Map of the piano chords

During his piano lessons, Simon has been working on a diagram that would map all the possible chords on the piano. I gave him a huge roll of paper to draw on that he spread on the floor of his piano teacher’s studio. He said he wanted to create a network of chords and how you go to other chords. “Music is basically like finding a path through the network that you like, messing with but preserving the chords in the network. What do I mean by preserving? There’re 4 things that you can do to a chord to preserve it:

  • move some of the notes in the chord by multiples of an octave (like 1 octave, 2 octaves, 3 octaves, etc);
  • split up or mix some of the notes in the chord (taking one note and splitting it into two copies of the same note you start with but in different octaves or mixing the note from two octaves into one);
  • get rid of some notes in the chord;
  • there are some notes you can add to the chord and preserve it.

So far, Simon has been able to map C Major and A Minor tonalities. He got a little bit stuck, but is determined to continue.


Simon explaining Interstellar

Simon didn’t want to watch Interstellar (he generally dislikes fiction and often finds it too scary as well), but somehow he did get sucked into the story after his sister and I were watching the movie right next to him for several days in a row and talking about it extensively. It’s one of my favourite films and I so much wanted Simon to see the part about time dilation and the black hole, and hear his thoughts about those scenes. I admit they were quite difficult for me to grasp when watching the film for the first time, especially the scene where the main character finds himself in the tesseract and has multiple visions of his daughter from the past. When we got to the scene, Simon was on fire. He kept walking around the room, euphoric  as he was explaining to me how he understood what was happening on the screen:

“They used the many worlds interpretation! The many worlds interpretation is an interpretation of the collapsing of the wave function. It says that the wave function doesn’t collapse, we just find ourselves in a universe where it collapsed intone particular possibility. And there is theoretically another universe where something else happened and there is another version of us experiencing that. This produces uncontrollably infinitely many universes just to get out of collapsing the wave function. What they use is  a metaverse – the multiverse of the many worlds interpretation!

Those grids of shelves are the multiverses! And then there’s a grid of those grids of shelves and that’s a metaverse. A metaverse of all of the multiverses of the many worlds interpretation at every single point in time!

I know why it’s 5-dimensional! It’s the 3 dimensions of space, the 4th number indicates what universe it is in the multiverse, and the last number is which multiverse it is in the metaverse! Which is a time dimension, because it’s metaverse of all the multiverses of the many worlds interpretation at every single point in time. And notice, these are all real numbers! Even the 4th and the 5th dimension can be any real number because there are only countably infinitely many natural numbers, integers and even rational numbers”.

The Sky Track

Simon got a belated birthday present from his Russian grandparents, something he had dreamed about for months: the Magformers Sky Track set, sort of a monorail that allows Simon the shuttle to ride vertically and upside down, seemingly defying gravity:


Combining the Sky Track with a domino chain reaction:

Simon building the AND logic gate with dominos:

Simon took the Sky Track along when visiting an older friend in Amsterdam and it had great success. We generally see Simon open up more to playing together and just having genuine childlike fun instead of having continuous scruples about waisting time and the need to be working on his science and programming projects without interruption.

For the first time

During an extended family visit to the Hoge Veluwe natural reserve (where it rained the whole weekend so we barely ventured outside), Simon tried two things for the first time: bowling (fascinated by the terms spare, gutter, strike) and going down a waterslide. “This was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life!” Simon told me afterwards about the waterslide, “I think it’s remain the only time I tried this though”, he added, as it was “too exciting”. He also told me how going down the slide inspired him to build a machine (using LittleBits) creating bubbles in the water and we fantasised about the design together.

The way to own your knowledge

Simon went further on his research about what exactly valence is, and what determines how many other atoms an atom can bond with. “What about Helium? My question is, how many bonds does Helium have?” I hear him ask and watch as he searches the internet for a chemical bonds table. “From this table, I can see that the amount of bonds is not equal to the amount of electrons in the last orbital, the amount of valence electrons!” But what is the algorithm to calculate the valence of every element? He then discovered that the information about it hides inside the periodic table where elements are divided into groups. But those groups are more about the number of the valence electrons.” Mom, it says 7 for chlorine, but in my Chemistry modeling set chlorine has just one hole!” Something didn’t add up. I suggested we look into Theodore Gray’s Molecules book, which we only have in Dutch. There we studied the drawings of the outer layers of the “schil” of different atoms (in Dutch, the orbital cloud is called “schil”, which is the same as the peel of an apple). And all of a sudden, Simon knew it. He started shaking, his body stiffened with excitement. He realized that the element’s valence is the number of electrons the outer orbital can take minus the number it already has! That is, the number of “holes”, of vacancies! What a feast it was to see how he made this huge discovery all on his own, how he physically felt the discovery strike his mind and pierce his body like an envigorating wave, and how now he owned that knowledge, something he was genuinely interested in and something he experienced so deeply.

What Simon did then was grab ping-pong balls and little atoms from his modeling set and invite me and Neva to play with him, as if we were the unhappy elements that missed electrons in our outer shells and we started exchanging our ping-pong balls (our electrons) to form happy and complete molecules. And then he took two balls and gave two balls to me and said: “I don’t need you. I’m Helium and happy alone”, a big smile on his face at he made the joke.

