Monday, November 27, 2006

Apple #208: Medicine Hat, Alberta

I came across the name of this town recently. What a name, eh?

I decided that I would finally find out why it is called Medicine Hat, and some other sundry details about it.

First, the name:

  • Long ago, a great battle was fought between the Cree and Blackfoot tribes, on the bank of what is now called the South Saskatchewan River, which runs through what is now the center of Medicine Hat.
  • The Cree were battling hard, but then they saw their medicine man's eagle tailfeather headdress on the ground and they knew he had deserted them. In many tribes, the medicine man was hugely essential to the community, filling the role of spiritual leader, doctor, and overall guide.
  • When the Cree saw that their medicine man had left, they knew they were done for, and they put down their weapons. They were subsequently slaughtered by the Blackfoot tribe.
  • Afterwards the site was referred to as Saami, which is the Blackfoot word for medicine man's hat.

Map of Medicine Hat by the Lion's Club of Medicine Hat

  • Medicine Hat is located in the southeastern corner of Alberta, about 250 miles from Great Falls, Montana.
  • The city is situated in a river valley, pretty much in the middle of prairies.
  • The TransCanada Highway also runs diagonally along the southwest side of the city.

There's a big statue of a moose in Medicine Hat
(Photo from Big Things in Canada)

  • If you go to the city's official website, you will see that it wants to be known as "The Gas City." Okay, Medicine Hat, I'll call you Gas City if you really want me to.
    • Actually, there are roughly 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas below the surface of Medicine Hat and its environs
    • Rudyard Kipling said all that gas below ground meant the area had "all hell for a basement."
  • Most locals refer to their city as "The Hat."
  • An environmental study of Canadian weather found that Medicine Hat is the sunniest city in Canada, with over 2,500 hours of sunshine per year. It also had the highest number of days without rain.
  • As I type this, it is -6 degrees Fahrenheit in Medicine Hat (for you Canadians, that's -27 degrees C).

This is spring on Medicine Hat College's campus
(Photo from Medicine Hat College)

  • As of June 2005, Medicine Hat's population totaled 56,048. To put that into perspective,
    • Toronto's population is roughly 5.2 million
    • Quebec has 710,800 folks
    • Windsor has almost 331,000, or about 5 times the people of Medicine Hat.
  • In addition to natural gas mining companies and farms in the outlying areas, there's also an army reserve unit based in Medicine Hat (South Alberta Light Horse). Just west of the city is the Suffield base, which trains a lot of military troops, including folks deployed for NATO missions.
  • You can relax in 100 parks, all within the city limits and all linked by an extensive trail system.
  • In August, you can attend the Medicine Hat Stampede, which is actually a rodeo (Canada's second largest), complete with a parade, livestock show, art show, petting farm, and midway.
  • In December, the city erects a singing Christmas tree downtown. That's what they say, anyway.

These cows live in Medicine Hat
(Photo from Pahl Livestock)

Sources, Medicine Hat Travel & Tourism and Map of Canada
Medicine Hat, Alberta Business Directory
Canadian Relocation Systems, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Big Things in Alberta, City of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Environment Canada, Weather Winners Highlights
City Population, Canada

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Some Minor Adjustments

As some of you may be aware, the Blogger folks are updating their service and adding a lot more functionality. All new blogs will be made using their new (and easier!) Beta format. Existing blogs require some tweaking to make the adjustment to the new format. I'm doing some housekeeping things to make that migration happen. One of those things is adding subject labels to each post (see the bottom of each entry).

But I know that, for most of you, that is total yawnsville. In the meantime, I invite you to peruse some season-suitable entries I put together in the past, including

  • Turkeys -- find out what that thing is that hangs down under their beak
  • Dry Air in Winter -- what can you do to make your house less irritating when the cold weather hits?
  • Flu vs. Cold -- do you have a cold, or is it really the flu?
  • Wind Chill -- what is "wind chill," anyway?

