Category Archives: Science

Too Late?

Asteroid 1994 PC1 whizzed past us yesterday at 43,000+ miles per hour.  Apparently compared to the asteroids that swing by almost every day, 1994PC1 is fairly large to be so far outside the asteroid belt.  NASA has been watching it for years (I’m guessing from it’s name, since 1994) and since none of us got warnings about impending asteroid/earth collisions the last few days, they are quite aware that relatively speaking while it’s coming close to us, its closest pass will be five times the distance between us and the moon.  According to scientists “if you aren’t worried about the moon crashing into your house this week, you shouldn’t be worried about this either”.

I guess we might have a closer call with a much larger asteroid in 2028.  That news actually hit the stands back in 1997, just a year after a big scare when 1996 JA1, an asteroid the length of two football fields, passed by at only 300,000 miles with not much warning.  This might account for a bunch of the asteroid movies that came out in the next couple of years (Deep Impact, Armageddon, Asteroid, Judgment Day to name a few). 

I’m not a big disaster film buff (although technically if they divert the asteroid, it’s not really a disaster flick, is it?) but I did see a couple of these.  It’s an interesting concept – pushing off an object that is traveling 43K miles an hour.  And I don’t really follow this stuff closely so I don’t know if there is an object that NASA is actually worried about.  And I wonder, would they tell us if there were?  Not sure what in heck we, as citizens of the planet could actually do to prepare.  I mean, I assume we’re smarter than the dinosaurs, but there sure wasn’t anything they could have done differently.

Which do you worry about more – asteroids or a zombie apocalypse? 

Prehistoric Critters

I don’t remember why I asked for a DVD of The Cave of Forgotten Dreams from the library.  I had to get it through InterLibrary Loan so it took awhile.  I have a vague memory of seeing something recently about cave art so that is probably it, but I’m not sure I’ll ever remember for sure.

It was captivating to see the cave art (from the Chauvet Cave in southern France) – the public is not allowed in the caves so it felt a little like getting away with something although the scientists and camera crew did have permission.

The film got weird in a few places, a little disconnected and then at the end it got REALLY weird.  In a “postscript”, the film introduces a nuclear power near the caves and then continues to show the crocodiles who have been added to the warm waters of the plant.  Not only that, but some albino crocodiles became the final focus with the film clearly suggesting that they are mutants from radiated water.  This, of course, captured my interest in a big way.  First off, they weren’t crocodiles, they were alligators – classic u-shaped alligator snouts.  But more importantly, why in heaven’s sake would a nuclear power plant build a crocodile farm?

Of course all my questions were answered when I actually looked up at the screen just in time to see “Written, Directed and Narrated by Werner Herzog”.  I don’t know a lot about Herzog but I have seen enough comments over the years to know that he doesn’t use the same definition of “truth” that I do.  This made it incredibly easy to fact-check the crocodile farm story.  The power plant did NOT build the croc farm; it was built by two crocodile enthusiasts.  They are close to the cave and they do use the water from the nuclear power plant but the water is consistently tested and has never shown any radioactivity.  And the albinos?  Imported from a croc farm in the Southern U.S.; they were albino before they even reached the French waters.  Not radioactive mutants.  None of this really explains the purpose of the postscript of the film, but it was interesting research.

The most noteworthy fact I found is that the French croc farm is not the only place on the planet where crocodiles are benefitting from nuclear waters.  Apparently 25% of the crocodiles in the U.S. thrive among the cooling canals at Turkey Point Nuclear Plant south of Miami.  They are protected, having been encouraged there since the discovery of the first nest back in the 70s.  Fascinating.

Have you ever held a baby alligator or crocodile in your hands?  Snake?  Tarantula?  Anything?

Right Brain Baking

We got a text from our daughter the other day, lamenting the dismal failure of two Christmas treats she tried making-those Special K wreaths you cover with green-dyed almond bark, and a pretzel, M & M, and white chocolate, milk chocolate chip confection. Neither set up, and were real messes.

Daughter has turned into a very fine cook of soups, casseroles, and main dishes, but admits she is no baker because she “cooks from the heart”, adding what she thinks would be good and deviating from the recipe. That just doesn’t work for baking. Baking is a first and foremost a science. The decorative part is secondary.

Daughter’s cooking style is that of a person relying more on their right brain than their left brain. I am a left brain person, who rigidly follows recipes until I get brave enough to alter things. Artists, poets. and musicians do a wonderful job using both sides of their brains in their arts. You just can’t wing your way through it when you bake. Flour can only absorb so much liquid, you need just the right amount of leavening, chocolate melts at a certain temperature, and you have to understand how fats interact with all of it. It is amazing anyone can bake.