Here we pretend we are two oxygen atoms trying to form a molecule. The white balls are how many valence electrons each of us has.

Making atom models from clay together with sis. The blue clay balls are electrons and the red ones are protons.

The Theory of Everything: Simon’s thoughts on bringing quantum mechanics and general relativity to a common denominator

“Quantum mechanics says that space and time are different things, general relativity says they are the same thing. Quantum mechanics says it’s a 3D changing universe and the future doesn’t exist, general relativity says that it’s a 4D static universe and the future already exists. If we increase these three or four dimensions to an infinity then that would be a theory that describes everything.

If there is a theory that describes everything then that would be a theory that the universe is infinity-dimensional. There even exists an interpretation in quantum mechanics that produces uncountably many universes just to get out of collapsing a wave function”.

Commenting on the film Interstellar (Simon didn’t watch the movie as he dislikes fiction and is afraid of such stories, I told him briefly about what happens in it) and the idea to travel inside a black hole to find out what gravity is:

“Gravity is infinite inside the singularity of a black hole which means that if you’re already inside the singularity and are trying to escape, you instantaneously pop back into the singularity, faster than the speed of light! Which violates the theory of general relativity!”

Physics Experiments: Vortices

Simon learned about this experiment from Physics Girl and tried several variations with a number of plastic plates and frisbees. He even got kicked out of a fashionable pool in Southern France for doing weird stuff with a plastic plate in the water. “Are you stupid or something?” the guard yelled at me when I tried to explain that it was a science experiment.

This video is a rather short visual summary of what two connected
vortices actually look like.

If you want to hear Simon explain the Physics behind the phenomenon, check out this longer video:


And here is yet another video with Simon trying (not extremely successfully) to add food colouring to emphasise the vortices’ shape. We actually set up a huge inflatable kiddy pool specifically for that last try. Anything for science!




Looking back at the vacation

Although vacation is a vague notion in our family, where days are devoted to doing favourite things 365 days a year. For Simon, that means that his days are filled to the brim with science experiments, practicing math and devouring books and videos on quantum mechanics, also when he is on vacation (away from home). The past three weeks in Southern France and Spanish Sitges also involved a lot of swimming and enjoying the outdoors of course, but science remains Simon’s top priority. He also felt like he had grown unaccustomed to the beach overkill (while at home, we only went to the beach something like once a week max) and couldn’t bear the sand sticking to his wet feet for a while. By the time we settled at our Spanish Airbnb he gradually got acclimatised to this continuous sensory ordeal though and I was happy to see him relax at the seashore, especially on the last day of our stay. He had spent about two hours in the water (experimenting with vortices, swimming after a ball and just playing silly), and  didn’t even want to get the sand off his feet anymore. We just sat there on the beautiful retro beach in Sitges, hugging and watching the sea, in absolute tranquility. Simon had even forgotten that Daniel Shiffman’s live stream was due that evening!

dsc_06646749091631384876171.jpgMade a lot of “binary calculators” (above)

dsc_08098571406704053720752.jpgHelped little sis learn fractions

dsc_07972979319674618445058.jpgIntroduced little sis to infinite fractions

dsc_06271192208290101593530.jpgChecked out his new lathe tools and tried sawing

dsc_06877459075749954970581.jpgExperimented a whole lot (with surface tension, forces, water and gases)


dsc_07585635002843708540665.jpgYet another experiment

dsc_08371515643779040846973.jpgFollowed tutorials by Physics Girl, Up and Atop, PBS Space Time, Veritasium, Reactions, PBS Infinite Series




Loved his new Larry Gonnick Calculus book and did quite a lot of… Calculus. It was quite funny when a restaurant owner noticed Simon differentiate at dinnertime and was very impressed. He trend out to be a former high school science teacher. Interesting how Simon’s giftedness is usually only openly appreciated by those who have some understanding of the subjects he elaborates upon. People with less understanding show less tolerance, like a guard at the French swimming pool who told us off and snatched Simon’s (clean) plastic plate away, not allowing Simon to carry out his beloved vortices experiment in the public pool (resulting in a huge meltdown and Simon being afraid the pool would close or change rules every day).











dsc_09612735924853232773240.jpgLaunching propeller rockets on the beach

dsc_09071976964664774880504.jpgSimon’s first chemical equations. He first thought they worked like linear equations 🙂

dsc_08943237920924875579728.jpgMore Physics Girl inspired experiments

dsc_09108778766156185324596.jpgFavourite one: burning matches in a glass results in all the water in a shallow plate getting sucked into the glass (water level rising). Has a physical and a chemical explanation!

dsc_08732805749892983265193.jpgFavourite evening activity

dsc_09114093660143972351481.jpgLoving the waves

Simon turned 9!

– Simon, Mom and Dad arranged it quite nicely, to have your birthdat and our wedding anniversary on two consecutive days!

– No, it was pure coincidence!

– But what was the chance that Mom and Dad’s wedding dat was one day before or after your birthday?

– One in 182.62125 exactly! It’s because in the Gregorian calendar, a year lasts exactly 365.2425 days.

We set up a treasure search with science questions to look for the 9 presents!

Simon’s sis Neva made the e below.

And the leaning tower on Lire (with the top tile not overlapping with the bottom one) was finally a success  with these foam dominos!