I'll have a new entry up here soon, I promise.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Apple #207: Days of November

Brace yourselves. Some important holidays are coming up.

Sure, there's Thanksgiving, but in November, there is also so much more. You'll be glad to know that you can send e-greeting cards to your loved ones for just about every one of these "days."

For example, did you know that, among other things, November is

  • Learn Chinese Month
  • National Impotency Month
  • National Novel Writing Month
  • National Pomegranate Month
  • International Microfinance Month
I have the suspicion that these things are all mysteriously related.

Did you know that the pomegranate is originally from Iran and the Himalayas?
Babylonians chewed the seeds before battle, hoping to be made invincible.
(Photo from The Food Paper)

It is also currently

Coming up soon are the Better Conversation Week, National Family Week, and National Game & Puzzle Week (organized by the people who are now concentrating more on the Million Minute Family Challenge).

There are also very special individual days in the month of November.

Yesterday (the 15th) was the National Bundt Pan Day, and I did not make a Bundt cake, but I'm sure somebody somewhere did. Yesterday was also the I Love to Write Day, and I did actually write something yesterday.

Coming up, World Hello Day is on the 21st, before Thanksgiving. To celebrate, say hello to ten people. The 24th is Flossing Day, which is always the day after Thanksgiving. So you can say hello to 10 people, eat your turkey, and then floss afterwards.

Some people make various crafty things using dental floss. This necklace, made of dental floss and plastic bloody teeth, was an entry in an ugliest necklace contest.

The 19th is Have a Bad Day Day. It is intended to allow retail workers to wish people, "Have a bad day," instead of the usual alternative. This holiday is actually copyrighted by Thomas & Ruth Roy. Copyrighting a holiday seems in keeping with the whole "have a bad day" concept.

If you actually do have a bad day on the 19th, fear not, for Name Your PC Day follows immediately on its heels and will surely be a balm to your bad day. Although this one is copyrighted, too. :(

But perhaps most important of all, the 24th is National D.B. Cooper Day.

  • In 1971, Mr. Cooper hijacked an airliner flying from Portland, OR, to Seattle and threatened to blow it up unless the airline company, Northwest Orient, paid him $200,000 cash.
  • The plane landed at its destination, he got his $200 Gs, and he released the 36 passengers and two members of the crew. Then he made the remaining crew members take off again and fly him to Mexico.
  • When the plane reached 10,000 feet, with winds gusting at 80 knots and in a driving, freezing rain, at night, he jumped out of the plane via the rear stairs. He was equipped with four parachutes and twenty-one pounds of $20 bills strapped to his chest.
  • He was never seen again. No one knows if he died or is still alive.

Police sketch of Dan "D.B." Cooper
(Image from the FBI)

  • It is possible that he survived. At least two others copied his crime only a few months later and those hijackers lived to tell about it -- albeit in court.
  • D.B. Cooper is actually a name that one newspaper printed by mistake. He registered for his flight under the name Dan Cooper, but that might not be his real name.
  • Although this crime took place during the reign of the tenacious J. Edgar Hoover, it remains the only unsolved skyjacking.
  • He has been invited to attend a celebration in his honor on the 24th, at Chloride, Arizona, which is near the Hoover Dam and Route 66.
So relax, eat your turkey and your pie, floss your teeth, and then if you're so inclined, you can wing out to Arizona and maybe meet a famous hijacker! You might want to chew some pomegranate seeds before you go, just in case he actually shows up.

[For updates about the D. B. Cooper case, check out this more recent Daily Apple.]

Purdue University Center for New Crops & Plant Products, Pomegranate
MO-SPAN Green Ribbon Awareness Week
T.J. DeGroat, "Let it Go," Hatch Magazine
National Flossing Council Online
Crime Library, A Mystery (Story of D.B. Cooper)
U.S. News Online, Mysteries of History
Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce, D.B. Cooper Day

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Apple #206: Player Pianos

Someone at my job was telling me some pretty interesting things about player pianos. For instance, some of the music was composed only for player pianos. It was "printed" on the rolls that were used only with player pianos, but not recorded in any other form. So the only way to listen to this music was with a player piano. That music is all but lost, now that the player piano is essentially extinct.

