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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rubber Bands

Ah, the familiar stretchy rubber band laid out on the countertop, waiting to be used, or just stretched, but surely it wasn't originally in that shape!

No, rubber bands start out as a milky colloid secreted by rubber trees. Colloids are basically substances evenly distributed throughout another substance, such as mayonnaise or fog. The colloids, or latex, in this case, are tapped, or extracted, from the tree. Next, on the rubber plantation, the latex is purified which removes impurities such as debris and tree sap. Now, the purified rubber is collected in large vats where it is combines with formic acid, causing the rubber particles to cling together in slabs. After this, the slabs of rubber and squeezed between rollers to remove excess water, and then pressed into blocks about 2 to 3 square feet, ready to be shipped to the rubber factory. In the rubber factory, the slabs are cut into small pieces, then mixed in a Banbury Mixer, invented by Femely H. Banbury in 1916. This machine mixes it with the pigments for color, sulfur for vulcanization, and other additives. Next, in the milling process, the rubber is heated, then squeezed flat in a milling machine. Later, once the rubber leaves the milling machine, it is slices up into strips. These strips are then fed to an extrusion machine which forces the rubber out in long, hollow tubes. The excess rubber collected at the head is then put back into the milling machine. Once the rubber is out of the extrusion machine, it is forced over long aluminum poles, called mandrels, which are covered with talcum poweder to keep the rubber from sticking. At this point, the rubber is still very brittle and in order to make it elastic and strong, it must be "cured." To do this, the poles are loaded onto racks that are steamed and heated inside a large machine. Onced the rubber is removed from the poles and washed to get rid of that white talcum powder, the rubes are fed into another machine that slices them up into the familiar band shape. Rubber bands tend to clump together, so they are typically sold by weight as it is more accurate to weigh small quantities at a time.

Rubber is usually subjected to a few quality tests before it is sold in the market. These tests commonly include moldulus (how hard the rubber band snaps back when pulled), elongation (how far the band will stretch), and break strength (how much strain a rubber band is able to withstand.)
Akron, Ohio was dubbed the Rubber Capital of the World, in fact, it's the home of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Rubber is mostly used to produce tires: see the connection? It hosts the annual Rubber Band Contest for Young Inventors.
Rubber was first named by the English chemist Joseph Priestly after noticing how dried pieces of rubber could rub away pencil marks.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Daylight Saving Time

On November 1 Daylight Saving Time ended and clocks fell back one hour. Did you know Benjamin Franklin was the first to develop Daylight Savings Time? He also happens to be the author of the proverb "early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. It was used to allow farmers and other to have an extra hour of daylight before they had to retire for the day.
Daylight Saving Time is basically when clocks are advanced one hour during the summertime (although the exact time amount varies from country to country) so that afternoons will have more daylight, thus creating more time for people to spend outside. This practice allows  those that spend much time outside to exploit the extra daylight hours and allows retail stores to increase their profits what with more daytime hours and more customers. Also, traffic accidents rarer as the sun is still out when most are driving home during rush hour and the use of electrical lights are supposed to be reduced.
Why do we need Daylight Saving Time anymore? It may be useful in agricultural communities, but with all our urbanization, there is barely any use for it anymore. Some find it quite hard to adapt to a new sleep shedule and Daylight Saving Time may induce depression for those with seasonal affective disorder. It may be energy efficient to some extent, by once most come home from work they turn on their lights anyway and sometimes people leave their lights on the entire day!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dragon Fish

