Monday, November 17, 2014

Apple #689: How the Body Adjusts to Cold Weather

The temperatures are starting to drop, some parts of the country have already gotten snow.  But it struck me last week, when temperatures fell from a surprising 70 degrees down to 45, how different 45 degrees feels at the end of fall versus what it feels like at the beginning of spring.

This time of year, when it hits 45, everybody starts pulling out their heavy coats and winter sweaters, putting on gloves and hats, blowing on their hands to keep them warm.  In the spring, that same 45 degrees feels luscious.  Everything's melting, the sun is out, the air feels balmy, everyone's unzipping their coats, going bare-headed and without gloves.  So what's the deal?



Like it or not, cold weather is coming.  Are you ready?
(Photo from Ask Bob Carr)


I've always thought the fact that we react to the same temperature so differently depending on the time of year was all a matter of perspective.  Context.  It's been warm, now it feels colder, and ooh boy, we don't like it.  Or, it's been cold, now it's warming up, and ooh boy, that's nice.

I looked this up (as your fearless Apple Lady is wont to do) and it turns out, it is not just in our heads.  It is in our bodies, too.

  • Scientists estimate that it takes our bodies somewhere between one and two weeks to adjust to a major change in temperature.  This could be cold weather becoming warm, or warm weather becoming cold.
  • But we are better at adjusting warming temperatures rather than warm temperatures becoming cold.  As one anthropologist says, our bodies are better adapted to warm weather and "Our bodies are just not as good at dealing with cold."
  • But our bodies do make some adjustments.
  • First, you get goose bumps.  This doesn't actually do all that much for us anymore now that we humans aren't covered with a coat of fur.  But if we were still furry like our animal relatives are, the constriction of the hair follicles would lift the individual hairs slightly above the skin, trapping warm air beneath the fur and giving us an extra layer of insulation.  As I said, we don't have fur anymore, so even though we still get goosebumps, they don't do us that much good.


See how the goose bumps make the hair stand up?  Now, if this were long and densely packed animal fur instead of sparse and thin body hair, you can imagine the warm air that would be kept all nice and cozy under there.
(Photo from Beliefnet)


    • By the way, the big scientific word for goosebumps is "horripilation." This is because animals' fur stands up not just when they're cold but also when they are threatened and want to scare the heck out of any would-be attackers, a.k.a. they want to make themselves look horrifying. 
 
  • The next cold weather response is that our muscles shiver.  This is a fast way of producing a lot of heat -- 5x the amount of body heat prior to shivering.  When we shiver, our muscles contract rapidly over and over.  But since shivering expends a lot of energy and it doesn't do much else for us, shivering is typically a short-term solution, one that our bodies abandon if the cold persists for too long.


Yes, this is bad clip art, but it gets the idea of shivering across.  Also, see how he's got his arms crossed in front of his chest?  This is another unconscious response to the cold that we often have.  We are trying to warm up and protect the most important part of our body: the core.  So this guy may look cold, but his body is trying its best to keep him warm in spite of the cold.
(Image from Clipart Panda)

  • The next thing, and the longer-term solution, is our blood vessels constrict.  Your body is trying to manage blood flow, and since blood carries heat with it, it's trying to be judicious about how much heat it's sending where.  It doesn't want to send too much blood/heat to the extremities like fingertips, toes, end of the nose because those parts of the body are not as essential as things like the internal organs and the brain.  
 
    • I don't know about you, but I have noticed when I'm out walking in the winter for any length of time that I might feel chilly in my hands and face, but I'm snug as a bug in my torso.  This is the blood vessel constriction plan working very well.


Cross-section diagrams of blood vessels. At the left is what the blood vessels normally look like, in the middle is what blood vessel constriction looks like, and finally at the right, what blood vessel dilation looks like.  It's not that the blood vessels themselves get bigger or smaller, but rather that the muscle cells in the blood vessels expand or constrict, allowing more or less space in the vessel for blood to pass through.
(Diagram from Wikipedia)

  • But your body is not so draconian that it believes it can entirely abandon your fingertips, toes, and end of your nose.  Those things are pretty helpful.  So it will periodically stop doing the constriction thing and switch to dilation -- expanding the blood vessels to allow blood flow back to the extremities to keep them nourished and from getting so cold they get frostbite.  
 
    • When your cheeks turn red from cold and your nose turns pink, that's blood vessel dilation happening.  The pink in your cheeks is the extra blood flow going to your face.
 

These people's faces have turned pink because their bodies are trying to keep their faces warm, even as it's cold outside.  Blood vessel dilation in the face at work.  (These people are in Iceland, by the way.)
(Photo from TripAdvisor)

  • If you stay out in the cold and your body has to continue to deal with it, your body will switch  again from dilation back to constriction.  Because really, those internal organs are pretty important.  After enough time in the cold, your body will make that brutal decision to sacrifice your fingertips, your toes, or the end of your nose if it has to.  This isn't some namby-pamby parlor game, after all.  This is the preservation of your life we're talking about here.
  • Something else that happens along with blood vessel constriction is an increase in blood pressure.  Less room for the blood to move around in, the higher the pressure on the blood vessels.  This is why, for example, people are more prone to getting heart attacks while shoveling snow.  
  • But what's more likely to happen before you have a heart attack from elevated blood pressure is that your body will try to reduce the pressure by reducing the amount of fluid in your system.  Which means your body will decide it's got to get rid of that excess urine, and you'll have to go to the bathroom.  
 
    • That's right, when you've gotten your kid all bundled up like Ralphie's little brother and you've sent him outside, don't be surprised if he runs back in half an hour later, saying he's got to go to the bathroom.  His not trying to be annoying, it's just his body helping him to survive the cold.


Yes, right about now is when he'll have to go to the bathroom.  Thank the cold air for that.
(Screen shot sourced from SpartanTailgate)

  • Sidenote: You might be wondering, how does the nose running fit into all this?  Is that another blood vessel construction/fluid expelling thing at work?  Well, no.  That is just your nose doing its own thing.
  • Your nose's job is to warm, moisten, and filter the air your breathe in so it doesn't hit your lungs all dirty and cold and dry.  Hack, hack, just the idea of that makes me want to cough.  That's what your nose does all the time, courtesy of the nose hairs and mucus in there.  
  • But when it's really cold out, that cold air is also especially dry.  So your nose has to work extra hard to add more moisture to that air to keep everything nicely humidified for you.  Then, when you exhale through your nose, that extra moisture is going to get pushed back out toward the end of your nose, which because of the cold outside is getting a little chilly.  The cooler temperature at the end of your nose will make the moisture condense there, and so you get a runny nose. 

[I don't think you really want to see a picture of a runny nose, so we'll pass on this image opportunity.]

  • OK, so we've got blood vessel constriction and blood vessel dilation going on, with maybe a need to urinate more frequently and perhaps a runny nose thrown in for good measure.  Now, if I go inside, all those anti-cold-weather reactions will settle down and relax in the warmer inside air.  But the key is, over the course of a couple of weeks' worth of going outside to the cold and coming back in, your body gets better and better at managing that trade-off between constriction and dilation.  So when you go outside, your body is already kind of prepared to go into cold-weather-response mode.  You don't feel the cold as much on Week 2 as your did on Week 1.
 
