Thursday, May 26, 2005

Apple #74: Bocce


Thinking some more about my upcoming trip home for Memorial Day weekend, I remembered that my parents recently got a bocce set. We played a lot the last time I was there, and I think maybe we'll probably play again. Although, it might be raining, so maybe not. In any case, I suspected there might be some interesting tidbits to know about bocce.
  • As I'm finding with so many delightful pastimes, nobody's really sure of the actual origins of this game. Some say it's as old as 5200 B.C., and first played in Egypt; some say it originated in Greece.
  • The most reliable sources, however, say that it was for sure played during the Punic Wars, when Rome was battling Carthage in Africa, and which started in 264 B.C. The soldiers played when they were taking a break from fighting.
  • The way they played back then -- much the same as it is played today -- was to throw a small "leader" stone (now called a "pallino") some distance away, and then to throw other larger stones at the leader. The stone coming closest to the leader would score. Teams had anywhere from 2 to 8 players, and the score to reach first ranged from 16 to 24.
  • For a while, the game was banned, when the Holy Roman Emperor prohibited it in 1319 because it had become so popular, he thought that it might interfere with soldiers playing other sports "of a more military nature." (Although, really, how could you enforce this ban, when all you need to play is a handful of rocks?)
  • Famous people known to have played bocce include Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Francis Drake (who refused to begin a battle with the Spanish Armada until after he'd finished his bocce game), and George Washington.
  • As more people played the sport, it changed slightly, especially as each European country adapted it. In France, it became known as boules. In Italy, it became bocce or boccia. In England, it became lawn bowling, which is the pre-cursor to what we in the US call "bowling."
  • In bocce, the technique of throwing the larger balls toward the smaller pallino is called "bowling." In fact, the two-step run-up and the four-step run-up methods of bowling in bocce look very similar to the approaches that professional bowlers make.
  • There are 4 variations of bocce, including Volo or Lyonnaise, Petanque, Lawn Bowls, and Punto Raffa. Each variation has slightly different rules, which vary especially on what should be done after one ball strikes another. What people in the US and Canada think of as bocce is the Punto Raffa variation. Most casual bocce players bowl outside, and this is known as free style.

Photo from
  • Bocce is also played inside, or court style, especially in tournaments. In court style of play, additional rules govern what happens if the pallino or the larger balls hit the back wall, and whether or not lofting the ball when in the center of the court should be allowed.
  • You can also play on an open course, similarly to golf, using 16 pairs of flags to mark out a sequence of bocce target areas.
  • In the United States, there are bocce clubs in California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Arizona, and Nevada. At least, these are the states where bocce clubs are registered with the US Bocce Federation. Other states may have clubs, as well.
  • This year's US Bocce National tournament will be held June 18-25th at the spacious and well-appointed Palazzo di Bocce, in the auspicious Orion Township, Michigan, near the Palace of Auburn Hills, between Pontiac and Flint.
The Palazzo di Bocce:

United States Bocce Federation
Bocce Canada
Palazzo di Bocce

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Apple #73: Color Blindness

Someone told me today that women cannot be color blind. In the physical sense, in the inability to see certain colors. This person told me that it's for genetic reasons that women cannot be color blind, but men can. I didn't remember learning this when I was taking high school science, so I looked it up.

Some typical tests for color blindness. If you have trouble seeing the numbers in these circles, you may be color blind. I'm not color blind, but the ones at the bottom are a little trickier than others, I must admit.
(Images by Vurdlak from Mighty Optical Illusions)

  • What I was told was technically incorrect. Women can be color blind, but it is highly unlikely.
  • Women's eggs, which contain two X chromosomes, 90% of the time carry the gene for color vision. Only 10% of the time will they carry the recessive gene for color blindness.
  • About 45% of the time, the X chromosome in the male's sperm carries the dominant gene for color vision. That is, the male's sperm has a greater chance than the female's eggs of carrying the recessive gene for color blindness.
  • Based on those various percentages, it works out so that 5% of the US population are color blind males, while only 0.5% of the US population are color blind females.
  • While it is very rare for women to be color blind, it is possible. More often, if females are born with the recessive gene, they only carry it, but the color blindness is not expressed.
  • There are many different kinds and degrees of color blindness, but they can essentially be grouped into three categories:
  1. Red/Green, which is the inability to distinguish reds and greens
  2. Blue/Yellow, which is much more rare
  3. Truly color blind, and able to see only grays, but this is extremely rare.
  • The most common color-deficiency is the difficulty or inability to see green.
  • Physically, if a person is color blind, the cones or color-sensitive receptors in their retinas are somehow not working. The cones contain pigments which select for red, green, and blue light. In people who are color blind, the amount of pigment per cone may be reduced, or one or more of the cone types will simply be absent.
  • Some problems that color blind people face include:
    • Determining if meat is cooked all the way through, or if it is still red
    • Interpreting color-coded weather maps
    • Being able to see whether someone is getting sunburned
    • Knowing whether a flashing traffic caution light is red or yellow, and how to proceed
    • No interest at all in eating spinach or other dark-green vegetables, which appear to the color-blind eye as black or dark "like cow pat."
  • If you want to see what any given web page would look like to a person who is color blind, go here to try it out.