How do you approach a recipe? How are you at following instructions? What science classes did you like/not like?

Deciliters

Husband is always on the lookout for sourdough rye recipes, and settled on a Danish Rugbrød last week. That is the coarse, very thinly-cut type of rye bread baked in a Pullman pan with added sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and rye chops. It is often used as the base for Smørrebrød, those lovely open faced sandwiches..

The recipe he chose took eight days to make, beginning with the sourdough starter. He meticulously measured things as he fed the rye starter, and by Day 8 he was ready to mix up the bread.

The recipe was poorly translated from the Danish, and the exact steps were very difficult to follow. Husband fussed and fussed over getting all the proportions of everything correct at every step. He measured out everything by weight, and had to covert even the liquids from liters to grams. I served as his calculation assistant, and when he asked me to find out how many grams in a deciliter, I knew we were in uncharted territory.

I remember feeling so lost when the metric system was introduced when I was in elementary school. As I helped Husband with his deciliters, I thought of that and how ridiculously logical the metric system is. Why is this so hard for my American brain to comprehend?

The bread turned out quite well. We froze half and plan to send it to the only two Danes we know for their honest opinion.

What are your experiences with the metric system? Why is it hard for the American mind to grasp? What is your favorite bread to bake? Whose opinion do you value?

Going to the Mattresses

Years ago when YA moved from her loft bed into a double bed (and moved from her smaller bedroom to the next size up), I will admit that I bought her a cheap mattress.  I didn’t have much money and between getting her a bed frame and a mattress, it pretty much did away with my disposable income for a few months.  And I figured she was young, it probably wouldn’t deform her for life.  It was a traditional mattress and we drove about 15 miles an hour all the way home from the outlet shop with it precariously tied to the top of our small car.  Had to have a neighbor help me get it up the steps.

A few years later, I was able to get a new box spring and mattress for myself, using the award points that my company gives out (no cash – yea!).  My old mattress had given up the ghost; I actually had duct tape in two or three spots where the springs had poked through.  This new set was delivered and I managed to guilt the delivery guys into wrestling it up the stairs and wrestling the old set down the stairs.  

YA has been complaining about her mattress for a while now and has purchased several different toppers that she says makes it more comfortable.  Honestly part of my reluctance to get her a new mattress is the traditional “how do you get the mattress up the stairs” conundrum.

You can imagine I was a little blind-sided two weeks ago when she announced that she had purchased a new mattress for herself.  My first thought was that we were going to do another perilous trip with a mattress on top of the car.  Then I thought maybe I’d have to negotiate with two burly delivery guys again.  But nope.  She purchased one of the new mattresses that inflate when you take it out of the box.  When the delivery guy brought it, he left the big box sitting on the front sidewalk at the bottom of the stairs – that should have been my clue that it was heavier than it looked.  We managed to get it up the stairs by a combination of shoving and flipping. 

After she got it out of the box, she laid it out in Nonny’s room – apparently it had to “rest” for several hours before you lay on it.  She ended up letting it rest for a whole day and it did seem to get bigger every time I looked at it.  And it was amazingly sturdy once it was done resting.  I’m not really sure of the exact science that goes into these things, but I had assumed it would be more foamy and less sturdy.  Wrong on all counts.

So one more traditional thing evolves… no more big burly delivery folks wrestling a mattress and box spring up the steps!

What do you see as a positive evolution?

Consequences

My company takes the current situation very seriously.  We all got a nice chunk of award points (worth merchandise and travel) for sending copies of our vaccine cards to Human Resources.  There was a HUGE drawing in July for all the folks who had sent them in; a gal in the call center won the grand prize:  $10,000.   In addition there have been several parties (outside on our lawn) that have been specifically for folks who’ve gotten their shot.  This puts us at 88% on campus.

Every Monday morning there is an email with the “rules” for coming to the physical office and listing out the most common symptoms.  Among the rules is “if you’re not vaccinated you must wear a mask when you are in one of the buildings.”

An associate got fired two weeks ago.  Her team had come into the office on four occasions for a day and none of them has masked.  This gal eventually told someone on the team that she had not had her Fauci Ouchie.  Took just a day for that tidbit to get up to HR and she was let go that Friday.  While I never root for anybody to lose their job, I’m glad my company is standing behind what they say.

What’s the most epic way you’ve seen someone quit or be fired?