  • "Physically, you never get used to the cold. It's cold! If it's cold, it's cold! And you go out there and your body feels it, but I think mentally, living in it, it's not such a shock to you. I took the dog out last night, it was 20-something degrees and I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm in my shorts, but I did this the day before, and the day before …'"


Clay Matthews takes his dog out in 20-degree weather while wearing his shorts.  I think that means his body has gotten used to cold weather.
(AP Photo from the Courier-Journal)

  • After a very long time of being exposed to very cold temperatures, you body will also change its rate of metabolism--that is, the process by which your body converts food into energy.  This is something that happens to deep-sea pearl divers, or to researchers who stay in the Arctic for a year or more.  But after that amount of time having been exposed to such cold temperatures, their bodies will speed up metabolism in order to generate more heat.  So after several months of this hardy-cold living, they will be able to tolerate diving in 50 degree water without a wet suit, or walking around the Arctic camp in T-shirts.
  • For the rest of us who merely have to adjust to the change in seasons in more moderate climates, there are some things we can do to help our bodies make the transition:
 
    • Layer your clothes -- For example, wear a warm sweater over a short-sleeve shirt over a long-sleeve shirt.  The extra layers will help your body when it first encounters the cold -- and believe me, it will know it's cold out from the cold air that hits your face.  Once your body's made its adjustments and is warming up, you can open your coat or take off a layer.
    • Stay hydrated -- even though your body will try to respond to the higher pressure by getting rid of excess fluid, everything will work better with moisture.  Especially if you are exercising (e.g. running) in the cold, you'll want to keep hydrated so your nose can continue its essential humidifying activities and so you can keep your muscles from cramping.
    • Take off your cold clothes when you get inside -- cold air will be trapped in your clothes, though you may not have noticed that while your extremities weren't getting much blood flow.  But once you get back inside where it's warmer, your body will try to warm up those fingertips and ankles and feet again, and it will also realize, hey, I've got to try to fight against the cold air stuck in the pants cuffs and sock wrinkles and whatnot.  Do your body a favor and shuck off all those cold clothes when you get inside and change into snuggly warm things.
    • If you want to try to speed up your body's acclimation to winter weather, you could try taking cool showers or cool baths.  Many people say this does help speed up your body's response mechanisms to cold weather, so you become better-acclimated sooner.  Do not immediately plunge your body into a bathtub full of ice and sit there for 15 minutes.  Also do not try this if you have an existing hearth condition.  Be judicious about this.  Take a cool shower for 5 minutes, get out, towel off thoroughly, and warm up.  Remember, your goal is to speed up the process, emphasis on that word process.  Your body is not a light switch that turns off and on suddenly, but rather a serious of interconnected mechanisms that work best when they work together.  You want to help your body, not punish it.

Once you've done all that, then have a cup of hot chocolate. Specially recommended by your Apple Lady!


Sources
Emily Sohn, Cold Weather's Coming: Is Your Body Ready? Discovery News, September 19, 2013
Cool Antarctica, How humans deal with and survive extreme cold
Laura McMullen, 6 rules for working out in cold weather, NY Daily News, December 5, 2013
Mich Smith and Lolly Bowean, As winter wears on, bodies adjust to the chill, scientists say, Chicago Tribune, February 8, 2014
Medicine.Net, Goose Bumps
NPR, Why Does Cold Weather Cause Runny Noses? January 24, 2009
Cold Showers, Ice Bath Benefits and Considerations

Monday, November 10, 2014

Apple #688: The Magic That Is Garlic

Let's talk about garlic.

It makes our breath stink to high heaven, yet we love to eat it.  Some cultures have denigrated others for being "garlic eaters," yet studies show time and again, the savory foods the majority of us like best are those with garlic in them.  The bulb is a great big knobby thing that doesn't look at all enticing or even edible, but we eat so much of it that 500 million pounds of garlic are planted each year in the United States alone.

Such a miraculous plant deserves an Apple.



What do you think when you see garlic? Pew, that stinks?  Or Mmm, delicious?
(Photo from Care2)

What Is It?

  • Garlic is first of all an herb.  
  • Herbs are plants used for their flavor, but usually herbs (as distinct from spices) are those whose leaves we use.  Think of basil or oregano or rosemary.  
  • But with garlic, we usually don't use the leafy parts (though you can) but rather the bulbs. 
  • Still, this bulb is considered an herb.


This image is a bit blurry, but the parts of the garlic plant are labeled with general terms. The stalk is more officially known as the scape.  Usually farmers cut this off and throw it away, but some are starting to sell the scape at farmers' markets. You can use scapes as you might use chives.
(Diagram from Rickertville Farm)

  • Garlic is a member of the lily family, and within that, in the genus Allium.  It lives there with its fellow stinky relatives -- the onion, the leek, the wild ramps.

The Stink

  • Everyone knows garlic is stinky.  But actually, garlic has no smell at all -- until it is cut into or damaged.
  • Left whole, allowed to grow merrily and do its thing in the soil, garlic would be offensive to no one.  But once its cells are damaged, a key compound called alliin morphs into its evil twin allicin, and that seeks out its best friend sulfur, and then everything gets really stinky really fast.


Garlic intact in the bulb: not stinky at all.  Garlic smashed and chopped into tiny pieces: very stinky.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • In fact, 4 sulfur-containing compounds are created when garlic is cut or crushed or smashed or bitten into or otherwise damaged: 
    • diallyl disulfide
    • allyl methyl sulfide
    • allyl mercaptan
    • allyl methyl sulfide
  • 3 of these 4 compounds your body can digest and get rid of pretty quickly.  The 4th, allyl methyl sulfide, lingers.  For as long as 2 whole days, in some people.  Some sources say it even gets into the lung tissue and that's why it takes so long to go away.
  • So that's what you're smelling on your partner's breath 2 days after you shared that delicious dish of really garlicky spaghetti: the old allyl methyl sulfide, who never knows when it's time to leave a party.


(Image from Healthy Fellow)

  • Side note: the fact that garlic doesn't stink until you break it open makes me wonder if ropes of garlic would really be all that effective against vampires.  Probably a better vampire repellant would be crushing and smearing fresh garlic all over yourself. Of course, you'd probably be repelling everybody else for a half-mile radius, too.
  • By the way, there are lots of suggestions for getting rid of garlic breath.  Such suggestions include:
    • eating parsley
    • drinking a glass of milk
    • drinking green tea
    • eating button mushrooms (cooked or uncooked, I'm not sure)
    • eating raw kiwi
    • eating eggplant
    • mixing your garlic-laden foods with lemon juice or other citric acid beforehand
  • But based on what I've read, these suggestions seem to provide minimal benefits, if any.
  • One thing I do know from experience is how to get the garlic smell off your hands: wipe your stinky garlic fingers on stainless steel.  This could be a butter knife, your kitchen faucet, whatever is handy.  Neutralizes the smell better than soap & water alone. 