This just in, as of September 2009: scientists have recently found a way to correct color blindness in monkeys. The researchers used a non-harmful virus to carry a gene that replaces the missing gene responsible for causing color blindness. The virus replicates and inserts the gene into the cells, and in about five months, the monkeys could see color. The researchers are hopeful that this treatment or one very like it could be used to correct color blindness or perhaps other visual defects in humans.

Wayne's Word, Color Blindness & Baldness in People, About Color Blindness
Hidden Talents, Color Blindness
Katherine Harmon, "Loci Color: Gene Therapy Cures Color-Blindness in Adult Monkeys," Scientific American, September 16, 2009

Monday, May 23, 2005

Apple #72: Playing Cards


I'm going to see my parents for Memorial Day weekend, and it is very likely that we will play cards during my visit. Which got me thinking about cards, and wondering where they came from.
  • The earliest playing cards are believed to have appeared in the 10th century, when the Chinese made dominoes out of paper and then made up new games with the shufflable dominoes. They had at least two suits, of bamboo sticks and circles, which are also used in Mah-Jong tiles.
  • The next incarnation was in the Moslem world, especially near Egypt, when cups and swords were added to make four suits, and court cards were also added.
  • The Europeans started importing cards in the late 1300's. At that time, cards were hand-painted, very expensive, and only the very wealthy could afford them. Somehow, though, the less enfranchised managed to get hold of playing cards as well, and their popularity spread. Soon, the process of printing using wood cuts was invented, and more cards were produced more quickly.
  • The French were really the ones to change cards essentially to the way we recognize them today. While other countries had complex insignia for the four suits, the French's spades, clubs, diamonds, and hearts were simple shapes in single colors and easier to make. The English imported these cards like mad, and then they found their way to the colonies in America.
  • To this day, playing cards in other countries in Europe retain some differences. For example, playing cards in Italy, Spain, Germany, and Switzerland have no queens. In Switzerland, the Deuce or Daus is the top card which has the letter "A" on it, as if it were an ace.
  • In the 1800's, Americans began making cards of their own. Innovations included giving the court cards two heads, so that you didn't have to rotate the cards one particular way, varnishing the surfaces to make them slipperier for shuffling and longer-lasting, and rounding the corners which also helped them last longer and avoid tell-tale creases.
  • Americans also invented the Joker. It was originally inscribed as the Best Bower (most powerful) card in Euchre. Euchre was sometimes called "Juker," and it is likely that the Best Bower card was also called the Juker card, which then evolved into the "Joker." By the 1880's, people were using a picture of a court jester or clown for the Joker card, as a way to add it to the court cards without upsetting the royal hierarchy, so to speak.
  • Right about the time that cards were starting to get standardized, people made the court cards to represent actual monarchs. In some games, people actually referred to the cards by name:
    • King of Spades: King David (Biblical)
    • King of Diamonds: Julius Caesar
    • King of Clubs: Alexander the Great
    • King of Hearts: Charlemagne
    • Queen of Spades: Pallas Athena (Greek)
    • Queen of Diamonds: Rachel (Biblical)
    • Queen of Clubs: called Argine, anagram for regina ("queen")
    • Queen of Hearts: Judith, either from the Bible, or Charlemagne's daughter-in-law, Judith of Bavaria
    • Jack of Spades: Hogier the Dane, one of Charlemagne's paladins, from the Song of Roland
    • Jack of Diamonds: Hector of Troy, or sometimes Roland of France
    • Jack of Clubs: Sir Lancelot
    • Jack of Hearts: French warrior and companion to Joan of Arc, named Etienne de Vignoles, a.k.a. La Hire
How the Jack of Diamonds has changed over time:

