Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Apple #93: Thunderstorms

Oh, please, thunderstorms, please, hurry up and get here and wipe out this awful nasty sticky heat.

  • The typical thunderstorm has a diameter of 15 miles and lasts 30 minutes.
  • Almost 1,800 thunderstorms are occurring at any given moment around the world.
  • All thunderstorms have lightning.
  • In the US, 100,000 thunderstorms happen in a year. 10% of these, or 10,000, are classified as severe.
  • A thunderstorm gets classified as severe if winds reach 58 mph or higher, if it produces hail of 3/4 inches in diameter or more, or if it also produces tornadoes.

Three stages of a thunderstorm
(Diagram from bouqueteweather.com)

  • Here are the stages of a thunderstorm (I've been taught this a million times, but it's never stuck entirely):
    • Developing stage:
      • Warm air rises quickly and makes a big fat cumulus cloud, like a big hump in the sky.
      • The cloud is usually not more than 20,000 feet high.
      • Sometimes it will start to rain at this stage, but only a little bit and maybe for about 10 minutes. There might be some lightning, but not much.
    • Mature stage:
      • The big fat cloud gets really tall, about 40,000 feet or higher. The cloud takes on a sickly green or sometimes even black shade.
      • The warm air is getting cooled pretty fast, and as it cools it condenses, forming rain.
      • Heavy rain falls, which also pushes out strong winds ahead of it. Sometimes the wind is so strong it travels for miles ahead of the storm. This is why when it gets good and windy, you can count on a storm coming.
      • If the air in the cloud pushes high enough and the moisture in the cloud cools enough, the rain turns instead into ice crystals at the top of the cloud. If you get enough air pushing high enough, the ice will fall. In other words, it might hail.
      • At this stage of the storm, you definitely get lightning, booming thunder, and possibly tornadoes.
      • This stage usually lasts 10 to 20 minutes, but in stronger storms, it could last longer.
    • Dissipating stage:
      • As the moisture drops out of the cloud, the big knob at the top flattens out, almost like a deflated balloon.
      • Rain is still falling, but it is less intense.
      • Bursts of strong winds may occur as the cloud is basically releasing its air.
      • Some lightning may also happen.
  • Lightning happens because the storm cloud contains warm air that is rising quickly and cool air that is descending. The movement of this air in different directions separates positive and negative charges. When these charges build up enough, the electrical energy is released, making lightning.
  • The average flash from a lightning bolt could light a 100-watt bulb for more than 3 months.
  • The air near a lightning strike is heated to 50,000 degrees F, which is hotter than the surface of the sun.
  • When lightning flashes, it heats the air super-fast. This makes a shock wave in the air that we hear as thunder.
  • This just in (01/2011): Thunderstorms also create and release antimatter. Researchers aren't exactly sure of the process, except that the electric fields build up and when the lightning flashes, electrons are accelerated almost to the speed of light, essentially making gamma rays and blasting antimatter into space. Read more here.
  • The most lightning flashes that occurred in a given year (1991) happened in the peninsula part of Florida. In fact, this part of Florida saw lightning flashes almost 4 times more than any other part of the country. (I wonder if this is related to the fact that they get a lot of hurricanes?)

People get this mixed up a lot, so I'll include this too:
  • Storm Watch means conditions are right, so watch for a possible storm
  • Storm Warning means look out! there's an actual storm coming.

P.S. Have you identified your top ten favorite apples yet?

NOAA, Thunderstorms and Lightning...the underrated killers!
The above graphic, originally from the Times-Picayune, but reproduced at Loyola's Center for Environmental Communications' page on the Ecology of the Mississippi River Delta Region

Apple #92: Llamas


I llike llamas. They like to chew. They also spit, sometimes. I saw them at the State Fair two years ago, and they didn't like it when they were made to walk through a puddle of water. They got very jumpy and fidgety and one llama bolted and ran. But most of the time, they chew and look bemused or half asleep.

This llama's name is Lil Bit.
  • Llamas are members of the camel family. This makes them a camelid, along with camels, alpacas, guanacos, and vicunas.
  • Camelids used to run around in North America as well as in South America, but they went extinct in North America after the last ice age.
  • Llamas were domesticated in Peru 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. They are among the oldest animals in the world.
  • In South America, which is the llama's homeland, llamas are used as a pack animal, their wool is used to make rugs and ropes, they are eaten for meat, and their dung is used for fuel.
  • In the United States where they are becoming increasingly popular, they are used for toting loads, for fibers from their wool, and as companion and guard animals.
  • Llamas can live about 20 years, and they weigh anywhere from 250 to 400 pounds.
  • Baby llamas weigh between 18 and 35 pounds at birth. The mother gives birth while standing, usually in the daytime.
  • Their feet are split into two toes that are heavily padded so that a llama walking around makes less of an impact on the ground than the boots of a person hiking. It also makes a llama sure-footed in the snow.
  • The bald patch on the back of their legs, just above the ankles so to speak, actually contains a scent gland believed to be involved in producing pheromones that alert other llamas to danger. Llamas have another scent gland between their toes.