This person is sort of caressing her water faucet. If you've got garlic stink on your hands, you won't want to caress the faucet, you'll want to rub your fingers & hands all over it.  That will remove the smell very well. No need to be coy about it.
(Photo from Delta Lahara Single Handle Lavatory Faucet available on Amazon)

The Reason for the Stink, and How to Grow Your Own

  • Why does garlic stink? Because it's a defense mechanism.  It's not only people who experience garlic's pungent smell when breaking into it -- animals and insects do, too.
  • In fact, the sink factor in garlic is considered to be the plant's own built-in pesticide.
  • In double fact, pesticide manufacturers have sometimes used garlic in their products to repel bugs.
  • Because it naturally repels many bugs, it's relatively easy to grow.  
  • Garlic is also frost-tolerant.  It produces best results if you plant it in the fall and it's in the ground a few weeks before the first frost.
  • It reproduces asexually, which means you don't need to start the plant from seeds.  You can pop a garlic clove in the ground, papery husk & all, and it will grow into a plant.
  • However, you probably don't want to plant the cloves from bulbs you get at the grocery store.  Those bulbs were most likely grown in some other part of the country, and there are enough varieties of garlic that you can buy a bulb that is best suited to your climate.
  • Garlic is such a not-fussy plant, it PREFERS to grow outside.  It won't do well if you plant it in a container indoors because it likes all the vagaries of sun and rain and temperature.  If you've got an apartment, stick a clove in a pot with dirt and put it on your balcony.  Give it some straw for mulch and water it now and then and in the spring, you'll have your very own garlic plant.


If you're going to plant several cloves, make sure they are well-spaced apart like this.  If you're planting in open ground, you may also want to keep track of where you've planted them because garlic has a tendency to split off new cloves and start new shoots where you least expect them.  These tend to grow up smaller and with less flavor, though.
(Photo from 99 Roots)



Garden Betty says when your garlic plants look like this, it's time to dig up those bulbs.
(Photo from Garden Betty)

  • Harvest when about half of the leaves turn yellow and start to droop.
  • After you pull up the bulbs, brush off the soil and put them in a well-aired shady place for 2 weeks.  The outer husk will dry and turn papery.  This is called "curing" the garlic.  Now you can store the bulbs in a cool, dry place for several months and they won't go bad.
  • The only thing that garlic plants don't like are various forms of fungus, mildew, or rot.  If you get fungus on your bulbs (not a pleasant thing), it's probably also in your soil, and it will contaminate your next crop too.  Plant something else in that place for a few rotations and monitor your soil's pH.  If necessary, don't plant anything in the soil and give the sun a chance to blast the bad things out of there for about 4-6 weeks.
  • Some scientists think that garlic may be the first plant cultivated by humans.  That's how long it's been around.  That's how much we like it, that for all this time, we've kept growing it and kept eating it.

From Stinky to Delicious?

  • Most of the time, we tend to avoid eating foods that smell bad to us.  So why, when it comes to this plant that smells so bad, do we love to eat it?
  • Answer: just as cutting garlic changes its chemical composition, so also does cooking.  In other words, cooking it makes it taste a million times better than it smells.
  • As garlic is cooked, various compounds in it break down into different aromatics (the smell improves).  The heat also breaks down the more complex sugars and carbohydrates into simpler sugars like glucose and fructose, which we always love to eat.
  • In short, cooking it makes it get sweeter and smell better.
  • But it still retains some of that savory flavor.  Think of how roasted-in-the-bulb garlic tastes, smeared over crusty bread with olive oil.  There's definitely some sweetness there, but there's also a funky roasted flavor that you just can't get with anything else.
  • The thing is, the amount of heat, or the length of time that you heat garlic can yield very different results in terms of flavor.  Cook it only a short amount of time, and it keeps its pungent, sharp flavor.  Sear it at too high a heat or cook it for too long, and it will pass that lovely savory place and enter into the burned, acrid, almost sour place.
  • Actually, there are all sorts of factors that affect the flavor of garlic.  Here are some of them:
    • Don't smash it -- peel off the papery skin, but put the garlic in the food whole. Some of the garlic flavor will come through, but it will be mild.  Because you haven't released very many of those stinky sulfur compounds, you won't have that pungent aroma to overcome.  But then again, those flavors won't be there to turn into a bevy of delicious flavors, either.  No pain no gain.
    • Cut the clove into a few pieces and rinse it first -- the water will wash away some of the sulfurous compounds.  This is especially recommended if you're using fresh, raw garlic in something like salsa or a dip.  Rinsing it first will keep the sulfur scents to a minimum, and since those compounds also tend to get more potent with time, you'll want to add the garlic shortly before serving.
    • Use a milder variety of garlic -- the plain white garlic has the strongest flavor.  Garlic bulbs that have a purplish tinge (these are Italian or Mexican varieties) have a milder flavor.  Elephant garlic, which isn't even really garlic and which is the size of a small grapefruit, is white but it has the mildest flavor of all.


These are just some of the different varieties of garlic.  In general, the whiter the papery outside, the stronger the garlic.  Purple garlics are milder.
(Photo from Penny Woodward
    • Roast it -- roasting the garlic slowly will soften the pungent notes and let the more buttery, savory flavors develop.  The best way to do this is to take a whole bulb, lop off the pointy ends so that the innards are exposed, but the whole thing is still encased in its papery coatings. Cover it liberally with your favorite olive oil, wrap it all up in foil, and put it in a preheated 400º F oven for about 35 to 40 minutes.  When it's nicely softened, you'll be able to squeeze the now gooshy cloves out of the bulb and use it like a spread. Yum.


This is what your roasted garlic should look like when it's done. Like a little honeycomb of softened brown and squooshy goodness.
(Photo from Second Helpings)

    • Marinate with it -- this is going toward the less mild, slightly stronger flavor.  If you put cloves (diced or undiced as you prefer) in a marinade with salt or some kind of salty liquid like soy sauce, the salt will draw some of the flavor out of the garlic.  Once you cook your marinated whatever, that garlic flavor will tone down a bit, but some of those raw garlic compounds will be in your marinated whatever.
    • Infuse with it -- by this I mean your oil.  Usually people put cloves of garlic into olive oil, but you could do it with whatever your favorite oil happens to be. Some people put the cloves in the bottle of oil and keep it that way.  Be careful not to keep this more than a week or two because it is possible for botulism to develop.  A safer way of infusing is to sauté some garlic in your oil, heat it up and get those flavors going, then toss out the garlic and use the oil to cook the rest of your dish.  You'll have the flavor of developed garlic, but you won't have any actual garlic pieces to bite into.
    • If you want a whole lot of that bright garlic flavor, purée it and sauté it -- Pureeing the garlic is doing the most damage to those garlic cells as possible, and thus creating the greatest amount of those sulfur compounds as possible.  Sautéing it cooks away some of the sharpness but also allows some of the savory notes to develop.  Be careful not to let your pan get to hot or to allow your garlic to sit in one place very long or it will start to turn brown/burn/taste bad.

Health Benefits?

