Category Archives: Science

Half a Giraffe

You’re giving a announcement to the press about a small asteroid that has managed to get through our atmosphere without completely burning up.  The small space rock is named 2022 EB5 and hit above Iceland last Friday causing a boom and a flash of light as it whizzed across the sky.

You haven’t found any evidence of the asteroid actually making it all the way to the ground, but you want to make folks feel secure about how little damage it would have caused.  So you describe the size of the asteroid as small, 10 feet/3 meters across, “half the size of a giraffe”.

What?  I think a lot of people have probably seen a giraffe in a zoo and have a fairly good idea of how big a giraffe is but it’s certainly not the first thing I would think of when trying to tell someone the size of something.  Especially when 10 feet or 3 meters isn’t that hard to imagine.  But a giraffe…. actually HALF a giraffe?

Isn’t half a giraffe the same as a baby elephant?  Or six dolphins?  Are we picking on animals?  Should we say the asteroid is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle?  And even if we stay with giraffes are we talking half a male giraffe, a female giraffe, a dwarf giraffe?  Are we talking head to halfway through the torso or halfway through the torso to the feet?

Possibilities are endless.

What do you think is a measure of size that the world is missing out on?

Dinosaurs to the Moon

I wasn’t on the trail much over the weekend; I was following a livestream on YouTube.  (I can’t even imagine what I would have thought if I had read that sentence 20 years ago!)

15 years ago, after reading a book by John Green (I think it was Looking for Alaska), I started following him and his brother, Hank, on their YouTube channel called VlogBrothers.  Hank is the brainchild behind SciShow, another fabulous channel and together the brother have created multiple other channels and platforms.  They manage and ship creations by a variety of artists, from their DFTBA (Don’t Forget to be Awesome) warehouse, among many other things.  Their following is called Nerdfighteria and I have to say that they were a big factor in my finally being able to own my nerdiness and feel that it was OK to admit to my smarts.  I say it calmly but it was actually a fairly big turning point in my life.

Both John and Hank are thoughtful, kind and generous – the year I started following their vlog, they decided to do a weekend event on YouTube to raise money for good works.  They invited people to send in videos to the channel to support charities; we would watch and vote on the videos and, if we could, send in money.  At the end of the weekend, they split up the money among the top voted groups.  And they did a livestream the entire weekend to encourage folks to watch the videos, vote and donate.  They called this Project for Awesome. 

And 15 years later, it is still awesome although a little more cohesive these days.  The first 24 hours of donations go to a couple of specific organizations that Nerdfighteria have supported for many years and then the second 24 hours of donations gets split up among the top groups whose video have been voted on.  Lots and lots of perks donated by various online creators.  The livestream is a little surreal… YouTubers setting up goals and challenges.  My favorite is Destin whose vlog “Smarter Every Day” I have watched for years.  Donations during his 2-hour stint get you a plastic dinosaur magnet with your name on it that gets sent to the moon on an electronic pulley system. Honestly I don’t even know how to describe it.  Suffice it to say it’s just hysterical and the donations just blast in during his time.

Anyway, I watched quite a bit of the livestream, including staying up too late both nights and then watching early in the morning.  As the project rolled toward its end, donations again ramped up as John and Hank finished up the livestream with a lot of thanks and champagne poppers and confetti.  About 15 minutes before the end, the counter clicked over the $3 million dollar mark.  I have to say I got a little verklempt.

The happiness that I get from being part of the nerdfighter community makes me think a lot about the Trail and my baboon companions there.  I am not a serious member of the group and I only know one other nerdfighter personally but as a group they follow their leaders… they are kind and thoughtful and generous as a whole, exactly like those I know on the Trail.  No nastiness, no name calling, no mud slinging.  Wish I could spread that feeling out to the whole world.

Tell me about some other nice, thoughtful, kind folks you know!

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?