Plants on the Move

We grow shell out beans and green beans on poles in our garden. It is fun to watch them vine up the strings that we lace from top to bottom for them to cling to. By the time the beans are to the top, it looks like we have a collection of Cousin Its in the front yard. All they need are bowler hats to complete the image. Those are kohlrabi and orange beets in front of them.

The beans always grow beyond the top of the poles. This year I was amazed to track the highest tendrils as they moved from pointing one direction to completely the opposite direction in the space of 30 minutes. They weren’t following the sun, by the way. Husband thinks they were growing and twisting because they are vines, and they grow in a circular fashion. I have no idea. I just liked finding them pointing in a different direction after turning my back for just a few minutes. I hope the following pictures give you a sense of their movement.

The beans pointing southwest at 7:54 AM
The same beans pointing northeast 8:26 AM

I know that sunflowers follow the sun until their heads get too heavy and stiff. I have seen our bush cucumbers appear to tilt with the sun. The beans astounded me, as I never saw them rotate so fast or so surreptitiously.

What is your favorite plant to watch as it grows? What natural mysteries have you noticed lately? Any hypotheses about our moving beans?

Down Down Down

I like to think that I have a pretty good imagination.  After all, the fantasy genre is one of my favorites – give me a good dragon story any day.  So it wasn’t out of character that yesterday, when I stumbled upon a show called “Mythical Beasts”, I didn’t automatically change the channel.  I won’t go into the ethics of the Science Channel in airing this stuff, but suffice it to say the way they lay out these shows isn’t using exacting science.

It didn’t take long before I was down the rabbit hole.  I started looking for the iconic Loch Ness photo (which was debunked decades and decades ago).  This led me to the Lagarfljot Worm, an ice serpent in Iceland.  It’s supposedly been terrorizing the countryside for centuries, often cited as being responsible for harsh weather and crop failures.  This led me to Nahuelito, another lake-based monster in Argentina, similar to Nessie.  This led me to the Windigo, which I had heard of but didn’t know about.  Apparently it can influence people into greed, murder and cannibalism.  This led me to a book called “Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids” (yes, then I had to look up cryptids)!  Of course, I have requested the book from the library.  If I hadn’t decided to go downstairs for lunch, who knows how long I would have been trolling the internet for made-up beings.

If you had asked me last week if I would be looking up mythical beings this week I would have laughed out loud.  You can just never tell where my bring wants to go.

Any rabbit holes for you lately?

In The Same Vein

YA and I gave blood last night.  I’ve been a blood donor for decades and YA has ponied up a few times herself.  Normally when I get an email from the Blood Center, I think “oh I should do this” and then forget about it.  However when they call me on the phone and I pick up, they’ve got me; I talked YA into going with me.

It was clear that the nurse assigned to me was at the end of a long shift – she had NO sense of humor.  I’ve been in a customer service kind of job for decades and I like to think that I’m pretty good at putting people at ease.  When I do encounter someone in a particularly bad mood, it normally doesn’t take much to get them in a better place.  But this woman was tough.  And it didn’t help that I could hear YA and her nurse in the next room, chatting away. 

I didn’t get frenetic about trying to humor this woman but I wanted to be myself, so I made small remarks when I felt like it.  Eventually, when we got to the “now’s the time to look away” and I told her I didn’t need to look away, she warmed up.  She never got really chatty like YA’s nurse, but she at least responded to comments and asked a few questions of her own. When she asked me what color wrap I wanted on my arm and I said “well, purple”, she smiled and said “of course, what other color is there?”  I felt I had scored a small victory.  I was her last appointment before they closed so I hope that I lifted her spirits a bit before she headed home.

Are you chatty at appointments?  Do people like me tick you off?

Believe It Or Not

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
                                                                             Hamlet

Unfortunately, while I like to believe that Hamlet has it right, I tend more toward Horatio.  Yeti, Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, aliens in Roswell…. not much room in my philosophy for some of these.  It’s not just that I have never seen them but there’s not any compelling evidence (to me anyway) that anyone has even seen them.  I suppose someday I could be proven wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

So I was very surprised to see Bigfoot cavorting along a backyard fence as I was driving through Richfield!  I went around the block so I could see it again and then another time so I could stop and take a picture.  Like the underwear tree, the bigfoot intrigues me.  Why would someone put a lifesize cutout of a bigfoot in their yard?  Maybe the author of Harry and the Hendersons lives there??

This is the only movie that I know of about a “not proven” creature.  I’m sure there are plenty out there and most likely songs as well.  I’m thinking about that unicorn song by The Irish Rovers that was very popular when I was in high school.

Any good songs, movies, poetry for mythical beasts?