Images of cards from D.J. McAdam's and David Madore's sites

United States Playing Card Company, A Brief History of Playing Cards
The International Playing-Card Society, History of Playing Cards
The World of Playing Cards
Nancy R. Fenn, "The Four Great Kings in the Card Deck,"Be My Astrologer
D.J. McAdam, The People on the Playing Cards
Andy's Playing Cards, The National Patterns
David Madore's site, Courts on Playing Cards

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Apple #71: Brownies, Brownies, Brownies


I got into a discussion the other day about how there are three different kinds of brownies. The person I was talking to had never heard of the third kind of brownie.

Brownie #1:
The kind you eat. Chocolaty good, yum.

Photo from My Home Cooking

Ingredients are simple: cocoa, butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, flour, and eggs. Melt the butter, mix it all up, put it in a greased dish and bake it at 325F for 35-40 minutes.

Brownie #2:
Before they become Girl Scouts, girls 6-8 can be Brownies. They're part of the Girl Scouts enterprise, though they're not officially Girl Scouts yet. Activities that Brownies might do together include going to a zoo and learning about caring for animals, planning an overnight birthday celebration, camping and making s'mores, learning to swim, and deciding how many cookies to sell to earn money for trips.

They get to wear the Brownie Girl Scout Pin and the World Trefoil Pin, to show they're "part of a worldwide movement."

These girls are modeling the official Brownie gear. In real life, most brownies wear the vest and the rest of their outfit is regular clothes.
Photo from Girl Scout Council of Greater Minneapolis

Brownie #3:
In the realm of the little people (fairies, goblins, gnomes, leprechauns, etc.), brownies are benevolent creatures. While leprechauns are associated with the Irish, brownies are associated with the Scottish.

Some people say they're invisible, and some say they're little men with brown skin and brown clothes. They come inside your house or barn and do things that are helpful. While you sleep, they'll do household chores, sweep the floors, secretly fix something that's broken, or other little do-gooding deeds like that. People say to be sure to treat a brownie well; reportedly, they like a little dish of cream left out for them, and maybe some cake. Or perhaps a brownie!

Drawing from Wellesley's Guide to Little People

My Home Cooking's favorite brownie recipe
Girl Scouts Central, Brownie Girl Scouts: Going Places, Making Friends
Girl Scouts Heart of Texas Council
Factmonster, Word Wise guide on Fairies, manual on Fairies
A Guide to Little People, Brownies
Wellesley's Guide to Little People

Monday, May 16, 2005

Apple #70: Gumby

At long last, here is the entry on Gumby.

  • Gumby was a stop-animation green clay character with his very own cartoon TV show, which started in 1956 and ran through 1991. Gumby's sidekick was Pokey the horse. I never saw this show growing up, but tons of people did and they still hold a fond spot in their hearts for Gumby and Pokey.

  • Here's one storyline from The Gumby Show, the first time when Gumby meets Pokey, more or less as described at Absolute Gumby:
    Gumby meets Pokey by saving him from an oncoming train as the Blockheads watch on, dumbfounded. Later, the two roll around ridiculously, laughing at each other's names. After a short encounter with a rattlesnake, Gumby takes the lost Pokey back to his ranch and receives a hundred ice cream cones as his reward, which he is forced to eat all at once. The cold ice cream makes Gumby lapse into a coma, and Pokey has to rush to his rescue.
  • Gumby was made by a guy named Art Clokey, who grew up on his grandfather's farm 80 minutes north of Detroit in the 1930s. He used to play soldiers with a neighbor kid and when they ran out of soldiers, they made more out of clay.
  • Clokey studied animation at the University of Southern California and was especially inspired and educated in film arts by an animation guru guy named Slavko Vorkapich.
  • Clokey made his first clay animation film for Budweiser. They wanted a commercial that would show a cheeseburger being eaten, to suggest a cheeseburger is good to eat with a beer. The cheeseburger had Swiss cheese on it, and they used clay to animate bites disappearing from it.
  • After this experience, Clokey had a two-week break, when he used clay to make abstract shapes and set them up on a piece of plywood and shot them in progressive positions, using the principles he'd learned from Vorkapich. That film was called Gumbasia.
  • He called it "Gumbasia" after the word "gumbo," which people back on the farm used to describe roads that got really muddy after the rain. He combined "gumbo" plus "fantasia" and got "Gumbasia."
  • A big-time producer, Daryl Zanuck, saw Gumbasia and asked if he could make that kind of animated film for television, for children to watch. Clokey said sure, Zanuck agreed to produce the show, and so Gumby was born.
  • Clokey studied for a while to be an Episcopalian minister, and his storylines are strongly influenced by a lot of the theology he learned through that experience, and from growing up with his grandfather.
  • Contrary to what some people have alleged, Clokey never smoked marijuana or took any psychedelics, and was in fact afraid to try any sort of recreational drug. The supposedly surreal quality of the show and the vivid colors of his characters came from his daydreams and imagination.
  • Gumby had two other friends, Prickle and Goo. Prickle was a spiny yellow dinosaur, and Goo was a blue mermaid. Clokey once attended a psychologists' convention during which he heard Allen Watts speak, who was known as the Zen Philosopher of Sausalito.
  • Watts told lots of jokes in between the speakers, and in one of these sessions, he said there were two kinds of people in the world, the prickly and the gooey. The prickly people are uptight, analytical and critical, while the gooey people are easygoing, friendly, and ready to move with the flow.
  • So Clokey made characters that symbolized those two types, Prickle and Goo. Prickle tells Goo when he thinks she's doing things wrong. Goo can throw goo balls at people when she they deserve it.

