all science is like that. Fortunately the other 3 judges all ranked the 6th graders like I did and the girl who extracted DNA and compared the size of the DNA to the size of the genome and fruit for various plants beat the girl who used a flashlight and a glue stick to explain why the sky is blue without ever really understanding.

The second round took a long time because two judges from the other grades took forever to complete their score sheets, and the people going on to the next round couldn’t be determined until their ranking was done. So 45 minutes late we started the third round. I had 7th graders this time, and since it was distilled to the top 14 entries, they were all pretty good. I was a little concerned about safety with the girl who tested the amount of bacteria in various animal feces (including human), and fortunately she didn’t bring her samples to school. Sadly, school ended before we had a chance to get to everyone, so we were rushed at the very end and weren’t able to judge everyone. I filled out my score sheet as best as I could and left blanks in the middle of the pack for the two entries I hadn’t seen. That way their scores would be least impacted by the guy who hadn’t seen their entries, and the ones that I ranked highest and lowest would have their scores affected. I went back to work for an hour before heading home.

I made some brownies really quick and headed over to Nick and Carolyn’s place for spaghetti. Then we watched Flash Of Genius (a courtroom drama (more judging)). After that it was You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, which was surprisingly hilarious.

Saturday morning I woke up early and made it to the WSU campus for Science Bowl judging. I got my shirt and name tag and made my way to the room. There were a lot of judges there. More than we had duties for, in fact. It’s ridiculously difficult to break into the volunteering scene around here. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to volunteer for something only to find out that there were too many people already and that they didn’t really need more judges. And getting to be veteran enough that you have any real important duties takes at least a decade. I’m not exaggerating; Carolyn asked. So I sat out for two rounds with no responsibilities at all. Fortunately, I did get to be the science judge for two rounds, and I got two read questions for one round. I absolutely love reading the questions, and I have to say I’m really good at it. I don’t mispronounce words, I don’t trip over my sentences, and I go at an even but quick pace that doesn’t allow for the kids to chat or get rowdy and gets through most of the questions in the round. Anyway, I’ve only been doing this for three years, so my room was one of the rooms that was only needed for the round robins until noon. After that the better teams went into the double elimination, and only some of the rooms were used.

I went home for an hour, then went to Emily’s to pick up the girls and go wine tasting (or wine judging if you prefer). Since I was driving, and I’m not a fan of red wines anyway, I stuck to only one or two tastes per winery. We went to Terra Blanca, Oakwood Cellars, Dessert Wind, Snoqualmie, and Heaven’s Cave. The girls bought something at each of the places we went, but I held out and only bought a single bottle at the last place; it was a unique and very tasty and smooth Riesling. The timing was perfect and we made it to our dinner reservation in Prosser at Picazo 717 at exactly the right time. We ordered a bunch of appetizers; sardines, calamari, flat bread, and a cheese plate, and they were all good. The others got paella, and I got a pork chop with apricot chipotle sauce that was delicious. I’m definitely going to have to try to make something similar at home. For dessert I had creme brulee. After the restaurant I drove people home and went home myself, satisfied with a pretty good day.