I found this sort of fascinating, so I thought I'd see what else I could learn about player pianos.

  • Another word for player pianos is "pianola," which was at first a trademarked term, but then it became the word for all player pianos (the same way people use the word "Kleenex" to refer to all disposable tissues, or people in the South say "Coke" to mean any soda).
  • You can, of course, let the roll and piano go by themselves...

(Ad posted at Player Piano Rebirth)

  • ... but with an operator or "pianolist" at the controls, he or she can make subtle improvements to the sound.
  • Pressing on the foot pedals makes the thing go, but if you vary the pressure, you can change the tone. Manipulating the levers located under the front of the keyboard can change the tempo, accentuate particular notes, or sustain other notes. These controls also allow the pianolist to rewind and re-play the roll.
  • The keys can also be played the same way a conventional piano is played. This means the operator can play the keys while a roll is playing, if desired, to create harmonies or other effects.
  • Player pianos reached their peak of popularity between 1900 and 1930. Player pianos that exist today are around 70 years old and often need a lot of care and attention.
  • Here's a scaled-down description of how a pianola works:
    • Pianolist pumps air into the organ using the two foot pedals, which also makes the roll turn
    • Perforations in the paper, each representing a note, are "read" by a pneumatic device, which makes a valve open
    • The valve opening tells a pneumatic motor to go into action
    • The motor triggers a wooden, felt-covered "finger," or hammer, which presses the corresponding key, from behind the scenes, of the keyboard.

Diagram of the inner workings of a player piano. A little more complex than a conventional piano.
(Diagram from

  • The earliest pianola was made in 1895, by a guy named Edwin Votey, from Detroit. The early player pianos could only play about 60 notes. It wasn't until 1908 that they figured out how to get pianolas to be able to access all 88 keys of a typical piano.
  • The barrel piano, or drum piano, that people played on the street was the early version of the player piano.

One type of barrel piano. Many of these were larger, more like the size of a popcorn cart, with handles like a wheelbarrow.
(Photo from the Player Piano Page)

  • Player pianos died when the stock market crashed in 1929. Only a very few manufacturers survived that crash, but even so, most people couldn't afford to buy a player piano when they could barely find work.
  • Player pianos enjoyed a slight revival in the 1960s, but it didn't last long. Currently, nobody makes any player pianos anymore.
  • However, people are working on methods to preserve the music on the paper rolls, in electronic form. Most of this preserved music is in stored in midi files.
  • I found a site where you can listen to some midi files of player piano songs, and I picked out one I liked, the Powder Rag & Live Wires Rag. Apparently, making things explode is fun!
  • This music really is kind of happy, goofy, dancy. It's easy to understand, listening to it now, why it went out of fashion when the stock market crashed, and then World War II hit.

The Player Piano Page
Terry Smythe, Player Piano Rebirth
Listen to more player piano songs at Robert Perry's site (he's from New Zealand)

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Apple #205: Gasoline Grades

I got some gas for my car tonight (or "petrol" for you folks from the UK). Filled up the tank, paid $2.11 a gallon. Not too bad a price -- for today, anyway.

As I was pumping the gas, I wondered, what exactly is the difference between Regular and Mid-grade and Premium? How much better is Premium, really?