Here are all the figures, from L to R, Prickle, Pokey, Gumby, Goo, and Minga the mermaid.
(Photo sourced from Action Figures on Sale, but it's really from Amazon, where you can buy the whole set of these guys for $22.95)

  • Clokey also made the stop-animation show David and Goliath, in which a boy and his dog, Goliath, talk to each other and face various problems together and handle conflicts based on Christian teachings.
Davey and Goliath, Vol. 1
Here's Davey and Goliath, Vol. 1. I can just hear Goliath saying, "I don't know, Davey," in that slow, dumb voice.
(Available from Amazon for 94 cents. That's right, cheap-eroo.)

  • By the way, the shape of Gumby's head probably has something to do with the shape of Art Clokey father's hair when he was growing up:

For more pictures of Gumby and his friends, go to the Image Archive at gumbyworld. For some short Quicktime video clips, try this page.

NEWS UPDATE: Art Clokey died today, January 9, 2010, at the age of 88.

Hey, Art, wherever you are, I hope you're having as much fun there as you are here.
(Photo from somewhere on the page of That One | EBD)

Absolute Gumby

Friday, May 13, 2005

Apple #69: Microwave Ovens II


I've been doing some more reading because I really want to know if microwave ovens are screwing up my food or even my health in some way. My biggest question is about whether the action of heating food in a microwave damages the food to such a degree that your body can get no nutritional value from it, or if it even somehow renders the food hazardous to you.

What I've learned is that when a microwave heats food, it does so by changing the polarity of the molecules in the food billions of times per second. This results in changes to the molecules, changes that are called "structural isomerism." This means that the molecule keeps the same components, but everything in the molecule gets rearranged. When a molecule gets rearranged like this, it can have very different properties as a result, but not necessarily.

The websites that say microwaves are dangerous all say that the resulting structural isomerism is always bad, and that the food is therefore impaired in quality, sometimes drastically so. The scientific websites I've found don't really address this question directly.

The afraid-of-microwaves websites also keep telling the same anecdotes as evidence, over and over. I keep seeing the story about how one paper published in the 1980s said that microwaving breast milk changes the milk slightly. Exactly how the milk gets changed is where people get fuzzy on the details. There's also the story that gets told and retold of how in 1991 a nurse microwaved blood for a transfusion to warm it before injecting it into her patient, and the patient died. The actual cause of death was not linked directly to this microwaved transfusion; nonetheless, people paint this story in all kinds of dire language.

There's also the story of the Swiss scientist who published a paper warning of all kinds of potential, but mostly not yet measurable, dangers associated with microwaved foods. A Swiss trade association effectively barred him from publishing any more papers because he "interfered with commerce." This decision was later reversed and the doctor was given compensation. This story is told largely as a sign that the little guy, fighting against the big industry machine, was oppressed and that therefore his assertions must be correct. But nowhere does anyone citing the Swiss doctor's paper say that anyone else found data that corroborated what he said initially.