  • A lot of people maintain that garlic can do everything from being an aphrodisiac to fighting off influenza to curing cancer.
  • Researchers are still studying the effects of garlic in rigorous, controlled studies, so they can't say much definitively at the moment.  
  • But they have noticed that people who tend to have quite a bit of garlic in their diets tend to have lower rates of certain types of cancer: mouth and throat, stomach, kidney, colorectal, and prostate.  Other types of cancer such as breast, ovarian, bladder, lung, etc., they're not sure whether garlic plays any role or not.
  • Some studies suggest that garlic prohibits the formation of blood clots, so that makes people say it would be helpful in preventing embolisms or strokes or heart disease.  But that also means that if you're taking some type of blood thinner, you may not want to eat a lot of garlic, because it might overdo the blood thinning.  Again, this is all still very guessy.
  • Other people say it has anti-inflammatory properties and so therefore it might be beneficial to people with rheumatoid arthritis.  Again, a few very small studies have been conducted with some positive results, but it's not enough to make any sweeping, definitive generalizations.
  • A few studies have shown that garlic supplements do have an effect on cold & flu viruses.  They do not reduce the incidence -- that is, garlic won't keep you from getting a cold or flu, but it does seem to reduce the amount of time people are sick.  So if you get a cold or the flu, you might try putting some garlic in your chicken noodle soup.  Might make the ickies go away faster. 


This roasted garlic & shallot soup might be just the thing if you've got a cold.
(Photo and recipe available from Once Upon a Cutting Board)

  • Garlic also seems to interfere with anaesthesia.  So if you're going to have surgery -- well, they tell you to fast for 12 hours beforehand anyway -- or if you're going to have some sort of dental procedure, you may want to avoid eating garlic ahead of time.  I would guess, since some of those compounds can stay in your system for 2 days, that you might want to avoid garlic for up to 2 days before such a procedure.
  • Again, this is all pretty speculative at this point, I am not a doctor, consult your physician for any definitive advice tailored to your specific situation.

Summation

  • Let me list all the properties of garlic I've covered here, to show you what I mean:
    • stinks but only when necessary
    • changes flavor dramatically when cooked
    • can be manipulated to produce a variety of flavors
    • contains its own pesticide
    • frost-resistant
    • easy to grow in many climates
    • may generate additional sprouts all on its own
    • may be anti-inflammatory
    • may have anti-clotting properties
    • interferes with anaesthesia
    • may reduce the severity of colds & flu
    • may help prevent cancer
  • Pretty cool, huh?

Garlic has about as many properties are there are garlic bulbs in this photo.
(Photo from Care2)


Sources
The Herb Society of America, Garlic, 2004, 2006
Penn State Extension, Garlic Production
Integrated Taxonomic Information System, Allium L.
Compound Interest, What Compounds Cause Garlic Breath? May 5, 2014
Maanvi Singh, Science of Stink: Blame Sulfur Compounds for Your Garlic Breath, NPR, June 21, 2014
Harold McGee, The Chemical Weapons of Onion and Garlic, The New York Times, June 8, 2010 
Healthy Fellow, Garlic Breath Remedies, December 7, 2010
Melissa Clark, "A Garlic Festival Without a Single Clove," [how to use scapes in cooking] The New York Times, June 18, 2008
Rickertville Farm, How to Grow Garlic
The Old Farmer's Almanac, Garlic
Organic Gardening, Disease Defense
J. Kenji López-Alt, Ask The Food Lab: On Developing Garlic Flavor, Serious Eats, January 24, 2013
Food Network, Food Encyclopedia, Garlic
American Cancer Society, Garlic
South Beach Diet, Get the Most from Garlic
Nantz M P et al., Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function [. . .] Clin. Nutr, June 2012
Denisov L N et al., Garlic effectiveness in rheumatoid arthritis, Ter Arkh, abstract, 1999

Monday, November 3, 2014

Apple #687: Bubble Wrap

After those intense posts about 9/11, I thought it would be good to talk about something that is especially soothing: bubble wrap.

It turns out, the company that makes a ton of bubble wrap (Sealed Air) recently posted a video showing how bubble wrap is made.  It got a ton of hits and was picked up by all sorts of websites.  But already the company has taken down the video.  Maybe they revealed too many production secrets.

But the good news is, your Apple Lady is here.  I've got other videos about how bubble wrap is made, and some handy facts as well.



Just looking at this photo makes you want to get your hands on some, doesn't it?
(Photo from Techno-Geek Nerd Princess


How Bubble Wrap Came to Be

  • Bubble wrap was one of those invention mistakes.  Meaning the person who invented it was trying to invent something else.  The thing he was trying to invent?   Textured wallpaper.
    • Can you imagine, your walls covered in bubble wrap?  You wouldn't want to hang any pictures or put any furniture next to your walls, because they would only be obstructions getting in your way as you rolled yourself around your bubble wrap walls.
  • It didn't become wallpaper because when Alfred W. Fielding and his inventing partner Marc Chavannes tested this material that they made by sealing two shower curtains together to trap air between them, it wasn't a hit as wallpaper.  It was 1957, and I guess people weren't into that much texture in their wallpapers.  So Fielding & Chavannes tried to think of something else they could use it for.
  • Their next idea was to sell it as insulating material for greenhouses.  That didn't go over too well, either.
    • By the way, you can insulate your windows with bubble wrap.  Cut wrap to fit the shape of the glass, wet the glass with a solution of water, some sort of liquid soap -- dish soap or shampoo will work fine -- and a touch of bleach. With the bubbles facing the glass, press the bubble wrap against the moistened glass, and it will stick there and keep some of the cold from getting in through the glass. 
  • The sealed shower curtain material languished for three years, and then a guy named Frederick Bowers at another company got an idea.  The year was 1959, and the company he worked for sold packing material.  He heard that IBM had just announced the release of their brand-new variable word-length computer.  He thought this sealed-shower-curtain stuff would make good packing material for those new computers.  So he went to IBM, pitched the idea, and the rest, as they say, is how it all got to be the way it is now.
  • The company Bowers worked for was called Sealed Air.  And today, Sealed Air is the primary manufacturer of bubble wrap -- though they do sell lots of other kinds of packing materials and related products.


The funny thing is, you can buy shower curtains made to look like bubble wrap, such as this Maytex Cubitz PEVA Shower Curtain, Clear, available on Amazon for about $15

or you can make your own shower curtains out of bubble wrap:
 
(Photo and instructions from Sparkle with everything you are)

Make Your Own Bubble Wrap

  • Say you not only want to make stuff out of bubble wrap, you want to make the bubble wrap itself for your very own.  Well, Sealed Air, the company that makes bubble wrap, now also makes a machine that makes bubble wrap for you. 
  • This machine is really intended for companies that don't have room to store rolls & rolls of bubble wrap.  So they can make the size & amount of wrap they want, as they need it.  But if you wanted to fork over the cash, you could buy one for yourself, too.
  • This video is pretty cool to watch because it gives you a good idea of how bubble wrap is made, not just in this one-off way, but also on the large scale.



  • The bad news is, this kind of bubble wrap isn't poppable.  The way this wrap is made, the bubbles are connected across the width of the plastic by an open channel so that when you apply pressure to the wrap, the bubbles won't pop, but rather the air will be pushed into nearby bubbles.  This makes the bubble wrap better at providing a cushion, but it does not give you the satisfaction of popping the bubbles.
 