This is Excellente of Bolivia, and apparently he sired many show llamas.

  • If a llama is conditioned to do so, it can carry 25% to 30% of its total body weight. That's anywhere from 62 to 120 pounds. This makes llamas as strong, if not stronger, than horses used as pack animals. Can you carry 25% of your body weight? For a long way up and down mountains?
  • They have 3-part stomachs (unlike the 4-part stomachs that cows have). Because they only have 3 parts to their stomachs, they are technically not ruminants, but you should feed them the kinds of things ruminants eat because other foods like oats will give them stomach ulcers. Most llamas like hay the best.
  • Llamas process food very efficiently, so it actually takes less feed to make a llama grow than it does to feed a sheep, for example. The amount of food on which llamas can survive is sometimes likened to desert-like levels of food.
  • They have no upper teeth, only a hard upper gum and large molars way in back. They have matching large molars below, as well as lower incisors. Adult males develop large upper and lower canines for fighting.
  • Llamas are relatively docile and easy to train. It usually takes only 1 to 5 repetitions for a llama to learn such things as accepting a halter, being loaded in or out of a trailer, pulling a cart, or carrying a pack. Compared to many dogs, llamas learn a heck of a lot faster.
  • They communicate using subtle changes in ear, tail, and body positions. They also make a humming sound and a shrill call of alarm.
  • About the spitting. It has been discovered that llamas spit more as a way to communicate with other llamas. They do it to make unwanted mating partners go away, to protect themselves from threatening animals, and mostly to establish a pecking order during meals. Llamas will only spit at humans if they have been over-handled to the point where they have developed a fear or dislike of people.
  • Although llamas are actually a lot smarter than they look, the term "llama" has come to be used to indicate a slow-witted or ignorant person. Lots of computer games and how-to books use phrases such as "llama-tested" to indicate that even a newbie can use it.

Llamas from Spruce Lane ranch, looking confused.

P.S. Please let me know your top ten favorite apples

Llama Web, learning more about llamas
Sutter's Mill Llama Ranch, llama owner information
Wikipedia's entry on llamas

Friday, July 22, 2005

Apple #91: Wichita


I've been away for a few days. While I did not visit Wichita, a friend of mine likes the word "Wichita," so I thought I'd do a blog entry on the fine Kansas city.

Map of Kansas from Enchanted Learning
  • The name "Wichita" comes from the Wichita Indians, who had built their grass houses in the area. Different historians offer different meanings for the word "Wichita," which may mean either "scattered lodges" or "painted faces."
  • The city as we know it was originally founded as a trading post on the banks of the meeting-place of two rivers, the Arkansas and the Little Arkansas. Archaeological evidence indicates that this nexus of two rivers has been a trading place for at least 11,000 years.
  • On July 21, 1870, Wichita was incorporated as a city, with 123 men and one woman signing the petition for incorporation. Happy recent birthday, Wichita!
  • The woman who signed the petition was named Catherine McCarty, and she owned a laundry. Later, she moved to New Mexico, where her oldest son, Henry, changed his name to William Bonney, a.k.a. Billy the Kid.
  • Back in Wichita, the cattle trade was growing the city by leaps and bounds. Jess Chisholm came to Wichita in 1863, leading a party of sportsmen, and marking a trail from Texas to Kansas that became known as the Chisholm Trail. This trail was used to drive hundreds of thousands of cattle to the Santa Fe rail station at Wichita.
  • Because of the booming cattle trade (more than $2 million in cattle in 1872, which is insane), lots of folks showed up in Wichita, including such notables as Wyatt Earp, "Buffalo Bill" Mathewson, and Bat Masterson.
  • Very quickly, however, the cattle trade moved west, following the rail lines, and Wichita was temporarily depressed, in more ways than one. Soon agriculture began to take hold and helped the community continue to exist. Much later, oil and aviation would further add to the city's economy, but no industry has had as profound an effect on Wichita as cattle.
  • W.C. Coleman produced his first Coleman lantern in Wichita in 1914.
  • White Castle hamburgers were born in Wichita, and the first Pizza Hut was built in Wichita, in 1958.
  • The population of Wichita and its outlying towns today is 581,379, which makes it Kansas' largest city. Boeing employs 20,000 of these citizens.
  • The average 2 bedroom apartment in Wichita goes for $595. The national average for the same size apartment is $753.
  • A new single-family home in Wichita sells for an average price of $248,834, which is 11% lower than the average price of $278,186.
  • On average, Wichita doesn't get more than 4 inches of rain in a month, or 3 inches of snow in the winter. It gets pretty hot in the summer, though, with highs regularly hitting around 93 degrees in July. This evening, at about 8:30 their time, it was 99.
P.S. Don't forget to tell me your top 10 favorites.