People keep telling these same stories, over and over. They also say things like, "Your mother was right to be suspicious of microwaves." They say microwaves produce radiation -- using "radiation" as a scary word, when all things with energy produce radiation, including us people.

I am not a scientist, and I don't have the means to conduct the kinds of experiments I would want to conduct to answer this question for myself definitively. I also don't have access to costly chemistry research papers that might answer my question. What I do have access to -- the public Internet -- is giving me some indications that lead me to my conclusion.

I am not impressed by the doom-sayers' techniques of citing the same anecdotes, referring to individual events that took place over a decade ago. I've seen other people use this tactic, about other topics, and it usually turns out that they're either 1) spreading gossip, 2) grossly underinformed about the facts or the science or the details behind the event, or 3) fear-mongering. I'm not accusing any of the sources I've cited of taking part in this kind of activity; I'm only saying their evidence looks a whole lot like the partial and uninformed evidence I've seen elsewhere in other circumstances.

So my take is this: I'm not going to fear my microwave, or throw it out, or try to convince others to do likewise. I'm probably not going to cook too many vegetables in it, however, but I don't really do that anyway. I mainly use it to heat up soup or some frozen doo-dad, which is not exactly high on the nutrition pyramid anyway. I already don't use it to cook all-out meals, and I don't plan to start doing so.

The upshot: I'm not going to change much about the way I use my microwave. But I sure did learn a heck of a lot about how it works.

"Radiation Ovens: The Proven Dangers of Microwaves," reprinted all over the place, available here through Lawgiver.Org
Chemguide, "Structural Isomerism" classroom guide
Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, "Coordination Compounds," (section 1.2.1) by Katharina M. Fromm, February 14, 2003

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Apple #68: Microwave Ovens


Not long ago, a friend of mine said she hardly ever uses her microwave anymore because "microwaves destroy all the nutrients" in food. She said when she's tempted to use her microwave, she asks herself, "Do I want to get any nutritional value out of this?" and then uses her oven or stove instead.

This sounded to me like some kind of overly suspicious urban legend, but I couldn't get it out of my head, especially when I was about to microwave something. So I decided to check it out. What I found is that there are a lot of people who say that microwaves cause big problems in food. There are also a lot of other people -- scientists and people who love their microwave ovens -- who say, "Pah!"
  • Microwaves use magnetrons, which use magentic and electrical fields to produce micro wavelength radiation. This radiation is what affects or "zaps" your food.
  • The wave energy is constantly changing polarity, with every cycle of the wave. This happens billions of times in a second. Since the waves are bombarding your food like crazy, this is also making the molecules in your food change polarity just as rapidly. (For a graphic that helps explain this, see this page.)
  • So the food molecules are flopping back and forth, billions of times per second. This creates all kinds of agitation and is what heats the food. According to those who don't like microwaves, it is also this agitation that breaks down the molecules, or sometimes deforms them, or may even tear them apart. They say this is how the structure of vitamins and enzymes in the food get destroyed.
  • All heating processes break down the structure of food, but many people say that microwaves cause the most damage. Studies have been cited that say that between 90% and 97% of the nutrients get destroyed in the microwaving process.
  • On the other hand, the FDA says that microwave ovens can be better than conventional cooking because they heat the food faster. If foods are heated slowly, or kept warm for long periods of time, they can lose nutritional value, so because a microwave works faster, it is therefore better. The FDA also says it's a lot harder to burn the food in a microwave, and you get much more even cooking.
  • The Washington State Department of Health and other governmental/scientific overseeing organizations say it's simply not true that microwaves destroy the nutrients in food.
  • In general, hard-core scientists dismiss people's worries about microwave ovens as coming from a lack of understanding about how microwaves work. Microwaves use non-ionizing radiation, which means it's not the kind of radiation like X-rays, which can cause chemical damage in molecules. Scientists say, because microwaves are non-ionizing (and because your microwave oven is lined with metal, which will make the rays bounce back into the oven), you don't have to worry about how close you stand to your microwave. You also don't have to worry about your food emitting psycho-crazy waves when you take it out of the microwave.
  • One wrinkle in scientists' certainty, though, came in the late 1980's, when chemists started trying out the microwaves that they had been using to re-heat their food on their chemistry experiments. They discovered that processes that would otherwise take hours or even days could be completed in minutes in the microwave, and often without the heretofore necessary super-duper solvents.
  • This started a branch of chemistry known as "microwave chemistry" because the scientists discovered that the microwaves produced unpredictable results. They also realized they didn't always understand why the microwaves were having the effects they were having.
I still have some questions, and the information I've found so far is contradictory enough, I want to keep looking into this further. More soon when I get something more definitive.