If you were going to make a wedding dress out of bubble wrap, you might want the unpoppable kind.  Or, wait.  Maybe not.  Maybe you would totally want the poppable kind.
(Photo from Odd Loves Company)

Why Do We Like to Pop Bubble Wrap?

  • This is one of those very important "why" questions that are central to our experience as human beings, but which science has not gotten around to answering yet.  
  • But people do have their theories, including me, so I will share my theories with you.
    • It's tactile in a playful way -- the little bubbles just beg you to push them and squeeze them and poke them
    • You get a little surprise -- the first time you pop a bubble, there's a little surprise factor. But it's nothing loud or overwhelming, something small and contained within your hands.
    • The sound is pleasant -- can you imagine, if the gentle "pop" were instead a harpy's shriek or nails on a chalkboard or a car alarm or a dentist's drill?  People would not pop those bubbles for very long.
    • As soon as you've popped one bubble, the combination of all these elements, which are each pleasurable, makes you want to pop another one.  And then you discover yet another pleasure, which is the feeling that you are eradicating some problem -- little pockets of air that need to be popped -- so as you progress across a row or along an entire sheet, you feel you are accomplishing something, doing a favor for the world by cleaning up those little pockets of air.
    • The only disappointing part is when you've popped all the bubbles on the sheet, and you want to pop more.
    • Or, actually, there's another disappointing thing: when one of the bubbles has a leak, so instead of making the satisfying POP, it just goes Ffff.  Augh!  Then you really must pop another one. 
 

There is also this technique, which is the equivalent of slash-and-burn bubble wrap popping.  Satisfying on a larger scale, but also over much faster.
(Photo from liz lemon)

  • These are my totally and completely unscientific theories.  I invite you to quote me liberally on these.

Bubble Wrap, How Do We Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

  • But it does seem to be universally true that we love to pop bubble wrap.  
  • People have stretched bubble wrap across a public walkway:
 


  • A guy has equipped his bike so it will pop bubble wrap as he rides it:
 



  • Naturally, many people have wrapped themselves in bubble wrap and rolled down a hill. In this attempt, you can hear the bubbles popping.
 

  • 336 students at a school in New Jersey got together to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest group bubble-wrap-popping event.  They did this to raise money for Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children were killed in a mass shooting by another student.  But they also had a lot of fun doing it. (From The Telegraph)
 


  • People have even held a soccer match where the players were encased in giant bubbles. (It isn't really bubble wrap, but it is really funny. The good stuff starts around 1 minute in.)
 

  • We humans are not alone in our delight in popping the bubble wrap.
  • Cats like to pop it:
 


  • Dogs like to pop it:
 


(Photo from Scott Spinelli)

  • Pet pigs go berserk when they pop it:
 


  • Even Russian raccoons like to pop it.
 



  • Maybe when people are having tense negotiations, they ought to give them sheets of bubble wrap.  Like, let's get some Palestinian leaders and some Israeli leaders to sit down, and they give everybody a whole lot of bubble wrap to play with.  Enough for, like, the whole day.  No talking allowed, only bubble wrap popping.  At the end of the day, they would say, "That was great.  What do we need to bomb each other for?  I don't know." And that would be the end of that.  There.  Middle East conflict resolved.

Faux Bubble Wrap?  Phooey

  • But because the tactile part of the experience is absent, in my opinion, it does not come close to the real thing.
  • You could say that about a lot of things, I suppose.  Ahem.


Sources
Stevens Institute of Technology, Alfred W. Fielding '39 Co-Invented Bubble Wrap
Daven Hiskey, Bubble Wrap Was Originally Supposed to be Wallpaper, Mental Floss, November 16, 2012
Daven Hiskey, Today I Found Out, Bubble Wrap Was Originally Designed to be Used as Wallpaper, November 2011
Daily Mail, How was bubble wrap invented? November 9, 2011
NBCNews, Bubble Wrap celebrating its 50th birthday, January 24, 2010
The Telegraph, School children set bubble wrap popping record, January 29, 2013

Monday, October 27, 2014

Apple #686: Remembering 9/11 -- The World Trade Center

Well, this one is the granddaddy, isn't it?  In case you haven't noticed, I've been avoiding this one.  It's hard to talk about, and even harder to find something positive to say about what happened without sounding like some brainless twit of a Pollyanna.

It's also taking me a long time.  Whenever I've sat down to try to put this together, told myself, Finish this post and then you can move on, I found I couldn't do very much for very long.  It's one thing to read a whole lot of stuff about what happened in NY on 9/11, but it's another thing entirely to think about it in some coherent way, form meaningful words, and write them down.  What you'll read here in this one post has taken me weeks to get down.



Ground Zero, after the attacks.
(Photo by Alex Fuchs/AFP, from The Guardian)


My goal is to tell you some of the facts I learned.  Because they were news to me -- though maybe they won't be to you.  Some of the facts are pretty gruesome, and up until now, I've shied away from talking about such things.  But that was one of the questions I had, when I was re-visiting the events of that day.  Thousands of people were killed.  We saw all kinds of evidence all over the place of the buildings that were completely destroyed, but we didn't see very much evidence of the people who must have been injured, their bodies wrecked.

I am not a gore-seeker.  There are people out there who are.  I really do not want to cater to those interests if I can help it.  My reason for wanting to know some of the gory physical facts is because, after all the time that has passed, I wanted some irrefutable thing that would tell me, this happened to people.  Not just the horrible, choking, toxic dust (I will give you a few facts about that), not just the surreal and incredible sight of those planes crashing straight into the towers, but what happened to people.  I want survivors and family members to know that the few facts I have to share about that, I say with the utmost respect.  I want to talk about this because I think it is important that we who weren't as directly touched by the events can face the consequences of these acts.  The terrorists hurt people.  A lot of them.  This wasn't just one ideology clashing with another.  This was people doing violence to other people.  I think it is important to talk about that.

I learned some other facts that are a little less upsetting, or maybe I should say a little less bloody.  I want to share those with you too.  I make no promises that the sequence with which I present the odd bits that I learned will make any sort of sense.  I mean, the whole thing doesn't really make any sense, so why should my presentation of a few of the facts within it have any kind of cohesiveness?

OK.  Enough throat-clearing.  Here goes.

Effects of the Initial Fireball Explosions

  • When the jets collided with the buildings, they ripped holes in the walls and ceilings and floors and elevator shafts and so on of the buildings.  The jets themselves were also basically shredded.  So one of the things that happened was that jet fuel leaked out of the planes and caught fire.  10,000 gallons of jet fuel.  The way I've described it sounds slow-moving, but it all happened pretty much instantaneously.
  • In the North tower, the exposed jet fuel erupted into a fireball on impact.  You've seen in movies how fireballs expand outward super-fast.  Well, the fireball ballooned into every open space available, including down the elevator shaft.  
  • The fireball blew down the shaft and exploded out of the shaft onto several floors, including the 77th, the 22nd, the West lobby on the ground floor, and the B4 level, 4 stories below ground.  That fireball traveled from the 92nd floor all the way down to 4 floors below ground in seconds.