Wichita Area Chamber of Commerce
Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition
Wichita's History at a Glance
Weather Underground Season Weather Averages for Wichita

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Apple #90: Tell Me Your Top Ten


In preparation for apple #100, I would like to ask you, the audience, for your input. I plan to make apple #100 a list of the top ten favorite apples. I have some of my own ideas about which apples have been the most entertaining and most interesting, but I'd like to hear more from my readers.

Unfortunately, I haven't found a way to search the entirety of the blog by keyword or anything like that. The best way to look through previous entries is to click on the month links under "The Cellar" on the right frame and page through.

To get you started, here are three entries that people so far have seemed to like quite a bit: Apple #36: David Lee Roth, Apple #30: The Replacements, and Apple #6: Eyeballs. These are only the early leaders -- you can tell me heck, yeah to these and add others to the list, or tell me no, no, I'm overlooking others just as good, or better.

Once you've got your favorites in mind, please click on the comments link at the bottom of this entry, and list for me which are your favorite. You can go all-out if you like, and provide me with a complete list of ten, with reasons why you've chosen each one. Or you can go minimalist, and list maybe four or five of your favorites. Or you can go somewhere in between.

As a reminder, comments are open to all viewers. It's not necessary to have a blog of your own or to register to post a comment.

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Apple #89: Charlie's Angels


Last night, I rented a set of episodes from Season I of the TV show, Charlie's Angels.

I can't even tell you how much pleasure I have derived from watching these shows. It's a total trip to nostalgia-ville, for one thing, and it's knocking loose all kinds of memories from when I was a youngster and pretending to be one of Charlie's Angels with my friends. And the show itself, I'm just delighting in its fantastic-ness, its girls-can-be-sexy- and-adventurous-too-ness, its total campiness.

  • The show was a detective drama, in which the detectives were played by three women, supposedly so sexy that men all but drooled and lost their minds when they were around. The investigators got their assignments from a man named Charlie, who spoke to them only by telephone. Another man, Bosley, helped arrange some of the particulars, but it was the women who carried out the assignments, which required them to assume such "covers" as race car drivers, roller derby stars, and inmates in a women's prison.

(TV Screen Gems image from Matias Stuven's blog)

  • It was the most successful series of the 1970's.
  • The 3 women who first played Charlie's Angels were Jaclyn Smith, Farrah Fawcett, and Kate Jackson:

The original Angels chillin' out, from epguides.com

Farrah Fawcett, as Jill Munroe (the blonde one)
  • For a while, she was Farrah Fawcett-Majors following her marriage to Lee Majors of Six Million Dollar Man fame. I remember how much talk there was about the two of them. It was sort of like the Ben Affleck & J Lo business, except less smarmy.
  • Farrah was only on Charlie's Angels for the first season. The show's producers, Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, took her to court for breaking her contract, and she agreed to appear in 6 episodes in the second and third seasons.
  • When she met her "true love" Ryan O'Neal, she and Lee Majors divorced. She and Ryan never married, but they had a son, Readmond.
  • She received great critical acclaim for her role in The Burning Bed, and she also appeared as the wife of Robert Duvall's character in The Apostle.
  • In spite of being famous for her swimsuit pose, which was replicated on millions of posters, it wasn't until 1995 that she agreed to pose for Playboy. That issue sold over four million copies, which made it the magazine's biggest seller for the decade.
  • [this just in: Farrah Fawcett sadly died of cancer on June 25, 2009. Ryan O'Neal had asked her to marry him a few days earlier, but she was so ill she was unable to speak.]
  • [double P.S. check out the insanity among Ryan O'Neal and the family as they stood around Farrah's bedside. To top it off, he hit on his daughter, Tatum, at Farrah's funeral. Yeah. Be sure to read through to page 2.]