In the meantime, here's a really great site about all kinds of crazy things you can make happen in a microwave, like making ordinary tap water explode, or making a lit candle spew lightning, or even blowing up marshmallow Peeps.

Healing Daily, "Should you be concerned about cooking your food using a microwave oven?"
News Target commentary, "Microwaving your veggies destroys 97% of nutrients like antioxidants," date unknown
Marion Wild, "Are microwave ovens a source of danger?" reprinted at Cure Zone, Health chat, "Microwave Cooking -- Just Say No!"
US FDA, Performance Standards for Microwave and Radio Frequency Emitting Products, part 1030
Washington State Department of Health, Division of Environmental Health, Office of Radiation Protection, Microwave Oven Radiation
The Straight Dope, "Does microwaving kill nutrients in food? Is microwaving safe?" May 6, 2005
How Things Work,, Microwave ovens, Microwave Oven Repair and Care

Monday, May 9, 2005

Apple #67: Pool Tables


I shot pool tonight, for the first time in maybe two years. I did all right, especially for not having played in so long. The tables in the place where we were playing had red felt on them. The chalk for the cues was also red. It got me wondering, what difference does it make if the felt is red or green? Because I think I like green better.
  • According to one site, "the color of the cloth is cosmetic." Unless, if you're color blind, you might really need the table to be covered in one color rather than another.
  • The cloth is not actually made of felt, but in higher grade tables, it is a wool/nylon blend, about 80% wool and 20% nylon.
  • Some tables are covered with 100% English wool, but those are usually snooker tables, which is more popular in England and elsewhere in Europe.
  • The higher grade of cloth, the higher thread density, and the faster the ball will travel. Cloth can make a difference of up to 8% in speed.
  • If you want someone to come recover your pool table for you, that will cost anywhere from $200 to $400.
  • Some other notable tidbits: the slate slabs that make up the bed of the table need to be sealed to create a smooth playing surface. The material that works best to close the gaps is beeswax because it is pliable when melted, but hardens very well and will not stain the cloth or become brittle.
  • If you need to move a pool table, take it apart completely first. This will prevent the slate from getting broken or anything from getting bent or warped.
  • If you do crack the slate, there are slate patching kits available. But you don't want to crack the slate, if you can help it. The idea is to have a playing surface that is level and smooth. Since nothing else works as well as slate, you want to keep it unbroken.
  • Minnesota Fats, by the way, apparently never really existed. There was one guy in real life who had lots of nicknames like "Chicago Fats" and "New York Fats," but he couldn't shoot pool all that well; he just liked to brag. After the movie The Hustler was released, he changed his name to Minnesota Fats and claimed to be the person on whom the role was based. Jackie Gleason, who played Minnesota Fats in the movie, didn't like him. He said he could beat the so-called Minnesota Fats if he played left-handed.
Frequently Asked Questions about Pool Tables, from The Factory Outlet
Frequently Asked Questions, from Best Billiard Supply
Egyptian Area Agency on Aging, Famous People, Local Stories pages on Minnesota Fats and The Hustler

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Apple #66: Coral Reefs


I saw a book today about reefs. I opened the book and there were spectacular photos of super-bright fish, crazy-shaped coral, and all kinds of spiny things. I've gone snorkeling a couple of times at some reefs in the Caribbean, and I think the whole thing is fascinating. You stick your head an inch underwater, and it's like you're suddenly Jacques Cousteau, in the middle of fantasyland.