The fireball that erupted from the South Tower upon impact.  But the scale of it gives you an idea of the size of the similar fireball that blew exploded down the elevator shaft in the North Tower.
(Photo from the Daily Mail)

  • People who were standing in the lobby, 92 floors below the impact, waiting for elevators or whatever they were doing, were visited by a a great flaming ball of jet fuel that billowed out of the elevator shaft and incinerated them.  
  • Firefighters on their way to the North Tower were 100 yards away when a man, completely on fire, ran in front of the truck.  He saw the firetruck coming only after he'd run out in front of it, and the driver of the engine said it was clear from his expression, the man thought he was going to get run over.  But they skidded the fire engine to a stop just in time, firefighters got out and rolled him in a jacket, doused him, and wrapped him in a burn blanket.  They later learned that he survived.
  • When the firefighters ran into the buildings, they saw people lying on the floor, charred.  
"A man, already dead, was pushed against a wall, his clothes gone, his eyeglasses blackened, his tongue lying on the floor next to him. The other was a woman, with no clothes, her hair burned off, her eyes sealed.
“'The woman, she sat up. I’m yelling to her, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to help you,’” John M said. “She sat up and was trying to talk, but her throat had closed up. She died right there.'” (From the Appleton Post Crescent, via the FDNY Ten House)
  • The floor of the lobby was covered with broken glass from the plate glass windows, water from the sprinkler systems, and blood.  Outside, in the plaza between the two buildings were briefcases, bags, purses, wallets, and also bits and pieces of people's bodies--as well as the bodies of those who had fallen or jumped from the windows above the impact.
  • Over two years later, remains found at or near the site were still being identified.

Falling or Jumping

  • There is a lot of controversy about the people who fell or jumped.  When the planes hit the towers, they severed the elevator shaft, blocked the stairwells, and even severed the pipe that firefighters plug their hoses into to shoot fire up into a skyscraper.  Not only was there no exit, the place was filled with burning jet fuel and black smoke and intense heat.  In some cases, the windows were smashed open by the force of the impact.  In others, people broke windows on purpose to get air to breathe. 
  • Some who were on lower floors looked out the windows and saw people plummeting past them.  Some say they caught glimpses of people's faces, and they say the falling people looked surprised.  Shocked, as if they didn't know they were falling until it was too late.  So these people say that those who fell may have stumbled toward the window, unable to see much of anything because of all the smoke, and then discovered they had fallen out as they were falling.
  • Videos and photos of people falling became some of the most controversial images of the attacks.


"The Falling Man," photo taken by Richard Drew of a man whose identity is still uncertain, falling from the North Tower before it collapsed.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

  • Some people refuse to accept that those who plummeted from the burning towers jumped on purpose.  They find the concept of intentionally jumping -- suicide -- to be too upsetting to be accepted. Some say the jumpers were cowardly, or that what they did was shameful.
  • The New York medical examiner ruled the deaths of all those who fell were not suicides but rather deaths by blunt force trauma.  A spokesperson for that office said they were not suicides because
"Jumping indicates a choice, and these people did not have that choice. That is why the deaths were ruled homicide, because the actions of other people caused them to die. The force of the explosion and the fire behind them forced them out of the windows."
(spokesperson for NY medical examiner, quoted in the Daily Mail)
  • One man who found evidence that his wife was among those who fell said he takes comfort in the belief that she jumped.
"'It made me feel she didn’t suffer and that she chose death on her terms rather than letting them burn her up.'

"He has no time for suggestions that she took the easy way out. 'The people who died that day weren’t soldiers. They were everyday people — parents and housewives and brothers and sisters and children.'"
(Husband of a woman who died in the attacks, quoted in the Daily Mail)
  • It is estimated that some 200 people jumped or fell.  Authorities can't be certain because the bodies of those who plummeted were "obliterated."
  • For my part, I think the concept of discovering you're falling to your death only when it's too late to be horribly frightening and awful.  
  • At the same time, those who were clinging to the broken outer edges of the building and decided to let go -- somehow, this seems less awful to me. 
  • I think, had I been one of those people choking and coughing because of the burning jet fuel and the black smoke billowing everywhere, the heat of that awful fire coming ever closer, the outside air might have seemed like a relief.  I might have believed I could possibly survive the fall when I certainly would not survive the flames.  There were some people who held clothes over their head like a parachute as they fell, so they may have thought something similar.  The fabric was ripped out of their hands on the way down, so that plan did not work.  But I think that, for some people, jumping was an attempt to save their lives, not to lose it one purpose.


People clinging to the outer edges of the World Trade Center as it burned. This is a choice no one would ever want to have to make.
(Photo from Moon & Neptune in Twelfth House)

  • Many survivors who were in the towers when they were hit and escaped say they only understood the full extent of the danger when they saw people falling to their deaths outside the windows.  Only then did they realize it was urgent that they get out.  Many say, had it not been for those who fell, they would not have survived.

FDNY Ten House

  • Looking at one example can sometimes say a lot about the larger picture.  At 124 Liberty Street, Engine Co. 10 and Ladder 10 of the NYC Fire Department -- referred to as 10 House -- is across the street from the World Trade Center site.  This is one of numerous fire departments that responded to the attacks, and suffered casualties.
  • Five of its firefighters were killed during the response.
    • Lieutenant Gregg Atlas
    • Firefighter Jeffrey Olsen
    • Firefighter Paul Pansini
    • Lieutenant Stephen Harrell
    • Firefighter Sean Tallon
  • 10 House's proximity to the WTC meant that the firefighters were uniquely trained and its engines were uniquely designed to fight fires in skyscrapers.  The engine was built with a lower ride height so it could be driven into underground parking garages, firefighters had experience dealing with fires at great heights that required special responses with hoses, and the fact that it is not possible to break through the roof and work down, as most fire crews do in smaller buildings.
  • Just as their proximity to the WTC meant they had unique skills, that same proximity also put them at a huge disadvantage: 
"As the towers collapsed, tons of building debris fell onto the firehouse and forced its way into it, blowing out windows and doors and causing extensive damage to the facade, interior structures, utilities, lighting and the roof. Inside the firehouse, the apparatus floor was flooded with over three feet of debris and in some areas in and around the firehouse the debris from the collapse was nearly six feet deep. The building’s ventilation system, air conditioning units and Nederman exhaust system were completely destroyed."  (NY Mayor Bloomberg Press Release, from FDNY 10 House)


Ten House's location across the street from the WTC site.
(Photo by NOAA, from FDNY 10 House)



Outside the front door of 10 House after the buildings collapsed. Firefighters who had been rescuing people from the burning buildings and getting themselves and others out after the collapse came back to their engine house -- their home base -- and found this.
(Photo from FDNY 10 House)



The street sign that used to be posted near FDNY 10 House's front door.
(Photo from FDNY 10 House)



The door from their fire engine, damaged due to the force of the buildings' collapse.
(Photo from FDNY 10 House)

  • Here are various firefighters describing the collapse:
"The second collapse was much worse because the dust that was on the ground already started up a cloud that was much bigger than the first one. That's a detail most of the people who weren't there don't realize: the collapse of the second building started much more dust and debris than the first collapse."  (Firefighter Larry Monachelli, from a different engine house)