Pumps like these, ready for all three grades of gasoline, are the norm.
(These particular pumps are available for purchase from Ken-Co)

  • Grades of gasoline are defined in terms of the performance-grade of octane present in the gasoline. There are actually different types of octanes in various batches of gasoline, so to speak. The worst performing octane is given a zero rating, while the best is given a 100. The grades of gasoline reflect the range of performance levels of the octanes present in the gas:
    • Regular (a.k.a. conventional) gas has an octane rating of 85 to just shy of 88
    • Midgrade (oxygenated) gas has an octane rating of 88 to 90
    • Premium (reformulated) gas has an octane rating greater than 90
  • The higher the octane rating, the less likely your engine is to knock.
Which begs the question, what's engine knocking, and why should I care?
  • Once upon a time, car engines had a hard time regulating the amount of fuel versus air that was going into the engine if the temperature dropped, or the humidity went up, and so on. Sometimes too much gas was released, which soaked the carbon deposits just outside the engine cylinder. Those gas-soaked carbon deposits then ignited, but they were igniting outside the cylinder, where you don't that to happen, and this premature ignition made a popping or knocking sound. Not only was it an unpleasant noise, it also meant your car wasn't getting the most bang from the fuel that it could, and it was damaging the engine besides.

This is a piston that's been essentially shot through, all because of engine knock.
(Photo from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

  • However, this problem was true of cars made before the mid-1980s. Since then, cars have been built with computerized fuel injectors that work to control the mix of fuel and air going into the engine, regardless of the weather. In most cases, cars made today won't have a problem with engine knock, no matter what grade of gasoline you buy.
  • Some engines are made expressly for one grade of gasoline (my dad had a Cadillac for a while, and it required only Premium gas. Expensive!). If this is true of your car, you'd better use the grade that's called for.
Here's what it comes down to: grades of gasoline will affect how rapidly your car can reach higher speeds, or its horsepower. You won't get better mileage if you use a higher grade of gasoline.

So, in essence, the importance of gasoline grades is all but obsolete. And all those times I bought higher grades of gas, thinking I was doing a good thing for my car, I was just another sucker on the vine.

Filename: BD07032_.wmf Keywords: anger, businessmen, cigars ... File Size: 37 KB

These decades, what matters more is the quality of gasoline you purchase. In other words, it matters which gas station you go to, not what you buy once you're there.

  • The primary differentiating factor among brands of gasoline is the detergent they add. Detergents help to remove deposits that build up in the works. Every type of gasoline sold in the U.S. has to meet standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency for acceptable levels and types of detergent.
  • Gas sold by lesser-known gas companies tends to have a different type of detergent. It is approved by the EPA, but it's of a lesser standard and was approved expressly so that some companies could sell their gasoline more cheaply. In other words, these detergents don't work as well, but they keep the total cost of the gas down. Most car folks warn people away from buying gas at cheap-o, off-brand gas stations.
  • Name-brand companies like Mobil and Chevron and BP and so on add the better-perfoming detergents. Many have done this since before the EPA started requiring it.

Gas companies have been adding detergents for a long time
(Photo from Rare Ads)

  • Of the well-known gas companies, Shell adds the highest amount of detergents. The company claims that this is extra-helpful to your car, but people who test these sorts of things say that more detergent doesn't necessarily make as much difference as the type of detergent does.
  • Various gasoline makers add other things besides just detergents. They each use a slightly different recipe. They don't like to say just what that recipe is, but they all like to say theirs is the best. However, I couldn't find many objective poeple saying one name-brand type of gasoline is particularly better than another.
  • If you buy the same brand of gasoline on a regular basis, it's a good idea to switch it up once in a while. The same way you need to switch your shampoo to wash away detergent build-up, changing the brand of gasoline means you're putting in a different formulation of detergents that will wash away your old brand's excess detergent and maybe a few deposits that the old gas might have missed.

Energy Information Administration, Definitions of Gasoline Grades, Chemistry, Before You Buy Gasoline or Petrol, Chemistry, How is Gasoline Made? What Are Octane Ratings?
Don't Waste Your Money, Gasoline Grades, Do You Really Need Premium?
Environmental Protection Agency, Gasoline Detergent Additives Enforcement and Recordkeeping Requirements, October 1997
Environmental Protection Agency, PA EPA Gets Gasoline Certification Program, 06/28/96.
American Petroleum Institute, Gasoline - Is It All the Same? What about Octane?

eHow, How to Purchase the Right Gasoline