   Today I was eating this strange fish. I had eaten it for years, yet I have never figured out what it really is called. The only name I knew to call it by was the "dragon fish." Of course, it just happened that hundreds of species of fish are called dragon fish, though there are a few that are traditionally cooked in China.
   The Chinese call dragon fish xia chan (虾潺) beacuse of the relation of its massive mouth to its body while the Cantonese call it Bean Curd Fish due to the incredible softness of the meat and bones. There is no need to debone the fish before cooking. Some restaurants cook the fish into fried puffy fish sticks, though other places put it into soups.
   Apparently, the English equivalent to the name is Harpadon nehereus, or Bombay Duck. It is a type of lizardfish found in tropical and subtropical waters. They are caught in great numbers in the the China Sea. No one knows why the fish is called the Bombay Duck, because it definately isn't a duck. Some writers say that, during the British Raj, the fish were transported on trains after drying. They say that the compartments of the Bombay Dak would reek of the fish smell. Consequentally, the British would refer to the peculiar smell of Bombay Dak, eventually evolving into the name Bombay duck. According to Bangledeshi tales, the first person to use the name "Bombay Duck" was Richard Clive, after tasting a piece of the fish during his conquest of Bengal.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Life of Fred

   Recently, I've come across a mathematics series entitled, "Life of Fred." It could possibly be the most interesting math textbook I've ever come across. The series is written by Dr. Stanley Schmidt. It chronicles the life of Fred Gauss, a mathematical genius only about five years old who teaches at KITTENS University. He uses math to solve problems in his life and along the way the reader can learn, too!
   One attractive thing about the series is that it's entertaining, not one of those dry math text books that give an example and require you to do tons of problems identical to it or force you to memorize boring lines of text. No, this book actually puts you into the action—no more, "When will I ever use this information?" or "Math is boring." The funny storylines are entertaining, plus, there are also parts where the subject meanders for a bit and you can learn interesting irrelevant facts. It's actually a self-taught course, as you can teach yourself everything the books have to teach you—it's that clear! The books range in level from beginning fractions to college level linear algebra. It's also cheaper than some other text books (not saying that it's the cheapest book there is).
      http://movingbeyondthepage.com/curriculumMathFred.asp has short samples of the first three books, or you could visit the website: http://lifeoffredmath.com/index.php.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fruits

To put it in a nutshell, a fruit is the part of a plant that contains the seeds.
Of course, it can be argued that nuts contain the seeds of oak trees and so forth, but that definition is only put to the broadest terms. In nontechnical terms, such as in food preparation, fruits are the fleshy, seed carrying parts of certain plants that are sweet and edible in their raw state, such as apples, pears, grapes, and bananas. The seed associating parts that do not fit these descriptions are called by other names, such as pod, beans, nuts, and vegetables.
According to biologists, a fruit is a part of a flowering plant that derives from specific tissues in the flower, mostly one or more of the ovaries. Strictly speaking, this definition takes off many foods that would be considered "fruits" in the more sensible term, such as those produced by nonflowering plants (juniper berries) and those produced by parts close to the fruit (cashew fruits and accessory fruits). Most often, the botanical fruit is just part of the common fruit, or just adjacent to it. On the other hand, the botanical fruits would include many other parts that typically aren't considered fruits, e.g. bean pods, corn kernels, wheat grains, tomatoes, cucumbers, and many others.
By either term, fruits are simply the way plants spread out their seeds, their offspring, out into the wide world. The fleshy part was probably created to attract animals to help in seed dispersal and even today many animals, and humans, depend on fruits as a source of food. Fruits have since acquired extensive cultural and symbiotic meanings.
I hope this clears things up a bit. Tomatoes are fruits, people! :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gelato—An Italian Specialty