“This stuff came through and it was hot. It had a hissing noise to it, with a big gust of wind. It was like wiping crushed glass on your skin. It was like an avalanche coming at me through a valley." (Firefighter Pete D'Ancona, 10 House)

[After the collapses] “Everybody was gray, covered in soot. You couldn’t tell what color or nationality anyone was. They were all gray.” (Firefighter Pete D'Ancona, 10 House)


The dust cloud billowing out after the collapse of the North Tower, from several blocks away.
(Photo by NY photographer Tobias Everke)

  • Surviving the fires and the collapses was not enough. Because the firefighters from 10 House (along with firefighters from many other locations) had to comb through the wreckage, looking for survivors and after a certain time had passed, remains.  To be specific, body parts.  Every time they found a hand, a firefighter's foot in a boot, a scrap of some flesh that had once belonged to a person, they had to bag it, label it, and put it in a cart that would be taken to the morgue.
  • This went on, day after day, with barely any breaks, for two months.
  • After that two months, the entire engine house had reached its limit.  They all went on sick leave for about a month.
  • One of the firefighters, Pete D'Ancona who described what it was like to be in the dust cloud, had to have surgery to have glass particles removed from his sinuses.  
 

The Toxic Dust Cloud

  •  The clouds that billowed out when the buildings collapsed contained all sorts of bad stuff.  Building materials for sure were part of that cloud, including but not limited to such lovely materials as 
    • pulverized concrete
    • asbestos
    • lead
    • freon
    • silicon
    • sulfur
  • Also in the mix was jet fuel and the fumes released from its incineration, plus PCBs, and traces of elements that are poisonous: arsenic, chromium, and cobalt, to name a few.
  • I'll talk about just the asbestos.  I've read a lot about asbestos over the years, so I have a many asbestos-related facts in my head.  To be brief, asbestos was a hugely beneficial material that kept buildings from catching fire or keeping fires from spreading back in the day when less was known about fireproof building materials.  So it once upon a time saved a lot of lives.  However, it's a mineral that, once it's disturbed, shreds into thousands of tiny tiny particles.  A certain kind of asbestos -- the kind that was used most often in the past -- has a hook-like shape.  Those tiny particles with their little hooks catch in people's lungs and tear up the tissue and wreak all kinds of havoc.
  • At first, the government refused to say that the air or the water in Manhattan was toxic or dangerous or threatening or particularly bad.  A frenzy of patriotism had been whipped up in the aftermath of the attacks. For some reason, admitting that people were suffering the effects of the attacks -- admitting the truth of the matter and dealing with the myriad health issues that people were suffering as a result of the attacks -- was considered to be somehow unpatriotic.
  • It took 9 years for Congress to pass legislation (commonly known as the Zadroga Act) setting aside funds to compensate responders and other people suffering the physical and mental effects of the attacks. Legislators who opposed establishing such a fund did not want to promote "entitlement."


Survivors covered in the toxic dust created by the collapse of the two towers. They sure look like they want to be "entitled," don't they?
(Photo by Gulnara Samoilova from the AP, at Pop Photo)

  • Many responders and survivors continue to suffer from what is now commonly called the "World Trade Center cough."  
  • Many are even now still suffering from forms of PTSD, being startled every time the floor of a building shakes, or flinching when a jet flies over, in addition to respiratory problems, asthma, pulmonary disorders, cardiovascular problems, scarring from burns, reproductive failures, cancer of various kinds.  You know.  No biggie.  Nothing anybody ought to try and DO something about. 
  • Due to respiratory problems, many responders today have difficulty walking up a flight of stairs.  Ironic, isn't it? 
  • One part of the Act was due to expire October 2015.  Various lawmakers made impassioned pleas to extend the Act, but I can't find any evidence that Congress has voted on the issue.  If anyone knows the status of this, let me know and I'll update things here.

Some Good Things

  • After all that, here are some positives.





FDNY 10 House's new fire engine filling a reflecting pool at the WTC memorial site on the 2005 anniversary of 9/11
(Photo from FDNY 10 House)

  • The names of every person who died in the 9/11 attacks and in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center are inscribed into bronze panels surrounding the reflecting pools at the site of the buildings.
  • The new World Trade Center, dubbed One World Trade Center, is scheduled to open in a few short days: November 3, 2014.


One World Trade Center
(Photo from the NY Observer)

  • One World Trade Center was built exceeding the new standards of building construction, as developed based on lessons learned from the impact and collapse of the towers.  Some of those features include
    • Shatterproof glass on the lower floors
    • Special filters in the buildings HVAC system to filter biological and chemical agents
    • Concrete-encased sprinkler systems, elevator shafts, and stair risers
    • More structural columns encased in concrete to prevent collapse
    • Communication system designed to allow continuous communication between fire departments and other rescue personnel who might respond in an emergency
  • In addition, architects, engineers, and construction experts continue to update and refine the safety and security of high-rise buildings in a handbook regularly consulted by construction professionals.
  • 2,977 people died in the attacks on the Towers.  Somewhere around 14,000 to 15,000 people were in the Towers when they were hit.  That means some 11,000 to 12,000 people got out.


Bretagne, one of the dogs who searched Ground Zero for survivors, returned to the Memorial in September 2014.
(Photo via the Huffington Post)



Genelle Guzman-McMillan (in the blue dress) was one of the people the search & rescue dogs found in the rubble -- in fact, the last person to be pulled alive from the wreckage.  Here she is with her husband and her three daughters outside their home in 2011.
(Photo by Dan Callister, from Today)


See also Remembering 9/11: The Pentagon and Remembering 9/11: Shanksville, PA

Sources
If you want to read more extensively about what that day was like, these are some especially good sources:
Ed Culhane, Appleton Post Crescent, Amazing Grace: Fire Truck from Clintonville embraced by FDNY Ladder 10, 2002
Undicisettembre, World Trade Center: an interview with firefighter Larry Monachelli
Pop Photo.com, 9/11: The Photographers' Stories, Part 1 (there are 4 parts)
The History Channel's documentary 102 Minutes  That Changed America, showing footage taken by various videographers at various locations around the Towers, is a powerful thing to watch.  They don't have the entire video online, but their website gives you a good introductory feel for the documentary. 

Additional Sources
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Chapter 9: Heroism and Horror
Tom Leonard, Daily Mail, "The 9/11 victims America wants to forget: The 200 jumpers who flung themselves from the Twin Towers who have been 'airbrushed from history,'" September 11, 2011
News.com.au, "The story behind the most powerful image of 9/11: The Falling Man," September 12, 2013
Steve Fishman, "Toxic Dust," New York Magazine, August 27, 2011
Dan Amira, "Deal Reached on 9/11 Health-Care Bill," New York Magazine, September 10, 2010
Raymond Hernandez, House Passes 9/11 Health Care Bill, The New York Times, September 29, 2010
NYC governmental site, 9/11 Health, Physical Health Effects Articles
9/11 Memorial
Curbed NY, "One World Trade Center Has an Opening Date, or Two," October 24, 2014
Raymond T. Mellon, esq., Zetlin & Chiara, The Construction Standard of Care After 9/11

Monday, September 22, 2014

Apple #685: Remembering 9/11 -- the Pentagon

Continuing my previous entry about the 9/11 attacks, I'm going to tell you a few things I learned about the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

I don't know about you, but I tend to think of this one a little differently than the others because the building that was hit was a military building.  As if, all those people working there were military employees of one degree or another, and when you sign up for that job, you know that violence and death might come with it.