Photo by Mary L. Frost

  • A reef is made up of many coral polyps. A polyp is a tubular, saclike animal with a mouth surrounded by tentacles. It's hard to believe these things are animals, but they are. Like the fish that live among the reefs, the polyps can be many very bright colors.
  • The tentacles are generally how the polyp gets food to its mouth. The tentacles may be short or long, or they may have venom-filled stingers on them called nematocysts which attack the prey and bring it to the coral's mouth.
  • Polyps eat zooplankton, or very small fishes. Usually, they eat at night.
  • Polyps also get much of their nutrition from coral algae. Also called zooxanthellae, the algae live on the coral and provide nutrition to it. The zooxanthellae need sunlight for photosynthesis, and this is why most coral only live in shallow water.
  • Sometimes the coral will "bleach" or expel the coral algae, and when this happens, the coral have very little energy and will not reproduce, and they also lose their color. Coral are very sensitive to all kinds of environmental stressors such as pollution, changes in water temperature, UV radiation, and changes in the amount of salt in the water. Any of these stressors may trigger bleaching.
  • As the polyps grow, they secrete skeletons made of calcium carbonate, something like bone. Other animals living around them bore into the skeletons and grind them up, making sediment. The sediment settles into the spaces around the polyps, and the algae and other minerals mix with the sediment and turn it into something like cement, which stabilizes the colony of coral.
  • Almost all reef-building coral are what is called sessile animals, meaning they spend their entire adult lives rooted to a single spot on the sea floor.
  • Coral polyps reproduce in lots of different ways, depending on the species. Some polyps are hermaphroditic, meaning they can fertilize themselves. Some are asexual, and "bud" offspring by pinching off parts of itself to plant it elsewhere nearby.
  • My favorite method of coral reproduction, though, is called synchronous spawning. This is when all the polyps release a massive cloud of eggs and sperm into the water at the same time. Exactly when this happens depends on lunar cycles and tidal levels and water temperature and other factors, but still, somehow they all know when it's time to let 'em rip. The sloshing water mixes the eggs and sprem together and over a period of about four to ten days, the eggs get fertilized to form larvae, which settle to the sea floor and form polyps.
  • There are approximately 6,000 species of reef-building corals. They provide shelter and food for all sorts of animals, including sponges, fungi,sea worms, sea urchins, jellyfish, oysters, clams, shrimp, crabs, turtles, parrot fish, clown fish, and hundreds of other kinds of fish.

Where you can find the major coral reefs in the world (Diagram from NOAA)

If you want to learn more about a specific type of coral, take a look at my entry on Sea Fans.

Seaworld Education Department's pages on Corals and Coral Reefs
University of the Virgin Islands Coral Reef Ecology page
Mary L. Frost's photo appeared in Brian Huse, "Communities Around the Globe Protect the Underwater World," Shared Oceans, Shared Future, April 2004
Diagram appeared in NOAA's What are Corals and Coral Reefs? article, which is part of its highly informative Coral Reef Information System.

Monday, May 2, 2005

Apple #65: Spring Fever

Yesterday, I told someone that I thought I might have spring fever. Do people still talk about spring fever? Is it even a real thing?
  • Teachers seem to have the most to say about spring fever. Apparently, their students start going haywire in the springtime, and they want to understand why it happens and what to do about it. College students like to describe spring fever, too, as a way to explain why they're so distracted and have stopped caring about homework.
  • The funny thing is, some people say it makes you languorous and sluggish, and other people say it makes you restless and jumpy. Or you might feel both ways, in sequence.
  • Some people say that spring fever happens when there's a sudden warm spell after a long period of cold temperatures. Your body has to get rid of the extra heat, so your blood vessels dilate and your body works hard to do this. This gives you an "energetic" feeling, and makes you restless.
  • Other people say that with the change in the amount of daylight, your body's sleeping patterns change. This lowers your body's supply of noradrenaline, which reduces your memory, attention span, alertness, and overall mental energy. Once your body adjusts to the seasonal change, you get a burst of mental as well as physical energy.
  • Still others say spring fever is related to allergies. Because your body is working to fend off a lot of things that make you sneeze and that weren't a factor for several months, you may feel more light-headed or spacey, or tired, or silly.
  • Changes in air pressure may also be the culprit. Some people say that can affect your mood. Since low air pressure is associated with storms, and it rains a lot in the springtime, you may be affected first by the drop in air pressure and second by the fact that it's raining out and you can't go run around outside like your body might be itching to do.
  • Some student advisers say that with the warm weather, students start wearing fewer clothes, and co-eds are distracted by all the freshly revealed flesh. When the students emerge from the funk stage of spring fever and enter into the energetic stage, all those bare arms and legs make the students "ready for some lovin'."
Based on all these different descriptions of what spring fever is, and all the various explanations for it, I'm going to conclude that 1) nobody really knows what it is; and 2) everybody feels funky in the springtime.