Gelato is the Italian regional version of what most know as ice cream. It consists of most of the ingredients in other frozen dairy dessert products, such as milk, cream, sugars, fruit and nut purées. The difference between gelato and other ice creams is the fact that it has lower butterfat content and slightly lower sugar content. The sugar content is perfectly balanced with the water content to ensure that the gelato won't freeze solid, retaining that creamy smoothness. In custard based gelato flavors, such as crème caramel, egg yolks are sometimes used.
   Typically, the mixture for gelato is made using a hot process, including pasteurization. After pasteurization is complete, the gelato mix must age for several hours to allow the milk proteins to hydrate with the water in the mix. The hydration reduces the size of the ice crystals, creating a smoother texture in the final product.
   Unlike its cousin, the commercial ice creams of the United States, gelato isn't frozen with a continuous assembly line freezer. Instead, it is quickly frozen in small individual batches in a batch freezer. The batch freezer incorporates air (a.k.a. overage) into the gelato mix as it freezes. Gelato also has a lower overage percentage than American ice creams. The overage percentage varies between 20% and 35% whereas American ice creams have an overage of up to 50%. The resulting flavor is more intense than any American ice creams. Although the American ice creams generally have a high fat content, thus allowing it to stay in the freezer for months, high quality artisan gelato normally holds its peak texture and flavor for only several days, despite careful storage and heating procedures.
   The history of the dessert probably dates back to ancient Rome and Egypt, where they would bring down snow from the high mountain tops to make desserts from. Later, the dessert appeared in the Medici courts in Florence, Italy. It is said that the Florentine cook Bernardo Buontalenti invented modern ice creams in 1565 since he presented his recipe and cutting edge refrigerating techniques to Caterina de’ Medici who brought the creation to France where, in 1686, the Sicilian fisherman Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli created the first ice cream machine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha Halys) wasn’t ever seen in North America until recently. It was most likely first introduced in Pennsylvania. This true bug in the family Pentatomidae is known as an agricultural pest in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. Recently, it has been known to be a pest to various farm crops in the Mid-Atlantic region. This insect often becomes a nuisance both indoors and out when it is attracted to the warmth of a house in fall or winter in search for an overwintering site.
   The adults are about 17 mm or 5/8 in. long. The underside is usually pale or tan with gray markings. The upper and lower portions of the body are shades of brown and the stink glands are located between the first and second leg, on the underside of the thorax.  There are five nymphal stages, ranging in size from the first instar at 2.5 mm to the fifth instar at 12 mm. The abdomen of the nymphs change from yellowish red to off-white with reddish spot and the eyes are deep red. The species usually has a birth rate of one generation per year, two to three if the spring and summer conditions allow it. Adults appear in the spring time, during late April to mid-May.
   These insects aren’t known to cause harm to humans, although their strong stink and noisy buzzing is slightly annoying. The best method to keep stink bugs out of buildings is mechanical exclusion. Sealing the cracks between doors, windows, siding, utility pipes, behind chimneys, and other openings will keep stink bugs from squeezing into the building. Vacuuming or squishing stink  bugs will kill them, but make sure to clean out the area where the stink bugs were killed as it can create quite a stink.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eating Acorns

Yes, it's possible to eat acorns! ;)
Acorns, the nuts of genera Quercus and Lithocarpus in the family Fagaceae, usually consist of a single seed enclosed in a tough leathery shell.
Birds, such as woodpeckers and jays, and small mammals, such as chipmunks and other rodents, along with large mammals, such as bears and deer, have been known to consume large quantities of acorns- especially in the autumn where it can make up to 25% of their diet.
Unfotunately, acorns can be toxic to other animals, such as horses and humans (hopefully, however, we have become civilized enough not to have to call ourselves animals.)
Acorns contain bitter tannins, an astrigent polyphenolic compound, with the specific amount varying from species to species. They must be proccessed in some way before they can become edible. Native American originally achieved this by letting bags of acorns sit in a fast running stream until the acid completely washed away. An alternative is to repeatedly boil your acorns until the brown tannic acid is no longer visible, and then roasting the nuts.
When cooked, acorns normally have a mild sweet taste. At times during the 19th century, when coffee cost an extradinarily high price, roughly ground up acorns served as a coffee substitute, although its strange flavor prevented it from ever becoming popular. Most people eat acorns ground up in pancakes or breads.
A good place for those curious to taste acorns is a Korean restaurant. In Korea, people make an edible jelly, dotorimuk, from acorns and the Korean noodles Dotori guksu are also made from acorn flour or starch. Acorn starch is the remainders of an acorn when the fibers are removed during processing
 

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