That said, it probably doesn't get more "desk job" than the Pentagon.  I doubt that any of the people who worked there ever expected an attack to land right on their doorstep -- or their very desk.

But then I only recently learned that over half of the people in the Pentagon who were killed were not members of the military, but were civilians.



The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense. This photo was taken in 2008, after the 9/11 attacks but before the entire reconstruction was complete -- though I don't see any signs of work in progress.
(Photo from Wikipedia)


Here are some numbers:
  • 58 passengers (including the 6 hijackers) and 6 airline crewmembers were on American Airlines flight 77 when it hit the Pentagon. 
  • Ages of the passengers ranged from 71 to 3.
  • At least 2 passengers made phone calls to people on the ground and told them the plane had been hijacked. One of those passengers was Barbara Olson.


Barbara Olson née Bracher, one of the passengers on Flight 77.
(Photo from Find a Grave)

  • Olson was an attorney and legal commentator for CNN, Fox News, and other conservative news programs. She was flying home a day early so she could be with her husband, Ted, on his birthday.  She called Ted, who happened to be the US Solicitor General (this person's job is to represent the US government in cases that come before the US Supreme Court).  She told him her flight had been hijacked and then the call got cut off.  He tried to call Attorney General John Ashcroft, but was unable to reach him.
  • She called her husband again, he asked where the flight was, but the best she could tell him was that it was "flying over houses" and that it was heading "northeast."  By this time, the plane had long since turned around from its destination flight path to Los Angeles and was instead heading toward Washington, DC.  
  • Her husband told her of the other two planes that had hit the World Trade Center.  She did not seem panicked, nor did she seem to think her own plane would soon crash.  But about 10 minutes later, at 9:37, the flight she was on hit the Pentagon.
  • As the plane zoomed closer to the Pentagon, the wings hit streetlight poles and one engine hit a power generator, causing an explosion shortly before the plane hit the building. 
  • Before impact, the hijacker "advanced the throttles to maximum power."  The plane hit the Pentagon at about 530 miles per hour.
  • All 64 people on the plane were killed.  125 people on the ground were killed.  70 of the people in the Pentagon killed were civilians.
  • The part of the building that was hit was in the process of being renovated, so fewer people were there than otherwise might have been -- only 800 of the possible 4,500 who might otherwise have been there.
  • The plane ripped a 90-foot wide hole in the west side of the building.  It penetrated the limestone exterior and 3 of the Pentagon's famous 5 rings -- a total of 210 feet.  
  • Within 40 minutes, more of the building collapsed, making rescue efforts even more difficult.  However, the incident commander was told beforehand that a collapse was likely, so he gave the order to evacuate the building, and the evacuation was swift and efficient. No first responders were injured.
  • The 4,300 gallons of airplane fuel (some say there were 7,000 gallons of fuel) resulted in fires that burned in the building for several days.  
  • The area that was hit was equipped with a newly installed sprinkler system, but other parts of the building did not have sprinklers, and it was there that the fire spread and caused the greatest damage. Also at that time, the building was "packed with thousands of tons of asbestos, brushed with lead-based paint and constructed with mercury and PCBs."


This gives you an idea of the vertical size of the impact into the side of the Pentagon.
(Photo from the FBI)



In this overhead shot, you can see the hole in the outer wall.  It's hard to see any damage to the 2nd ring, but then you can see the blackened area on the inside of the 3rd ring
(Photo from the FBI)

 
Devastation, two rescue workers, and their dog at work.
(Photo from the FBI)


  • I found out many years later, someone from my high school was in the Pentagon when it was hit.  He was one of the people helping others to get out.  
  • I wanted to upload the video of CBS News recalling 10 years later what happened at the Pentagon, but they won't let me embed the video.  So here's a link to the CBS page where you can watch the clip, if you're interested. He's the tall skinny guy in the naval uniform.  He describes how he and some others ran into the hole made by the aircraft to pull people out, and how he freed a man trapped under his desk.
  • The Pentagon Memorial is a large park filled with benches and with lined with trees.  The benches are aligned on the path the plane took toward the building.  Each bench is for one victim.  The benches are arranged in chronological order by the birth dates of the victims.  


Benches at the Pentagon Memorial. There is a little pool of water beneath each bench.
(Photo by VeloBusDriver at Flickr)


  • The first bench at one side of the memorial is for John D. Yamnicky, Sr., a defense contractor who was born in 1930, fought in two wars as a Navy pilot, and who had a patch over one eye.  He was a passenger on Flight 77.
  • The last bench at the opposite side of the memorial is for Dana Falkenberg, 3 years old, born in University Park, Maryland. She was a passenger on Flight 77.  She was traveling with her father and her sister, Zoe.
  • Here is a random sample of some of the other people who have benches in the memorial:
    • Allen P. Boyle, born 1970, lived in Fredericksburg, VA.  He was a Defense Department contractor.
    • Janice M. Scott was born in 1954 and was from Springfield, VA.  She was a civilian employee of the US Army.  She often visited the National Archives and she researched her family history, going back several generations to ancestors who had been slaves in Mississippi and left after the Civil War.

Janice M. Scott, one of the scores of people killed by the attacks on 9/11.
(Photo from The Washington Post)

    • Peggie M. Hurt was an accountant for the US Army.  She was 36 years old and lived in Crewe, VA. She sang in her church choir and made the 3- to 4-hour drive every third Sunday to go back to her hometown church to sing. The night before the attacks, she'd taken her godmother out to dinner to celebrate her 86th birthday.
    • Dong Chul Lee was a passenger on Flight 77.  He was born in 1953, and was from Leesburg, VA.  He worked as an engineer for Boeing, which meant he often flew to Seattle for his job.  He had a wife, Jungmi, and three children. 
    • Johnnie Doctor, Jr. was an information systems technician first class for the US Navy. He was 32 years old, from Jacksonville, FL. He used to wear a pendant on a chain around his neck. They found the pendant on his body, but no chain. The pendant was the thing that convinced his wife he was really gone. 

Johnnie Doctor, Jr., another of those killed in the crash into the Pentagon.
(Photo from The Washington Post)


What the Pentagon Memorial looks like at night.
(Photo from mla.march.penn)


See also Remembering 9/11 -- Shanksville, PA and Remembering 9/11 -- the World Trade Center

Sources
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, "We Have Some Planes" and Heroism and Horror
FBI, Ten Years After: The FBI Since 9/11, Response and Recovery: The Pentagon in Flames and The Flights
The New York Times, Barbara Olson, 45, Advocate and Conservative Commentator, September 13, 2001
Daily Mail, Wife's secret call from hijacked plane [date not provided]
CBS Evening News, Heroic tales from the Pentagon on 9/11/01, September 8, 2011
Los Angeles Times, Pentagon, a Vulnerable Building, Was Hit in Least Vulnerable Spot, September 16, 2001
The Washington Post, A Long-Awaited Opening, Bringing Closure to Many, September 12, 2008