    Kate Jackson, as Sabrina Duncan (the smart one)

    • Kate grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, which accounts for the trace of an accent, especially in the early episodes.
    • She was on several other TV programs before Charlie's Angels, including Dark Shadows, Bonanza, and a crime show called The Rookies.
    • She was nominated for two Emmys in her role as Sabrina, but didn't win.
    • After 3 years on the show, Kate wanted to be in the film, Kramer vs. Kramer, but the producers wouldn't let her. So she quit.
    • Although she was in a couple other TV programs, it wasn't until she starred in Scarecrow and Mrs. King that she found success again.
    • She has survived breast cancer, first diagnosed in 1987.

      Jaclyn Smith, as Kelly Garrett (the nice, sort of boring one)

      • Jaclyn's first jobs were as a model for Max Factor and Breck shampoo, and she was known as the Breck Girl.
      • She almost got fired after the pilot episode, but the producers fought to keep her, and she went on to be the only angel to last the show's five years.
      • She's been in a crapload of pretty bad movies.
      • She's known now for her signature fashion collection, sold through K-mart.

        Other Angels

        • Cheryl Ladd, nee Cheryl Jean Stopelmoor, daughter-in-law of 1940's hearthrob Alan Ladd, replaced Farrah in the show's second season.
        • Shelley Hack, originally a model who also had a bit part in Annie Hall, replaced Kate Jackson in the fourth season.

        A few indicative lines:

        • Sabrina: "Cheer up. As soon as I'm out of here, you can run right down to the high school and check out the graduating class."
        • Jill: "I am not a yo-yo!"
        • Kelly, expressing disbelief: "Yeah, just last week Rosalynn Carter leapt through my window with a quart of chili!"
        • Kelly: "Would you think I was pushy if I asked why you were shooting at me?"
        • Sabrina: "I'm glad I was only kidnapped."
        • Sabrina, while being dragged away: "Come on, I swallowed my gum here!"

          Nothing but class, 1976 style.

          [triple P.S. On April 1, 2010,  John Forsythe, the voice of Charlie, died.  He survived heart disease and colorectal cancer, but succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 92.  Time praised his "uncomplicated manliness" and had many other complimentary things to say about him.]

          Super 70's, Charlie's Angels
          TV.com, Charlie's Angels summary
          IMDb, Charlie's Angels TV series
          Episode guide to Charlie's Angels
          Netglimpse, Cheryl Ladd-biography
          Sony's Screen Gems Network (this is supposed to be a promo site for
          Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, the movie, but they have a lot of info about the TV show. If you want to hear a tidbit of that totally catchy song, or ask Charlie a question, click here)

          Monday, July 11, 2005

          Apple #88: Sneezing


          A baby came to visit today, and while she was here, she sneezed. It made her smile. Her parents said she likes to sneeze. She gets distressed when they sneeze, but she enjoys her own sneezes.

          This woman's name is Annabelle Glass, and she is sneezing.

          • The average sneeze travels 40 mph. Some sneezes shoot out at speeds of 100 mph, which, if this speed could be sustained, would be fast enough to qualify as a category 2 hurricane.
          • Sneezing involves numerous muscles in the face, throat, abdomen, diaphragm, and neck. Because the muscles that close the eyes are also activated, it is impossible to keep your eyes open while sneezing.
          • Another name for sneezing is sternutation.
          • One out of 3 people are photic sneezers, meaning that when they step into bright light, they sneeze. This happens because of a faulty connection between the optic nerve and the nerves associated with the sneeze response.
          • If you ever feel a sneeze coming on but then it stops, look toward a bright light to re-trigger the sneeze.
          • It is a specific alkyloid called piperine in pepper that irritates the membranes in the nose and makes us sneeze.
          • Our noses produce, on average, one to two quarts of mucus each day.
          • The tradition of saying "bless you" after a person sneezes dates back to 590 AD, when Pope Gregory became Pope while a plague was going on. He recommended that people pray unceasingly for God's protection against the disease. One of the ways that people followed his advice was to say the little prayer "God bless you" whenever someone sneezed, in the hopes of warding off the plague.
          • The world record for sneezing is held by Donna Griffiths from Worstershire, UK, who sneezed for 978 days in a row. When the sneezes first started, she sneezed about once a minute, but eventually they slowed to about once every 5 minutes. She was 12 years old when the sneezes started, and 14 when they stopped, over a million sneezes later.

          Geocities, Useless Facts About the Human Body
          Kids Health, What Makes Me Sneeze?
          Marilyn Haddrill, Sunlight Triggers Sneezing
          Everyday Mysteries from the Library of Congress, Why does pepper make you sneeze?
          Absolute Astronomy encyclopedia, Sneeze entry
          Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Sneezing
          Guinness World Records, Longest Sneezing Bout

          Sunday, July 10, 2005

          Apple #87: Trombones

          First, an apology. I'm sorry I haven't kept up with the posts lately. I've been apartment-hunting, and not only has it taken insane amounts of time, I have also not logged on much these days, to avoid tying up the phone line and thus missing that all-important call from a potential landlord who wants to tell me about his crappy apartment with the windows that don't close and the basement that leaks and the living room that stinks like cat urine. Hooray!