Utah Education Network, weather trivia, What is spring fever?
Janet Frazier, "Spring and Summer Issues for School Employees," NCAE Safe and Healthy School Site
"Spring Fever: Welcome to silly season," Parenting Special Needs,
"Spring Fever!" The Crusader, April 23, 2004, Holy Cross College
"Question: Why can't I concentrate when spring rolls around?" The Captain's Log, vol 36 issue 21, Christopher Newport University

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Apple #64: Garbanzo Beans

The other day, I went out to dinner and someone I was with got a salad that had garbanzo beans in it. I haven't had garbanzo beans in quite a while, though I do like them. I was sort of envious of the garbanzo beans, and then I started wondering about them. Why are the also called "chick peas"? How do they grow? Where do they come from?

Growing them

  • "Garbanzo beans" is what the Spanish call "chick peas." I suppose, since Spanish is not my first (or even second) language, I should call them "chick peas," but I like the word "garbanzo" better.
  • Garbanzo beans are a legume, part of the pea family. They may be one of the oldest cultivated beans, known to have been grown as far back as 5400 B.C. Most garbanzo beans are beige, but they may also be red or brown or black.
  • India is the main grower of garbanzo beans, accounting for 60% of world production in 2001. Turkey, Spain, Pakistan, and Algeria have traditionally been big garbanzo bean exporters, but recently Canada and Australia have also entered the picture.
  • According to one person in the UK, you can take any old garbanzo beans you buy from the store and put them in a dish of water until they sprout. You have to change the water each day to keep it fresh. After they've sprouted, you can plant them and they'll grow into bushy plants that look kind of like ferns.
  • They produce flowers, and then pods. Each pod has maybe 2-3 peas in them. Some people pick the pods while they're still green and then dry them; others wait until the pods dry on the vine before picking.

This is what fresh garbanzo beans look like, still in the pods.
(photo from Erin's Kitchen, a blog about eating in NY City)

This is what the beans look like dried.
(photo from Grains Canada)

Eating them
  • One serving of garbanzo beans -- which is one cup, and come to think of it, that's a lot of the little guys -- gives you half of your day's supply of fiber. It also gives you a hefty 29% of the protein you need in a given day, and 26% of iron.
  • I remember hearing, once upon a time, that garbanzo beans have a lot of fat in them. They do have 2% of your daily allotment of saturated fat, but I'm thinking, if it's a choice between garbanzo beans and cheese, for example, the garbanzo beans are probably the better option.
  • Garbanzo beans are the main ingredient in hummus, which is a dip that's really good with warm pita bread, and also of falafel. One website says you can also use garbanzo beans as a substitute for coffee.
  • Falafel are like meatballs, except made of garbanzo beans and fried. If you've never had it before, it may sound weird (I'm imagining the face my mother might make if I described this to her), but they're really tasty, especially if you serve them in a pita roll with yogurt sauce.
Falafel Recipe
  • Ingredients:
    • 8 oz dried chickpeas, or 8 oz. canned
    • 1 onion, finely chopped
    • 1 garlic clove, crushed
    • 1 slice of white bread, soaked in some water
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne
    • 1 tsp coriander, ground
    • 1 tsp cumin, ground
    • 2 tsp parsley, finely chopped
    • salt, to taste
    • oil for frying
  • If chickpeas are dried, soak overnight, then rinse and cook in fresh water for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until tender.
  • Mash, do not blend, chickpeas until pureed.
  • Squeeze water from the soaked bread and add to chickpeas along with all other ingredients, except oil. Knead until well-mixed.
  • Let the mixture rest in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, then roll between the palms to make firm balls about 1 inch in size. It helps if palms are wetted.
  • Put oil in pan until about 1 inch deep, heat to 360 degrees F and fry the balls, a few at a time, until nicely brown all over. Takes about 2-3 minutes per ball.
  • Drain on paper towel.
  • Serve hot with lemon wedges or in pita with lettuce, tomato, and yogurt sauce.
Growing chickpea in the northern Great Plains, Montana State University Extension Service, 2002
How to grow chickpeas, the Gardener's Cooksite
Walton Feed's page on The Legumes. Lots of really interesting information here about beans in general.
101Cookbooks, March 19, 2005 page. Apparently, this woman is trying out recipes from her 101 cookbooks and posting the recipes she likes best. Some tasty-looking vegetarian dishes on this page.
Nutrition data for chickpeas. This nutrition data site is pretty cool. It gives a ton of information about each food item, including charts that make it easy to see what elements the food gives you a lot of, and also what other foods might be better substitutes. You can also change the serving size and see how the data changes. Really, this site rocks.
Falafel recipe from the epicentre