          Now, on to better topics. Such as, trombones.

          diagram from EnchantedLearning.com

          • The trombone is a brass instrument, pitched lower than the trumpet and higher than the tuba. The word trombone literally means "big trumpet."
          • The trombone's forerunner was called the sackbut. It was slightly smaller than today's trombone and its bell had a more pronounced cone shape. Nobody is positive about the origin of this word, but the speculation is that it is derived from a similar-sounding French word which means "push-pull".
          • The trombone as we know it today appeared around the 18th century. It is shaped like a paper clip, with a cup-shaped mouthpiece at one end and a wide bell at the other.
          • The trombone has no valves (except for the somewhat rare valve trombone). One changes the note the horn produces by sliding its long, u-shaped lead-pipe farther out, thus lowering the pitch.
          • There are seven slide positions which correspond to particular notes. In addition to these positions, trombonists also change the pitch by altering their embrochure; in other words, by tightening or opening their lips against the mouthpiece.
          • By the way, the part of the trombone in the above diagram labeled "water key" -- that's a nice way of saying "spit valve." Can't help it with brass instruments but get spit in 'em, and you have to get that spit out.
          • It is notoriously difficult to hit the right pitch with this horn, and this is probably why the trombone players in high school bands never seem to know quite what they're doing.
          • One newer type of trombone combines the slide as well as valves. These were made in the early 20th century and are sometimes referred to as superbones.
          • Unlike the trumpet and the French horn [or horn; see comment], the trombone is uniquely capable among brass instruments of producing a complete chromatic scale. That is, it can hit every note in an octave, not just the whole notes but the sharps & flats (half notes) too.
          • The trombone is usually scored as a background or harmonizing instrument, so there are very few trombone solos written, especially in classical music. It has gotten a bit more recognition in marching band, big band, and jazz ensembles, but it is still most often a harmony-provider.
          • Folks who are known for their tromboning expertise, and who proved it by playing mad solos on this horn, are Jack Teagarden, J. J. Johnson, and Ray Anderson. Glen Miller, a big band leader from the 1940s, also played trombone, as did Tommy Dorsey.
          • If you want to listen to nothing but trombone music, check out Groove Bone internet radio, the Jazz, Latin, and Funk Trombone Show.
          Wikipedia's entry on the Trombone
          BBC's edited guide, entry on Trombones
          Trombone definitions at Answers.com

          Sunday, July 3, 2005

          Apple #86: Sleep


          Something I need.

          We all know a lot of facts about how much sleep adults are supposed to get and how not enough sleep screws up your health, yah yah yah. Here are some lesser-known sleep facts that I find much more interesting.
          • If it takes you less than 5 minutes to fall asleep, it probably means you are sleep deprived.
          • We all know about REM dreams, which are often bizarre and deeply involved. But we also have non-REM dreams, which are more repetitive and closer to our thoughts, such as a continuous return to the certainty that you have left the oven on, or that you have not set your alarm clock.
          • It is possible that there may be no moment when we are asleep that we are not having some kind of dream.
          • The only way it is possible to ascertain without doubt that a person is awake -- not asleep, but awake -- is by medical examination.
          • Elephants sleep standing up during non-REM sleep, but once they hit REM sleep, they lie down.
          • Birds only nap in their nests. They actually sleep elsewhere, outside the nest.
          • Primates like chimps, rhesus monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and baboons sleep for an average of 10 hours per day. Armadillos, on the other hand, sleep on average 18.5 hours a day.
          • Ducks are able to balance the need for sleep and alertness for predators by keeping one half of their brain awake while the other slides into sleep mode. Dolphins can do the same thing.
          • Armadillos, opossums, and sloths spend about 80% of their lives asleep.
          • A snail can sleep for 3 years.
          • It is possible that plants spend their lives in a perpetual anabolic state, or a state during which the body metabolizes food and builds up organs and tissues. Since this typically happens during sleep, one might say that plants are perpetually sleeping.
          • Ants do not sleep at all.
          The National Sleep Research Project, 40 Amazing Facts About Sleep
          High-Tech Science Centers, Fun Science Facts You Didn't Know
          Absolute Astronomy reference, category: sleep
          Useless Facts about animals
          Freaky Animals, Facts 001